For Women’s History Month, it is timely to mention Maine’s first novelist, Madam Sarah Sayward Barrell Keating Wood (1759-1855). Madam Wood, as she was later known, observed the conventions of her time, which dictated that women should never seek publicity and that married women of the gentry class should at least pretend they did no work for compensation. Like many another spunky New England woman, however, she turned to writing for profit when her family finances tanked.

She was widowed in 1783 with three young children. Sometime in the next 16 years, she started writing fiction. At the time, novels were considered morally suspect — a corrupting influence unless they explicitly promoted virtuous behavior. The four novels that Sally published from 1800 to 1804 all upheld civic virtue and moral rectitude.

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