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Judith Sargent Stevens Murray

Judith Sargent Stevens Murray as an early American writer and advocate for women’s education and rights, including but not limited to: a woman’s right to an education, a woman’s right to work and earn a wage, and woman’s right to manage their finances.  

Judith Sargent was born in Gloucester on May 1, 1751, into a prominent seafaring family. Her mother was Judith Saunders and her father was Winthrop Sargent, descended from Epes Sargent, who arrived in Gloucester in the late 17th century.  The Sargent family was considered to be cultured, politically aware, and civically active. Much of her knowledge was self-taught through her family’s library which allowed her to read history, philosophy, geography, and literature. Her deep interest in education and her family’s support lead her to write poetry from at a young age.

Judith Sargent married John Stevens on October 3, 1769 when Judith was only eighteen years old. She was young when she married John Stevens.  The house was constructed for Judith Sargent and John Stevens about a decade after their marriage. The young couple previously resided with John’s parents in East Gloucester until they could build a house of their own, allowing Judith to live within a short distance of the Sargent and Saunders family homes.

Unfortunately, Stevens inherited financial difficulties from his father’s estate, and like many others of his time, suffered further financial losses during the Revolutionary War. The expenses he incurred constructing the new house, coupled with unwise speculations and failed maritime investments, led Stevens to financial ruin. In the spring of 1786, he turned ownership of the new house to his father-in-law, and fled the country. Within five years John Stevens will have died in debtor’s prison on St. Eustatius Island, leaving Judith Sargent a poverty-stricken widow.

A short while after the death of John Stevens—too short according to some—Judith married her long-time friend and minister, Reverend John Murray on October 6, 1788 in Salem.