The Women Jefferson Loved

The Women Jefferson Loved

by Virginia Scharff

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“A focused, fresh spin on Jeffersonian biography.” —Kirkus Reviews

In the tradition of Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello and David McCullough’s John Adams, historian Virginia Scharff offers a compelling, highly readable multi-generational biography revealing how the women Thomas Jefferson loved shaped the third president’s ideas and his vision for the nation. Scharff creates a nuanced portrait of the preeminent founding father, examining Jefferson through the eyes of the women who were closest to him, from his mother to his wife and daughters to Sally Hemings and the slave family he began with her.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062018731
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/26/2010
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 576,717
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Virginia Scharff is a professor of history at the University of New Mexico and holds the Women of the West Chair at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles. She is also the author of four mystery/suspense novels penned under the name Virginia Swift.

What People are Saying About This

Barbara Oberg

“Scharff weaves a fascinating tale, enriched by the insights of the best contemporary scholarship, and seamlessly constructed from family lore, letters, garden and account books, and Martha Jefferson’s housekeeping journal. This is a terrific read!”

Elliott West

“If you think there’s nothing new to learn about Thomas Jefferson, think again-and read this original, shrewd and above all compassionate book. Virginia Scharff introduces us to the remarkable women who, as much as Jefferson himself, illuminate their time through their lives and their strength of character.”

Douglas Brinkley

“A smart, eye-opening, vividly written saga of Monticello. It’s an indispensable portrait of Thomas Jefferson like none other. Highly recommended!”

Annette Gordon-Reed

“[A] luminous and long overdue addition to Jefferson scholarship. . . . This book is a tour de force; a must read for all who are interested in the early America, Jefferson, and Monticello.”

Martha A. Sandweiss

“With wit and verve, Scharff introduces us to a new side of the Founding Father, unraveling the intricate ties between his public and private lives and creating an unforgettable portrait of a man bound up in the struggle between head and heart.”

Richard White

“It is not often that I spend a day reading a single book, but The Women Jefferson Loved is that gripping. Moving, brilliantly written and deeply sympathetic to everyone concerned, it is a wonder.”

Linda Gordon

“We’ve all heard about the influence of the women ‘behind’ great men. Virginia Scharff actually shows this by examining all the women in Jefferson’s life-his mother, white wife, black common-law wife, daughters and granddaughters. A grand, lively read.”

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The Women Jefferson Loved 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I expected to enjoy this book since I read quite a bit of history, both American and British. I could not have been more wrong. Time after time, the author tells us that is is not possible to know something and then proceeds to tell us anyhow. Her conjecture? Or fact? There are inconsistencies that are extremely annoying. One example is the author disputing previous historians' claims that Jefferson did not care for his mother citing a lack of correspondence between them. She states that this is groundless because there are no letters between Jefferson and his wife either. Several pages later, she refers to letters Martha received from her huband every two weeks. Did the author forget what she had written earlier? While in another section the author comments on "wrapping our twenty-first-century minds" around something, as she insists on judging every interaction using today's standards. She attributes emotions and thoughts to her subjects which can only be her individual bias. One example of her writing style--"Hemmingses would be enslaved for houses where women skated along the bloody bodily edge of race and bondage." Please just tell the story and give the reader some credit. I assure the author that the history would speak for itself without her constant editorializing. I am sorry to have wasted money on this book and would have given it NO stars if that would have been possible.
sallylou61 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very different book from Mr. Jefferson¿s Women by Jon Kukla (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2007). Mr. Kukla¿s book is about women that Jefferson loved romantically; Ms. Scharff¿s primarily the women in Jefferson¿s family and slaves. The Women Jefferson Loved is divided five parts: Jane (his mother), Martha (his wife), Sally (Hemings, his slave and concubine), Patsy and Polly (his daughters), and A House Divided (Jefferson¿s later years including his relationship with his grandchildren.) Of necessity there is overlap among the parts since the stories of these people overlap. The book also includes a useful Jefferson-Wayles-Hemings family tree in the front, and lists of the central characters with brief descriptions of them in the back in addition to endnotes, bibliography, and index. Jefferson¿s view of women and their role in life is demonstrated throughout the book. He ¿believed in a natural law of gender, a separation of the roles and responsibilities of women and men that, ideally, confined women to the protected sphere of domesticity while giving men both the freedoms and the burdens of public life¿ (p. 195). Jefferson saw ¿wifely submission as the source of marital happiness¿ (p. 277). Although his daughter Patsy was a very highly educated woman, she married very young to a man she did not know well and assumed her role of running a plantation (for Jefferson himself instead of her husband). Patsy educated her daughters, but they also, because of their station in life, could not work outside the home.Ms. Scharff adheres to the current feminist theory that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings¿ children. Sally ¿never conceived a child except when the master [Jefferson] was at home. Between the time Jefferson took the office of secretary of state and the time he retired from the presidency, Sally Hemings gave birth to at least six children, at least some of whom bore a stunning resemblance to Thomas Jefferson. Four of these children lived to adulthood [and] ¿ were ¿ set free¿ (p. 264). Interracial families were an integral part of life at Monticello. A reason that Jefferson¿s wife, Martha, on her deathbed asked Jefferson never to remarry was because she did not like being raised by stepmothers; she ¿had preferred her father¿s slave mistress to her white stepmothers¿ (p. 381). At Martha¿s request, Jefferson had brought the Hemings family, Martha¿s father¿s mistress and children to live at Monticello. Sally Hemings was his wife¿s half-sister. Following Polly¿s death, Jefferson¿s son-in-law, Jack Eppes, took the slave, Betsy Hemings as his concubine and fathered her children. There are few documentary sources for some of the characters in the story. Often, Ms. Scharff suggest that a woman felt a certain way ¿ or offers several theories of how a particular woman might have felt concerning a particular situation.
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This was a great book and I highly recommend it. I first read it a year ago. I'm now re-reading it. Dr. Scharff's style of writing flows smoothly making this book an easy read. The author has great insight helping us to understanding Jefferson the man. One historian, unfortunately, I now forget who, wrote a biography about Jefferson several years ago calling Jefferson a "cipher." Dr. Scharff has uncovered the real Jefferson by examining Jefferson's relationships with the women in his life. These women are fully fleshed out by Dr. Scharff and not mere cardboard characters. I disagree with the reviewer who called this book, "dreadful." It was anything but. I think that this reviewer missed the point. Dr. Scharff opinions are not merely wild conjecture pulled from the blue yonder, but are an interpretation of the facts available to us in the early 21st century. This is precisely what a good historian, in fact, what any good writer does. It's called analysis. It creates depth and is the way that a good historian fleshes out historical figures making the women Jefferson loved come alive. Otherwise, they would be only flat, lifeless, cardboard characters.