Over the past few years, the Cataloging Department has been actively working toward adding the subject heading “Women as authors” to all pre-1900 records in the AAS catalog with a woman author. This will enable researchers to easily identify and search for the women authors in our catalog. As cataloging assistant, I’ve been given the task of adding the heading and confirming that the people we’ve identified as women are, in fact, women. (This is not as simple as one might think. In addition to gender neutral names, men occasionally wrote under a female pseudonym and vice versa.) Through this process, I’ve stumbled across a lot of interesting women; many are familiar names whose contributions to history are well known, but there are many whose names are more obscure. I’d like to share the story of one of these lesser-known women here.
Ann Adeline Shepard was born into a transcendentalist family in 1835 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. After graduating from Antioch College in 1857, Adeline, known as Ada, became governess for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s three children. Ada traveled with the family throughout Europe, enhancing her teaching skills and knowledge of foreign languages. (Her sketchbooks and letters from this time are held by the Concord Free Public Library in Concord, Massachusetts.)
She returned to Antioch College in 1859 where she became Professor of Modern Languages and Literature and married Henry Clay Badger. In June 1861, Ada gave a speech to the graduating students of the Crescent Literary Society, apparently an all-female society at Antioch College. A copy of this address is held by AAS and is the only record of Ada in our catalog. In her speech, Ada encourages the graduating women to strive for greatness but also to “despair not, if your way should lead you among quiet scenes and your life’s mission be such as will bring you no worldly fame” (p. 8). Shortly after, Ada moved to Boston with her husband where she had four children and founded an all-girls school in Cambridge in 1867. In 1873, she became one of the first women on the Boston School Committee. Sadly, in 1874 Ada committed suicide when her youngest child was only 3 years old. It was reported that Ada was suffering from “temporary insanity, caused by overwork.” More than a decade earlier, in her speech at Antioch College, Ada had written “We all know mothers who walk quietly on in their homely round of duties, uncomplaining, self-sacrificing, with a cheering smile for everyone, but with an aching at the heart and a burden on the soul that only the deep, sad eye reveals” (p. 7); a sad foreshadowing of her own future.
Even by today’s standards, Ada lived an intriguing life. She graduated college, traveled with the family of a famous author, became a professor, and was active in her community. That she accomplished all this as a woman in the nineteenth century makes it all the more remarkable.