American women mark death of British author Grace Aguilar
November 23, 1847
On November 23, 1847, The Ladies of the Society for the Religious Instruction in Charleston, South Carolina passed a resolution of tribute at the passing of the British author, Grace Aguilar. Aguilar had died on September 16, 1847 at the age of 31.
Aguilar’s work had been championed by Philadelphia editor Isaac Leeser,who published Aguilar’s books in the United States and included her writings in his monthly magazine, The Occident and American Jewish Advocate. As a result, Aguilar was in many ways better known in the Jewish community of the United States than in England.
In addition to historical romances (e.g. The Vale of Cedars) and reflections on Judaism (The Spirit of Judaism, 1842), Aguilar’s influential book, The Women of Israel (1844), contested the claims by numerous Christian authors that Judaism denigrated women. Aguilar argued for Judaism’s ancient and contemporary regard for women by detailing the strong and admirable women who appear in Judaism’s essential defining text, the Bible.
Aguilar returned the feeling of kinship that American Jewish women bore her. She even responded to an 1843 request from Savannah to contribute to a fair that local Jewish women were holding to raise funds to hire a rabbi. Aguilar sent along two purses, six needle cases, and 12 pincushions on which she had done the needlework, along with additional needlework pieces gathered from some of her friends. In mourning Aguilar’s passing, the Charleston women truly felt they had lost one of their own.
Aguilar’s death at a young age evinced a strong response. Leeser observed that “there has not arisen a single Jewish female in modern times who has done so much for the illustration and adornment of her faith as Grace Aguilar.” The Charleston women expressed their appreciation for the “power and effect” of the “pen of this champion of our faith, against that giant Prejudice, whose shadow blackens the earth.” Citing her as the “moral governess of the Hebrew family,” the women of the Society resolved that her death“must be regarded as a national calamity; and that no demonstration of respect, however high, can convey an adequate sense of the exalted estimation in which we hold her character or of the profound regret with which we received the tidings of her dissolution.”
To learn more about Grace Aguilar, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: Writers in Victorian England.
Sources: Occident and American Jewish Advocate, 5:8 (November 1847): 419; 5:10 (January 1848): 510-511 [see www.jewish-history.com/Occident/]; Karla Goldman, Beyond the Synagogue Gallery: Finding a Place for Women in American Judaism, (Cambridge, MA, 2000), p. 65.