Local Inspiration for National Novel Writing Month – E.D.E.N. Southworth

E. D. E. N. (Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte) Southworth, from the Portrait Collection, Historical Society of Washington, D.C. (PO Southworth E2).

Writer and Washingtonian E.D.E.N. (Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte) Southworth (1819-1899) epitomized the “self-made” American ideal. After her husband abandoned the family Southworth returned to her D.C. hometown to make a living as a teacher. She began writing what today would be deemed “potboiler” novels to supplement her salary and in 1857 Southworth signed a lucrative contract with the New York Ledger that allowed her to pursue writing full time. With dozens of serialized novels to her credit, she soon purchased a home in Georgetown on the southwest corner of Prospect and 36th Street NWThe highly popular writer would publish more than 50 novels, some of which were made into plays.

In honor of National Novel Writing Month, here is a list of how Southworth’s work and life remain inspirational:

  • Southworth supported and encouraged other writers: Southworth was a contemporary of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Louisa May Alcott. Her abolitionist writings predated Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and she personally helped Stowe reach a national audience.
  • Southworth persisted: Despite her husband’s abandonment, Southworth built a stable life for herself and her two young children. Her novels often focused on  injustices against women.
  • Southworth championed her native city: Southworth wrote what she knew and loved. While describing early D.C.’s unfinished streetscapes, and later its Civil War crowding, she showed her readers the heart of the city.

To find out more about Southworth we recommend reading Ann Beebe’s article, “E.D.E.N Southworth’s Civil War Washington,” in Volume 27, Number 2 of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.’s biannual publication Washington History