Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America

Rachel Hope Cleves. Oxford Univ, $29.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-1993-3542-8
In this beautifully written and utterly absorbing love story, Cleves (The Reign of Terror in America) explores the lives of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake, two ordinary middle-class women who serve as a window on historical constructs of marriage, gender, and sexuality in late 18th-century and early 19th-century America. Both were born in Massachusetts, but in different towns, 11 years apart. Charity’s attachment to women was so blatant that after she turned 20, her father told her to leave the house. She worked as a schoolteacher, but was forced to leave jobs several times because of hurtful gossip about her relationships with other women. In early 1807, Charity moved to Vermont to stay with a friend, and there she met Sylvia. The two fell in love, set up housekeeping, and considered themselves married. Gradually, their family members and the residents of Weybridge did as well. Charity and Sylvia became integral to the community, attending church, running their tailor shop, and contributing to charitable endeavors. Most of all, Charity and Sylvia remained passionately committed to each other and refused to hide their relationship. Meticulously researched and brilliantly argued, Cleves has crafted an important work of history that resonates with one of today’s most public debates. Illus. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/31/2014
Release date: 06/01/2014
Hardcover - 296 pages - 978-0-19-933544-2
Hardcover - 978-0-19-933543-5
Hardcover - 978-0-19-933545-9
MP3 CD - 978-1-5226-6266-2
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