The Sedgwicks in Love is a narrative exploration of all the things that were changing in the way men and women related to each other in the generation born just after the American Revolution—as they happened to the seven brothers and sisters of one prominent New England family.
The sons and daughters of Speaker of the House and Judge Theodore Sedgwick and his wife, Pamela Dwight Sedgwick, had arranged marriages and affectionate marriages, including one in which a woman rejected a partner chosen by her father in order to marry a Sedgwick brother. They had failed courtships and successful ones, from which they learned the intricate rules of courting among the Boston elite in the 1810s.
A case of domestic violence revealed how limited a woman's options were if she wanted to end her marriage. A squabble over an inheritance reflected how severely women’s property rights were restricted.
In the course of a long engagement, one couple exchanged nearly a hundred letters, carefully laying out their vision of their anticipated union. A sister, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, finally and deliberately chose to forego marriage in order to live the life she had envisioned for herself as a writer.
These Sedgwick brothers and sisters wrote everything down, and did so very well, making it possible to explore these developments in a nonfiction narrative that has continuing characters, a real plot, and even occasional passages of dialogue—all quoted and cited from original documents found in the Sedgwick Family Papers and Catharine Maria Sedgwick Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.