Sex and the City: Philadelphia 1777

Bedroom, Cedar Grove, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

A confluence of events: the reboot of Sex and the City (SATC) i.e. And Just Like That (AJLT) and a family emergency led me to watch both the reboot and the original SATC this past month. With the attention span of a flea the past few weeks, I dipped into Miranda, Carrie, Samantha, and Charlotte’s brunchtime conversations circa 1998 while hovering over my phone awaiting crisis texts.

Ground-breaking? Really?

At the time SATC premiered, reviewers said the show was groundbreaking in its portrayal of women’s friendships. When reviewers now praise AJLT, they continue to highlight the women’s friendships as if women just started to have long-term friendships in the 20th Century. Really? Did women just start becoming friends in the 90’s? And choose to remain single? Were they just starting to dish dirt, spill tea, ponder relationships with men outside their faith and culture, and discuss romance and sex ? I beg to differ.

All my Quaker “Ladies”

Much of the research for my current WIP came from reading original sources/diaries of Quaker women and girls in the 1770’s. When not grappling with the oncoming Revolution, or running their own or their husband’s businesses, these gals gathered to spill the tea and muse on many aspects of their Quaker Friends’ lives.

“Afternoon at Caty Howels: Talk on Sally Robinson who was almost like to have gone away with an officer, but a timely interposition of Friends, gave as she herself now thinks a lucky turn.”

The Fair Quaker, anonymous British artist, 1787

Carrie: Hannah Callender Sansom

She didn’t have a column in the New York Star, but Hannah Callender Sansom kept voluminous diaries from age 21 on. Her entries outlined her female friendships and Quaker community gossip. Wealthy Hannah, described in online articles as “sassy,” pens day after day of dates with her friends. When not making or spilling the tea, mending stockings, or taking day trips around the Philadelphia area in her chaise (accompanied by other young people), Hannah shares a number of remarkable stories from her social set. To wit (and I paraphrase here):

  1. ”Did you hear about our dear Friend who was taken advantage of and whisked away to be a kept woman on the island her lover owned in the Caribbean? She was pregnant with his daughter, and those he enslaved on the island tried to poison her. He decided she should go back to England where their daughter would be sent to boarding school, and our Friend would be set up in a little shop. After boarding a boat headed for Kingston, she was shipwrecked on another island. She flagged down a passing rowboat, and holding her baby, made her way towards a ship headed for Philadelphia. The ship picked her up… and just like that…she’s back!”
  2. “Did you hear about the Quaker man who was so depressed he decided to throw a billiards game, and have someone else challenge him to a duel so he wouldn’t have to shoot himself?”
  3. Unwed mothers: so many. Amateur midwifery: in some detail. Bodily…stuff.

“Tho’ I have not the least shadow of an opportunity to send a letter, if I do write, I will keep a sort of journal of the time that may expire before I see thee: the perusal of it may some time hence give pleasure in a solitary hour to thee and our Sally Jones.”

Unclear if the portrait on the cover of the journal is Sally!

Charlotte: Sally Wister

16-year-old Sally writes to her friend Deborah (Debby) Norris, first by letter, and then, the post no longer delivered, in her journal. Sally’s living in the middle of a war zone in 1777, having escaped (soon-to-be British occupied) Philadelphia with her family for the relative safety of the countryside. Over a nine-month period, she documents her adventures and flirtations with various officers and soldiers who pass through the area.

  1. Boy craziness: “OMG did you see that officer? The one with the ginger hair? OMG he smiled at me!”
  2. Clothes: “Do I want to appear womanly or girlish?”
  3. Pranks: “Let’s make a fake soldier out of a coat to fool the other soldier who’s coming back in here drunk.”
  4. Marriage: “Do you think Major William Truman Stoddert could ever be interested in a Quaker girl like me??” Sally points out the problematic nature of a romance or marriage because of the wide gulf of social and religious prejudice that lay between them. He was an Anglican, a soldier, and a member of a slave owning family, while she was a pacifist Quaker, a member of a sect that forbade its members from marrying out or enslaving others. Sally remained single the rest of her life. You can read excerpts here.

I believe that as we grow in years, we become more callous, or in some measure lose that quick sense of feeling that attends us in our more youthful days.

Silhouette of Elizabeth Drinker

Miranda: Elizabeth Drinker

Elizabeth Drinker’s affluence and her own education allowed her the literacy and leisure time to keep a diary of her life for 50 years. More serious in tone than Hannah’s and Sally’s, Elizabeth’s diary communicates a world-weary energy as she tries to run a large household during her merchant husband’s frequent absences and imprisonment. Topics include: 

  1. Living single and courtship
  2. Complaints about Henry: away so much, she found it overwhelming to run their household. Also, what’s up with Henry and her sister?
  3. Upstairs/downstairs: “Maid A. came back and is now together with Stablehand B. and they are having a baby together sort of under my roof.” And yet…Elizabeth Drinker was a champion of domestic workers becoming waged employees rather than indentured “servants.”

I am not certain if I can; at least I’ll gladly try.

A comely Betsy sews the flag

Samantha? Maybe Betsy Ross?

Thrice married, thrice widowed, Betsy loved tomatoes and a little pinch of snuff. With her “piercing blue eyes,” Betsy and her sisters…got around, marrying out of the Quaker faith, sometimes well after they were “fruitful” and expecting children.

Like Samantha, Betsy was the hardest working of the aforementioned gals with her own business. While history disputes whether she did indeed make the first American flag, we do know that she supported her family in an upholstery business well into her senior years.

Betsy’s third husband was John Claypoole. Though she didn’t keep a diary that we know of, John’s recently discovered diaries reveal much of the couple’s life. John describes being imprisoned with Ross’s second husband, Joseph Ashburn. The two POW’s spent time in a British prison and John was with Joseph as he died. John then traveled to Philadelphia, and told Betsy of Joe’s death. Shortly after, they wasted no time getting married.

And Just Like That…

And Just Like That…these women had friendships that lasted for years, as I have. Whether we (or they) went to school together, were young mothers together, met through work or church, or were part of other activities, we kept up with each other. Maybe not by letters and journals, but today we communicate by phone, FaceTime, email and social media. For me, coffee has replaced tea and the bottomless SATC brunch has given way to the quiet weekday lunch. Some of my friends have remained single, some are widowed, and some have divorced. We’re not “ground-breaking,” we’re testament to the endurance of women’s friendships and interest in relationships, fashion and community over the years. Friends for life? Yes please!

Published by katehornstein

Writing about young Quakers, religion, and romance over 350 years in England and America

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