JESSIE BENTON FREMONT by Pamela Herr

JESSIE BENTON FREMONT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A biography of the woman who previously was mentioned only in passing in histories of her famous father, Democratic Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and her famous husband, explorer, gold-rush millionaire, and Presidential candidate John Fremont. Herr paints a detailed account of the politics of the day ""to suggest what it was like to be talented, ambitious and female in nineteenth-century America."" Jessie deserved her own biography, Herr contends, as well as her own career and achievements. She had all the intelligence, passion and vitality of the successful men of her time--or any time. But, being a woman, she found the only acceptable outlet for her energy in her husband's careers. It was she who wrote her husband's account of his explorations in the western territories. It was she who wrote the stories that would help immortalize her husband's guide, Kit Carson. Only later, when the Fremonts desperately needed money, would Jessie write in earnest. She enjoyed family friends like Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Francis Scott Key. Jessie was ""accorded the place a son would have had"" in her father's eyes as a child but denied the creative outlet for her talents as a woman. Little wonder then that she found satisfaction in her husband's public life. When the crowds shouted, ""Free speech, free press, free soil, free men, Fremont!,"" they also cried out, ""Give us Jessie!"" She was the first woman to be active in a Presidential campaign, and by all accounts she relished the role. Of course, not everyone enjoyed her outspokenness, prompting her to remark, ""Strange, isn't it, that when a man expresses a conviction fearlessly, he is reported as having made a trenchant and forceful statement, but when a woman speaks thus earnestly, she is reported as a lady who has lost her temper."" Will find its best audience with feminists and academics.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1987
Publisher: Watts