Smith, Elizabeth (1806 - 1893)

Genre: Children's Literature, General Fiction, Poetry

Elizabeth Oakes Smith was born on August 12, 1806 near North Yarmouth, Maine. At 16, Elizabeth married Seba Smith, a Portland newspaper editor who is best known for his fictional character Major Jack Dowling. Elizabeth contributed poems and sketches to the Eastern Argus newspaper and acted as editor when her husband was in Boston on book publishing business. Her writing was either published anonymously or over the initial "E."

By the late 1830s, the Smiths experienced bankruptcy as the result of bad investments and the 1837 financial panic. Elizabeth's first novel, Riches Without Wings, or The Cleveland Family (1838), focuses on the panic's effect on the characters' lives. The Smiths then moved to New York City to board with family members and to continue their writing careers. Now identifying herself as either Mrs. Seba Smith or the pseudonymous Ernest Helfenstein, Elizabeth contributed poems and stories to a number of popular magazines such as Godey's Lady's Book and Graham's Magazine.

Smith became a public proponent for women's rights with the publication of 'Woman and Her Needs,' first published as a series of newspaper articles in the New York Tribune and then as a pamphlet in 1851. During the 1850s, she continued her book publishing, but also lectured extensively throughout the eastern United States on women's rights, religious issues and abolition.

During the 1860s Smith wrote dime novels for the Beadle publishing company, one of the most prominent publishers of this type of sensational, cheaply-bound story.

Although Smith wrote an autobiography, A Human Life, it was never published.

Selected Bibliography

  • Riches Without Wings, or The Cleveland Family (1838)
  • The Western Captive (1842)
  • Jack Spanker and The Mermaid (1843)
  • The Poetical Writings of Elizabeth Oakes Smith (1845)
  • The Salamander: a Legend for Christmas, Found Amongst The Papers of The Late Ernest Helfenstein (1848)
  • The Dandelion (1843)
  • The True Child (1845)
  • The Moss Cup (1846)
  • The Lover's Gift: or Tributes to the Beautiful (1850)
  • Shadow Land, or The Seer (1852)
  • Hints on Dress and Beauty (c.1851)
  • The Newsboy (1854)
  • Bertha and Lily; or, The Parsonage of Beech Glen, A Romance (1854)
  • Black Hollow (1864)
  • Bald Eagle: or, The Last of the Ramapaughs: a Romance of Revolutionary Times (1867)
  • The Sagamore of Saco (1868)

Selected resources