I do not assume that woman is better than man. I do assume she has a different way of looking at things. - Susan B. Anthony
Frequently, historical documents authored by men depict their female contemporaries in a one-dimensional fashion - especially if that woman does not entirely fit into their expected traditional gender role. Essentially, this type of characterization is comparable to the recognized problem with medieval literature where women were regarded as good/confined (traditional virgins, wives, and mothers) or bad/unconfined (anything other than). While confined women fit within the accepted gender roles, unconfined women threatened the order of gendered behavior and were therefor deemed dangerous.
While we recognize this issue in early literature, primary source material is often left unchecked for context and used by contemporary writers to define an historic woman’s essence. An example of this are the writings of Robert Mackay (1772-1816). Mackay was a business partner of William Scarbrough’s (1776-1839) and godfather to William and Julia Scarbrough’s daughter Charlotte. A great friend of William’s, Mackay did not particularly care for Julia’s sense of importance (unconfined) and coined her now well-known moniker, “The Countess.” Mackay’s letters about Julia were published in 1949, and have since been used by numerous contemporary authors to define Julia as a one-dimensional creature who cared for nothing other than her own self-aggrandizement.
This image features Robert Mackay’s quotes regarding Julia, as well as those from contemporary writers who utilized Mackay’s writings for their own ends.
The Letters of Robert Mackay to his Wife
Published in 1949
By: University of Georgia Press
Almost every contemporary characterization of Julia Scarbrough can be traced to this book.