From the Women's Canon: Foremother Poets

Femmes de tous les temps

. . . They come to greet us
These women from another age

In the ephemeral flesh of their bodies
In the beauty of a gesture bound to perish
In the brief swirls of a face new or aged

These immemorial Women
       through clay and stones
       parting the husks
Clear a path to the present . . . Andrée Chédid, trans. Mary Ann Caws

Christine de Pisan (1363-c.1430) imagined writing

  • Classical
    1. Sappho (630 and 612 BC - c.570 BC)
  • Medieval Europe
    1. Beatritz, Countess da Dia (b. 1140)
    2. Marie de France (fl 1160 -1215)
    3. Castelloza (born c. 1200)
    4. Christine de Pizan (ca. 1364 - ca 1431); Female troubadour poetry
  • Early Modern
    1. Elizabeth Plantagene aka Elizabeth of York, then Tudor (1466-1503)
    2. Veronica Gambara (1485-1550): Secret Sacred Woods
    3. Vittoria Colonna (1490/2 to 1547); Amaro Lagrimar; Dark Voyage
    4. Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549)
    5. Isabella di Morra (c. 1520-1545?); Wom-po festival
    6. Pernette du Guillet (1520-45)
    7. Gaspara Stampa (1523-54)
    8. Louse Labe (1525-66)
    9. Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1541-87)
    10. Anne Cecil de Vere, Countess of Oxford (1556-88)
    11. Anne Vavasour, later Field and then Richardson (c 1560-after 1620)
    12. Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth (1586-1629)
  • English Civil War (ca 1630-1660)
    1. Lucy Hutchinson (1620-(?)1675)
    2. Anne Murray Halkett (1622-1699)
    3. Margaret Lucas Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-73)
    4. Katherine Fowler Philips (1631-46); Orinda, Rosania, Lucasia et aliae.
  • The Long Eighteenth Century (1660-1800)
    1. Anne Wharton (1659-85)
    2. Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1660-1720); unpublished poetry
      Translations; I On Myself Can Live; & Mary Wortley Montagu;
    3. Sarah Fyge Field Egerton (1670 - 1723)
    4. Elizabeth Thomas (1675-1731)
    5. Mary Chandler (1687-1745)
    6. Mary Pierrepont Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)
    7. Mary Collier (1690?-1762)
    8. Elizabeth Tollett (1694-754)
    9. Mehitabel Wright (1697-1750)
    10. Frances Thynne Seymour, Countess of Hertford (1699-1754)
    11. Henrietta St. John Knight, Lady Luxborough (1699-1756)
    12. Mary Jones (d. 1778)
    13. Catherine Clive (1711-85)
    14. Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806); Wom-po festival
    15. Anna Louisa Karsch (1722-91)
    16. Anne Francis Bransly (d. 1800)
    17. Mary Whateley Darwell (1738-1825)
    18. Hester Thrale Piozzi (1741-1821)
    19. Isabel Pagan (c. 1741-1821)
    20. Anne Home Hunter (1742-1821), with Vic Sanborne
    21. Anna Barbauld (1743-1825)
    22. Anna Seward (1747-1809)
    23. Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806)
    24. Anne Grant (nee Macivar) (1755-1853)
    25. Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806)
    26. Jane West (1758-1852)
    27. Mary Hays (1760-1843)
    28. Joanna Baillie (1762-1851)
    29. Helen Maria Williams (1762-1827)
    30. Ann Ward Radcliffe (1764 - 1823)
    31. Karoline von Günderrode (1770-1806)
    32. Jane Austen (1775-1817)
    33. Elizabeth Hands (fl 1789) (with Annie Finch); later version
  • Nineteenth Century
    1. Mary Lamb (1764-1847); Meditative
    2. Amelia Opie (1769-1853)
    3. Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855); private writer and poet
    4. Lucy Aikin (1781-1864)
    5. Ann (1782-1866) and Jane Taylor (1783-1824)
    6. Caroline Bowles Southey (1786-1854)
    7. Janet Hamilton (1795-1873)
    8. Annette Von Droste-Hulshoff (1797-1848)
    9. Sara Coleridge (1802-53)
    10. Elizabeth Laetitia Landon (1802-1838)
    11. Caroline Norton (1808-77)
    12. Margaret Fuller Osoli (1810 -1850)
    13. Louise Revoil Colet (1810-76)
    14. Frances Brown(e) (1816-1879)
    15. Charlotte (1816-55) and Anne (1920-49) Bronte
    16. George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans Lewes) (1818-80)
    17. Alice (1820-71) and Phoebe (1824-71) Cary
    18. Mary Smith (1822-1889)
    19. Francis Power Cobbe (1822-1904)
    20. Julia Kavanagh (1824-77)
    21. Adelaide Anne Procter (1825-64)
    22. Emily Pfeiffer (Emily Davies) (1827-90)
    23. Mary MacKellar, Lochbar (1836-90)
    24. Augusta Davies Webster (1837-1894)
    25. Mathilde Blind (1841-96)
    26. Judith Gautier (1845-1917)
    27. Alice Meynell (1847-1922)
    28. Constance Naden (1858-1889)
    29. Rosamond Marriott Watson (‘Graham R. Tomson’) (1860-1911)
    30. Amy Levy (1861-89)
    31. Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907)
    32. Edith Wharton (1862-1937)
    33. Adela Florence Cory (1865-1904)
  • Twentieth Century
    1. A. Mary F. Robinson Darmesterer Duclaux (1857-1944)
    2. Charlotte Mew (1869-1928)
    3. Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
    4. Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935)
    5. Hazel Hall (1886-1924)
    6. Anne Spencer (1882-1975)
    7. Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950) by Claire Keyes
    8. Winifred Welles (1893-1939) by Tiel Aisha Ansari
    9. Sara Teasdale (1884-1933); meditative
    10. Elinor Wylie (1885-1928)
    11. Gabriela Mistral (born Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga) (1889-1957) by Diane Kenig
    12. Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
    13. Gwendolyn Bennett(1902-1981)
    14. Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
    15. Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)
    16. Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth (1893-1986)
    17. Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978)
    18. Nancy Cunard (1896-1965)
    19. Louise Bogan (1897-1970)
    20. Ruth Pitter (1897-1992)
    21. Winifred Holtby (1898-1935)
    22. Leonie Adams (1899-1988) by Annie Finch
    23. Stevie Smith (1902-71)
    24. Phyllis McGinley (1905-78)
    25. Robin Hyde (1906-39)
    26. Mahadevi Verma(1907-1987) by Pratibha Kelapure
    27. Kathleen Raine (1908-2003)
    28. Muriel Rukeyser (1913-80)
    29. Judith Wright (1915-2000)
    30. Grace Paley (1922-2007
    31. Rosario Castellanos (1924-74)
    32. Julia Randall (1924-2005) by Marilyn Hacker
    33. Amy Clampitt (1920-94)
    34. Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973)
    35. Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)
    36. Morelle Smith (n.d)
    37. Sue Gutteridge (also n.d)
    38. Liz Lochhead (b. 1947)
  • Further aids


    Sometime during 2005 I began to write short lives of women poets to which I attached what I thought were their best or most characteristic poems and evaluative commentary. I would also offer a list of essays or books by or essays on these poets, or anthologies which included them. I put these on my first blog, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Too (attacked by a virus, those which survived are rescued at women's art).

    It was probably in the following year I joined Wom-po, a listserv community devoted to talking about and sharing women's poetry, and there I met the listowner, Annie Finch, poet and translator who had declared Wednesday to be a day for us all to share poems by women. She was committed to recovering a woman poets poetic tradition, to the reality that women "think back through our mothers" as writers, readers, artists. Paula Backscheider (whose Eighteenth Century Women Poets and their Poetry I reviewed) is just one of many women scholars who have demonstrated that a women's canon would exist but that much of it has been destroyed and what was left censored, with its original perspectives changed, often reversed. So, we began each Friday, a group of us, to contribute poems by "foremother poets." The custom continued for some months, but after that most of the people only contributed now and again. I was one of the people who contributed consistently and by the time of the First Annual Festival of Women's Poetry (online), had with thirty lives and poetry ready to be put on the site.

    During that time and since then I've written more of these little lives, posting them to Wom-po and also the listservs I moderate (at Yahoo: Eighteenth Century Worlds, Women Writers through the Ages, Trollope19thCStudies), and when I opened my new blogs I began on Fridays to write them regularly ( Ellen and Jim have a blog, Two, and Reveries Under the Sign of Austen). Now, in order to make these visible to others, to have one single handy place to reach them, and to fill in unnoticed gaps, I have decided to gather all I've done on my website onto this one place.

    My definition of a foremother began as "sixty years since:" following Scott's formula for when a period was historical, I said a women was a "foremother," no longer contemporary when she had died sixty years since or women who poetry was published sixty years ago. After a while, though, it became apparent to me that many women poets today consider poetry twenty years old in the past, and as I had no desire to exclude anyone, and myself did not know an infinite number of poets, and liked more recent poets, I began to include poets who were born sixty years ago (and sometimes since).

    The order is chronological and the decided predominance of British women poets makes it differ somewhat from my Bibliography of Women's Literature. Following the chronology the reader will find links to an alphabetical index, a list of the best anthologies and handbook I know of and those I used here; there's also a selection of histories, essays, and general blogs. In each foremother poet blog I also list essays & books about the individual poets.

    Please note that I make no pretense to any sense of being complete; it is to be understood what I have done is the product of my interests, knowledge, outlook and taste. Many people have helped and encouraged me, but I feel I should single out Louise Howerow for the hard work she did in compositing the set of 30 Foremother Poets for Wom-po's Festival Website.

    © Ellen Moody. No part of this website page may be reproduced without express permission from the author/blog owner. All uses of information or evaluative commentary should be acknowledged and documented. Linking is encouraged.

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    Page Last Updated: 8 June 2012.