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Mr. Jefferson's Women    by Jon Kukla order for
Mr. Jefferson's Women
by Jon Kukla
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Pat Elliott

Thomas Jefferson wrote the words 'all men are created equal' in the Declaration of Independence, but his letters and actions made it plain he did not extend that equality to women and blacks. Many instances in Jefferson's papers convey to us his lack of understanding of the women in his life. Neither, as a slave owner, did he extend to blacks any opportunity for advancement in American life.

This book is an important and interesting historical account of Thomas Jefferson's life from the time of his birth, through his college years at College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, and forward until his death at Monticello in 1826. It gives the reader insight into the man who was a U.S. president, and a glimpse at the women who interested him. Kukla gives each woman a chapter, describing her relationship to her family and to Jefferson, and beginning with Rebecca Burwell, sister of his friend, Lewis Burwell. Jefferson worshipped her from afar, but when he proposed (in a very awkward way), she rejected him.

Elizabeth Moore Walker was the wife of Jefferson's friend Jack Walker. Jack, needing to be away from home much of the time, left his wife in the care of his friend Thomas Jefferson. Some historical evidence shows that Jefferson may have made improper advances to Mrs. Walker - whether with her consent or not we do not know.

New Years Day in 1772, Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton. Their married life ended after nearly eleven years together. Only two of the Jefferson's six children survived to adulthood. Mary died in her twenties in childbirth, and Martha, their eldest daughter, was left to care for her father in his declining years. Space does not permit us to here to tell of Maria Louisa Caterina Cecilia Hadfield Cosway who captured Jefferson's heart in Paris, but alas she was married.

And of course there was Sally Hemmings, a slave on Jefferson's plantation and half sister to his wife Martha. Hemmings lived in comfort at Monticello, producing several children said to resemble Jefferson. She was with him until his death, whereupon he freed her and her children. His daughter Martha made the transaction lawful by providing for Hemmings. Kukla tells where the children went after they were freed and how Jefferson impacted their lives.

This book offers a fascinating look into the life of one of America's leaders. Here, too, are fashion statements, household accounts and mores of the period. Most interesting to this reviewer was the amount of work Jefferson's wife logged into her daily household accounts. No wonder she died early. She was worked to death. Mr. Jefferson's Women is an interesting book for its historical value and easily readable for the curious.

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