Eliza Farnham

Eliza Farnham (November 17, 1815 – December 15, 1864) was a 19th-century American novelist, feminist, abolitionist, and activist for prison reform.

Eliza Farnham
BornEliza Woodson Burhans
(1815-11-17)November 17, 1815
Rensselaerville, New York
DiedDecember 15, 1864(1864-12-15) (aged 49)
New York City, New York
OccupationNovelist, feminist, abolitionist, and activist for prison reform
Notable worksWoman and Her Era (1864)


She was born in Rensselaerville, New York. She moved to Illinois in 1835, and there married Thomas J. Farnham in 1836, but returned to New York in 1841.[1] In 1843 she wrote a series of articles for Brother Jonathan refuting John Neal's call for women's suffrage in that same newspaper, though Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony wrote in 1887 that "Mrs. Farnham lived long enough to retrace her ground and accept the highest truth."[2] In 1844, through the influence of Horace Greeley and other reformers, she was appointed matron of the women's ward at Sing Sing Prison. She strongly believed in the use of phrenology to treat prisoners.[3] Farnham was influential in changing the types of reading materials available to women prisoners. The purpose of her choices was not entertainment but improving behavior. She also advocated using music and kindness in the rehabilitation of female prisoners. Farnham retained the office of matron until 1848 when, amid controversy over her choices and beliefs, she resigned in 1848.[4] She then moved to Boston, and was for several months connected with the management of the Institution for the Blind.[1]

In 1849 she visited California, and remained there until 1856, when she returned to New York. For the two years following, she devoted herself to the study of medicine, and in 1859 organized a society to assist destitute women in finding homes in the west, taking charge in person of several companies of this class of emigrants. She subsequently returned to California.[1]

She died from consumption in New York City at the age of 49.[5] She was an atheist.[6]


  • Life in the Prairie Land, 1846 - An account of life on the Illinois prairie near Pekin between 1836 and 1840.
  • California, In-doors and Out, 1856 - A chronicle of her experiences and observations on California.
  • My Early Days, 1859 - An autobiographical novel.
  • Woman and Her Era, 1864 - "Organic, religious, esthetic, and historical" arguments for woman's inherent superiority.
  • The Ideal Attained, 1865 - The heroine molds the hero into a worthy mate.


  1. ^ a b c One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Farnham, Thomas Jefferson" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  2. ^ Fleischmann, Fritz (1983). A Right View of the Subject: Feminism in the Works of Charles Brockden Brown and John Neal. Erlangen, Germany: Verlag Palm & Enke Erlangen. p. 189, quoting History of Woman Suffrage volume 2. ISBN 9783789601477.
  3. ^ Floyd, Janet (2006). "Dislocations of the self: Eliza Farnham at Sing Sing Prison". Journal of American Studies. Cambridge University Press. 40 (2): 311–325. doi:10.1017/S0021875806001393.
  4. ^ Vogel, Brenda. (2009) The Prison Library Primer. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
  5. ^ Lewis, W. David (1974). "Farnham, Eliza Wood Burhans". In Edward T. James; Janet Wilson James; Paul S. Boyer (eds.). Notable American Women: 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Harvard University Press. pp. 598–600. ISBN 9780674627345.
  6. ^ Knepper, Paul. Writing the History of Crime. London: Bloomsbury Academic, an Imprint of Bloomsbury Plc, 2016. Print. "...like Eliza Farnham: atheist, phrenologist..."

Further readingEdit

  • Atwater, Edward C (2016). Women Medical Doctors in the United States before the Civil War: A Biographical Dictionary. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press. ISBN 9781580465717. OCLC 945359277.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Bakken, G., & Farrington, B. (2003). Encyclopedia of Women in the American West, p. 124. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Link to Google Book Search excerpt
  • Levy, Joann. Unsettling the West: Eliza Farnham and Georgiana Bruce Kirby in Frontier California. Santa Clara University: California Legacy Series, 2004.
  • Stern, Madeleine (1971). Heads and Headlines: The Phrenological Fowlers. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman.

External linksEdit