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Booth, Mary Louise (1831–1889) - Popular History

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Mary Louise Booth was born on April 19, 1831, in Millville (later Yaphank), Long Island, New York, to William Chatfield Booth, descendant of John, who in 1652 took title to Shelter Island, off Long Island, and Nancy (Monsell) Booth, granddaughter of a French Revolutionary emigrant. Mary Louise was largely self-taught but was considered to be very precocious; she was said to have read the Bible and Plutarch at five and Racine at seven. Around 1845–46, she taught in the Third District School in Williamsburgh, where her father was principal. At age eighteen she moved to Manhattan, where she sewed vests during the day and studied and wrote at night. She published without pay until she became a piece-rate reporter for the New York Times , writing on education and women’s topics. She became friends with Susan B. Anthony and joined the women’s rights movement, serving as secretary at the conventions in Saratoga, New York, in 1855 and New York City in 1860.

Booth was especially gifted in translating French, and her first publication, Marble-Workers’ Manual (1856), led to her translating nearly forty volumes of literary and historical works. During this time, she also began her own historical writing. Her History of the City of New York (1859) was the first comprehensive history of the city to be published. The one large volume was so well received that the publisher proposed she go abroad and write popular histories of the great European capitals—London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna. War intervened, however. A second edition of the New York history was published in 1867, and a third in 1880. A large paper edition was extended and illustrated with supplementary interleaved pages. One copy was enlarged to folio and extended into nine volumes by several thousand maps, letters, and other illustrations.

During the Civil War, Booth used her translating abilities to aid the North. She received an advance copy of a French work by Count Agenor de Gasparin, The Uprising of a Great People: The United States in 1861 , and, convinced that it would boost the morale of people in the North, talked New York publisher Charles Scribner into publishing an American edition. He agreed only if she could translate the book in one week in case the war ended suddenly. She worked twenty hours a day to complete the work, and during the next two years of the war she continued translating French works on American subjects, for which she received praise from President Lincoln and Charles Sumner.

After the war, Booth continued to produce translations, including one of Henri Martin’s History of France . In 1867 she became editor of Harper’s Bazaar , a position she held until her death from heart problems on March 5, 1889.

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