Jan. 6, 1854: Novelist Sarah “Sally” Sayward Barrell Wood, known colloquially as “Madame Wood,” Maine’s first novelist and the first female American writer of gothic fiction, dies at the age of 95.

She published four novels and a collection of stories, all under pseudonyms – either “A Lady,” “A Lady of Massachusetts” (when Maine was part of that state) or “A Lady of Maine.”

Sally Sayward Barrell Keating Wood  Collections of Maine Historical Society, courtesy of www.MaineMemory.net, item #16130

A York native, she lived in Portland. Although Wood was an early advocate of American independence and was a trailblazer for female writers, she nonetheless believed that a woman’s principal role should be a domestic one in service to her husband. She wrote only when she was a widow. Also, many of her characters were aristocratic single women who sometimes faced problems because they were not married.

In a case of life imitating art, Wood herself then nearly married “a Spanish gentleman” who she later said proved to be a swindler who was interested only in her money. She called off that wedding and soon afterward married a different man, who was a wealthy merchant and shipbuilder.

On this date was researched and written by Joseph Owen of Augusta, a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal newspapers. Owen is a longtime member, former president and current board member of the Augusta-based Kennebec Historical Society.

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