Chestertown, MD — She was a writer, salonniàre, anti-slavery advocate and sometimes risqué novelist, but Margaret Bayard Smith, who died in 1844, is best known for her witty and perceptive observations of life in America's capital during its formative years.
"I think of her as the court historian. She helped construct an early national society, but she was also a brilliant critic of that society," says Fredrika J. Teute, the 2007-2008 C.V. Starr Fellow, who will present "The Spectacle of Washington: Picturing Margaret Bayard Smith's Metropolis of a New World" at Washington College's Litrenta Lecture Hall on Wednesday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m.
The longtime editor of publications at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture—a leading center for the study of colonial history—Teute has taken up temporary residence at the C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience in the old Chestertown Custom House while she writes a book and teaches a course about early Washington, D.C., as seen through the eyes of one of its most fascinating personalities. Teute has been interested in Smith since she stumbled across her unpublished letters to her sister at the Library of Congress and realized that she was far more complex than the woman most historians thought they knew.
"There was this hidden side to her—introspective and critical and literary," Teute says. "It was clear that she felt excluded from power and, as a result, felt a great deal of sympathy for other people—slaves, free blacks, poor white farmers—who had also been excluded from power. And this is what I love about working as a historian—that you can get behind the conventional wisdom and discover these hidden voices in the past."
Kenneth Miller, assistant professor of history at Washington College, says the chance to hear Teute discuss her research "is a very exciting opportunity for our students and for all of us, really. She is one of the leading historians of the early national United States and we are very lucky to have her here in Chestertown."
Established in 2000 with a grant from the New York-based Starr Foundation, the C.V. Starr Center draws on the special historical strengths of Washington College and colonial Chestertown to explore the early republic, the rise of democracy, and the manifold ways in which the founding era continues to shape American culture, through fellowships, scholarships and innovative educational programs, and especially by supporting the art of written history.
Litrenta Lecture Hall is located in the John S. Toll Science Center. Admission to "The Spectacle of Washington" is free and open to the public.
April 1, 2008