Boston: B. Edes & Sons, 1784. First edition. Contemporary sheep with red morocco label to spine. Extremities a bit rubbed, with some chipping to spine label and small loss to crown. Upper front joint cracked but holding well. Binding overall secure and square. Some foxing to preliminaries; contents mildly toned. Contemporary ownership signature to front endpaper reads "Benjamin Bell's, July 1785/6." Collating , ii, , 204, lxxxiii, : complete, including errata, appendices, and subscribers' list to rear. Scarce institutionally and in trade, Adams' detailed work on world religions earned her the honorary of being the first professional female author in the U.S.
Hannah Adams' story is a reminder that poor physical health can be the impetus for major intellectual projects. A sickly child, she confesses in her memoir that curiosity kept her alive; she pursued rigorous subjects from her home, including Latin, Greek, geography, history, philosophy, and logic. "I remember that my first idea of the happiness of Heaven was of a place where we should find our thirst for knowledge fully gratified" (Memoir). "Adams was fascinated by the discovery that a different world existed far from the New England town and the Puritan heritage in which she was raised. She began to conduct her own research and fact gathering surveys on the world's religions. Struck by the bias that most authors imposed on their material, Adams was determined to gain a more impartial understanding of the different denominations...upon completion of her project, Adams decided to publish her work as a means of income" (ODNB). The result was An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects -- a work that became a gold standard in the field and went into multiple editions -- as well as a paycheck that made her North America's first professional, paid woman writer. Praised for her efforts by the Puritan clergymen of her community, including Samuel Willard and Jedediah Morse, Adams used her platform to advocate for the expansion of women's education. "The world has been absurdly accustomed to entertain but a moderate opinion of female abilities and to ascribe their pretended productions to the craft and policy of designing to men," asserts the preface to her book. "Unbiased reason must allow, if an insidious comparison between the sexes is in any respect justifiable, it cannot be grounded upon a defect of natural ability, but upon the different and faulty mode of female education; for under similar culture, and with equal advantages, it is far from being uncertain that the female mind would not admit improvement that would at least equal if not eclipse the boasted glory of the other sex."
ESTC W37176. (Item #3544)