Woman: Her Excellence and Usefulness (Her Price Above Rubies)
Printed by A. Converse, Philadelphia. Cover/running title: Her Price Above Rubies. Hardcover cloth 24mo, 48pp. An attractive binding with gilt-stamped covers, floral vignette on the rear. Very Good with mild rubbing and discoloration, light foxing. Binding tight, contents unmarked. OCLC locates 1 copy at Penn State.
An ingratiating address dedicated "to the ladies of Harrisburg," praising women’s intellect and advocating for female education—but only so that women may silently advise their husbands and serve as “the help-meet of man.” DeWitt declares, “The pulpit, or the academic chair, the bench, or the forum; the council of state, or the field of battle, are not the appropriate sphere for the exertion of female talent.” However, in contrast to common arguments concerning women’s inferiority or unfitness for such offices, he acknowledges that women can perform such duties (“There have been, indeed, those, in different ages of the world, who have shown themselves competent to engage in these occupations, and who have been even distinguished in them”) he asserts that they shouldn’t, because it comes at the cost of their “feminine graces” (11-12). His address also includes the usual advocating for temperance and condemnation of the moral degradation of reading novels, “which enfeeble the intellect and often corrupt the heart” (44).
DeWitt’s address is particularly apposite given that his influence was largely derived from the prominence of his wife, Mary Wallace, and her family. DeWitt was a Calvinist minister who served as the pastor of Market Square Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg from 1819 through his death in 1867. He married Mary Wallace in 1825, after the death of his first wife. Although he came from a somewhat notable family—descendent of the first Dutch settlers in New Netherland in the early 1600s—Mary Wallace was the great-granddaughter of John Harris, founder of Harrisburg; her grandfather was William Maclay, first US Senator from Pennsylvania, and her father was the first president of the Harrisburg Bank. Mary Wallace was described as a gracious hostess, prominent in Harrisburg societies and fondly regarded in local history, to the extent that her profile and photo appeared in the throwback “Harrisburg Family Album” feature that ran in The Evening News in June 1939.
The impact of her status is evident in the content of the address and the fact of its publication, which was DeWitt’s most widely recognized–a nominal distinction given he is only known to have published a small number of pamphlets. Among his other accomplishments, he served as State Librarian from 1854-1860, received an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Pennsylvania in 1838, and dutifully rallied against public celebrations: “Especially did he set himself to destroy the annual fairs, which were but seasons of carousal and reckless dissipation.” See: Robinson, Rev. Thomas H. "A Discourse on the Life and Character of Rev. William R. Dewitt, D. D., Late Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Harrisburg, Pa" (20) (Harrisburg: Taylor & Murphy, 1868), and his entry in Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania (Runk, 1896; 262-263)