Irish Author and Educator
Elizabeth Hamilton was born in Belfast , in July of 1758. She was the daughter of Charles Hamilton, a Scottish merchant who had moved to Belfast , and Katherine Mackay who, was the sister of the minister of Belfast ‘s first dissenting congregation.
Her father died in 1759, leaving his widow with three children. Finding herself unable to care for all her children, Katherine sent them to be raised and educated by relatives. In 1762, Elizabeth was sent to be raised by her paternal aunt, a Mrs. Marshall, who lived in Stirlingshire , Scotland , with her husband, a prosperous farmer. It appears from her own writings that Elizabeth had an idyllic childhood during which she both read widely in Scottish history and literature and enjoyed active outdoor play. She attended a day school at Stirling between the ages of eight and thirteen, a form of education that she later advocated.
Elizabeth was also an intellectually active girl. She had a taste for good literature and was widely read. Wallace was the first hero of her studies; but meeting with Oglivie’s translation of the Iliad, she idolized Achilles and dreamed of Hector. Her aunt disapproved of her literary interests, afraid that Elizabeth would be viewed unfeminine if she was seen reading such material. She was also given to writing poetry.
In 1788, Elizabeth went to live with her brother Captain Charles Hamilton, who was engaged on his translation of the “Hedaya”, the Muslim code of laws. After the death of her brother Charles in 1792, the literary career of Elizabeth Hamilton commenced. Her first work was “The Letters of a Hindu Rajah”, in tribute to life of her brother, published in 1796. The success of this work decided her to pursue the vocation of a writer.
Elizabeth Hamilton spent the years following her brother’s death traveling around southern England with her widowed sister Katherine, with whom she lived for most of the rest of her life. It was not until 1804 that she returned permanently to Scotland , settling in Edinburgh , where she became an active participant in the cultural life of the city.
She wrote successively, “Memoirs of Modern Philosophers”,”Letters on Education”, “Life of Agrippina”, and “Letters to the Daughters of Noblemen.” This last book was published in the year 1806. Soon afterwards, Miss Hamilton became an active promoter of the “House of Industry” at Edinburgh, an establishment for the education of females of the lowest class. For the benefit of these young women, Elizabeth wrote the little book, “Exercises in Religious Knowledge”, which was published in 1809.
Elizabeth Hamilton has shown in all her works great power of analysis, a firm grasp of philosophy, and singular proficiency as an expositor of educational theory. More importantly, her work was a great influence on mothers of her time, encouraging them to be careful what they allow into the minds of their children.
She left Edinburgh for Harrogate in May of 1816, hoping to recover from the effects of a particularly bad winter, but she died there on 23 July, 1816 at the age of 58.
Source of Quotes:
Woman: Her Position, Influence, and Achievement, published by The King-Richardson Company in 1903.