Mary Abigail Dodge was born the seventh child of James Brown Dodge and Hannah Stanwood Dodge in Hamilton Massachusetts on March 31, 1833. Both parents came from English stock that had lived in Essex County, Massachusetts for several generations. Her father was a farmer and her mother, before marrying Mr. Dodge, was a school teacher.
Mary was brought up on a farm and being an energetic girl, living the life of a farm girl suited her. In fact, contemporary “Fanny Fern” described her as such: “She was brought up as New England girls are generally brought up in the country; simply, healthfully, purely; with plenty of fence for gymnastics; plenty of berries and birds, and flowers and mosses, and clover blossoms and fruit in the sweet, odorous summers; with plenty of romping companions not subjects for early tombstones and obituary notices, but with broad chests, sun-kissed faces and nimble limbs and tongues.” Mary enjoyed the freedom country living gave her and she had a great love for nature.
Mary was a remarkable child. As a youth, she showed a great interest in the things of God and joined the local Congregational Church when she was quite young. Being very intelligent, Mary was sent to boarding school in Cambridge at the age of twelve where she stayed a year and then was admitted into the Ipswich Female Seminary, from which she graduated in 1850. She then stayed on at the seminary to teach for the next four years before accepting a teaching job at the Hartford (Connecticut) Female Seminary. She stayed there a year before moving on to the Hartford High School, where she became a most beloved teacher.
Though her teaching career was met with great success, Mary grew dissatisfied with the long hours and low salary and longed to try her hand at writing. In 1856 she sent samples of her poetry to the antislavery publication “National Era” in Washington which impressed the editor, Gamaliel Bailey, because of her unique and individual style. Two years later she moved to Washington to become the governess of Mr. Bailey’s children and established herself as a writer, making contributions to such publications as the “Independent”, the “Congregationalist”, “Country Living and Country Thinking”, “Summer Rest”, and the “Atlantic Monthly”.
While she was in Washington, Mary chose a pen name. She did this partly because of her disdain for personal publicity and shyness. She chose the name “Gail Hamilton”, taking it from the last part of “Abigail” and “Hamilton”, her place of birth.
The writings of Gail Hamilton met with immediate success and she became a very popular author. Her pieces grew from pointed practical and funny sermonizing on everyday experiences and current events to self-development, self-reliance, and self-respect, written from a sharp-witted feminine viewpoint, alluding to Biblical references to back up her point of view. She was considered rather severe in her criticism of men and her cutting wit made many a man wince with her biting remarks such as: “Some men dole out money to their wives as if it were a gift, a charity. A man has no more right to his earning than his wife has. What absurdity, to PAY him his WAGES and GIVE her money to go shopping with!”
One of her most controversial volumes was “Woman’s Wrongs: A Counter-Irritant”. In this book, Mary attacked the view that women were limited by their physical weakness and Biblical command to the sphere of the home. Being a self-made woman, she was a supporter of woman’s suffrage, but she did not believe it would relieve women of economic discrimination or be morally uplifting to society. In fact, she thought that it might even hinder women from an even loftier role; that of providing spiritual guidance to society, which she did through raising her family. She believed that in the family, a wife and mother should reign supreme, having a husband who loved her and treated her with respect. She also believed that while this was the ideal, in reality many husbands were inclined to feeling superior to their wives and acting as tyrants in the home.
In 1871, Mary began wintering in Washington in the home of her cousin who was the wife of Speaker of the House James G. Blaine. Because of this, she became quite well known in political circles and was able to exercise indirect political influence. It is believed that she often wrote Blaine’s speeches, but while that cannot be verified, she is known to have helped him with the writing of his “Twenty Years of Congress in 1884.” She went on to publish her own political views in articles and letters to the New York Tribune. In 1883, after his death, Mary wrote “The Biography of James G. Blaine”.
In 1895, while in Washington to verify the last pages of her biography on James Blaine, Mary suffered a stroke that left her unconscious for weeks. She recovered enough to go home to Hamilton, but died there in August 1896 of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was buried in Hamilton, Massachusetts.