Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1876. First edition of the Julia Smith translationl. Strip of dampstaining, about 1 inches wide, along fore-edge of lower board. Red speckled edges. A very good, bright, and fresh copy of the first full translation of the Bible ever published by a woman. Dark brown cloth ruled in blind and titled in gilt with gilt spine. Large octavo. 2], [1-3], 4-892, [1-3], 4-276. Pagination restarts at 1 for the New Testament. Item #16793
Julia Evelina Smith (1792-1886) and her sister Abby Hadassah Smith (1797-1879) independently funded the publication of the present work, which was the first full translation of the Bible ever published by a woman. In her article “The First Feminist Bible,” Madeline B. Stern notes that Julia Smith, who spent about eight years of her life in dedicated translation of the Bible, also completed four other unpublished translations: one from Hebrew, two from Greek and one from Latin (p. 24). In “A Suffragist’s Bible,” Lewis Perry summarized the style of Smith’s translation: “Smith’s goal was a plain, accurate text…She avoided archaic language. She did not bowdlerize, invent, or embroider…The true meaning came from the reader’s struggle to comprehend rather than the translator’s substitutions or interpretations,” (p. 454). This summary echoes Smith’s own statement about her goals in the preface to the present work: “The work is given in types, in figures, in parables and dark sayings, a knowledge of which is gained, as all other knowledge is gained, by the desire to learn it,” (p. 1).
Later criticism of Smith’s translation addressed the literalism of the text, but, as Emily Sampson argues in Her Works Shall Praise Her: The Biblical Translations of Julia E. Smith, the literalism of the text was an important stylistic, theological, and personal decision. As an adherent of the Sandemanian church, an American sect of the Church of Scotland that upheld conformity with early Christian tradition, Smith prized historically accurate meaning in her translation “for reasons of piety” (Sampson, p. 107). Sampson notes as well that Smith wanted to “challenge” the King James Version through her divergences from its language and format (p. 107). Another of Smith’s stylistic choices was to include books omitted from the Protestant canon (Perry, p. 454). She also organized her translation according to the order of the Tanakh, which ends with Chronicles, as opposed to the usual Christian organization that places Chronicles before the Book of Ezra and ends on the Book of Malachi. Modern critics celebrate Smith’s translation as a landmark in feminist Bible scholarship. Smith herself saw the translation as a text that would “give a spur to the feminist movement by offering proof of one woman’s accomplishments,” (Stern, p. 27). Indeed, Smith’s translation is a testament to the hard work of both Julia and Abby, along with the women at the American Publishing Company who had composed, printed, proofread, marketed, and sold the book (Stern, p. 28). In an 1875 letter, Abby and Julia Smith wrote of the translation and its feminist goals: “We thought it might help our cause to have it known that a woman could do more than any man has ever done,” (Stern, p. 27). The Julia Smith Bible was truly what Stern called a “feminist Bible” and remains a milestone in women’s history. Herbert, Darlow & Moule, 2002.