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Eliza Farnham
Born Eliza Woodson Burhans
(1815-11-17)November 17, 1815
Rensselaerville, New York
Died December 15, 1864(1864-12-15) (aged 49)
New York City, New York
Occupation
Genre non-fiction
Notable works Woman and Her Era (1864)

Eliza Farnham (November 17, 1815 – December 15, 1864) was a 19th-century American novelist, feminist, abolitionist, and activist for prison reform.

Biography

She was born in Rensselaerville, New York. She moved to Illinois in 1835, and there married Thomas J. Farnham in 1836, but returned to New York in 1841. In 1843 she wrote a series of articles for Brother Jonathan refuting John Neal's call for women's suffrage in that same newspaper, though Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony wrote in 1887 that "Mrs. Farnham lived long enough to retrace her ground and accept the highest truth." In 1844, through the influence of Horace Greeley and other reformers, she was appointed matron of the women's ward at Sing Sing Prison. She strongly believed in the use of phrenology to treat prisoners. Farnham was influential in changing the types of reading materials available to women prisoners. The purpose of her choices was not entertainment but improving behavior. She also advocated using music and kindness in the rehabilitation of female prisoners. Farnham retained the office of matron until 1848 when, amid controversy over her choices and beliefs, she resigned in 1848. She then moved to Boston, and was for several months connected with the management of the Institution for the Blind.

In 1849 she visited California, and remained there until 1856, when she returned to New York. For the two years following, she devoted herself to the study of medicine, and in 1859 organized a society to assist destitute women in finding homes in the west, taking charge in person of several companies of this class of emigrants. She subsequently returned to California.

She died from consumption in New York City at the age of 49. She was an atheist.

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