Sisters of Fortune by Jehanne Wake

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Wednesday, Jun 8, 2011

This non-fiction historical novel follows the story of four sisters, Marianne, Bess, Louis and Emily, the descendants of a prominent family of early Maryland settlers. The daughters exceeded their mother’s expectations to “marry plantation” and actually became members of Queen Victoria’s court. They were granddaughters of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The sisters started a trend of so-called “Dollar Princesses“ for marrying poor English royalty and exchanging American wealth for British aristocratic titles. They were one of the first such transatlantic unions, and many more followed.

The sisters were accepted to the courts with great hesitation. Later the royal court found them remarkable for not being “wild savages,” as the depiction of people living on the American continent was at the time. Their families provided them with large dowries not only for the husbands’ families, but for their personal allowances and financial safety in the era before the Married Women’s Property act of 1839.

The sisters conducted their lives in a manner quite at odds with the traditions of early 19th century heiresses because they managed their fortunes by themselves and even further multiplied their fortunes with speculating in the stock market. They used their access to the high society to find out the latest political and financial news at balls and social functions to make informed investment decisions.

The book was written from research of yet unpublished letters, and it contains gossip of prominent people of their times. It also features a description of Anglo-American relations and the social world of the 19th century. It contains many painted portraits of the extended family.

The book would be of interest to everyone in American history and the history of women who attempted to break social conventions. The story reflects an unusual involvement of women in the 19th century financial world. Their life story and participation in their male-dominated world of finance is still a fascinating subject today.

Magda B.

Written by Magda B.