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William Seward and academic feminism

The review "Man in the Middle of 19th-Century American History," Aug. 30, of my new biography of William Henry Seward prompts me to reply.The reviewer complains that I rely excessively on secondary sources, thus demonstrating her ignorance of the fact that the Seward Papers at the University of Rochester were bowdlerized by the Seward family. She charges that Seward's relations with Thurlow Weed and Horace Greeley are "not explored," raising questions as to whether she has read the book. The allegation that my discussion of the Seward marriage is lacking in insight provides a clue as to the reviewer's bias. My fault, it appears, is that I fail to "explore the wealth of materials dealing with women and families in the 19th century." My objective, of course, was to deal with one particular couple. Any biography of William Henry Seward poses fascinating questions. Could Seward in fact have prevented the Civil War? Was he aware of corruption in connection with the Alaska purchase? These are substantive points that are essential to any understanding of Seward and his period, but they do not interest the reviewer, for whom my book must be judged by the criteria of academic feminism. John M. Taylor, McLean, Va.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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