Mary Moody Emerson. Defender of the faith. Brilliant intellect and determined theologian. Mary Moody Emerson, the aunt of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was keen and incisive in intellect, literate, and unrelentingly orthodox. She strove mightily through the force of her convictions to preserve her nephew for the Christian faith, and she filled her journal, his journal, and their correspondence with her thoughtfully reasoned “apologia” for that faith. Emerson said of her, “She was as great an influence in my life as Greece or Rome.”

Mary Moody Emerson was a spitfire, a strict pietist, a sharp-tongued social misfit who spoke her mind. She spent years in the Emerson home teaching the Emerson children and nurturing in them orthodox belief. “Aunt Mary wrote the prayers which first my brother William and then I read aloud morning and evening … and they still sound in my ear with their prophetic and apocalyptic ejaculations.… I could not find any examples or treasuries of piety so high-toned, so profound, or promising such rich influence as my remembrances of her conversation and letters,” Emerson recalled.

This irrepressible defender of the faith wanted desperately to pass on her orthodox religious heritage. Born in 1774, she was one of several children of the Reverend William Emerson and Phebe (Bliss) Emerson of Concord. As a two-year-old child she was given to a maiden aunt during the Revolutionary War, perhaps to lighten the family burden. Mary remained there after her father died and her mother remarried, working hard and finding little outlet for her intellectual or emotional inclinations. At age nineteen she returned home to help her remarried mother raise a second family, and at age ...

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