Plymouth author Nancy Rubin Stuart details the lives of strong
women who challenged the norms of their days.
By Dave Kindy Photography by Jack Foley
If it’s true that “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” then you might think that Nancy Rubin Stuart’s books are all about fractious females. They are not—at least not by modern standards. The Plymouth author writes about women who were bold, outspoken, independent and determined to succeed at a time when society said they shouldn’t. Stuart has made a career out of tracing the histories of these groundbreaking individuals, and by helping other writers find their voices in her role as the executive director of the Cape Cod Writers Center. From her home in The Pinehills, the busy author took a few moments to answer a few questions about why she likes to write about women who rebelled against the status quo.
You wrote a new book about Ben Franklin and the women in his life. What inspired you to do that?
While researching historical women, I learned about Franklin’s common-law marriage to Deborah Read. Ben’s autobiography claimed that Deborah was a wonderful helpmate. Yet Ben lived apart from her in London for many years—the first time for five years, the second time for a decade. Even when Deborah became seriously ill, Ben did not return to see her before she died. Why? That question inspired me to write “Poor Richard’s Women.”
You’ve written several books about women in history. What fuels your passion?
I’m passionate about discovering the marginalized and often forgotten stories of women from the past. Women’s lives are woefully underrepresented in history, yet we were the “other half” of historical events. If we want to understand current attitudes towards women today, it’s important to understand how they were regarded in the past which is why I write about them.
How does living in Plymouth influence your writing?
Plymouth is an interesting town because of its historical roots, busy shoreline and lively shops, but it has relatively little to do with my writing—thus far anyway. I’ve been writing about historical women long before we moved here four years ago. What inspires me is the natural beauty around our home and the view of the garden just outside my office window.
What is your role at the Cape Cod
As executive director of the nationally acclaimed Cape Cod Writers Center, I have many duties: selection of faculty and design of courses for our year-round events and summer conference; publicity; promotion; website updates, budgetary issues and board meetings. We are committed to assisting published and aspiring writers of all genres, abilities and ages to develop their writing skills and learn the business of editing, publishing and promotion.
How did you get started in writing?
I began writing when I was 9 years old about our dog and my neighborhood friends. By the time I was in college I was writing for a literary magazine, mostly as a poet. Only later as a young married mother living in suburban New York did my first professional publications appear in local magazines and the Gannett newspapers.
Growing up, did you even imagine you would become an award-winning author?
Only fleetingly, but I thought that it was impossible.
If you could go back in time and could speak with one person, who would that be and what would you ask?
I would love to speak with Cleopatra (69-30 BCE), who ruled Egypt, spoke many languages, forged political alliances and had romantic relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. I’m curious about how she governed her kingdom, her attitudes towards men and why she committed suicide.
Writing can be a lonely and challenging profession. What do you tell aspiring writers?
Anyone who has a burning desire to write should pursue that goal since it grows out of a creative impulse which needs to be fulfilled. Even so, aspiring writers should understand that it may take years to see their first publication. Despite rejections, it’s important to persist. When I first started writing, I used to correct rejection slips from major publications—so many that I used to joke about papering a room with them.
It is also important for writers to read constantly. Not only does that keep a writer well-informed about what is currently being published, but teaches him or her about different approaches to writing and literary styles.
Since very few authors make a living from their work, I suggest having a full- or part-time day job or other steady source of income. The challenge then becomes finding the time to write at night and on the weekends.
Finally, it is important to network with other writers by joining local or virtual writer groups or attending writers conferences. While writing is a solitary profession, having peers with whom to share literary issues and exchange ideas removes that sense of aloneness and sparks new creative ideas.
I wish aspiring writers persistence and good luck. It’s worth the investment of time and effort because nothing is as permanent as print!
Books by Nancy Rubin Stuart
Nancy Rubin Stuart’s biographies detail the lives of some of the most interesting and impactful women in history. Here are a few of her influential titles.
Poor Richard’s Women: Deborah Read Franklin and the Other Women Behind the Founding Father
Published in March of 2022, this book reveals the women who shaped the life of inventor and statesman Ben Franklin, including his wife Deborah Read Franklin as well as those he met in Europe.
Defiant Brides: The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary-Era Women and the Radical Men They Married
Lucy Flucker and Peggy Shippen lived in Colonial America during a pivotal era of rebellion and revolution. Published in 2013, this book details how one of these women became a patriot and the other became a spy.
The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation
Mentored by John Adams, Mercy Otis Warren of Plymouth inflamed rebellion as America’s first woman playwright and female historian of the American Revolution. Published in 2008, this book was a finalist in the 2010 USA Book News “Best Book Award and was the winner of the Historic 1699 Winslow House Book Award.
The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox
As a teenager, Maggie Fox accidently created a spiritual movement that swept the country. This 2005 biography details her life as a medium and her decision to expose the faith’s fakery.
American Empress: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post
Marjorie Merriweather Post was the wealthiest woman in the United States in the early 20th century. This 1995 book chronicles the life of this businesswoman, socialite and philanthropist.
Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen
Published in 1991, this biography examines the life of Isabella, the warrior queen of 13th-century Spain. She helped build her country into a world power at a time of fierce political intrigue.