Eliza Woodson Farnham

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Eliza Woodson Farnham (Burhans)

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Cornelius Burhans and Mary Wood
Wife of Thomas J. Farnham
Sister of Mary Woodson Burhans

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Eliza Woodson Farnham


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


Her maiden name was Burhans. 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 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. Controversy over her choices and beliefs Farnham resigned in 1848. She also advocated using music and kindness in the rehabilitation of female prisoners. She retained the office of matron until 1848, when she 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.


Life in the Prairie Land, 1846 - An account of life on the Illinois prairie near Pekin between 1836 and 1840.

California, In-doors and Out, 1856 - A chronicle of her experiences and observations on California.

My Early Days, 1859 - An autobiographical novel.

Woman and Her Era, 1864 - "Organic, religious, esthetic, and historical" arguments for woman's inherent superiority.

The Ideal Attained, 1865 - The heroine molds

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Eliza Woodson Farnham's Timeline