ISABELLA GRAHAM (1742 - 1814)

Born in Scotland, Isabella Graham moved to the United States in 1765, with her husband John Graham, a physician of the royal army. After his death in 1774, she spent fifteen years in Paisley and Edinburgh, before returning to New York. Her charitable work, inspired by her faith, included running multiple schools for girls, founding several benevolent societies for widows and orphans, and giving generously to the poor.

An estimated 50,000 copies of her memoir, The Power of Faith, were printed before mid-century. The widest circulation was in American Tract Society editions. In the text, her daughter and son-in-law recall her early efforts to encourage industry among the female poor:

“In the winter 1807-8, when the suspension of commerce by the embargo, rendered the situation of the poor more destitute than ever, Mrs. Graham adopted a plan best calculated in her view to detect the idle applicant for charity, and at the same time to furnish employment for the more worthy amongst the female poor. She purchased flax, and lent wheels, where applicants had none. Such as were industrious, took the work with thankfulness, and were paid for it; those who were beggars by profession, never kept their word to return for the flax or the wheel.” (p. 59)