Mary Baker McQuesten
Oct. 10, 1849 - Dec. 7, 1934
[Note to readers: Throughout this website Mary Baker McQuesten
will be referred to as exactly that, and is to be distinguished from her daughter
Mary Baldwin McQuesten.]
Mary Baker McQuesten (1849-1934) was an exceptional
and enlightened woman of the Victorian and Edwardian age in Canada, yet she is little known.
Her writings reveal the political strength and matriarchal power that were possible for women in
Ontario during the extended Victorian era. Although Mary never wrote for publication, she was a
prolific and uninhibited letter writer; approximately seven hundred of her letters are extant, mostly those
written to her children. She was also a forceful and impassioned speaker and wrote and delivered
many Presbyterian missionary society addresses. Mary's letters record the development of her
matriarchal power after she suddenly became a widowed single parent of six young children, and
was forced to raise and educate them in a state of genteel poverty. Her writings give details of
the family's financial problems and health concerns, such as inherited mental disease and
tuberculosis. We have included extensive annotations to the letters to provide background material
for the family's social scene, education, literature, politics, religion and social reform. Mary was a
dynamic and determined matriarch in both the domestic sphere and in her public leadership, and
she was a keen observer and an outspoken critic of her times.
The thesis section of this website includes biographical and theoretical essays based on Mary Anderson's PhD thesis, The Lifewritings of Mary Baker McQuesten (1839-1934): Victorian Matriarch of Whitehern. It also offers an approach to the literary aspects of the McQuesten life writings through a review of critical and cultural theory, and provides the precedents that establish personal letter writing and autobiography within the genre of life writing. The theoretical section also shows how the McQuesten writings are important to cultural and
interdisciplinary studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The writings are a rich repository
of Canadian Victorian ideas and ideals, and they are important cultural artifacts that provide
insights into the Victorian family and society during a period of great change in Canada.
For more information on Mary Baker McQuesten, please browse the Thesis section.