Villanova University History Professor Selected to Participate in Library of Congress National Book Festival

Professor Catherine Kerrison, author of the critically acclaimed book, Jefferson’s Daughters, will discuss race and gender in the early republic

Villanova University history professor Catherine Kerrison, PhD

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University history professor Catherine Kerrison, PhD, has been selected to participate in the 18th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival on Saturday, September 1 in Washington, D.C. Kerrison will discuss her recent book, Jefferson’s Daughters. The Festival, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year, will feature 115 authors, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, renowned presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and United States Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.  

Kerrison will share the stage of a 1,500-seat auditorium with historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar, whose Never Caught: the Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge has been nominated for the National Book Award. National Public Radio's Eric Deggans will moderate their conversation about race and gender in the early republic.

“I am deeply honored to have been considered for this prestigious event with so many well-respected authors,” said Kerrison. “The stories of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters are important to share as they explore the impact of the American Revolution on long-standing practices of race and gender that still persist today. I very much look forward to sharing more about this book, and with Professor Dunbar, to talking about Washington's and Jefferson's vexed relationships with the institution of slavery and their slaves.”

In Jefferson’s Daughters, Kerrison tells the stories of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters – Martha and Maria Jefferson and Harriet Hemings – and the vastly different experiences they faced in life. Martha and Maria were the daughters of Jefferson's marriage, and grew up in both Virginia and Paris, where their father was posted as America’s ambassador to France. Harriet was Jefferson’s daughter from a longstanding relationship he maintained with his slave Sally Hemings. Martha, who had 11 surviving children, wrote letters that show a devotion to shaping Jefferson's legacy. Maria had remained in Virginia with relatives until her father called her to join him in Paris. She would later marry her cousin and lived happily with him until four successive pregnancies cut her life short at the age of 25.

Harriet Hemings’ story is both fascinating and mysterious. She was born into slavery. But at age 21, Harriet boarded a stagecoach bound for Washington, D.C. Jefferson had given her $50 for her travel expenses. Thereafter, passing as a freeborn white person, Harriet disappeared from the historical record. The story of Kerrison's search for Harriet Hemings illuminates the conditions of life in early America for slaves and free blacks as well as the pain experienced by those passing as white.

Jefferson’s Daughters was released in January 2018 and is published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House. The Library of Congress National Book Festival is free and open to the public.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.