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The Women Jefferson Loved

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  174 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
“A focused, fresh spin on Jeffersonian biography.” —Kirkus Reviews

In the tradition of Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello and David McCullough’s John Adams, historian Virginia Scharff offers a compelling, highly readable multi-generational biography revealing how the women Thomas Jefferson loved shaped the third president’s ideas and his vision for the nation
ebook, 496 pages
Published October 26th 2010 by HarperCollins e-books (first published October 6th 2010)
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An interesting, if rather obvious, approach to Jefferson's life is to study it via the lives of the women involved in it. Given the facts of his reticent personality, the care he took to hide his personal life from public scrutiny, and the contemporary custom of relegating women to the private world of the home, that makes for a considerable task.

Scharff has done her research; as well as she can, given the scanty information, she has revealed the lives of Colonial-era women with insight and huma
First off, this book totally killed my Jefferson crush. Reading about his thoughts on women and their "place" was a total disappointment, but I suppose that's neither here no there as far as this book is concerned. What follows is totally off the top of my head and will most definitely need tweaking but I need to write it down now or I might forget.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the real problem with this book is that if you're going to write about the Women Jefferson Loved, you shouldn't start the book
Aug 12, 2012 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good read. Thankfully the author provided a detailed family tree and dramatis personae which I frequently used to sort out the confusing family tree. Jefferson may have been one of our forward thinking forefathers but he had no use for ambitious females - women were bred for domesticity. Oh my! He truly was a family man and went to great measures to protect them leaving himself a pauper in the process. This book definitely piqued my curiousity about Sally Hemmings. Looking forward to researching ...more
May 13, 2014 Rm rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Fascinating history of Thomas Jefferson and the women in his life. Provides real insights into the quality of life of Virginia plantation life and, once again, the horror of slavery. With "shadow families" of interracial relationships even the most affluent, intellectual and politically important families had to live in a level of denial and subterfuge that is breathtaking to read about. The genealogy chart at the beginning of the book is so hard to follow that it provides a shocking picture of ...more
Stephanie Dray
This book reads more like narrative fiction than biographical non-fiction and that is to its credit. It's an engrossing, well-written, wonderful portrait that brought up all the mixed feelings I have about Jefferson and mixed them up even more. It was also super helpful to my own projects and I took many notes!
The only reason I didn't rate this book as "really liked it" is because of the author's obvious strain to make the Sally Hemings relationship certain when there are no definitive facts to prove it. I came to admire Jefferson's daughter, Patsy (Martha Jefferson Randolph), and marvel at her intelligence, compassion, and ability. Her biography will be the next I read!
Dec 27, 2010 cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I confess...I'm not a history buff (in large part b/c my fact-memory is weak), but I've always had an interest in the often untold stories of the women whom history tends to overlook. Thus, I was interested in The Women Jefferson Loved, a recent book by Virginia Scharff, and selected it as one to receive from Harper (in return for a promise to review it but w/ no limits on what I write). The book is focused on the home life of Thomas Jefferson and the women he cared for including his mother, his ...more
Brenda Sorrels
Jun 11, 2013 Brenda Sorrels rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The Women Jefferson Loved, by Virginia Scharff

Whether you’re a fan of Thomas Jefferson or not, I think you will enjoy this book. In many ways it reads like a novel focusing only on Jefferson’s home life and the relationships he had with the women who were there for him, his mother, sisters, wife, daughters, friends, slaves. I couldn’t put it down!

Here was a man who liked to keep his personal affairs separate from his professional life and this writer manages to push through that separation and
Nov 15, 2010 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If one is poor at names, this book is a challenge, not because of the author, but because of the Jefferson families' propensity to continually use the same names. The family has a complicated genealogy! Basically, it begins by relating the story of Jane Isham Randolph who married Peter Jefferson. Most valuable is the way the author continually sets the mores of the southern plantation owners in the 1700s. One finds out how they lived a shadow lif- that is with slaves who were around them all the ...more
Susan Tweit
May 07, 2013 Susan Tweit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I’ve admired Scharff since we became friends in grad school. I kept reading because her view of Jefferson through the lives of the women who in many ways defined him is fascinating. A professor of history at the University of New Mexico, Scharff is a dogged researcher, a creative thinker and an outspoken feminist. She’s also a witty and trenchant writer, as this passage about Jefferson’s mother’s reaction to his early revolutionary views shows:

"What was a mother to
This was our choice for our 1st Ladies Book CLub since Jefferson technically didn't have a first lady (he was all ready widowed and never remarried). Although we all felt it difficult to read. The author was redundant , there were were times I was literally shouting enough- I get it! We felt this caused the book to be a longer read then necessary. However, we appreciated the Jefferson-Wayles-Hemings family tree. We also had a lively,spirited 4 hour long book club meeting touching on many subject ...more
Brandy Marilla
I enjoyed reading about his daughters and Sally Hemmings very much. Jefferson strikes me as a bit of an idealist, but I do not find his attitude towards women demeaning. I am still not decided as to whether or not I believe he fathered Sally's children, it still seems a mystery....
Apr 17, 2014 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Janet Hall
Great read for the historian or fan of Mr. Jefferson.

I found it very interesting. Unbiased and factual. Very good. Interesting. I enjoy reading about historical figures and Mr. Jefferson is one of my favorites.
Feb 10, 2011 Tinytextiles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very different perspective from the usual Jefferson trivia. This is the soul of the man as seen through his mother, his one and only wife, his adult children, his grandchildren and his significant other--a slave on his plantation who became his lover and bore at least 6 children to him---all of whom were set free when Jefferson died. It is a very colorful history of the times, his presidency, his family and sadly his downfall into great debt so that after his death all of his estate was sold t ...more
Cindy Brown Ash
Oct 02, 2015 Cindy Brown Ash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is probably more like 3.5 stars. Good enough to finish but not too good to put down. Made me more interested in the period than I had been previously.
Jennifer Burks
Feb 17, 2011 Jennifer Burks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not a huge fan of any kind of non-fiction but I actually enjoyed reading this book. Ms. Scharff allows the reader to see Thomas Jefferson through the telling of the history of the women in his life - from his mother, his wife, his children & grandchildren, and what Ms. Scharff calls his "shadow family" with Sally Hemings. It provides an interesting perspective of Jefferson's early life, his Presidency and his unfortunate decline into poverty. It also provides the reader with a greater u ...more
Jul 13, 2014 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After a visit to Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello, I wanted to learn more about Thomas Jefferson. I liked the way this book focused on the women in his life, though with a fairly cursory introduction to all. A good read.
Apr 06, 2016 Melinda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent and riveting book. Well-written and historically correct. I couldn't put it down!
Sep 27, 2012 Kathy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was very disappointed in this book. I felt that the author could not decide if she wanted to write a biography or a an historical fiction story. The facts were quite interesting, however, Scharff too often tried to imagine what the people were thinking or feeling with no factual basis to back up her assumptions. I felt that she wrote the story through the eyes of a modern day woman and did not take the culture of the time into account in many of her assertions. I would suggest that there is pr ...more
Feb 08, 2015 Eileen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
the writing is very elementary but i found the history interesting
Feb 18, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Okay folks I am back on the reading track. Got stuck over the holidays. So this is my first read and although I enjoyed it I kept thinking about the marvelous Hemings of Monticello by Annette Gordon...Scharff really brought to life the home and hearth of the women featured and the daily duties that they performed on Virginia plantations in a fledgling colony. The picture did not look tranquil even amid Jefferson’s persona of being a Virginia gentleman and living lavishly upon a pile of debt.
Sep 16, 2011 ladywallingford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book on the Jefferson women rather interesting and informative. She does a really good job of telling the Jefferson saga while also keeping things interesting for the average reader. I wish now that I had read this one before diving into The Hemingses of Monticello by: Annette Gordon-Reed just for the basic information and then getting the detail of Reed's book. Also, this book was a very easy, light read for a non-fiction book while also seemingly well-researched and written.
Terry Tschann Skelton
Excellent. Beautifully written.
Sep 16, 2013 Kathleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was my personal favorite as I researched Thomas Jefferson. It is non fiction and yet reads like a novel. I think the author revealed Jefferson's strength and weaknesses of character. His relationship with Sally Hemings is handled delicately and with calculated insights. All in all, I would recommend this book highly to anyone who loves history . . . Jefferson is endlessly fascinating and complex and his personal life even more so.
Much easier to read than Gordon-Reed's definitive study on the Hemings, plus much I didn't know about TJ's wife and daughters. It kind of left me wanting a little more depth, but as with anything dealing with Jefferson and the women in his life, there just isn't much to work with. I just never felt that I really got to know any of the women, but I did acquire some new insight into Jefferson's behavior.
Jul 01, 2014 George rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
A dry, but factual account of some people in Thomas Jefferson's life. It's well researched and thorough while focusing on five women who knew and loved Jefferson. Not a page turner but certainly illuminating--the author is good at facts and doesn't stray from her opinions...defends them well, too. 40% of the book is footnotes and factual artifacts...written by an academic
Christina Dudley
Jan 08, 2012 Christina Dudley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history of the women in Jefferson's life: mother, sisters, wife, mistress/slave, daughters, and granddaughters. The poor man was overrun. For the Sally Hemings bit I preferred THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO for its greater detail and discussion of the children, but all the other portions were new and interesting.
Jul 09, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
So far, the best adjectives I can use for this book are flat and dry. Granted, I'm not even halfway in, but I just can't connect with the author or the subjects. I'll probably come back to this later, but have to put it aside for now.
Feb 09, 2012 Diana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tice-oaks-club
I learned a lot more about the world around Jefferson than I had expected to. I also found her interesting to read but a bit repetitive, emphasizing again and again that parts of his family are never mentioned. A difficult topic to follow when so many participants had very similar names.
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VIRGINIA SCHARFF grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and fell in love with history at an early age. Her picaresque academic career began as a member of the first class of women to spend their undergraduate years at Yale University, before heading west, to grow up with the country. She lived in California, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas, where she studied journalism and history and earned her Ph ...more
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