Sisters of Fortune

Being the true story of how three motherless sisters saved their home in New England and raised their younger brother while their father went fortune hunting in the California Gold Rush

Nancy Coffey Heffernan and Ann Page Stecker

In 1850 , James Wilson, a widowed congressman from Keene, New Hampshire, left his three daughters and young son to seek his fortune in the California gold rush. During his twelve year absence, the daughters wrote their father almost 350 letters filled with accounts of daily life and lively observations on local and national events. The daughters — Mary Elizabeth, 24, Annie, 18, and Charlotte, 16, when their father left — were conventional, upper-middle-class young women struggling to keep up appearances in a society that accorded them few rights. These letters and the story they tell constitute a valuable social and cultural document and offer readers a vivid description of mid-19th century American life.

E-book: $19.99
ISBN-13: 9781611680836
Pages: 311 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: October 3, 2000


  • What Nancy Coffey Heffernan and Ann Page Stecker have done in Sisters of Fortune is to edit these letters into a remarkable documentary history of the Wilson daughters . . . the girls paid the bills, harvested the crops. They grew up, because women, and then wives, and then mothers. They steered young Jamie into Harvard. They did survive, as a family and as individuals; and Sisters of Fortune is an extraordinary account of this survival.

    The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Nancy Coffey Heffernan

Nancy C. Heffernan, teacher, writer, and lecturer, lives in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Ann Page Stecker

Ann Page Stecker retires from Colby-Sawyer after 40 years of steadfast dedication to both the college and its students. A prominent fixture of the college’s School of Arts & Sciences for decades, Ann Page taught courses in environmental literature, autobiography, British literature, New England history and women’s literature.

Ann Page joined the college’s faculty in 1980, and participated in an advisory committee that ultimately chose to transition Colby-Sawyer to a coeducational …

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