The third of seven children born to the Peabody family, and youngest of the daughters, Sophia was an artist, illustrator, and writer. Elizabeth Palmer Peabody educated her sister on literature, history, science, and geography. Sophia learned to read several languages, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and some German.
Thanks to her sister Elizabeth, Sophia began studying drawing in 1824, further enhancing her artistic skills under Francis Graeter, the illustrator of Lydia Maria Child’s Girl’s Own Book (1833). Within eight years, Peabody was rendering copies of existing works as well as painting her own landscapes. In some of her letters and journals, she included sketches of people and places. Sophia later sculpted bas relief medallions of her brother George (1813-1839) and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s late brother Charles Chauncey (1808-1836).
In a letter to her sister Elizabeth, she wrote of her art:
What do you think I have actually begun to do? Nothing less than create and do you wonder that I lay awake all last night after sketching my first picture. I actually thought my head would have made its final explosion. When once I began to excurse, I could not stop. Three distinct landscapes came forth in full array besides that which I had arranged before I went to bed and it seemed as if I should fly to be up and doing. I have always determined not to force the creative power but wait till it mastered me and now I feel as if the time had come and such freedom and revelry of spirit does it bring!
Due to lifelong health issues, she sought “rest therapy” and traveled to Cuba with her sister Mary Tyler Peabody in 1833. While on the tropical island for nearly two years, Sophia sent home letters and journals detailing life, which family shared with friends. When her sister Elizabeth introduced Nathaniel Hawthorne, he referred to Sophia as the “The Queen of the Journalizers,” a nickname that became “Dove” as their relationship grew.
Hawthorne’s character Alice Vane in “Edward Randolph’s Portrait,” an artist, is said to be based on the youngest Peabody sister and her account of restoring a painting while in Cuba. Sophia provided illustrations for Hawthorne’s “The Gentle Boy,” republished as The Gentle Boy: A Thrice Told Tale (1838) and dedicated to her, and the 1842 reissue of Grandfather’s Chair.
On July 9, 1842, at her sister Mary’s home and bookstore in Boston, the same location where Margaret Fuller held some of her “Conversations,” James Freeman Clarke officiated the wedding ceremony for Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The newlyweds moved in to The Old Manse in Concord the same day. As a wedding gift to the couple Thoreau planted a quarter acre garden, which flourished into the 1920s.
In 1843, the couple etched in the glass of a window in the study using Sophia’s diamond ring:
Nath Hawthorne This is his study
The smallest twig leans clear against the sky
Composed by my wife and written with her diamond
Inscribed by my husband at sunset, April 3, 1843. In the Gold light.
When their first daughter, Una (1844-1877), was about a year old, the family moved to Salem, MA, where Nathaniel was appointed to a Customhouse position as Surveyor. In March, 1846, pregnant with her second child, Julian (1846-1934), Sophia moved to Boston. The family moved to Lenox, MA, in 1850, so her husband could focus on writing. There, Sophia gave birth to Rose (1851-1926) a few weeks after The House of the Seven Gables (1851) was published.
Upon the 1852 purchase of The Hillside from A. Bronson Alcott, the Hawthornes owned a home of their own, renaming it The Wayside. Only a year later, with Pres. Franklin Pierce appointing her husband as Consulate in Liverpool, a position described by Sophia as “second in dignity to the Embassy in London,” the family relocated to Europe for several years, returning to The Wayside in 1860. During these travels, Sophia drew and painted cityscapes and landscapes of the places they visited, including Rome.
Pierce, who was at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s bedside when he died in May 1864, told Elizabeth Peabody who notified her sister. Newly widowed, Sophia later wrote to Annie Fields: “My darling has gone over that Sapphire sea, and these grand soft waves are messages from his Eternal Rest.” Four years later, Sophia moved back to England with her children.
Sophia Hawthorne had one work published in her life, Notes in England and Italy (1869) and edited several of her husband’s works after his death.
On Feb. 26, 1871, Sophia died of typhoid pneumonia in London, England, and was buried in Kensal Green.
Sophia Hawthorne was memorialized in The New-York Daily Tribune on April 7, 1871:
In June 2006, a funeral was held for Sophia and Una when they were reinterred in the Hawthorne family plot at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA. Hawthorne descendants and representatives from the Dominican Sisters, a Catholic order founded by Rose Hawthorne, attended the service. A public ceremony was held at The Old Manse.