About the Book

The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce

A Nineteenth-Century Mother’s Extraordinary Fight against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times
August 2010
Hardcover · 416 Pages
$25.00 U.S.
ISBN 9780802119469
Atlantic Monthly Press


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Ilyon Woo’s The Great Divorce is the dramatic, richly textured story of one of nineteenth-century America’s most infamous divorce cases, in which a young mother single-handedly challenged her country’s notions of women’s rights, family, and marriage itself.
In 1814, Eunice Chapman came home to discover that her three children had been carried off by her estranged husband. He had taken them, she learned, to live among a celibate, religious people known as the Shakers. Defying all expectations, this famously petite and lovely woman mounted an an epic campaign against her husband, the Shakers, and the law. In its confrontation of some of the nation’s most fundamental debates—religious freedom, feminine virtue, the sanctity of marriage—her case struck a nerve with an uncertain new republic. And its culmination—in a stunning legislative decision and a terrifying mob attack— sent shockwaves through the Shaker community and the nation beyond.
With a novelist’s eye and a historian’s perspective, Woo delivers the first full account of Eunice Chapman’s remarkable struggle. A moving story about the power of a mother’s love, The Great Divorce is also a memorable portrait of a rousing challenge to the values of a young nation.

About the Author

Ilyon Woo holds a B.A. in the Humanities from Yale College and a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University, where she wrote her dissertation on nineteenth century anti-Shaker and Shaker apostate narratives. She has had support for her writing and research from numerous public and private funding sources, including the Peterson Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society; the Larry Hackman Research Residency at the New York State Archives; the Faith Andrews Fellowship at the Winterthur Museum and Library; the Elder Henry Blinn Research Fellowship at the University of New Hampshire (Durham) and the Canterbury Shaker Village; and the Younger Scholars Grant at the National Endowment for the Humanities. She has spoken publicly on Eunice Chapman’s anti-Shaker literature at museums and conferences. She lives with her family in Manhattan.