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FRAME, ELIZABETH MURDOCH, historian, teacher, author, and church worker; b. 1820 in Shubenacadie, N.S., daughter of John Frame, a farmer, and Janet Sutherland; d. unmarried there 17 Nov. 1904.

Eliza Frame was born into a well-connected Nova Scotia family, and the family context is important for understanding her life and career. Her grandfather had immigrated to Nova Scotia from northern Ireland, and he and his children were associated through marriage with other prominent merchant and clergy families in the province. Family and community history were important subjects in Eliza’s historical writing. The eldest of ten children, she retained a close lifelong relationship with members of her family. At the time of her death she was living with her younger brother John.

Frame’s formal education was protracted. As a child she was sent to the private school for young ladies operated by John Sparrow Thompson* in Halifax. In her twenties she attended the Truro Academy and in her thirties the provincial Normal School. Frame’s education was at least partly an economic investment; she used her earnings as a public-school teacher to help pay for her brother William R.’s theological training at the University of Edinburgh.

Throughout her life Frame was an active Presbyterian. A pioneering Sunday-school teacher in Hants County in the 1840s, she was an early supporter of foreign missions. That decade she joined the Truro Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, and at her death she was a member of the general board of the Eastern Division of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Her contributions were recognized by her being made a life member by the Shubenacadie branch.

Frame taught in the common schools of Nova Scotia for 30 years from 1848. Her career took her to small, remote communities but also to Shubenacadie, Truro, Dartmouth, and Maitland, Hants County. While in Maitland her curriculum extended to navigation, which she taught to local ship captains.

In the 1860s Frame began her career as a published author. Two books reflected her work as a teacher and her religious enthusiasm. Descriptive sketches of Nova Scotia in prose and verse (Halifax, 1864) appeared under the pseudonym A Nova Scotian, apparently because of her reluctance as a woman to publish under her own name. The work was directed towards youth, and offered “a picture in part of Nova Scotia, sketched from Nature, interspersed with some history and personal allusions connected with the localities,” structured around the imaginary travels of Andrew Urban, narrated by an unidentified companion. In The twilight of faith (Boston, 1871), Frame adopted the perennially popular Canadian convention of an American setting. A didactic work of fiction dedicated to Frame’s father, it recounts the spiritual journey of Mary Gray, a young mother of two who falls into despair following the death of her husband, and ends as she regains her happiness through devotion to her children and charity.

History was the most important subject of Frame’s literary work. According to one obituarist, “She had an instinct, we might say, a passion, for biography and history,” and she was a historical researcher, copyist, and writer from 1864 until the late 1890s. Frame wrote extensively about the history of her family, her community, the Micmac of Nova Scotia, and Canadian women pioneers. Through visits to Boston and her acquaintance with American historian Francis Parkman* she was able to study documents in Massachusetts which related to Nova Scotia.

Frame was an active supporter of the Nova Scotia Historical Society from its formation in 1878 until the late 1890s, although she never became a member. In 1878 she donated family papers and the journal of the New Light evangelist Henry Alline* to the society. Between 1879 and 1892 she prepared four papers for it, but it followed the practice of other provincial societies and her work was always read by a man. It is ironic that in June 1892 Frame was made an honorary life member of the Massachusetts Historical Society when she presented her paper on Micmac names in Nova Scotia.

After that year Frame stopped writing for the NSHS, but she continued to contribute historical articles to the local press. In December 1892 she wrote a long piece on the history of the Micmac and in June 1897 a series on pioneer women in Nova Scotia and Canada, both for the Halifax Herald [see John James Stewart]. The latter ran the week before the arrival in Halifax of delegates to the meeting of the National Council of Women of Canada, and its timing associates Frame’s work closely with the early women’s movement in Canada. In 1898 Frame published a story about the life of Phillis Wheatley, an 18th-century Boston slave, which demonstrates the sensibility of the 19th-century women’s missionary movement.

Elizabeth Frame’s enthusiasm for history and biography and the respect and prestige she enjoyed during her lifetime make her one of a small band of Canadian literary women who are receiving increasing attention from historians. Through her work she reminds us of the need to take a more inclusive approach to intellectual history. Although her prolific literary career and modest public success make her somewhat unusual in her society, in other ways she is representative of a majority of 19th-century rural middle-class women. Like so many of them she made an important contribution to the family economy through her career as a teacher. And as an active Presbyterian she joined thousands of Canadian women in sustaining religious life here as well as in foreign missions.

Janet Guildford

A second edition of Elizabeth Murdoch Frame’s novel The twilight of faith was published in Toronto in 1872. One of her N.S. Hist. Soc. papers was published in its Coll. as “Rev. James Murdoch, 1767–1799,” 2 (1881): 100–9, and the typescript of a second, “Historical Shubenacadie” (read 2 Jan. 1879), is preserved in PANS, MG 100, 229, no.12G; it was later published in the Windsor Courier (Windsor, N.S.), 17 Oct. 1885. Frame’s writings also include a manuscript “History of East Hants” in PANS, MG 4, 73; A list of Micmac names of places, rivers, etc., in Nova Scotia (Cambridge, Mass., 1892); and several items in the Halifax Herald: “The Micmacs: brief history of the [a]borigines of the province” (30 Dec. 1892); “The pioneer women of Nova Scotia,” “The heroines of Nova Scotia,” and “The pioneer heroines of Canada, brave women of the past” (8, 9, and 11 June 1897); and the Phillis Wheatley story, “Boston had slaves, so had Halifax . . .” (17 Dec. 1898).

An excerpt from Frame’s Descriptive sketches appears as “Description of Truro, 1860, by Eliza Frame,” ed. K. B. Wainwright, in Colchester Hist. Soc., Proceedings, reports and program summaries, 1954–57 ([Truro, N.S.], n.d.), 107–12.

Colchester County Court of Probate (Truro), Estate papers, 438: 248 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 1, 3043, no.3; MG 20, 642, no.1, index no.6; MG 100, 235, no.25. Presbyterian Witness, 26 Nov. 1904. Truro Daily News, 30 Nov. 1904. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Canadian poets: vital facts on English-writing poets born from 1730 through 1910, comp. A. T. Schwab (Halifax, 1989). Colchester Hist. Museum, Colchester women (Truro, 1978). Ruth Compton Brouwer, New women for God: Canadian Presbyterian women and India missions, 1876–1914 (Toronto, 1990). Gwendolyn Davies, “‘Dearer than his dog’: literary women in pre-confederation Nova Scotia,” in her Studies in Maritime literary history (Fredericton, 1991), 71–87. D. A. Frame, Genealogy of the Frame family (Halifax, n.d.; copy at PANS). Janet Guildford, “‘Separate spheres’: the feminization of public school teaching in Nova Scotia, 1838–1880,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 22 (1992–93), no.1: 44–64. Anne Innis Dagg, “Canadian voices of authority: non-fiction and early women writers,” JCS, 27 (1992–93): 107–22. V. B. Rhodenizer, Canadian literature in English ([Montreal], 1965). H. B. Wainwright, The first one hundred years of the Nova Scotia Historical Society ([Halifax], 1978). F. W. Wallace, Wooden ships and iron men . . . (London, [1924]). The Womans Foreign Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (Eastern Division), 1876–1926 (Truro, n.d.).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Janet Guildford, “FRAME, ELIZABETH MURDOCH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 27, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/frame_elizabeth_murdoch_13E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/frame_elizabeth_murdoch_13E.html
Author of Article:   Janet Guildford
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   May 27, 2024