Women In History- Hessie Benton Fremont

Jessie Benton Fremont (1824-1902). Fremont was a writer and political activist. She was considered the brains behind her husband, John C. Fremont, and his famous exploration westward. She turned his notes into readable books and made connections in Washington, D.C., that eventually made him famous. (Recommended biography here.)

She was born near Lexington, Virginia, the second child of Thomas Hart Benton (1782–1858) and Elizabeth McDowell (1794–1854). She was born in the home of her mother’s father, James McDowell. Her father, Senator Benton,[1] had been wanting a son, but went ahead and named her in honor of his father, Jesse Benton.

Jessie was raised in Washington, D.C., more in the manner of a 19th century son than daughter, with her father, who was renowned as the “Great Expansionist,” seeing to her early education and introducing her to the leading politicians of the day, an unusual thing for the period.[2] Jessie was very close to her father and stuck by his side. He shared with her the many books and maps in the valise that always accompanied him on their trips to and from Missouri and Virginia. She began, too, to share his dream of a nation stretching from ocean to ocean. In this manner, she became well educated in the ways of social structure and the disciplines of politics, history, literature and languages. After attaining some fluency in French and Spanish, Jessie helped in the translation of government documents.

In 1840 at age 15, while studying and living at Georgetown Seminary, she met Lieutenant John C. Frémont who was in Washington preparing a report on explorations (with Joseph Nicollet as commander) he had made between the Missouri River and the northern frontier of the United States. They became engaged, but her parents objected to a marriage at that time because of her age. Probably through the influence of Col. Benton, Frémont then received an order from the war department to make an examination of the Des Moines River on the western frontier. Shortly after their return they were married on October 19, 1841.[3]


  • Jessie Benton Frémont: A Biography
    (1987) by Pamela Herr
  • Jessie Benton Frémont: A Woman who Made History (1995) by Catherine Coffin Phillips
  • Jessie Benton Frémont: Missouri’s Trailblazer(2005) by Ilene Stone and Suzanna M. Grenz
  • Passion and Principle: John and Jessie Frémont, the Couple Whose Power, Politics, and Love Shaped Nineteenth-century America (2007) by Sally Denton
  • Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Fremont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity and Helped Cause the Civil War, (2020) by Steve Inskeep, Penguin Press

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