She was a true renaissance woman and her many accomplishments include still-life and landscape painter, prolific author, poet, newspaper editor and printer, magazine columnist, spiritualist, psychic medium, and an early outspoken supporter of women's rights in Victorian-era America. She was born in Ohio in 1838 and raised in Geauga County. As a girl, she worked as a printer for the Jeffersonian Democrat and in 1856 she edited a publication called The Alliance in Columbus where it is likely she met her future husband, John B. Duffey (a fellow painter, printer, and poet). After marrying they moved to Philadelphia. It is not clear when or where she began to paint but in 1861 after she had left Ohio, five of her works were put up for auction in Cincinnati by Graff and Company: titled Autumn. Spring, and three fruit studies.
During their lifetimes, the Duffeys penned many poems and articles for Arthur's Illustrated Home Magazine, Godey's Ladies Book, and more. They wrote on various and diverse topics such as local and distant lands and customs, garden and home decorating, etiquette, philosophy, and women's rights. She was a strong advocate for the sharing of domestic chores by men and women and of the importance of women having interests outside the home and published several books in defense of women's rights. Some of her books, include:
What Women Should Know (Philadelphia: J. M. Stoddart, 1873).
The Relations of the Sexes (New York: Wood and Holbrook, 1876)
The Ladies' and Gentlemen's Etiquette (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1877).
Heaven Revised: A Narrative of Personal Experiences After the Change Called Death (Chicago: Religio-Philosophical Publishing House. 1889).
It appears that later in life, Eliza Duffey became interested in spiritualism. White Crow Books, a re-publisher of her 1889 book, Heaven Revised writes, "It appears Eliza Duffey was a gifted medium with the ability to connect with spirit and automatic writing, although she claimed that she had scant knowledge of spiritualism and no prior mediumistic ability when she began to write down the words in this book... The narrator, a woman, writing through Duffey, observes her lifeless body and realizes for the first time she is dead in the physical sense... the spheres she finds herself in are in stark contrast to the orthodox heaven and hell that was generally accepted by Christians at the end of the 19th century.
Along with its present (and we believe future), Woodbury's past has been no stranger to free-thinking and multi-faceted artists. We should be proud of Woodbury's artistic heritage and celebrate our ties to such extraordinary people.
B&W reproduction from Painting and Sculpture in New Jersey