Julia Evelina Smith
27 May 1792 – 6 March 1886
“It may seem presumptuous for an ordinary woman with no particular advantages of education to translate and publish alone, the most wonderful book that has ever appeared in the world, and thought to be the most difficult to translate.” - Julia Evelina Smith, on being the first woman to translate the Bible.
Of all the biblical scholars and translators to have worked on the Bible, Julia Evelina Smith is said to be the most interesting and most overlooked. A self-published professional translator and American women’s suffrage activist, Smith was the first woman to translate the Bible multiple times from its multiple original languages into English. She is also the author of Abby Smith and Her Cows, telling the story of Smith and her sister engaging in tax resistance during the American suffrage movement in Connecticut, where the pair were born. Her historical accomplishments alone deserve recognition, as she accomplished literary and political successes during a time when women were viewed as lesser beings.
- Smith had a working knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and English. Most of her life was spent studying language and Christian theology but officially became a professional translator at the age of 51. Inspired by William Miller, a Baptist preacher in the nineteenth century who famously predicted that the world would end on October 22, 1844. When October 23rd came and went that year, Smith decided she would translate the Bible herself from its original text to gain a more accurate understanding of the fate of the globe.
- Born into a large family of women, Julia Evelina Smith and her sisters, mothers, and grandmothers were advocates of women’s education, abolition, and women’s suffrage. Her entire family was immortalized in the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame in 1994.
- Ms. Smith received heavy criticism from her fellow male language students, compelling her to work harder and harder, she received further criticism for her role as a biblical translator. At that time, not only could women not attend university, women were also not allowed to be leaders in the church. How could a woman interpret God’s word? Smith obviously had a very different view, being largely self-taught, and publishing her biblical translation herself.
- Because women during Smith’s time were not considered equal to men, it was very likely that her biblical translation could have been lost to history. Ironically, it is this inequality that allowed Smith to get her translation our into the public. A tax collector had raised tax rates for property owned by women and not by men. Smith and her sister fought against this taxation without representation by publishing Ms. Smith’s translation of the Bible, drawing attention to the issue of women’s suffrage.
Julia Evelina Smith’s biblical translation is a significant piece of history, touching more than one issue for equality. She translated the Bible unaided and is still the only woman to successfully attempt the project. Her only motivation was said to be a love of the Bible, and to gain a deeper understanding of the scriptures for her growth and her family’s. Her accomplishments are certainly worthy of honor.
Julia Evelina Smith in numbers:
20 Number of years it took for Smith to complete her translation of the Bible. Without any help, she skillfully and impressively translated the whole of scripture from the original languages. Elizabeth Cady Stanton famously wrote, “Julia Smith translated the whole bible absolutely alone without consultation from anyone. And this not once, but five times—twice in the Hebrew, twice from the Greek and once from the Latin”.
7 Number of years Smith waited to self-publish her translation of the Bible. During this time, Julia and her sister, Abby, became pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement, and early leaders of the resulting umbrella feminist movement. Smith’s Bible was finally published in 1876
1 Smith’s translation presents one word after another, just as they present in the original text. Her translation uses English words but keeps in line with the original grammar structure of the source languages. It is not difficult to see the flaws in this method, and although her translation is often criticized to be too literal without any flow, it is considered to be a more accurate translation than the King James’ translation and the only available contemporary English translation directly out of the source languages.
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About This Article
Famous Translators is a MotaWord segment showcasing notable professional translated works and famous linguists from history to the present. We are researching, compiling and sharing stories that matter to every translator on our blog. You, too can be published right here on the MotaWord blog site - just contact email@example.com.
Check out our previous "Famous Translators" articles:
- Translating Feminism with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Constance Garnett: The Imperfect Pioneer of Russian Translation
- The Graphic Translation of Persepolis