Jane Aitkin

The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Covenant, Commonly Called the Old and New Testament,
Translated from the Greek by Charles Thomson
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Philadelphia: Jane Aitken, 1808. (00127-00130)

Jane Aitken (1764–1832) was the daughter of Robert Aitken, a noted Philadelphia printer who in 1782 published the first American edition of the Bible in English. Brought to Philadelphia from Scotland at the age of seven, she worked as a bookbinder for her father. Upon his death in 1802 she inherited his business, along with substantial debts. By 1812 she had published at least sixty works, but as an unmarried woman responsible for her widowed younger sister and a disinherited older brother, she often had to appeal for advances and loans. In 1813 Aitken served time in the Norristown debtors’ prison and her printing equipment was sold. Although she continued to support herself as an outstanding bookbinder for the American Philosophical Society, by 1815 her career as a printer had come to an end.  

Despite her financial troubles Jane Aitken earned a place in history as the first American woman to print a Bible. This four-volume edition was not the traditional King James Bible, but a new English version translated from the Greek Septuagint by Charles Thomson (1729–1824), former secretary of the Continental Congress. Although beautifully printed, the edition was a commercial failure.

Listen as curator Dr. Eric White talks about Jane Aitken during a tour.

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