by George J. Dance

Mary Jane Katzmann

Mary Jane Katzmann (1828-1890), from Frankincense and Myrrh, 1893. Courtesy Internet Archive.

Mary Jane Katzmann
Born January 15, 1828
Preston, Nova Scotia
Died March 23, 1890 (aged 62)
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Occupation editor, bookstore owner
Nationality Canada Canadian
Citizenship British subject
Education homeschooled
Notable work(s) Frankincense and Myrrh, History of the Townships...
Notable award(s) Akins Historical Prize
Spouse(s) William Lawson
Children 1 daughter

Mary Jane Katzmann (Mrs. William Lawson) (January 15, 1828 - March 23, 1890) was a Canadian poet, editor, and historian.


Katzmann was born in Preston, Nova Scotia, the daughter of Mary (Prescott) and Lieutenant Christian Conrad Casper Katzmann.[1] Her father was a native of Hanover, Germany, who had earned a British Army commission in the Peninsular War.[2] We are told that "she showed exceptional intelligence at an early age, but because she was female she was not given the benefit of a formal education."[3] "She could read at the age of three, and, with the guidance of her family, was largely self-educated."[2]

In 1845 her poetry came to the attention of Joseph Howe, who praised it in his "Nights with the Muses" column in The Nova Scotian.[3] Between 1848 and 1851, Katzmann published a large amount of verse in the Halifax Guardian.[3]

In January 1852 she became editor of The Provincial, a new literary journal,[3] "and under her expert guidance it became possibly the best of the early Nova Scotian periodicals. The format and printing were superior, and the quality of the contributions was commendable.... Katzmann tailored her publication to attract a wide audience, both male and female; she also strove to include articles of regional origin rather than selected reprints."[2]

The magazine "was well received by its readers but sufficient subscriptions were not forthcoming, and publication ceased with the December 1853 issue. Nothing further is known of the editor until 1866, when she was operating the Provincial Bookstore in Halifax."[2]

In 1869 Katzmann married Halifax businessman William Lawson.[3] She turned over the bookstore to her sister, and became a proper non-working Victorian wife (though she continued to write). She spent much time on "charitable and social causes, particularly those associated with the Church of England." The couple had a daughter.[2]

Lawson reworked a series she had written in the Provincial, "Tales of Our Village,"[4] into the prize-winning book, History of the Townships of Dartmouth, Preston and Lawrencetown, Halifax County, N.S..

She died of cancer in Halifax in 1890.[3]


Katzmeann's 2 books, Frankincense and Myrrh (a collection of her poetry) and History of the Townships of Dartmouth, Preston, and Lawrencetown, Halifax County, N.S.," were published posthumously in 1893, edited by poet Constance Fairbanks and historian Harry Piers.

"As a poet Katzmann was prone to generalities, melodramatic effects, and dull religious and moral didacticism - characteristics that mark the verse of contemporary 'female poets' in Britain and the United States upon whom she patterned herself," says the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, "but she was always technically competent, at her best when writing descriptive verse or charming song-like lyrics."[3]

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography (DCBO) calls her prize-winning historical study, History of the Townships of Dartmouth, Preston and Lawrencetown, Halifax County, N.S., "her enduring contribution to Canadian literature. Although it relies heavily on description and anecdote, and reads much like a Victorian travelogue, the book nevertheless reveals a fine sense of historical detail and comprehension." As well, "although it can in no way be compared to a modern sociological study, it does convey, in a fashion which many early regional histories lack, a colourful sense of the people and the times."[2]


Katzmann's History of the Townships of Dartmouth, Preston and Lawrencetown, Halifax County, N.S. won the Akins Historical Prize from King's College in 1887.

The DCBO says of Katzmann's career: "In an age when women accomplished little beyond the circle of home and charity, her success, although limited to the provincial sphere, was threefold: as the capable and youthful editor of a successful, if short-lived, periodical, as an able businesswoman in a circle dominated by male initiative, and as one of the first native Nova Scotian women to achieve literary recognition, and certainly the first to make an enduring impression."[2]





  • Provincial, or Halifax monthly magazine. Halifax, NS: 1852-1853.[2]

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[6]

See alsoEdit



  1. "Mary Jane Katzmann," Family Search,, Web, May 5, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Lois K. Kernaghan, "Katzmann, Mary Jane (Lawson)", Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Universite Laval, 2003- . Web, May 5, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 "Mary Jane Katzmann," Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature,, Web, May 5, 2011.
  4. Annie Innis Dagg, "Lawson, Mary Jane Katzmann," The Feminine Gaze: A Canadian compendium of non-fiction women authors and their books, 1836-1945 (Wilfrid Laurier U P, 2001), 165, Google Books, Web, May 5, 2001.
  5. In Memoriam Herbert Binney, Fourth Lord Bishop of Halifax (1887), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 9, 2013.
  6. Search results = au:Mary Jane Katzmann, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Sep. 9, 2013.

External linksEdit

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