Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat was born on November 28, 1823 in Portland, Maine to John Mussey and Lydia Tracey. Sweat was one of five children and received her early education in Portland schools and, later, at the Roxbury Latin School in Massachusetts. In 1849, she married Lorenzo de Medici Sweat, a lawyer and Bowdoin College graduate who served in the Maine House of Representatives and the United States Senate.
During Mr. Sweat’s service in the state legislature, Mrs. Sweat wrote a weekly column entitled “Augusta Correspondence,” which was published in Portland. Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat was a frequent contributor to the North American Review, the Galaxy, New Orleans Picayune, New York Saturday Press, the Portland Transcript and other periodicals. Her novel Ethel’s Love Life: a Romance was published in 1859, followed by the publication of Highways of Travel, or a Summer in Europe, which chronicled Sweat’s travel throughout Europe. Sweat continued to write about her travels abroad, chronicling trips to Russia, Egypt, Japan and elsewhere in books and columns. An admirer and support of George Sand’s work, Sweat published a critical essay that appeared with Sand’s Antonia, which was critically well-received.
In addition to Sweat’s interest in literature and travel, she was heavily involved in the women’s club movement, founding the Cobweb Club, which later became the Washington Club. She was also a member of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, serving as a vice regent beginning in 1866. In 1880, the Sweats purchased the McLellan mansion at the corner of Spring and High streets in Portland, which they used as a summer home. They divided the rest of their time between Washington, DC and travel abroad. Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat died on January 16, 1908. She bequeathed the Sweat Mansion and an additional $100,000 to the Portland Society of Art to construct a building adjacent to her home for a museum.