Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney (1824 -1904)

June 11, 2012

 

Writer-philosopher-reformer Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney is remembered on the Littlehale family monument at Mount Auburn Cemetery (Lot 953 Fir Avenue).

At sixteen, Cheney was the youngest member of a group of women including author and reformer Caroline Wells Healey Dall (Lot 1804 on Gentian Path) to attend Margaret Fuller’s “Conversations” – discussions on topics such slavery, transcendentalism, and the feminist movement.

A few years later she attended classes on Greek philosophy with Bronson Alcott, as well as several Transcendentalist Club meetings with Theodore Parker where she met and befriended Julia Ward Howe (Lot 4987, Spruce Avenue).  Cheney later tailored her transcendentalist perspective to encompass her pluralistic view of religion and the majority of her philosophic writings about art.

In 1874 Cheney became the first woman faculty member of the Concord School of Philosophy, where she lectured on art for over ten years. While largely unrecognized, she formulated the first aesthetics (a branch of philosophy that evaluates the beauty and nature of art) by a 19th-century American.

Cheney was also a founder and financial supporter of the New England Women’s Club, which held its first meeting in the home of Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt (Lot 2630 Poplar Avenue), in 1868. It was through this organization that Cheney became inspired to found a horticultural school for women.

An early member of the American Association for the Advancement of Women, Cheney later became vice-president of the Massachusetts School Suffrage Association.  Throughout her life, Cheney, who was also friends with Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Tubman, and Booker T. Washington, devoted herself to women’s and abolitionist causes.

Cheney wrote a handbook for the Freedman’s schools entitled A Handbook for American Citizens in 1866 and went to Readville to teach members of the 54th regiment how to read.  When the New England Hospital for Women and Children was founded she became secretary of the institution and later its president.

In her spare time, Cheney also wrote many books on Louisa May Alcott, including Louisa M. Alcott, Life and Letters (1899) which is considered to be one of the best biographies on Alcott and is still studied today.

 

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