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Home » Biographies » Mary Porter Tileson Hemenway

Mary Porter Tileson Hemenway



The Life of Mary Porter Tileson Hemenway

Mary Hemenway was born in New York of old New England ancestry, the daughter of a shipping merchant, Thomas Tileson and Mary (Porter) Tileson. She went to a private school in New York and at home “was reared” as she said principally on household duties, the Bible and Shakespeare.

On June 2, 1840, she married Augustus Hemenway a successful merchant, and thereafter she was identified with Boston Mass:. Her husband died in 1876, but she survived him eighteen years devoting her wealth and her energies to the development of numerous educational and philanthropical projects. She read carefully, loved pictures, and knew well leading writers and citizens. She was a member of James Freeman Clarke’s Church of the Disciples. A queenly woman without affectation or condescension she combined in her philanthropic work enthusiasm with effectiveness. She sought helpers and her benefactions were generally the able result of careful thought.

After the Civil War she helped the establishment of schools on the southern seaboard for both whites and blacks. Later she made gifts to Armstrong at Hampton and Booker Washington at Tuskeegee for the further education of the freed men. In the course of her welfare work for soldier’s families during the war she had discovered that many of the soldier’s wives did not now how to sew, accordingly, in 1865, she provided a teacher and materials for systematic instruction in sewing in a Boston public school. The experiment brought good results and the instruction was taken over by the city. In 1883 she started an industrial-vocation school in Boston and two years later in 1885 she opened a kitchen in a pubic school, the first venture of its kind in the United States. After three years the city assumed the cost of the kitchen, and cooking, as well as sewing became part of the program of education. Meanwhile, in 1887, Mrs Hemenway had started the Boston Normal School of Cooking, which after her death became the Mary H Hemenway Department of Household Arts in the State Normal School of Framingham. Next for a year, she provided a hundred Boston school teachers free instruction in gymnastics using the Swedish system as best adapted to schoolrooms. In order to interest the public, she promoted in 1889 a conference on physical training, held in Boston which led to the introduction of gymnastics in the city’s public schools by action of the School Committees, and was influential in stimulating nation wide interest in the cause of physical education.

In 1889 also she established the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics which twenty years later became the Department of Hygiene and Physical Education of Wellesley College. She promoted at much personal effort the Boston Teachers Mutual Benefit Association. In 1876 in order to save from destruction the Old South Meeting House, famous for meetings in the old Revolution days, she gave $100,000, a quarter of the sum required, her hope being to make the church a center for the cultivation of patriotic idealism through education in history. Prizes were offered for essays by high school pupils, historical lectures were given, the Old South leaflets as a series of reprints of “historical sources” edited by Edwin D. Mead, were issued, and the young persons who had competed for prizes were organized into a historical society. At a time when the history of the United States had no place in the School curriculum the “Old South work” was almost unique. Such scholars as John Fiske and James K Hosmer furthered Mrs. Hemenway’s plans and were helped by her to publish lectures and biographies. Her history and her interest in American history was further evidenced by her promotion of the Hemenway South Western Archeological Expedition begun in 1866 under Frank M Cushing of the United States Bureau of Ethnology, and continued in 1900 under J.W. Fewkes of the Bureau.

The collections made by the expedition are kept in the Hemenway Room at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University.  The result of its investigations are set forth in five volumes in the Journal of American Ethnology and Archeology (1891-1908) edited by Fewkes and published at Mrs. Hemenway’s expense. Her will provided for the support of her various enterprises for fifteen years during which time her trustees were able to put them in a permanent basis. A Memorial of the Life and Benefactions of Mary Hemenway 1829-1894 was privately printed and a preface signed by Mary Wilder Tileston.

-The foregoing was taken from the pages of American National Biography.


More on Mary Porter Tileson Hemenway’s Commitment to Education

The service of Mrs. Mary Hemenway to education also deserves recognition.  Possessed of large wealth, she devoted it to advancing important educational and intellectual interests.  She established the Normal School of Swedish Gymnastics in Boston, and provided for its maintenance until it was adopted by the city as a part of its educational system.  With her financial support the Hemenway South-western Archaeological Expedition was carried on by Frank H. Cushing and J.W. Fewkes.  It was largely because of her efforts that the Montana Industrial School was established, and maintained for about ten years.  Her chief work, however, was in the promotion of the study of American history on the part of young persons.  When the Old South Meeting-house was threatened with destruction, she contributed $100,000 towards its preservation; and by her energy and perseverance it was devoted to the interests of historical study.  The Old South Lectures for Young People were organized in 1883, soon after was begun the publication of the Old South Leaflets, a series of historical prizes was provided for, the Old South Historical Society was organized, and historical pilgrimages were established.  All this work was placed in charge of Mr. Edwin D. Mead; and the New England Magazine, of which he was the editor, gave interpretation these various educational efforts.

Mrs. Hemenway devoted her life to such works as these.  It is impossible to enumerate here all her noble undertakings; but they were many.  “Mrs. Hemenway was a woman whose interests and sympathies were as broad as the world,” says Edwin D. Mead, “but she was a great patriot; and she was pre-eminently that.   She had a reverent pride in our position of leadership in the history and movement of modern democracy; and she had a consuming zeal to keep the nation strong and worthy of its best traditions, and to kindle this zeal among the young people of the nation.  With all her great enthusiasms, she was an amazingly practical and definite woman.  She wasted no time nor strength in vague generalities, either of speech or action.  Others might long for the time when the kingdom of God should cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, and she longed for it; but, while others longed, she devoted herself to doing what she could to bring that corner of God’s world in which she was set into conformity with the laws of God,—and this by every means in her power, by teaching poor girls how to make better clothes and cook better dinners and make better homes, by teaching people to value health and respect and train their bodies and love better music and better pictures and be interested in more important things.  Others might long for the parliament of man and the federation of the world, and so did she; but while others longed, she devoted herself to doing what she could to make this nation, for which she was particularly responsible, fitter for the federation when it comes.  The good state for which she worked was a good Massachusetts; and her chief interest, while others talked municipal reform, was to make a better Boston.”

-From Unitarianism in America by George Willis Cooke.

Sample of Old South Leaflets

1. Constitution of the United States

3. Declaration of Independence

4. Washington’s Farewell Address

5. Magna Charta

7. Charter of Massachusetts Bay, 1629

9. Albany Plan of Union, 1754

10. Washington’s Inaugurals

11. Lincoln’s Inaugurals

13. The Ordinance of 1787

15. Washington’s Circular Letter to the Governors of the States, 1783

18. The Swiss Constitution. 1874

22. Wheelock’s Narrative

23. The Petition of Right

26. The Agreement of the People, 1648-1649

27. The Instrument of Government

29. The Discovery of America from the Life of Columbus by his son, Ferdinand

30. Strabo’s Introduction to Geography

33. Columbus’s Letter to Gabriel Sanchez

36. The Death of DeSoto

41. Washington’s Tour of the Ohio, 1770

43. The Capture of Vincennes by George Rogers Clark

45. The Ascent of Fremont’s Peak

47. Washington’s Account of the Army at Cambridge, 1775

48. Bradford’s Memoir of Elder Brewster

49. Bradford’s First Dialogue

52. The Indian Grammer Begun

53. God’s Promise to His Plantations

56. The Monroe Doctrine

58. Letters of Hooper to Bullinger

61. Pym’s Speech Against Strafford

65. Washington’s Address to the Churches

66. Winthrop’s “Little Speech” on Liberty

67. The Boston Ebenezer

68. The Boston Tea Party from Thomas Hutchinson’s History of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

69. Description of the New Netherlands

75. William Penn’s Plan for the Peace of Europe

78. The Liberator

80. The Dangers from Slavery by Theodore Parker

84. Words of John Brown

85. First Lincoln and Douglas Debate

91. Founding of Quebec by Champlain

92. First Voyage to Roanoke, 1584

94. Discovery of the Hudson

97. LaFayette in the American Revolution

107. Lincoln’s Cooper Institute Address, 1860

108. The Invention of the Steamboat

109. Horace Mann’s Ground of the Free School System

113. Augustine in England by Bede

121. Captain John Smith’s Description of New England

132. Sumner’s Report on the War with Mexico

133. Seward’s Address on Alaska

134. William Emerson’s Fourth of July Oration, 1802

135. Schools of Massachusetts in 1824

136. Boston at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century

142. Words of John Robinson

144. Education and Prosperity by Horace Mann

146. “Congress of Nations,” 1848

147. Autobiography of Peter Cooper

  1. 149.Founding of the Hampton Institute
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