Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Hands All Around #12: Ednah Dow Cheney Old Gray Goose


Brown Goose/ Gray Goose by Becky Brown 

An Old Gray Goose remembers Louisa's later years & her circle of women.

Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney (1824-1904)
Her husband did this drawing of her in 1854.

Ednah Dow Cheney, a few years older than Louisa, was a long-time acquaintance. Thomas Higginson recalled first meeting Ednah as a "young girl of very noticeable looks...a brunette, had a great deal of rich black hair, with large dark eyes....she was considered uncommonly clever." But not much of a seamstress. 

From Ednah's autobiography. Women's work literally meant sewing.

Daughter of a rich Boston merchant, she determined to become a Transcendentalist philosopher and attended conversations and lectures from the Concord philosophers. She was especially devoted to Bronson Alcott. Do note I don't use the word friend here to describe the relationship between Louisa and Ednah. Daniel Shealy in his compendium of writing by people who knew the Alcotts writes of Ednah:
"Ironically, Cheney knew and appreciated Bronson Alcott more than she did Louisa May....Clearly he was captivated by her and she by him." 
The observant Louisa (and Marmee) could not have watched the Ednah/Bronson relationship with any enthusiasm---Ednah in her twenties and he in his forties .

Seth Cheney (1810-1856) before his second marriage to Ednah.
Tintype by Southworth & Hawes, the Boston photographers.
Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

In 1853 Ednah married artist and engraver Seth Wells Cheney. We could digress into Seth's family's business, which was silk. Cheney Brothers was the largest manufacturer of silk in the United States. Her husband died after three years of marriage leaving her with daughter Margaret and enough money between her own fortune and his to enable her to support many causes. Ednah was said to be a very well-dressed philosopher in her Cheney silk dresses.

Warp print, silk designed by Candace Wheeler for Cheney Brothers,
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Follow that digression here:

Gray Goose by Addison. She has all her blocks finished
and is setting them. Grandma Gigi says she has mastered ironing.
(and triangle points it appears!)

During the Civil War Ednah was active in the Sanitary Commission, raising money for wounded soldiers' care and for the Freedman's Bureau, administering the Boston teacher corps, enlisting people like Ellen Garrison Clark (See Block #7) who went south to teach adults and children.

In 1862 Ednah co-founded the New England Hospital of Women & Children with Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. The hospital employing female doctors and training nurses was the project of a number of women in Louisa's generation born between 1825 and 1835, including Alcott cousins in the Sewall and May families. 
Marie Elizabeth Zakrzewska  (1829- 1902)

New York Public Library
The Hospital moved into its new home in 1872

In the 1870s Ednah was giving lectures of her own at Bronson's Concord School of Philosophy in the yard at Orchard House.

Brown Goose/ Gray Goose by Janet Perkins

It's impossible to know the feelings Louisa had for Ednah and vice versa, but Ednah had the last word, becoming Louisa's major late-19th-century biographer beginning with a book for children, Louisa May Alcott, the Children's Friend, published in 1888 the year Louisa died.

Illustrator Lizbeth B. Comins misspelled Louisa's name 
in the frontispiece.

The following year Ednah published her Life, Letters & Journal with assistance and approval of sister Anna Alcott Pratt to whom the book is dedicated. Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy restored and re-edited a versiont5t as The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott. See a link below.

The Block

Brown Goose/ Gray Goose by Denniele Bohannon

The block was quite the thing at the end of the 19th century.

Mass Quilts, 1880s
From the Quilt Index
And it seems a New England favorite.

Many ways to seam it and many names. Probably Ruth Finleys' 1929
names Brown Goose and Gray Goose (depending on the color) are the most common.

Only two templates B & C

8” Block 
B—Cut squares 5-1/4”. Cut each into 4 triangles with two diagonal cuts.

C—Cut squares 2-7/8”. Cut each into 2 triangles with one diagonal cut.
12” Block 
B—Cut squares 7-1/4”
C—Cut squares 3-7/8”

16” Block (4” Grid)
B—Cut squares 9-1/4”
C—Cut squares 4-7/8”


Ladies' Legacy fabrics

Post Script

Biographies have a predictable if rather sad narrative arc. Subjects grow old, they fall ill and then they are gone.

Anna Pratt was the last of the six to go to rest in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, dying in 1893. 

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)
At Nonquitt about 1883. She is about 50 here, still with
her beautiful hair.
Published in the Ladies' Home Journal

Louisa, a publishing phenomenon in the 1870s and '80s, died quite wealthy with a town house in Boston, a resort home in Nonquitt, Massachusetts and the house she shared with Anna and her father in Concord.

The town house in Boston's
 Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill

But success and financial security did not bring her happiness or health. She blamed her nagging pains and indigestion on the Typhoid pneumonia and treatment she experienced during the Civil War but a host of unfortunate circumstances, including bi-polar disorder, a good deal of anxiety and a laudanum habit (common at the time) was more likely the reason she spent her last months in Roxbury at Rhoda Lawrence's homeopathic sanitarium counting on a milk diet and rest cure to make her feel better. (Let's hope she wasn't lactose intolerant.)

Homeopathic Sanitarium at the Highlands in Roxbury

Louisa's chronic headaches towards the end may have been due to high blood pressure. She was sure she was dying. Friend Maria Porter visited: "I had not seen her for months, and the sight of her thin, wan face and sad look shocked me." Louisa died of a stroke at 55 just two days after her father died of the same cause.

According to the New York Times March 7, 1888:
"For a long time Miss Alcott had been ill, suffering from nervous prostration. Last Autumn she appeared to be improving and went to the Highlands to reside with Dr. Rhoda A. Lawrence."
In Boston, her late-life Beacon Hill house is one of these at Louisburg Square.

Louisa lived numerous homes in her 55 years. You can visit a few on a literary tour. First would be Orchard House in Concord, the restored Alcott Museum. Down the road: Wayside---where the Hawthornes and the Alcotts lived alternately and occasionally together--- is also a museum. Wayside is the house the girls lived in when many of the memories fictionalized in Little Women took place. Better go to Sleepy Hollow cemetery on the ridge overlooking Concord to see their graves.

Her enchanting resort cottage at Nonquitt....

...burned in 2013.

Blue Goose by Pat Styring

Further Reading:
As a war veteran Louisa M. Alcott has
a plaque at Sleepy Hollow. Fans leave
tributes. You might bring something.

Our Last Set: New England Granite

Blocks alternating with simple strips may remind you of New England's
rocky base.

You'll need 13 stars here---the plain sawtooth star in the bottom right can include your name and date.

And you need 12 alternate blocks pieced of strips.
For 8" blocks cut 3 strips for each block:
    8-1/2" x 3-1/8" (Maybe a little wider and trim to be safe.)

    12" = 12-1/2" x 4-1/2"

    16" = 16-1/2" x 5-7/8" (again a little wider might be best.)

The New England granite will remind of us Ednah.

Jane Alexander portrays Ednah in the American Masters documentary:
The Woman Behind ‘Little Women'

Alice Stone Blackwell on Ednah Dow Cheney: "I never caught sight of her, in the street or the office, on the platform or among a crowd, without feeling as one does on coming in view of Mount Monadnock." 

Ednah and daughter Margaret who died too young.
Schlesinger Library

The view from New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock

And we can end our year-long visit to Concord, summarizing the town with a line from a letter Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to Thomas Carlyle, an English correspondent.
"We are all a little wild here with numberless projects of social reform."
Further Reading:

Joel Myerson & Daniel Shealy The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott:


sue s said...

I have really enjoyed the stories around this BOM. I watched the 1994 version of "Little Women" last night and forgot how much of a tear-jerker it was! I'm using your setting Barbara but this project gets put on hold until early next year.

Elsie said...

Thank you once again Barbara. I so enjoy the history and stories you piece together with the blocks. I look forward to what you offer next.

Martha said...

Thank you for bringing history and this family alive for us. The pioneering progressive work of the New Englanders transformed the lives of many (who were not white men) for the better. "Stars"= a perfect analogy for the lot.

matty said...

I’ve loved this series so much! Thank you!

Mary said...

what an enjoyable journey around the Alcott's lives. Thanks for all your hard work bringing history alive to us, Barbara. I enjoyed it very much. Now to finish my last blocks and set them together!