Sue Young Histories

Caroline Wells Healey Dall 1822 - 1912

January 29, 2008

Caroline Wells Healey Dall 1822 -
1912Caroline Wells Healey Dall 1822 - 1912 was a supporter of homeopathy and a friend of homeopathic supporters Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody and Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis. Her biography of Marie Zakrzewska was dedicated to homeopathic supporter Samuel E Sewall and the New England Female Medical College.

author, journalist, lecturer and champion of women’s rights, was a Unitarian community service worker, minister’s wife and lay preacher. She left valuable memoirs of her elders in the Transcendentalist movement and was heir to the mantle of Margaret Fuller as spokesperson for woman’s access to education and employment.

Caroline was the oldest of 8 children born in Boston to Unitarians Caroline Foster and Mark Healey (1791-1876), a successful India merchant, banker, and, later, investor in railroads.

Her father taught 18-month-old Caroline to pick out letters from the large type on the front page of the Christian Register. In a time when most did not take girls’ education seriously, he engaged tutors for her and sent her to private schools. Between ages 13 and 15 she studied Latin and modern languages, notably French and Italian.

Because her mother had become an invalid, at 13 she took charge of the household, a burden she felt “unsuitable.” At 15 she learned, from Harvard professor Edward Tyrell Channing’s comments on his students’ papers, how to polish the style of her writing.

When Caroline was 12, she attended a series of lectures given by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Criticized for having given so expensive a ticket to a child, her father said, “I shall expect her to write abstracts of them.”

He directed her to concentrate as she listened and, without notes, to write what she remembered the next day. She did take notes as she listened to future Harvard president James Walker deliver his Lowell Institute Lectures in 1840. Walker said they were so accurate that he could not distinguish them from his own.

She began keeping a journal when she was nine years old, and the earliest original surviving journal dates to March of 1838, when she was fifteen. For the remainder of her life, or at least to within a year of her death at age ninety, with rare exceptions in times of illness or other extraordinary circumstances, she kept the journal, usually writing in it daily.

Thus we have her record of some seventy-five years. The forty-five volumes of these journals, rich with detail both personal and public, fill nine reels of microfilm. In the 1890s Dall made arrangements to give her journals and other papers to the Massachusetts Historical Society, some before and some after her death, and there they have remained. The Society, which has for almost a century been the faithful guardian of these papers, is now at last publishing large portions of them. The first volume of selected Dall journals will shortly appear in the Society’s ongoing Collections series.

What Samuel Pepys does for seventeenth-century London or George Templeton Strong for nineteenth-century New York, Dall does for nineteenth-century Boston. The city’s celebrations, entertainments, mob scenes, poverty-ridden neighborhoods, rounds of social calls, and lectures, as well as the public academic exhibitions across the Charles River, form much of the stuff of these journals.

The vitality of the city’s life becomes more striking by contrast with the life Dall leads when she is outside Boston, in Georgetown or Portsmouth or rural Needham or Toronto. Later, living in Washington, D.C., Dall presents vividly the social scene there, centering on its communities of political and scientific luminaries. These sorts of portrayals make her journal a significant document of social history.

Caroline was influenced by Margaret Fuller who:

held a series of Conversations for women at the bookshop owned by Elizabeth Peabody, which also carried homeopathic supplies and art supplies. Influenced by similar conversations established by Bronson Alcott, the purpose of these events was “designed to encourage women in self-expression and independent thinking,” a radical practice for women in the mid-nineteenth century.

Caroline was influenced by Elizabeth Peabody:

In 1840 18-year-old Caroline began visiting Elizabeth Peabody’s new Boston bookstore. Peabody greatly impressed her. Here was a model for womanhood quite different from her mother’s example. She wrote in her journal, “I love to hear her talk, to see her smile—although I return from both—amazingly humbled in my own conception.”

Caroline became a close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose social circle glittered with homeopaths and their supporters Moncure Daniel Conway, Mercy Bisbee Jackson, Carolina Maria Seymour Severance, the Wesselhoeft family, Bronson Alcott and Louisa May Alcott, Lucretia Coffin Mott, Theodore Parker and many others.

The Boston Female Medical College was designed by homeopathic supporter and architect William Ralph Emerson (cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson), who also designed the Massachusetts Homeopathic Hospital.

Caroline was influenced by Theodore Parker:

In 1841 Caroline also attended Theodore Parker’s controversial lectures at the Masonic Hall. She was converted to Parker’s “humanitarian” view of Jesus and described herself to friends as a “disciple of Theodore Parker.”

Parkers lectures were also attended by Carolina Maria Seymour Severance and Moncure Daniel Conway.

Caroline was influenced by Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis:

Caroline helped with parish work, taught classes and sometimes even preached. She continued to write, and was corresponding editor of Paulina Wright Davis’s pioneering woman’s rights magazine, Una.

Caroline Dall lived in Toronto in 1854 during the outbreak of a deadly cholera epidemic. She vividly renders this frightful time:

Of course, I went back with her— I gave the child camphor and ipecac as soon as I got inside the door, which revived it wonderfully. I staid till after Dr Primrose came, put warm flannels to it’s feet, and cold linen to it’s head, and gave it a dose of oil, much against my homeopathic will.

Caroline Wells Healey was born in 1822 to wealth and privilege in Boston. Her merchant father invested heavily in ships and served, when Caroline was a teenager, as president of the Merchants’ Bank.

A self-made man with little formal education, Mark Healey nevertheless valued education highly and provided his daughter an excellent private education through governesses, tutors, and private schools in Boston. He also demanded and expected great things of her; she was “bred and brought up,” as she later warned her future husband, to be a literary woman.

From an early age, she discussed with her father literary, political, religious, and philosophical questions; she sought to fulfill his expectations by writing novels and, by the age of thirteen, publishing short homilies in the Christian Register, Boston’s preeminent Unitarian newspaper.

Throughout her life Dall traveled occasionally to Worcester, where she visited relatives and friends. She developed her most significant connection to the city at the age of nineteen, when she met Samuel Foster Haven (1806–1881), the longtime librarian at the American Antiquarian Society.

Haven, who was thirty-five and widowed at the time, gave her the grand tour of the Antiquarian Society, and Healey wrote in her journal,

"I could hardly say what interested me—most—here—there were many things—perhaps, the old pictures and engravings the Library and—the Librarian."

Healey soon found that the librarian was no less interested in her, and for several months a spirited courtship developed. But Caroline’s father faced bankruptcy during the severe depression of the 1840s, and in the fall of 1842 Caroline Healey left Boston for Georgetown, D.C.

There she taught at an exclusive girls’ school and sent her entire earnings home to pay for her siblings’ education. At the same time Samuel Haven faded from the scene, leaving Healey heartbroken and vulnerable to the attentions of a young Unitarian minister whom she met in Washington, Charles Henry Appleton Dall.

A series of lectures on women in history was published as Historical Pictures Retouched, 1860, and a second series, on women’s changing and future role in the economic system, was published as The College, the Market, and the Court; or Woman’s Relations to Education, Labor, and Law,

  1. Temperamentally unsuited for public leadership, she devoted herself thereafter mainly to writing. Among her books were Woman’s Right to Labor, 1860, Egypt’s Place in History, 1868, Patty Gray’s Journey to the Cotton Islands, a three-volume children’s book, 1869-1870, The Romance of the Association; or, Our Last Glimpse of Charlotte Temple and Eliza Wharton, 1875, My First Holiday; or, Letters Home from Colorado, Utah, and California, 1881, What We Really Know About Shakespeare, 1886, Sordello - a History and a Poem, 1886, Barbara Fritchie - a Study, 1892, Transcendentalism in New England, 1987, Alongside, a privately printed memoir of her childhood, 1900, Nazareth, 1903, and Fog Bells,
  2. She also wrote biographies of Dr. Marie Zakrewska in 1860 and Dr. Anandafai Joshee in 1888.

In 1865 she was a founder of the American Social Science Association, of which she was a director from 1865 to 1880 and a vice-president form 1880 to 1905.


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