Sue Young Histories

Ednah Dow Cheney 1824 - 1904

February 04, 2008

Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney
1824-1904Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney 1824 - 1904 was an influential writer on art, abolitionism, religious freedom, suffrage and education. She was part of the influential milleau in Boston and she knew and supported many homeopaths and homeopathic supporters.

The death of her little sister profoundly affected her religious belief, and she was very influenced by Theodore Parker, which ’took hold of me like the voice of Truth itself’. As a result she became a member of the Free Religious Association and a noted Transcendentalist and she knew Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller.

Ednah lectured every summer for ten years at the Concord School of Philosophy founded by Bronson Alcott alongside Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Caroline Healy Dall (her schoolmate) and Julia Ward Howe. Ednah a key figure in the Free Religious Association, was part of the second generation of Transcendentalism who worked to keep Transcendentalist ideas alive and evolving. Ednah predicted that the historical record would largely ignore the intellectual work of women of her era, especially their contribution to the Transcendentalist movement, and she was proved correct.

Many homeopaths and homeopathic supporters were members of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union WEIU, including Mary Rice Livermore, Sarah Adamson Dolley, Mary Safford Blake, Arvilla B Haynes, Mercy B Jackson, Edna Dow Cheney, Abby May, Abby Diaz and Amelia Earhart.

Ednah was close friends with Washington Allston and Henry Scheffer and married to artist Seth Wells Cheney. She used the Transcendentalist magazine the Una, edited by Caroline Healy Dall to publicise her work with The New England School of Design for Women with her colleague Samuel Ward, and to promote the writings of her friend Julia Ward Howe.

She was also close to Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Jacobs, and she influenced Phoebe Hanaford and worked closely with Ellen Collins, Lucretia Crocker, John A Andrew and Hannah E Stevenson. She was a member of the New England Freedman’s Aid Society she corresponded with Booker Taliaferro Washington and a friend of Harriet Tubman.

Ednah was a member of the New England Women’s Club. With Julia Ward Howe, Ednah became active in the American Woman Suffrage Association, The School Suffrage Association and the Massachusetts’s Woman Suffrage Association.

When Marie Zakrzewska founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1862, Ednah Cheney became its first secretary and served as President in 1887.

Ednah was born in Boston, the third child of eight siblings.

Ednah Dow Littlehale was an author, speaker, and reformer. In 1853 she married Seth Wells Cheney, who was an artist.

The reformer’s principle interests were in the anti-slavery cause and women’s suffrage. Cheney had a talent for organization and helped to found the Boston School of Design for Women, the New England Hospital for Women, the New England Woman’s Club, and a horticultural school for women.

Her husband died in 1856 and their only child died in 1882.

Cheney’s writings covered a broad range, from short stories to political theory and biography. Her writing was humorous, simple, and direct.

Ednah was responsible for the New England Women’s Club and the reform activities associated with it. She was president of the board of the New England Hospital for Women and Children for thirteen years; the secretary of the New England Freedman’s Aid Society, a friend of Harriet Tubman.

She organized a teacher’s program for the Freedmen’s Bureau from 1867 to 1875. Perhaps the major advance of the NEWC was the organization of the Women’s Education and Industrial Union in 1877, under the direction of Dr. Harriet Clisby.

Ednah Dow (Littlehale) Cheney was an American abolitionist, woman suffragist, reformer, philanthropist, Transcendentalist, and author.

She declined to call herself an author, however, labeling herself “only a representative woman” for her time. She was the consummate renaissance woman, who wrote essays, biographies, memoirs, stories for children, and several volumes of poetry.

In 1879, when Bronson Alcott’s School of Philosophy was founded, Cheney became the only woman teacher. The school was superseded by the Concord School of Philosophy, where Cheney was invited to speak regularly until 1888, usually on some aspect of art or literature. Her lectures were often quoted in the Boston newspapers.

She also lectured on horticulture for women before the Massachusetts State Agricultural Society. Known for her dignified and serious demeanor, she preached at various times and wrote several hymns as well. Even after the untimely losses of her husband and daughter, she never lost her idealism, as evidenced by her writing and her public works.

Ednah Dow Cheney, an animating spirit of the early Union, had attended Margaret Fuller’s “Conversations” during the 1840s, when she met Emerson, Parker and Bronson Alcott. In the 1870s and 1880s, she lectured at Alcott’s Concord School of Philosophy.

Ednah wrote Reminiscences of Ednah Dow Cheney (born Littlehale), Louisa May Alcott: her life, letters, and journals with Louisa May Alcott and Louisa May Alcott, her life, letters and journals, _Louisa May Alcott, the children’s friend, The story of the Alcotts, _Memoir of Margaret Swan Cheney, _Memoir of Seth W. Cheney, Memoir of John Cheney, _Stories of the olden time, Memoirs of Lucretia Crocker and Abby W. May, Municipal suffrage for women—no. 2, Poems with David Atwood Wasson, Poems with Harriet Winslow Sewall, Selected poems from Michelangelo Buonarroti with Michelangelo Buonarroti, The child of the tide, Municipal suffrage for women, The life and genius of Goethe : lectures at the Concord school of philosophy with many others, Life of Christian Daniel Rauch of Berlin, Germany with Friedrich Eggers and Karl Eggers, Nora’s return. A sequel to “The doll’s house” of Henry Ibsen, Gleanings in the fields of art, Sally Williams, the mountain girl, Faithful to the light: and other tales, Patience: a series of thirty games with cards, Social games. A collection of 31 games with cards, Proceedings at the thirty-third annual meeting held in Boston, Letters: Jamaica Plain, [Mass.] to S[arah] Maria Parsons, Brooklyn, N.Y., The love of God, Life of Christian Daniel Rauch of Berlin, Germany, ALS: Jamaica Plain, Mass., to Geo[rge] Doane Rand, Care of the sick; hospitals and training schools for nurses managed wholly or in part by women, Letter: Jamaica Plain, to Mrs. Townsend, Jenny of the lighthouse.

Ednah’s letters and papers are held at the University of Virginia Library


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