Mount Auburn Cemetery

Established in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has since become the final resting place of generations of writers, scholars, statesmen, and social reformers. It was designed as an urban park so that living visitors, both mourners and the general public, could enjoy nature, admire the aesthetics of the monuments that dot the landscape, and reflect on the lives of those buried there. Now designated a National Historic Landmark, Mount Auburn Cemetery is open to the public free of charge, 365 days a year (for more information, see This collection chronicles New England intellectual history through the lives and ideas of people who are buried or memorialized in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Remember You Will Be Buried

Tracing the American cemetery from the colonial age to the Gilded Age.
Mount Auburn sparked a new era in American cemetery design. While earlier memorialization centered on community, with church or family burial grounds, Victorian era cemeteries glorified individuals through elaborate sculptures. At the same time, cities focused on progress and preventing disease moved burials to the outskirts of town, where cemeteries could also serve as public parks.

American Sphinx

Civil War monuments erased an emancipated Black population, but the Sphinx looked to an integrated Africa and America.
Seeking to reflect on racial injustice and the removal of monuments in the 2010s, the author visits a unique Civil War monument in Mount Auburn cemetery. Jacob Bigelow, one of the cemetery's founders who was later interred there, designed the sculpture to symbolize the blend of African and American heritage forged by the Civil War and emancipation. Visitors since have found its meaning and legacy more enigmatic, including poet Charlotte Fiske Bates, also interred at Mount Auburn.

Hygeia: Women in the Cemetery Landscape

The Mourning Woman emerged during a revival of classical symbolism in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gravestone iconography.
After she was denied entry to medical schools and the male-dominated medical profession in the 1840s, Harriot Kezia Philips forged a career in healing that focused on nutrition, exercise, and women's health. For her grave in Mount Auburn, she commissioned a Black Indigenous woman sculptor to create a statue of Hygea, Greek goddess of health and hygiene.
A portrait of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with white hair and a full beard.

A Beautiful Ending

On dying and heaven in the time of Longfellow.
Death was never far from the thoughts of 19th century Americans. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lost his first wife, Mary Storer Potter, from complications from a miscarriage. He met his second wife, Fannie Appleton, when the two were both traveling Europe in mourning. When Fannie's dress caught fire, he could not save her. As he buried his wives in Mount Auburn cemetery, he reflected on seeing the bucolic site of his own future resting place.
Drawing of a woman being blown away holding a kite made of books

Margaret Fuller on the Social Value of Intellectual Labor and Why Artists Ought to Be Paid

“The circulating medium… is abused like all good things, but without it you would not have had your Horace and Virgil.”
Longfellow's contemporary Margaret Fuller was a Transcendentalist writer, a literary critic for the New York Herald, and advocate of women's right to work. In the 1840s, she decided that the best way she could use her skills for the betterment of humanity was to become a war correspondent covering the revolution in Italy. While her body, and her analysis of the war, was lost in a shipwreck off of Long Island upon her return, a cenotaph in Mount Auburn memorializes her life and work.

Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day

The origins of the Hallmark holiday are rooted in a much greater cause.
Another woman who commissioned a memorial to Fuller, Julia Ward Howe is best known for penning the lyrics "Battle Hymn of the Republic," but she did much for the cause of women's rights. In 1870, she led an effort to establish Mother's Day as a pacifist observance. After the Civil War had brought mothers such great suffering, she hoped that empowering women politically could prevent future wars.
Photo of Laura Bridgman wearing opaque eyeglasses.

The Education of Laura Bridgman

She was Helen Keller before Helen Keller. Then her mentor abandoned their studies.
Julia's son Samuel Gridley Howe was also a social reformer of a different sort. To discover which elements of human language were learned and which were innate, he took on the education of a young girl who was both deaf and blind. His legacy is mixed: he exploited and abandoned his pupil, but his success in teaching her -- and her success in learning -- also demonstrated that sensory disability did not mean intellectual inferiority.
Side-by-side portraits of Franklin Pierce and Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix and Franklin Pierce: The Battle for the Mentally Ill

Dorothea Dix and Franklin Pierce were in many ways ideological soulmates, but he would not help her effort to improve conditions for the mentally ill.
Another 19th-century social reformer, Dorothea Dix, focused her work on mental illness. She documented the inhumane living conditions mentally ill people endured in jails and poorhouses, and lobbied for the creation of asylums.
Julia Ann Jackson, age 102, whose narrative was recorded by the WPA, 1937-1938.

Demanding to Be Heard

African American women’s voices from slave narratives to #MeToo.
Harriet Jacobs's activism was intensely personal. After she escaped from slavery, she published a semi- autobiographical book, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." In it, she detailed accounts of the sexual assaults she endured, and her resistance to them, as a wake-up call to women across the country to oppose slavery.
Painting of Abraham Lincoln

The Election in November

The Atlantic’s editor endorsed Abraham Lincoln for presidency in the 1860 election, correctly predicting it would prove to be “a turning-point in our history.”
A different demonstration of opposition to slavery's power came from James Russell Lowell, poet and Atlantic Monthly editor. He reflected on the stakes of the election in 1860: "The true danger to popular forms of government begins when public opinion ceases because the people are incompetent or unwilling to think. In a democracy it is the duty of every citizen to think; but unless the thinking result in a definite opinion, and the opinion lead to considerate action, they are nothing."

The Court’s Supreme Injustice

How John Marshall, Joseph Story, and Roger Taney strengthened the institution of slavery and embedded in the law a systemic hostility to fundamental freedom and basic justice.
The power of slaveholders that Lowell hoped the nascent Republican Party could counter, was strengthened throughout the antebellum era by the Supreme Court. Joseph Story, known for his early support of abolitionism in the Amistad case, has a more complex legacy. His promotion of strong legal nationalism sometimes had the effect of entrenching pro-slavery laws nationwide.

The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti

After Sacco and Vanzetti's final appeal was rejected, Felix Frankfurter, then a professor at Harvard Law School, laid out the many problems with their trials.
As a Supreme Court justice, Felix Frankfurter's jurisprudence leaned in the opposite direction from Story's, favoring decentralization and state laws over national standardization. Before he sat on the court, he taught law at Harvard University, and became one of the most prominent commentators on the Sacco and Vanzetti trial in the 1920s. In this report to the Atlantic, he critiques the trial procedure and the questionable testimony of witnesses as a miscarriage of justice.

"It Has Not Been My Habit to Yield"

Charles Sumner and the fight for equal naturalization rights.
Decades earlier, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner had made a stand to support the rights of immigrants. He tried unsuccessfully in the 1870s to remove the word "white" from laws about naturalization, to open up the possibility of American citizenship to immigrants of all races.
African American man casting a ballot following the Fifteenth Amendment.

Echoes of 1891 in 2022

Using the congressional filibuster to prevent voting rights legislation isn't new. It has roots in the 19th century.
Another Massachusetts senator, Henry Cabot Lodge, was frustrated by the antidemocratic rules in the Senate that made it easy for a minority to obstruct the majority from governing. His arguments from the 1890s are still relevant today.

How Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Won the 1964 New Hampshire Primary Without Lifting a Finger

Lodge's victory in the 1964 New Hampshire primary is a fascinating testament to the power of whim in American elections.
Lodge's son followed in his footsteps to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. A longtime public servant, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. also served as ambassador to the U.N. and to South Vietnam. This article demonstrates how insular the New England political elite could be, recounting the story of how a few political operatives started a presidential campaign for Lodge without his knowledge.
McGeorge Bundy with Lyndon Johnson in 1967

American Mandarins

David Halberstam’s title The Best and the Brightest was steeped in irony. Did these presidential advisers earn it?
The club of New England politics did not just include elected officials, but also the bureaucrats, nicknamed "Mandarins" whose career paths followed similar arcs from Ivy League educations to civil service appointments to intellectual appointments at universities, foundations, and think tanks. This article profiles several, including two who are buried in Mount Auburn, Felix Frankfurter and McGeorge Bundy.

The Power Historian

What was Arthur Schlesinger’s “vital center”?
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s career intertwined with that of Bundy. They served together in the Kennedy administration, and were colleagues again later in life as Harvard professors. As an historian, Schlesinger studied the recent past -- often the administrations and officials he knew personally in the 1960s liberal establishment. This article explores how Schlesinger's ideas about centrism affected historical thought and Democratic political strategies.
Map displaying Francis Parkman Jr's route on the Oregon Trail.

Native History: Harvard Rich Kid Starts Research for ‘Oregon Trail’

On June 15, 1846, Francis Parkman Jr., a young, Harvard-educated historian, arrived at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to begin his journey along the Oregon Trail.
One of Schlesinger's predecessors at Harvard, Francis Parkman Jr. is one of the foundational scholars of the modern profession of history. This article recounts Parker's field research traveling through the American west, and discusses how his blind spots with regard to race and class dynamics shaped the stories he told.
Black-and-white photograph of Louis Agassiz sitting in chair, looking through a magnifying glass at a sea urchin.

Louis Agassiz, Under a Microscope

The two prevailing historical visions of Louis Agassiz — one gentle and reverential, the other rigid and bigoted — may simply be two sides of the same coin.
Historians are not the only Harvard professors to have studied race and class. Biologist Louis Agassiz promoted scientific racism, commissioning exploitative nude photos of enslaved people to try to discern evidence of anatomical and intellectual inferiority. He made many contributions to zoology and geology, but Harvard is still grappling with his legacy of racism.

Harvard’s Eugenics Era

When academics embraced scientific racism, immigration restrictions, and the suppression of “the unfit”.
Agassiz was not alone in his views: racism and xenophobia pervaded the institutional culture of Harvard. This article examines several supporters of eugenics who are now buried at Mount Auburn, including writer and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., economist Frank W. Taussig, and Harvard presidents A. Lawrence Lowell and Charles William Eliot.
“Dressing for the Carnival” (1877). Its brightly colored, singing beauty is such that tragedy takes hold only on examination.

Race, War, and Winslow Homer

The artist’s experiences in the Civil War and after helped him transcend stereotypes in portraying Black experience.
In contrast to the intellectual currents in academia, other 19th-century New Englanders had more sympathetic views of African American experiences. Winslow Homer is most famous today for painting seascapes, but his experience touring the front lines and POW camps of the Civil War inspired him to create empathetic depictions of African Americans. This article seeks to understand his motivations, and explain his solitary life, through his paintings of people.
Part of a portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner

The Scandalous Legacy of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Collector of Art and Men

Long before the gallery she built was famously robbed, Isabella Stewart Gardner was shocking 19th-century society with her disregard for convention.
Isabella Stewart Gardner did less to influence the aesthetics of her contemporaries, and more to attract them to her quirky style.  She collected and curated a museum full of fine art, and created a public persona around flouting conventions of dress and behavior of Boston's high society.
A pair of color stereogram photographs featuring people sitting in front of a desert stone structure.

New Look, Same Great Look

The history of humans being confounded by color photography.
Edwin H. Land influenced the visual culture of a different age: mid-20th century photography. After co-founding the Polaroid company, he researched the way the brain perceives color.
Sketch of Harlem reimagined

How a Harlem Skyrise Got Hijacked—and Forgotten

The fate of June Jordan’s visionary reimagining of Harlem shows that when it comes to Utopias, the key question is always: “Whose?”
Architect Buckminster Fuller espoused a very different mid-20th century aesthetic. This article highlights two projects, one built and one only proposed but never realized, to examine the ways Fuller and his collaborators hoped their building designs would encourage social relations in urban neighborhoods.
John Rawls

How John Rawls Became the Liberal Philosopher of a Conservative Age

With "A Theory Of Justice," Rawls became the most influential political philosopher of his time — just as the liberal agenda he supported was retreating.
While Fuller tried to shape society through the built environment, philosopher John Rawls sought create an egalitarian society through political theory. His ideas about justice, fairness, equal opportunity, and civil disobedience have been frequently cited in politics and law as public servants try to judge and improve society.
Several stores in a 20th century shopping mall

Paul Samuelson Brought Mathematical Economics to the Masses

Paul Samuelson’s mathematical brilliance changed economics, but it was his popular touch that made him a household name.
Another approach to tackling inequality is through the Keynesian economics espoused by Paul Samuelson. Economists know Samuelson most for his mathematical contributions to the field, particularly his theory of how people choose the best outcome in a situation with constraints. But far more Americans appreciated him for his ability to make economic issues understandable to general readers through his introductory college economics textbook and his long-running column in Newsweek magazine.
A photograph of Fannie Farmer cooking with another woman.

Baking for the Holidays? Here's Why You Should Thank Culinary Pioneer Fannie Farmer

We all can thank a 19th century Boston-born cookbook author and domestic science pioneer for revolutionizing the way recipes are replicated at home.
A gifted educator who applied mathematical sensibilities to a very different type of American life was Fannie Farmer. A pioneer of a more scientific approach to cooking — who did not assume all readers already possessed basic cooking skills — she popularized cookbooks that included precise measurements and directions.