Photograph of headstones in a cemetery.
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A Tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery

Two centuries of New England intellectual history through the lives and ideas of people who are memorialized there.

Established in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has since become the final resting place for generations of writers, scholars, statesmen, and social reformers. It was designed as an urban park so that living visitors 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. This compilation of Bunk resources chronicles New England intellectual history through the lives and ideas of people who are buried or memorialized at Mount Auburn.

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

In a moving reflection on racial injustice and the removal of monuments in recent years, the author of the following piece wrote about 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, who is also interred at Mount Auburn.

After she was denied entry to medical schools and the male-dominated medical profession in the 1840s, Harriot Kezia Hunt 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 Hygeia, Greek goddess of health and hygiene.

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 both were traveling Europe in mourning. When Fannie's dress caught fire, he could not save her. As he buried his wives in Mount Auburn, Longfellow reflected on seeing the bucolic site of his own future resting place.

Longfellow's contemporary Margaret Fuller was a Transcendentalist writer, 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 Long Island upon her return, a cenotaph in Mount Auburn memorializes her life and work.

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 also did much for the cause of women's rights. In 1870, Howe led an effort to establish Mothers' Day as a pacifist observance. After the Civil War had brought mothers such great suffering, she hoped that empowering women politically could help prevent future wars.

Julia's son Samuel Gridley Howe was a social reformer of a different sort. To figure out 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: while he exploited and abandoned his pupil, his success in teaching her – and her success in learning – demonstrated that sensory disability did not mean intellectual inferiority.

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an abolitionist before the Civil War, was a friend of Samuel Howe and a strong supporter of his work to assess freedmen's needs during Reconstruction. In the 1870s, Sumner also attempted to remove the word "white" from laws about naturalization, to open up the possibility of American citizenship to immigrants of all races.

While Sumner could use his position in the legislature as a platform for his activism, another 19th-century social reformer, Dorothea Dix, fought government inertia from the outside, to champion the rights of people with mental illness. She documented the inhumane living conditions mentally ill people endured in jails and poorhouses, and lobbied for the creation of asylums.

Harriet Jacobs' 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.

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 slaveholder power that Lowell hoped the nascent Republican Party would 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.

Felix Frankfurter's jurisprudence leaned in the opposite direction from Story's, favoring decentralization and state laws over national standardization. He did not, however, believe that decentralization should result in small government. As a progressive who chose a career in public service bureaucracy, he thought experts at state-level agencies understood social conditions on the ground and were better equipped to address them than was the federal judiciary.

Another supporter of robust government, Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, was frustrated by the antidemocratic rules in the U.S. Senate that made it easy for a minority to prevent the majority from governing. His arguments from the 1890s are still relevant today.

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.

The club of New England politics did not only include elected officials, but also the bureaucrats – referred to as "Mandarins" – whose career paths followed similar arcs from the Ivy League to the civil service to positions at universities, foundations, and think tanks. This article profiles several, including two who are buried in Mount Auburn: Felix Frankfurter and McGeorge Bundy.

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 wrote about the recent past, often chronicling administrations and officials he knew personally in the 1960s liberal establishment. This article explores how Schlesinger's ideas about centrism shaped historical thought and Democratic Party strategies.

One of Schlesinger's predecessors at Harvard, Francis Parkman Jr. is among the foundational scholars of the modern profession of history. This article recounts Parkman's field research in the American West, and discusses how his blind spots with regard to race and class dynamics shaped the stories he told.

Historians are not the only Harvard professors to have written about 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.

Agassiz was not alone in his views: racism and xenophobia pervaded the institutional culture of Harvard. This article examines several proponents 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.

In contrast to the intellectual currents of academia, other 19th-century New Englanders had more sympathetic views of African Americans. 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 Homer's motivations, and explain his solitary life, through his paintings of people.

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 in Boston's high society.

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.

Architect Buckminster Fuller (and grand-nephew of Margaret Fuller) espoused a very different mid-20th century aesthetic. This profile chronicles his designs for cars, maps, and his famous geodesic dome housing, which were all part of his efforts to nudge Americans toward sleeker, more mobile, and more efficient lifestyles in the future.

While Fuller tried to shape society through the built environment, philosopher John Rawls channeled his egalitarian impulses into political theory. His ideas about justice, fairness, equal opportunity, and civil disobedience have been frequently cited by reform-oriented officials in politics and law.

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 many 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 gifted educator, Fannie Farmer applied mathematical sensibilities to a very different aspect of American life. 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.

As he spoke at the Mount Auburn's dedication on September 24, 1825, Supreme Court justice Joseph Story remarked that “we stand, as it were, upon the borders of two worlds.” The landscape and the monuments of a cemetery not only memorialize, but invite reflection on the lives and ideas of the people buried within. The same could be said of historical writing, which, at its best, helps us see across the border of the two worlds, and better understand how figures of the past shaped the world in which we live.