Eminent Domain (pt. 2)

F rom colonial rebel to 20th-century documentarian, some of the most notable yet little-noted women in New Haven history are interred at Grove Street Cemetery. 

We began our quest to find them yesterday and pick up today on the graveyard’s Magnolia Avenue. Follow it to Myrtle Path and turn left to find the grave of Mary Goodman (1804-1872). Located between Locust Avenue and Cedar Avenue, Goodman’s marble stone, which replaces an earlier one that was vandalized, gives only her date of death at age 68 and an inscription: “of African descent, she gave the earnings of her life to educate men of her own color in Yale College for the gospel ministry.” Goodman, who earned her living as a washerwoman, made her gift of $5,000 to establish a scholarship fund that still exists today, according to Grove Street board member and tour guide Darlene Cassella.

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Donor Advised Funds with The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Delia Bacon (1811-1859)—“one of the most interesting and controversial figures” in the cemetery, Grove Street board member and city historian Judith Schiff says—is buried just down Cedar Avenue to the right. “In grateful remembrance, this monument is erected by her former pupils,” reads the inscription on the base of her brownstone marker, which is topped with a cross. Bacon began her career as a teacher, writer and lecturer but is best remembered for her “theory that the works attributed to Shakespeare had in fact been written by a coterie of writers led by Francis Bacon and including Edmund Spenser and Sir Walter Raleigh and were credited by them to the relatively obscure actor and theatre manager Shakespeare largely for political reasons,” according to her biography in Encyclopedia Britannica. The theory, which Bacon dedicated her life to researching and promoting, apparently had no basis in fact. Bacon rubbed elbows with some of the best-known thinkers of her day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but according to Britannica, her book The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded (1857) was met with ridicule, and she “suffered a mental breakdown” from which she never recovered. Some scholars have since vindicated other aspects of her scholarship, though not her claims about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.

Turn and walk back up Cedar Avenue to visit the recent burial site of Elga Wasserman, a modern stone low to the ground located on the left just past an iron-fenced family plot. Wasserman (1924-2014) was a Harvard-trained chemist, but she first made her mark on New Haven and Yale as special assistant to university president Kingman Brewster on the issue of the education of women and chair of the university’s Committee on Coeducation. In her obituary in Yale Alumni Magazine, Wasserman was remembered by colleague Henry Chauncey, Jr. as diplomatic but firm. “…[I]f it was a matter of principle, she had a spine of steel, and if the diplomacy didn’t work, she would let people know they had no choice,” Chauncey recalled. Ushering in the transition to coeducation was only the beginning of Wasserman’s professional career. In midlife, she graduated from Yale School of Law and went into the practice of family law, then ended her career as a writer—her book The Door in the Dream was published in 2000—and lecturer on the topic of women in academia.

A bit farther up Cedar, also on the left, is a monument that celebrates another writer: Elizabeth Barber Barrett (1827-1863). With her father, John Warner Barber, she wrote the book Historical, Poetical and Pictorial American Scenes, with the loquacious subtitle Principally Moral and Religious; Being a Selection of Interesting Incidents in American History: To Which is Added a Historical Sketch, of Each of the United States (1850). The book reportedly includes the story of the Regicides and the legendary New Haven ghost ship of 1647. Barrett died of cholera on board a ship off the coast of China at the age of 35. One of several tall marble monuments along Cedar Avenue, her distressed stone bears the carved image of a lyre and a poem that references her burial at sea: “Rest lov’d one gently in thy coral bed, / Till angels cry O sea give up thy dead. / Then with new vestments pure & spotless white / Thou cloth’d shall rise to dwell with angels bright.”

Continue on Cedar Avenue to the front of the cemetery and the grave of Harriet Trumbull Silliman (1783-1850), wife of noted science professor Benjamin Silliman, daughter and granddaughter of two Connecticut governors and niece of the artist John Trumbull. She shares a grand stone with her husband at the corner of Cedar Avenue and Hawthorn Path, but her legacy is connected to another corner. The Sillimans lived in a mansion that still stands on the corner of Hillhouse Avenue and the road named for Harriet: Trumbull Street.

Much of this information about notable women buried at Grove Street was presented late in October at a New Haven Museum talk titled “Remembering New Haven Women: Four Centuries of Women’s History.” Perhaps the most heartfelt of the tributes given that night came from Yale alumna Vera Wells, who told the story of her mentor, Sylvia Ardyn Boone (c. 1939-1993). To find Boone’s grave, turn right on Hawthorn Path and walk down Spruce Avenue, then turn left on Myrtle Path. Boone’s distinctive rose-colored stone, designed by Wells, is located on the southeast corner of Sycamore Avenue and Myrtle. Boone left home at 16, put herself through college in New York City, taught at Hunter College and earned her master’s degree at Columbia University before entering the PhD program at Yale. Wells, a member of Yale’s first class of women, recruited Boone to teach a seminar on the until-then ignored topic of black women. Boone went on to create the Chubb Conference on the Black Woman at Yale, featuring the first women to receive Yale’s prestigious Chubb Fellowship: Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou and Shirley Graham DuBois. Boone’s work was also “pivotal,” Wells says, in drawing attention to the story of the Amistad and lobbying for the statue of Sengbe “Cinqué” Pieh that now stands in front of City Hall. A professor of African art from 1979 until her death, Boone became the first woman of color to earn tenure at Yale.

For a final stop in this women’s history tour, follow Myrtle Path to its end, turn right on Holly Avenue, then left on grassy Pine Avenue to find the grave of Mary Hannah French Weir (1846-1927) tucked along the Ashmun Street wall. Weir came to New Haven from New York with her husband, John Ferguson Weir, to create Yale’s art school. The Weirs were newlyweds from New York “taking a leap of faith,” volunteer researcher Christine Janis said during the museum talk, adding that both were West Point faculty children. “If there’s anything they knew, it was to think strategically.” The Yale School of the Fine Arts opened in 1869 and, according to the school’s website, was “the first art school connected with an institution of higher learning in the country,” offering classes in “drawing, painting, sculpture and art history.”

At the “Remembering New Haven Women” talk, filmmaker Karyl Evans argued for continued research on the lives of New Haven’s women. The more their stories are known, Evans told the audience, the more nuanced our sense of history is. Many more women both sung and unsung are buried within Grove Street’s brownstone walls, waiting to be known.

Grove Street Cemetery
227 Grove St, New Haven (map)
Daily 9am-4pm (gate closes at 3:30)
(203) 787-1443 | office@grovestreetcemetery.org
www.grovestreetcemetery.org

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 (of Delia Bacon in 1853) derived from Wikipedia. Images 2 (of Delia Bacon’s grave), 5 (of Harriet Trumbull Silliman’s grave) and 6 (of Sylvia Ardyn Boone’s grave) photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 3 (of an engraving of Elizabeth Barber Barrett by John Sartain, published with the posthumous 1866 anthology The Poems of Elizabeth G. Barber Barrett) and 4 (of Elizabeth Barber Barrett’s cenotaph) provided courtesy of Sandra Markham.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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