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Enterprising Women: Rose Hawthorne

by: David Moffat, Visitor Services Specialist and Researcher

Born May 20, 1851 while the family was living in Lenox, Massachusetts, the Hawthornes’ youngest child, Rose, was only a month younger than her father’s novel The House of the Seven Gables. From her earliest swaddling, Rose was surrounded by strong female mentors like her mother and her aunts Elizabeth, Mary, and Ebe. Though she lived much of her life in the monumental shadow of her father and the dim penumbrae of her brother and her husband, Rose managed to publish her own writing. Then, in a turn no one imagined, she made a true name for herself in American history at the turn of the twentieth century.

“I wish you could have seen her in the wood,” Sophia wrote of “her little Rosebud,” then only a few months old, to her mother “…she smiled and smiled and smiled, at the trees and the Lake and the wood-land sounds, till she transported mamma almost out of the proprieties.”

The following July, when Rose was a little more than a year old, her mother noted: “Rosebud walked all round with us, in perfect sobriety, listening to our conversation,” when Lidian Emerson paid a visit to their new home in Concord. In September, the writer Celia Thaxter sent Rose “a most exquisite wreath of sea-moss upon a card.” Sophia recounted to her mother a funny incident when Rose was found in the pantry eating from a jar of molasses loudly proclaiming, “I like it—I like it motch [much]!”

Young Rose comes across as always merry, constantly delighted by the world around her, scrutinizing all who pass before her with a penetrating gaze. By the time she was 10, she had lived in or visited a half dozen countries, something very few Americans in her age experienced.

When her father was appointed the consul to Liverpool and the family decamped to England, Sophia noted: “A very great joy it is to Rosebud to see the lovely little English robins come to pick up crumbs.” When the actress Charlotte Cushman called on the family in Liverpool, Rose “was never weary of the treasures attached to her watch-chain.”

These are some of the choice anecdotes about her own childhood that Rose included, through the medium of her mother’s letters, when she compiled Memories of Hawthorne in 1897. 

By then, much of the joy of her earlier life had dissipated. Her famous father died the day before her 13th birthday. Her family returned to Europe. Her mother passed seven years later, and her sister six years after that. She befriended the poet Emma Lazarus, author of “The New Colussus” inscribed on the base of The Statue of Liberty, who died of cancer at age 38 in 1887.

When she was 20, Rose married George Parsons Lathrop, a writer born in Hawaii. In 1879, two years after the death of her sister, the couple moved into her childhood home in Concord. When their only child, Francis, died of diptheria in 1881, the couple left Concord. Relations with her brother, Julian, were strained as he competed with Lathrop to control the literary legacy of her father. Grief tore at the couple and George turned to alcohol for relief. In 1895, they separated, and in 1898 George died of cirrhosis. 

In the midst of these successive tragedies, Rose managed to become a writer herself. It was something all three Hawthorne children aspired to. Naturally, Julian succeeded at that aim. Sophia discouraged Una from her desire to write, seeing it as unwomanly. Freed from her mother’s disapproval, Rose managed to publish a novel, Miss Dilletant, in 1879, and a book of poems, Along the Shore, in 1888.

Still, deprived of both her families, Rose turned to the solace of the church. In 1891, she and George had converted to Catholicism. Her upbringing in Europe shielded her from the anti-catholic prejudice that many New Englanders in her day held, and she wrote of her experience seeing the Pope in Rome as a formative experience in her faith. It was not totally alien from the Concord scene, however, Several prominent romantics and transcendentalists had converted to Catholicism decades earlier, such as Sophia Ripley, Orestes Brownson, and Brook Farm resident Isaac Hecker.

Near the end of her marriage with George, they worked to establish a Catholic Summer School in New London, Connecticut. In 1894, the two collaborated on a history of one of the oldest convents in America: A Story of Courage: Annals of the Georgetown Convent of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the preface, they write prophetically, “there are no happier or cheerier persons on earth than the members of religious sisterhoods.”

On learning of the plight of the poor with cancer in New York City, Rose was determined to make a difference. She later wrote,“I set my whole being to endeavor to bring consolation to the cancerous poor.” In 1896, she took nurse training at the New York Cancer Hospital, founded on the Upper West Side in 1884.

Following the ideas of the contemporary Settlement movement, Rose moved to the working-class neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There she earned the respect of her neighbors and wrote newspaper articles promoting her plans for charitable work.

After a visit from a Dominican father in 1899, she and the women who she worked with became novitiates of the Dominican Order. That year, Rose established St. Rose’s Free Home for Incurable Cancer on Cherry Street near the East River in the Lower East Side. The St. Rose of the name referred to St. Rose of Lima, the 17th-century South American saint who cared for the poor and needy. The home could care for 15 impoverished women with cancer at a time.

In 1900, the women at St. Rose’s Free Home took their vows to become Dominican Sisters as part of a new religious order: The Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer. The following year, Rose founded Rosary Hill Home in Unionville, Westchester County. In her honor, the town was renamed Hawthorne.

Other honors came as well. In 1914, she was awarded a medal by the National Institute of Social Sciences. In 1925, her father’s alma mater, Bowdoin College, gave her an honorary M.A. degree. A year later on July 9, 1926, Rose died at age 75.

She was named a Servant of God in the Catholic Church and a case for her canonization was opened in 2003. Documents supporting her canonization were sent to Rome in 2013.

The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, Congregation of Saint Rose of Lima write of their foundress: “Her vision has sustained them as they have extended their care in the establishment of seven nursing facilities in six different states, all owned and operated by the community. Thousands of the poor with cancer have been cared for in this way and always it was Mother Alphonsa’s example and teaching about the religious life that has been handed down from generation to generation.”

Rose Hawthorne’s enterprise and dedication have created a legacy of charity, service, and faith that will continue long into the future.


Date: March 25, 2020

Author: sperling

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