Partner Helena Dudley
Wellesley College, 106 Central St, Wellesley, MA 02481, Stati Uniti
Denison House, 93 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111, Stati Uniti
Cedar Hill, 265 Beaver St, Waltham, MA 02452, Stati Uniti
Cornelia Lyman Warren (March 21, 1857 - June 5, 1921) became one of the best-known philanthropists in New England. She was a trustee of Wellesley College, bought the location for Denison House and ran a model farm in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Cornelia Lyman Warren was born on March 21, 1857, at Cedar Hill, the family estate at Waltham, Massachusetts, one of five surviving children of a wealthy Boston, Massachusetts family. She was the daughter of Samuel Dennis Warren (1817-1888), who founded the Cumberland Paper Mills in Maine, and Susan Cornelia Clarke (1825-1901), the daughter of Dorus Clarke. She had four siblings: Samuel Dennis Warren II (1852-1910), lawyer and businessman; Henry Clarke Warren (1854-1899), scholar of Sanskrit and Pali; Edward Perry Warren (1860-1928), art collector who donated the Warren cup to the British Museum; and Fredrick Fiske Warren (1862-1938), political radical and utopist.
Warren was painted by Alexandre Cabanel in 1871, when she was thirteen. She is wearing a riding habit and carrying a whip, and is in something of a Sir Joshua Reynolds posture — stature as status; the artist's way to claim hereditary aristocratic rank for her. She often went to France with her mother and spent some time there studying music. She spoke French fluently and became an accomplished musician. She also studied with Nathaniel Hooper, and passed the college entrance examinations devised and administered by Harvard in 1876, but she did not go on to college. She said (apparently as an explanation for not going) that her interests were in social service and philosophy; she did study privately, for three years, with professors from Harvard (George Herbert Palmer) and from M.I.T. (George Holmes Howison). Perhaps her not going to college was also her mother's wish; at least her brother Sam in later life spoke of her having sacrificed her life to their mother.
Warren lived on her mother's estate, Cedar Hill, in Waltham, Massachusetts, where she ran a model farm. She made Cedar Hill, when it became hers, a friendly home for her nephews and nieces, a garden of guaranteed happy memories. In 1892, Warren built a famous maze at Cedar Hill. This can be seen as a kind of art, a kind of toy or game on a large scale, and one that carried the values of taste and historical interest.
Warren wrote two books, ''A Memorial of My Mother'' (1908) and a novel, ''Miss Wilton'' (1892). The first is an expose in the too-pious, too-reticent tradition of Boston memoirs, but it does make clear that the writer saw her parents in the same terms as she saw two characters in the much more revealing novel. In the latter she tells of the courtship and early married life of Jim Willcox and Bessie Folsom, a businessman in the iron trade and a music teacher. He is middle-aged, with sandy whiskers and merry eyes; she is significantly younger but the dominant figure in the relationship. He makes mistakes in dress and manners, being a simple and ardent soul, but worships her. She is dainty and decided, in the Jane Eyre tradition of fictional heroines. "Dainty" here means scrupulously fresh, plain, and neat of dress, not frilled or flounced or jeweled; and "decided" means something equivalent in manner — a demureness that is full of principle. In the detail of physique and temperament, Bessie Folsom is much like Warren's friend, Alice Freeman, who struck many of her contemporaries as a novel heroine.
Warren wrote also poetry all her life, though none of it seems to have survived.
In the 1880s, Warren began to move in liberal circles at this time, working on just the sort of causes typical of woman-led Boston. She became one of the first trustees of the Boston Home for Incurables, in 1884; treasurer of the College Settlement Association, in 1892; and soon thereafter chairman of the Denison House Committee.
When Vida Dutton Scudder, Katharine Lee Bates, and Katharine Coman came up with the idea of a settlement house, Coman turned to her friend, Cornelia Warren, for funding to get it up and running.
Watten made friends with a group of women at Wellesley College (founded 1875), probably through her connection with George Herbert and his wife Alice Freeman Palmer, Wellesley president, since Warren's particular friend in the group was Katharine Coman (1857-1915), who had followed Alice Freeman there from the University of Michigan. The group included
Vida Dutton Scudder (1861-1954),
Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), and Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961). Coman went to Wellesley to teach rhetoric, but in 1900 organized its Department of Economics. She wrote an ''Industrial History of the United States'', published in 1905. She and Cornelia organized a working girls' club, called the Thursday Evening Club. Balch wrote about immigrants (for instance, ''Our Slaw Fellow Citizens'', 1910) and her work for peace was rewarded with a Nobel prize. Scudder, who taught in the English Department, introduced a course there entitled ''Sodal Ideals in English Literature'' which became famous, and she was, with Balch, a resident at Denison House. These women were all social radicals; though they went farther left than President Freeman, they were supported by and supportive of her.
Warren became a trustee of Wellesley College. Her charitable causes were predominantly the same as Alice Freeman's. Cornelia's novel, ''Miss Wilton'', was written in a style that reminds the reader of Freeman and her husband, George Herbert Palmer, at every turn. Its distinction is the frankness and force with which conflicting moral ideas are expressed and related to each other — most notably Christian and anti-Christian ideas, or those of orthodox and heretical Christianity. Alice Freeman was physically and temperamentally of the type Warren made her novel's heroine, Bessie Folsom — that is, she was small, dainty, animated, with a childlike spontaneity and gaiety. And she was of the type other people also saw as a heroine; her husband's hagiographic biography of her sold fifty thousand copies.
Aside from her thirteen years as a trustee of Wellesley College, she also worked for Bradford Academy and the International Institute for Girls in Spain. (Bradford Academy was the oldest private girls' school in the United States, brought back from decay by the efforts of Alice Freeman Palmer.) Both Warren and her mother gave them financial support. Warren also made gifts to schools situated as far apart as Tuskegee, Alabama, and Roberts College, Constantinople. She also provided picnics and drama festivals for the children of Waltham at Cedar Hill, and did church and hospital work.
Warren gave the money to buy The Settlement House in Boston, called Denison House, on Tyler Street, in a neighborhood at first Irish and then Italian. It opened in 1892. Denison House was the first college settlement in Boston, and the third in the United States. Katharine Coman was the secretary, but she was not resident. Helen Cheever and Emily Greene Balch, dominant personalities at first, meant the house to be "neighborly — sympathetic, and kind"; and the women attempted to involve the girls who attended their colleges. Undergraduates spent their vacations there. Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, a labor organizer, when she worked at Denison House, took the students through factories and to the lodgings of their operatives. Gradually the original approach was broadened and given more force and structure by her and Helena Dudley. Warren also bought the Old Colony Chapel to be made into a gymnasium for the neighborhood.
Helena Dudley became Warren's friend, though fairly radical in her sympathies, and when she retired in 1912 Cornelia built her a house at Cedar Hill. Dudley lived at Cedar Hill until Cornelia died in 1921.
She died on June 5, 1921. Warren's will provided that three trustees should be appointed to dispose of Cedar Hill, to convert it in a playground, houses for a gardener and estate supervisor, and the mansion to be a rest home for women. The trustees decided to give seventy-five acres, including the mansion, to the Girl Scout movement; other parts of the estate went to make a park, to the Harvard School of Landscape Architecture, and to the Massachusetts Agricultural College.
Cornelia's obituaries treat her entirely as a public figure and seem to express no intimate understanding or appreciation. The only one that shows some insight was written by Katherine Lee Bates and appeared in the June 8 Boston Evening Transcript. It quoted a line from ''Miss Wilton'' in which it is said of a character that she ''disguised herself under a veil of kindness.'' Warren's brother, Fiske wrote to thank her for the obituary, saying that his sister's work at Wellesley — presumably including Denison House — had been the best part of her life.
In Cornelia Warren's name Ned Warren gave an Etruscan "Bust of a Woman in High Relief" to the Boston Museum. The Lady Athaia belongs to the second half of the second century A.D. and is said (in Vermeule's book on stone sculptures) to present a thoroughly Eastern face, foreshadowing Greco-Buddhist sculpture. It suggests a Buddhist withdrawal and impersonality. The head is elaborately dressed and jeweled but has indeed a veiled look that corresponds suggestively with the phrases in Bates's obituary.
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