Today’s poem, Humanity, from 1874, is by Harriet Bush Ewell. You may remember the first Bush family poem I wrote about, called October. Although Harriet had fewer poems published than her older sister Belle, you can see with Humanity that she also had a gift for rhyme.
Harriet lived and worked at Belvedere Seminary in New Jersey. The school accepted students from kindergarten through graduation. It offered all customary subjects plus some extras. At one time the school even had an astronomy instructor on staff. Harriet taught music. Her two older sisters ran the school.
On June 23, 1870, Harriet married Belvidere Seminary’s mathematics teacher, Arthur Ewell. She was about 33 years old. Arthur was six years younger. The wedding capped a three-day anniversary celebration for the school. June 21 and 22 focused on the student’s achievements, with an address to close the celebration by suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The next day the celebration continued with wedding and cake. The newlyweds spent the rest of their careers and lives working at the school, leaving it more than 30 years later.
Harriet was a Spiritualist, and Belvidere Seminary was a Spiritualist school for children. Spiritualism became a cultural phenomenon a little after she was born, and she and her two much older sisters spent their lives as Spiritualists dedicated to teaching the younger generations.
After the school closed, Harriet accompanied her husband and her sister to New York, where they settled at a Shaker Community. Her sister Belle officially joined the Shakers before she died. However, it seems that Harriet and Arthur never did, although they lived in the community and were active participants. (The Shaker Museum Facebook page discusses
Her poem Humanity was specifically written for the Spiritualist publication Banner of Light. It was published in December of 1874.
Humanity by Hattie (Harriet) Bush Ewell Each life on the earth is a poem, A volume of measure and rhyme, With pages of truth and of beauty, With stanzas both grand and sublime. Each deed is a line from that poem, The record of glory or shame, That leads to a beautiful moral, Or covers with sorrow the name. The chapters are wonderful stories, Of love, of unkindness, of hate, Of the soul in its struggle for freedom Through many a battle with fate. The leaves of this book have a gilding From the gold of a beautiful life; How sad that they ever are tarnished By the fingers of envy and strife. The type is full often illumined By the smiles of the good and the true; And each year we may add to our treasure Some pages both charming and new.
This is the only poem by Harriet I could find. Her description of each life as a poem, tinged with gold, added a positive note to the day. I hope to discover more, dated later than 1875, to see how she matured as a poet.
If you enjoyed this poem Humanity from 1874, you might also enjoy Harriet’s sister Belle’s book of poetry, Voices of the Morning.