The legacy of Whittier’s beloved younger sister lives on at The Whittier Home Museum
In his epic poem Snowbound, Whittier singles Elizabeth out as “our youngest and our dearest,” and throughout her life she remained Whittier’s closest companion. She had always been closest to him in temperament and interests; and from the earliest days in Amesbury she hd served as Whittier’s hostess and intimate companion. She read and criticized his work, supported his abolitionist stance, delighted him by her wit and clever social presence (which contrasted with his more withdrwn manner and cold demeanor in larger groups). She loved the countryside and nature as he did, and together they shared a similar wide circle of friends. Her sympathy and understanding had always been his bulwark during the trying times of the abolitionist crusade.
Elizabeth’s death in 1864 brought Whittier his deepest emotional loss, one he never fully recovered from…What she meant to Whittier and what she embodied of he traditional characteristics of women can be seen in this description by biographer homas Wentworth Higginson:
…the rarest of women, the pet and pride of the household, her brother’s complement, possessing all the readiness of taking in his presence, the lead in conversation, which Whittier so gladly abandoned to her, while he sat rubbing his hands, and laughing at her daring sallies … no one can truly estimate the long celibate life of the poet without bearing in mind that he had for many years at his own fire-side, the concentrated wit and sympathy of all womankind in his sister…
– Excerpted from Whittier and His Elizabeths by John “Ben” Pickard
About the Elizabeth H. Whittier Club
On March 19, 1896, the Elizabeth H. Whittier Club was organized. The objectives of its formation were to unite for the common good the women of Amesbury, and, if possible, to aid in making the Whittier home a permanent memorial to the poet.
Part of the group’s membership wanted to purchase and oversee Whittier’s home, while another part wanted to focus on community service, especially the improvement of women. The club therefore split, and in 1898 the Whittier Home Association was formed as a separate entity.
The two Amesbury groups operated on parallel tracks since their establishment in the years following Whittier’s death. And in December 2006, the Elizabeth H. Whittier Club held its last formal meeting, at which time members were invited to join the Whittier Home Association and once again serve the community as one body.