Ralph Waldo Emerson led the 19th century Transcendentalist movement, emphasizing self-reliance, individual moral choices, harmony with nature, and a philosophy of daily living not unlike 21st century mindfulness. He lived in Concord, Massachusetts, a hotbed of anti-slavery activism and intellectual fervor where his neighbors included the family of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau, famed for retreating from society to Walden Pond.
But Emerson had a helpmate whose story is not well-known. His daughter Ellen Tucker Emerson ran the family household from her teen years on, and served as her father’s correspondent, conversationalist, and caregiver. Working with James Elliot Cabot, she also compiled, edited, and even revised essays from her father’s final decade, when he struggled with memory loss. But Ellen refused to take public credit for her work. Professor Kate Culkin (Bronx Community College) is writing a biography of Ellen and published an essay in The New England Quarterly showing how Emerson carefully charted his daughter’s education partly to support his career.
Read more about Professor Culkin’s work on Ellen Tucker Emerson on the SUM website