Celebrating friendships, stories and discoveries along the way

Friday, July 19, 2013

Banks Brigade Bee Walk at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Last Sunday I attended the Banks Brigade Bee Walk at Mount Auburn Cemetery, a Civil War theme walk was in honor of the women of the Banks Brigade. This group formed in October 1861 to make clothing and bandages for soldiers in the Civil War and was named to honor General Nathaniel P. Banks, a native of Waltham and a governor of Massachusetts from 1857 through 1860. During the Civil War General Banks served as Commander of the Department of the Gulf in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The first meeting of the Banks Brigade took place at the house of Jane (Loring) Gray, wife of Harvard botanist Asa Gray, to meet Asa’s niece Julia Bragg. Jane invited sixteen girls to her house for the event, and the girls knitted and sewed clothing and bandages for family members and other soldiers in the Union Army. The girls met the following week at the house of Susan Dixwell. They decided to meet every Friday as long as the war continued, dedicating their sewing and knitting to the war effort. After the war ended they continued the group, renamed “the Bee”, as a social and charitable effort until 1931. Twenty-seven of the members through the group’s history are buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, including seven founding members.1

These women were not only friends but also family through their relationships with each other and with the soldiers who were the beneficiaries of their sewing and knitting effort. Mabel Lowell Burnett, a Banks Brigade Bee member, was the daughter of Fireside poet James Russell Lowell and a cousin of Charles Russell Lowell Jr., a colonel in the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, and James Jackson Lowell, a Lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.


Charles Russell Lowell Jr. was married to Josephine Shaw, sister to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and sister to Anna Blake Shaw, a Banks Brigade Bee member. Anna's broken grave marker bears no inscription.


20th Massachusetts Regiment officers James Jackson Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. were second cousins through the Jackson family. Eleanor Baker Gray, another Banks Brigade Bee member, married Patrick Tracy Jackson, a cousin to James Jackson Lowell and a second cousin to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.


After the war Oliver Wendell Holmes married Fanny Bowditch Dixwell, daughter of Banks Brigade Bee mentor Mary Bowditch Dixwell, and sister to a founding member of the Banks Brigade Bee, Susan Hunt Dixwell Miller.


The walk offered a fascinating glimpse into the lives and relationships of these accomplished women during and after the Civil War. Mabel Lowell Burnett served as an editor for her father James Russell Lowell’s works of poetry. Dorothea Dix, a Banks Brigade Bee mentor, was superintendent of nurses during the Civil War and in later years was an activist for the mentally ill.


Emily Elizabeth Parsons, another mentor of the group, was a Civil War nurse and after the war founded the Cambridge Hospital for Women and Children, the precursor to Mount Auburn Hospital.


Steve Pinkerton, a Mount Auburn Cemetery docent, was the guide for this excellent walk. Civil War walks are an ongoing series of events at Mount Auburn Cemetery to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. For additional information about Civil War walks at Mount Auburn please visit http://www.mountauburn.org/2013/the-civil-war. For other events at Mount Auburn please visit their calendar of events at http://www.mountauburn.org/category/events.

1 Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery, The Bee at Mount Auburn Map Cemetery: A Cambridge Discovery Days Tour, brochure (Cambridge, MA: Mount Auburn Cemetery, 2013), inside brochure section.
2Mount Auburn Cemetery (Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts), Mabel Lowell Burnett marker, Fountain Avenue, Lot 323, photographed by Carol Swaine-Kuzel, 14 July 2013.
3Mount Auburn Cemetery, Anna Blake Shaw marker, Fountain Avenue, Lot 4047, photographed by Carol Swaine-Kuzel, 14 July 2013.
4Mount Auburn Cemetery, Eleanor Baker Gray Jackson marker, Lime Avenue, Lot 2149, photographed by Carol Swaine-Kuzel, 14 July 2013.
5Mount Auburn Cemetery, Mary Ingersoll Bowditch Dixwell marker, Ailanthus Path, Lot 1180, photographed by Carol Swaine-Kuzel, 14 July 2013.
6Mount Auburn Cemetery, Dorothea Dix marker, Spruce Avenue, Lot 4731, photographed by Carol Swaine-Kuzel, 14 July 2013.
7Mount Auburn Cemetery, Emily Elizabeth Parsons marker, Greenbrier Path, Lot 607, photographed by Carol Swaine-Kuzel, 14 July 2013.

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