Edward Waldo Emerson (1844-1930)

Edward Waldo Emerson
(July 10, 1844-Jan. 27, 1930)

The youngest child of Ralph Waldo & Lidian (Jackson) Emerson, Edward Waldo grew to become a writer, lecturer, and educator. He was one of the children that Henry David Thoreau babysat when the Sage of Concord traveled abroad 1847-1848.

In his memoir about Thoreau, the young friend warmly recalls:

I CAN remember Mr. Thoreau as early as I can remember anybody, excepting my parents, my sisters, and my nurse. He had the run of our house, and on two occasions was man of the house during my father’s long absences. He was to us children the best kind of an older brother. He soon became the guide and companion of our early expeditions afield, and, later, the advisor of our first camping trips. I watched with him one of the last days of his life, when I was about seventeen years old. . .

Educated in Franklin Benjamin Sanborn’s coeducational, progressive, private academy in Concord, the young Emerson graduated from Harvard University in 1866 as Class Poet. Due to health issues, he was unable to enlist during the Civil War, so he attended medical school. Graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1874, Emerson was a physician until his father’s death. After graduation, Dr. Emerson married Annie Shepard Keyes (1847-1928), with whom he had seven children, only one surviving to adulthood.

A founding member of the Concord Antiquarian Society (now Concord Museum) and a member of the Social Circle, Emerson was deeply involved in the Concord community, serving as Superintendent of Schools, on the Board of Health, the Cemetery Committee, and the Library Committee. He was also an art anatomy teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Such a level of community engagement allowed access to people that knew Thoreau as a friend and schoolmaster.

Among his own published works is Henry Thoreau as Remembered by a Young Friend (1917) in which he and six former students recollect their times with the Thoreau brothers as schoolmasters and corrects the record about the Walden (1854) author. Through these memories and interviews, the youngest Emerson son introduces Thoreau as a person, not a hermit, curmudgeon, or ne’er-do-well. Dr. Emerson writes that he began with a lecture in 1880, which became a book twenty-seven years later

  “. . . because I was troubled at the want of knowledge and understanding, both in Concord and among his readers at large, not only of his character, but of the events of his life,—which he did not tell to everybody,—and by the false impressions given by accredited writers who really knew him hardly at all. Mr. Lowell’s essay on Thoreau is by no means worthy of the subject, and has unhappily prejudiced many persons against him.

  When I undertook to defend my friend, I saw that I must at once improve my advantage of being acquainted, as a country doctor, with many persons who would never put pen to a line, but knew much about him—humble persons whom the literary men would never find out, like those who helped in the pencil mill, or in a survey, or families whom he came to know well and value in his walking over every square rod of Concord, or one of the brave and humane managers of the Underground Railroad, of which Thoreau was an operative. . .”

Edward Waldo Emerson died on 27 Jan. 1930, in Concord, Mass. and is buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Partial list of Works:
Emerson in Concord: A Memoir (1888)
A History of the Gift of Painless Surgery (1896)
The Life of E. R. Hoar (with Moorfield Storey, 1911)
Henry Thoreau as Remembered by a Young Friend (1917)
Early years of the Saturday Club, 1855–1870 (1918)
Later years of the Saturday Club, 1870–1920 (1927)

Selected works edited:
Correspondence of John Sterling and Ralph Waldo Emerson, with a Sketch of Sterling’s Life (1897)
Centenary Edition of Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903)
Life and Letters of General Charles Russell Lowell (1907)
Emerson’s Journals (with Waldo Emerson Forbes, 1909)