Blake, Mary E(lizabeth) McGrath

views updated

BLAKE, Mary E(lizabeth) McGrath

Born 1840, Dungarven, Ireland; died 1907, Boston, Massachusetts Wrote under: Marie of the Pilot, Mary Elizabeth McGrath Blake Daughter of Patrick and Mary Murphy McGrath; married John G.Blake, 1865; children: 11

Mary E. McGrath Blake's parents emigrated to Quincy, Massachusetts, in about 1850. A marble worker and businessman, her father sent her to local schools and to Emerson's Private School in Boston. Blake later studied music and modern languages at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville, New York. Before she married a Boston physician, she was a schoolteacher. The Blakes had eleven children.

Blake's poetry was widely published in Roman Catholic periodicals and in a number of Boston papers, including the Boston Gazette and the Boston Transcript. Her "Rambling Talks" were a regular feature in the Boston Journal. She was an ardent, sentimental Irish-American with conservative views about religion and American politics.

Blake gained a local reputation as an occasional poet and she wrote poems to commemorate notable Bostonians such as Wendell Phillips, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and the Most Reverend John J. Williams, Archbishop of Boston. Blake also wrote poems to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the Sisters of Charity and the 150th anniversary of the Charitable Irish Society. Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked of her lyrics, "You are one of the birds that must sing," and Theodore Roosevelt was said to be an admirer of her work.

Blake's first book of poetry, Poems, was issued in 1882. Her themes range from Catholic devotion to nature and the seasons, but her most representative work celebrates family life. Several poems on the death of children depict the anxiety of the times about childhood mortality. Some poems reflect an ambivalent attitude toward women's roles: "Simple Story" and "What the Wife's Heart Said" urge women to be content serving their husbands and families, while "The Ballad of Elizabeth Zane" and "Isabella of Castille" clearly expresses admiration for spirited, independent women.

Although conscientious about her obligations to home and family, Blake was an enthusiastic traveler who reminded her reader that a housewife must not stop to think of her responsibilities, or "the stay-at-home weight will be so overwhelming in proportion that she could not be propelled away by anything short of a catapult." On the Wing, an account of her trip across America, serialized in the Boston Journal in 1882 and published in 1883, is a view of the American West through the eyes of a partisan New Englander. A Summer Holiday in Europe (1890), based on Blake's five trips to Europe—three of them walking tours with her children—went into a third printing.

Outside of her home and her work, Blake was active in the American Peace Society. Her pamphlet The Coming Reform: A Woman's Word, which criticized "the absurdities of old fashioned militarism at home and abroad," was widely circulated during the Spanish-American War.

Other Works:

An Epic of Travel (1884). Poem: A Memorial of Wendell Phillips (1884). The Merry Months All (1885). Youth in Twelve Centuries (1886). Mexico: Picturesque, Political, Progressive (with M. F. Sullivan, 1888). Verses Along the Way (1890). A Memoir of Patrick McGrath 1812-1894 (1894). In the Harbour of Hope (1907).


Conway, K. E., "Mary Blake: Woman and Poet" in In the Harbour of Hope (1907). Cullen, J. B., Story of the Irish in Boston (1890).

Other reference:

Boston Globe (7 Feb. 1907). PW (9 March 1907).