Lathrop, Rose Hawthorne

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LATHROP, Rose Hawthorne

Born 20 May 1851, Lenox, Massachusetts; died 9 July 1926, Hawthorne, New York

Wrote under: M. M. Alphonsa Lathrop, O.S.D., Mother Alphonsa, O.S.D.

Daughter of Nathaniel and Sophia Peabody Hawthorne; married George P. Lathrop, 1871 (died 1898); children: Francis (died 1881)

Rose Hawthorne Lathrop spent seven of the first nine years of her life in England, Portugal, and Italy. Although culturally enhanced by the European travels, her formal education was random and erratic, provided mainly by her parents and by instructors at home. Like both her brother, Julian, and her sister, Una, Lathrop felt compelled to further the Hawthorne literary fame. She began writing stories when she was eleven, married a writer when she was twenty, and spent the next 25 years of an unfulfilled, stormy marriage writing and publishing poetry, short stories, and sketches. Her only child, Francis, died in 1881 at the age of four.

Restless and rootless, Lathrop renounced her Unitarian faith in 1891, and she and her husband were received into the Catholic church. In 1895 with church permission, she formally separated from her husband to devote her life to the care of impoverished, dying victims of cancer, and she organized a group who called themselves Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer. In 1900, two years after the death of her husband, Lathrop was named Sister Mary Alphonsa in the Dominican Order. A year later, as head of two resident homes she had established for the incurably ill, she became Mother Alphonsa. She directed one of these homes, Rosary Hill, in Hawthorne, New York, until her death.

Lathrop's single volume of poetry, Along the Shore (1888), is a collection of generally traditional lyrics and ballads, many of which had been previously published in Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Monthly, and Scribner's. The poems reflect Lathrop's deep grief over the deaths of her father, her mother, her son, and the loss of a friend; they show her despair over the world's deceits—the unrealities of faith, love, and hope. She struggles to resist depression, to find something besides illusion in her life. Her frustrations and disappointments emerge in this poetry in images of death, graves, burials, gloom, and darkness.

In Lathrop's most significant piece of writing, Memories of Hawthorne (1897), her tone has noticeably altered. She examines her parents' lives and her own childhood from a position of comfort and security in the Catholic faith, editing the family letters and diaries carefully and writing lovingly and admiringly. She works from a spiritual serenity and a moral consciousness that she confidently believes are inherited from her father.

Drawing extensively from her mother's letters and diaries, Lathrop narrates the lives of her parents from the period of their courtship in 1838 until the death of her father in 1864. Her mother, Sophia, tends to romanticize any account of Nathaniel and the children, but she has a talent for selecting the significant and interesting detail. Thus, Sophia's letters and diaries, given interpretation and continuity by Lathrop's commentary, provide intimate and fascinating records of the family's Concord years and their European experiences.

Lathrop's best writing in the volume is inspired by her own personal recollections of her father, which vividly portray the private Hawthorne—his attentiveness to his wife and children, his sense of fun, his generosity, his compassion, and his moral stature. For a full and rich chronicle of the Hawthorne years in Liverpool, Memories of Hawthorne is an excellent companion piece to Nathaniel Hawthorne's English Notebooks.

Except for this biographical work, Lathrop's later writing derived from her interests and experiences in the Catholic church. She wrote and published informative and imaginative accounts of her work with cancer patients in a little magazine that she created, Christ's Poor (1901-04). The series of Reports of the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer (1908-22) excited enough interest to be reviewed in the New York Times : "Reports, even of the best charitable institutions, are generally dull reading; but these reports are a flaming exception."

None of Lathrop's early work—the poetry and fiction written before she joined the Catholic church—is remarkable; it lacks both originality and artistic control. However, her later work—the study of Hawthorne and the records of her work with the poor—is well written and valuable. For Lathrop, the work in Rosary Hill Home ended her long search for personal fulfillment and provided a true stimulus for her creative imagination.

Other Works:

A Story of Courage: Annals of the Georgetown Convent of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (with G. P. Lathrop, 1894).

The papers of Rose Hawthorne Lathrop are in collections at the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley; the Beinecke Library, Yale University; the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts; the New York Public Library; the Rosary Hill Home, Hawthorne, New York; and the Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, England.


Burton, K., Sorrow Built a Bridge: A Daughter of Hawthorne (1938). Hawthorne, J., Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife (1888). Joseph, Sister M., Out of Many Hearts (1964). Loggins, V., The Hawthornes: The Story of Seven Generations of an American Family (1951). Maynard, T., A Fire Was Lighted: The Life of Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (1948). Walsh, J. J., Mother Alphonsa: Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (1930).

Reference works:

Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography (1887). DAB. Dictionary of Catholic Biography (1961). NCAB.

Other references:

Atlantic (Sept. 1928). Ladies' Home Journal (Feb. 1893). NYT (16 Apr. 1922).


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