Hemenway, Mary Porter Tileston (1820–1894)

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Hemenway, Mary Porter Tileston (1820–1894)

American philanthropist . Born Mary Porter Tileston in New York City, on December 20, 1820; died in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 6, 1894; eldest of nine children of Thomas Tileston (a shipping merchant) and Mary (Porter) Tileston; attended private schools in New York; married Augustus Hemenway (a merchant), on June 25, 1840 (died 1876); children: five: Charlotte Augusta Hemenway (b. 1841); Alice (1845, died at age two); Amy Hemenway (b. 1848); Edith Hemenway (b.1851); and Augustus Hemenway (1853).

One of nine children of Mary Porter Tileston and Thomas Tileston, a wealthy New York shipping merchant, Mary Hemenway was educated privately and then busied herself at home until her marriage in 1840 to Augustus Hemenway, a wealthy Boston merchant 15 years her senior. While her husband was away overseeing the expansion of his business interests, Hemenway endured the long separations by tending to the couple's five children. In 1860, Augustus suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized in a sanatorium for 14 years. (He died in 1876.) During that time, Hemenway embarked on her long career in philanthropy.

Hemenway's major concern was the practical education of Boston's public school children, and her manner of philanthropy was to provide seed money and provisions for particular projects until they were well established and could be taken over by public funding. One of her early projects was to supply materials and teachers for sewing classes in a Boston public school, a program that was ultimately taken over by the school system. In 1883 and 1884, she sponsored a summer manual training school for girls, a project that was expanded with her gift of a school kitchen (the first in the United States), as well as money for cooking teachers. In 1887, she established the Boston Normal School of Cookery to train more teachers, and a year later, the program was also taken over by the public schools. In the same manner, she supported physical education, establishing a Normal School of Gymnastics, which was later financed by Wellesley College.

Believing that education was also a key in restoring the South and promoting national unity after the Civil War, in 1871 Hemenway donated funds to establish the Tileston Normal School in Wilmington, North Carolina, for the education of poor whites. She continued to support the institution throughout its 20-year history and also contributed to Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes. In 1880, she purchased land for the construction of the Brambleton School in Norfolk, Virginia. In Boston, she gave $100,000 toward the restoration of the Old South Meeting House, where she later instituted a community program in American history, including a yearly summer lecture series by eminent scholars and the publication of leaflets and supplementary source material. In 1881, she provided money for a yearly essay contest for high school students, who were assigned to write on the subject of American History.

In 1886, after meeting a group of visiting Zuñi Indians, Hemenway commissioned the Hemenway Southwestern Archaeological Expedition to carry out archaeological and ethnological field studies among the Zuñi and Hopi tribes. The expedition, under the direction of Frank Cushing and later of J. Walter Fewkes, was carried out over a seven-year period. Hemenway also underwrote a report of the work, which appeared in five volumes of the Journal of American Ethnology and Archaeology (1891–1908).

Mary Hemenway also supported the Unitarian Church and, in 1878, transformed her summer home in Milton, Massachusetts, into a shelter for orphans, the Hillside Home for Boys. The philanthropist died in her Beacon Hill home on March 6, 1894, leaving a trust fund for the continued support of her enterprises.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts