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Richard J. Mouw

The Women at the Concord Tombs

Ralph Waldo Emerson is buried on Authors Ridge, a hilly section of the large cemetery on the edge of Concord, Massachusetts. There are 20 graves in the Emerson family plot. Nearby are buried the Alcotts, the Hawthornes, and the Thoreaus. Emerson's grave is marked by an imposing rock bearing a plaque. Two smaller stones stand just six inches to the right and left of Emerson's rock: they identify the graves of his wife, Lidian, and their daughter, Ellen Tucker Emerson.

Ellen's stone is inscribed with words that commend her for her strong Christian convictions:

Her life was happy in that
"Among the scenes of real life, she wrought Upon [the] plan that pleased her childish thought."
She cherished the old Religion. It was her Guide through each day and the Temple to which in solitude she withdrew. The joy of her Father and Mother and the comfort of their last years, her love embraced the widest circle of kindred and friends …
Of a fine mind, she cared more for persons than books, and her faith drew out the best in those around her.

One book that Ellen Tucker Emerson did care deeply about was the Bible. For most of her adult life she was a Sunday-school teacher at Concord's First Parish Church. She also belonged to a Bible class—two of them for a while—and she eagerly promoted the study of the Scriptures in the Emerson family: "All four of us took hold and studied Galatians Saturday evening," she reported in a letter written in 1882, "and with Uncle George we read Romans xi on Sunday evening. That was glorious!"

Ellen Tucker Emerson was a Christian Unitarian, an all but vanished breed these days, but in her time an identifiable variety of Unitarianism. In theological terms this means that her Christology was Arian, a view of Jesus more akin to that of the Jehovah's Witnesses than to present-day liberal Methodism. She believed that Jesus was the Savior sent from heaven—not quite a member of the Godhead but of a status higher than the angels—and ...

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