Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Thomas Wentworth HigginsonThomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) was an author, minister, abolitionist, and social reformer, prominent in Newport's intellectual circles.

A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Higginson served as pastor of the Unitarian Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts, for two years. As a consequence of his liberal views, he was asked to resign. He later served as pastor of the Free Church in Worcester, Massachusetts (1852-1861).

Higginson and his first wife, Mary Channing, moved to Newport in 1864. The Higginsons lived in boarding houses on Broad Street, Cottage Street, and Mann Avenue.

Higginson served as chairman of Newport's School Committee. Along with other Newport citizens, including George T. Downing, he abolished segregated schools in 1865. An advocate of physical education, he helped open the first school gymnasium in Newport.

Higginson served as director of Redwood Library and was an active member of Julia Ward Howe's Town & Country Club, which met at members' homes to read papers and discuss philosophy.

Higginson wrote his first novel, Malbone: An Oldport Romance, in Newport. He authored a number of articles for The Atlantic Monthly and The Nation. He was an editor and mentor to poet Emily Dickinson.

A long-term abolitionist, Higginson served as colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first regiment of free slaves in the Union Army.

Higginson and authors Jack London and Upton Sinclair formed the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, a campus student and faculty organization, in New York. The Society established study groups, sponsored socialist lectures, and published books on social issues. The Society became the League for Industrial Democracy in 1921.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, ©2001-2003