Bemis

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2. Birth





With these rich inheritances as her birthright, with parents who enforced and strengthened in their children the principles that they themselves had been taught, Alice Cogswell was born in the family home of her parents, Daniel and Mary Davis Randall Cogswell, at Ipswich, on January 5, 1845. She was one of seven children, three of whom died very young, and of the seven only her sister Lucy survived her. The mother died when Alice was only four. Until the time of the father's death, when she was eighteen and her sister three years older, several different housekeepers were in charge of the home, and yet it appears that these two young girls very early and in a way most unusual for any so young, not only gave life and charm to the house, but directed and controlled all its activities to a great extent. A cousin who was very dear to Alice writes to her son of his memory of those days in the quiet country home at Ipswich, giving a charming picture that shows the spirit that prompted all her life to its end. He says: "Every one in Ipswich who remembers her would speak of her sweet, cheery and generous spirit. One of the very earliest of my childhood recollections is a little incident that occurred when I could not have been more than four or five years old. One day my mother let me go all by myself to Uncle Cogswell's to see Cousin Alice. Our homes were rather near together but it was to me then a journey of large proportions. At dinner I can remember that I sat next Cousin Alice in a chair with two big books to make it high enough. After dinner we went into the garden and picked a basket of pears which she gave me to take home. This little visit was like many others that followed and it is typical of all that she has done throughout a long and useful life. Though I was only a little fellow, I have a strong impression of an energetic, influential family, full of good deeds, and of a large house with well stocked cellars and larders that seemed to exist chiefly for the benefit of neighbors and friends. Lucy and Alice were beautiful young women. Their mother died when they were quite young, and while they were in their early 'teens' they were in charge of the Cogswell home. This they made most attractive. My boyhood impression is that they were always doing nice things for people--always sending their friends baskets from their larder. I have a wonderful impression of Uncle Cogswell's garden. As gardens go nowadays it may not have been unusual, but to me it was a rare spot. It contained choice varieties of currants, gooseberries, pears and cherries. There may have been some apple trees, but I have the feeling that apples were a trifle common to associate with his exotic varieties. From the time of my father's death, which occurred when I was eight years old, Cousin Alice seemed to assume a godmotherly interest in me and my career. Three evenings a week I went to the Lowell Institute, which kept me in town too late to go home to Ipswich, and she gave me a key to her home in Newton and had a room always ready for my use. She always took a generous interest in my work. Her moral support was everything to me. She made me feel that my profession was worthy and dignified." Many students whom she helped in later years would gladly give the same testimony of support and encouragement received from her.

The sisters attended the Ipswich Seminary, one of the famous schools of New England in its day. Its principal, Mrs. Cowles, had an attractive personality, a cultivated mind, and great force of character. Her husband, Dr. Cowles, was a clergyman and a man of wide influence, though because of his blindness he was not in the active ministry for many years. In spite of this seemingly insurmountable obstacle he was a constant student, especially of Greek and Hebrew, and wrote much of value on the Old Testament. His presence added greatly to the household, whose refined and stimulating atmosphere seems to have made as strong an impression on the students as did the soundness of the teaching in the classroom. The two sisters, Lucy and Alice, took the entire course of study that the seminary offered. Alice graduated from it in 1864. Many of its pupils became women of large influence in the world, and carried from their life in the seminary a profound impression of the religious influences that had surrounded them there. Their own thought and their manner of life showed the lasting value of the emphasis that had been laid in the school on the supreme importance of right living and right thinking. Those who knew the sisters well recall the many times in after years when, as they mentioned some wise rule for life, they prefaced it with, "As Mrs. Cowles used to tell us," or "as Dr. Cowles said." One of Mrs. Cowles's daughters now living writes of Alice: "I remember that she was universally liked and loved." It was a happy school life and a happy girlhood for both of these sisters. Notwithstanding their great loss in having to grow to womanhood without their mother, a loss of which they were always conscious, they had great compensation in their close companionship with their father and with each other. Their father gave them the best of instruction in things spiritual, and unusual training in all practical matters, especially with regard to the value of money, how to care for it and how to spend it, and then gave them a much freer hand in the direction of many personal matters than most girls of their age were accustomed to have; this freedom they used wisely. One of them was once asked how they filled their days in times that often seem very dull and uninteresting to the modern girl with her round of engagements. The answer was, "We skated in winter and ran wild in summer." What was said in jest was far from being the literal truth, but it suggests the happy impression that their girlhood gave them of genuine freedom guided by the wise counsels of others and their own good sense.



In June of 1864 Lucy Cogswell was married to Mr. George B. Roberts, and their house became home to Alice. Mr. Roberts afterward built the house on Craigie Street, Cambridge, in which they spent the rest of their lives. It was here that the two generations met often while the Bemis family lived in the east, and later when they came on from Colorado. The relation between the sisters had hitherto been a particularly close one, and was only strengthened by the happy new family ties that came to each. To those who loved these sisters and saw both come to a time when feebleness and physical restriction might have been before them, there can be only rejoicing that they were spared any added weakness of body, and that there was no clouding of their bright and active minds, no abatement of interest in the life about them as long as they were here. Mrs. Roberts had been in such delicate health for several years that it did not seem possible that she would outlive her sister, but only two months after their last parting, the great transition came to her also.