Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn Lives of the Past Informing the Future - Page 6

The Shoulders We Stand On: A Conversation with Denise Simmons By Jennifer J. Johnston Media & Communications Director C 4 ity Councilor and former Mayor Denise Simmons, a lifelong resident of Cambridge, MA, has been a regular visitor to Mount Auburn Cemetery for longer than she can remember. In addition to officiating at weddings as a Justice of the Peace, she recently had her own wedding photos taken near Halcyon Lake. “It is just beautiful at the Cemetery,” says Simmons. “The structure and form of monuments and architecture, the sculptures, the trees as well as the scent of all the flowers make it such a wonderful place to walk around. My daughter loves the tower and viewing the foliage from that vantage point in the fall. And I love the chapels and especially the Sphinx....I find Mount Auburn a wonderful place to be quiet. I find it recuperative and rejuvenating. And of course, it is a great place to contemplate history.” Simmons became even more passionate about Mount Auburn after learning about the marble sculpture of the Goddess Hygeia on Poplar Avenue, through her involvement with The History Project. Beyond its beauty as a work of art, Hygeia is significant because it is associated with two extraordinary nineteenth-century women: Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt (1805–1875), who commissioned the monument for her grave, and sculptor Edmonia Lewis (1844–1907), who carved it. Lewis, born to an African American father and a Chippewa (Ojibwa) mother, was the first woman and the first person of color from America to receive international recognition as a sculptor; few examples of her work survive. At the time of the Hunt commission, Lewis was living and working in Rome. Harriot Hunt was one of the first female physicians in Boston, an early feminist reformer and an abolitionist. After learning about Hygeia (and the stories of Lewis and Hunt), Simmons began bringing friends and guests with her to “meet the statue.” On one of her visits, Simmons found herself on Clethra Path at the grave of author, abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and former slave Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) (photo top right). Simmons was inspired to read Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which is among the few primary resources on slavery written by a woman.