History Bytes: Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Writer & Intellectual

July 17, 2021

Hypotenuse House was the home of Colonel George Waring, site of many Town and Country Club meetings. NHS Collection, P2328

The Town and Country Club was founded in 1871 by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Julia Ward Howe as a response to the more frivolous entertainments of Newport’s summer colony, “lest the Newport season should entirely evaporate into the shallow pursuit of amusement,” in Howe’s words. The group comprised Newport’s cultural elite and met to discuss literature, science, religion and philosophy. They met each summer for 31 years until the group disbanded in 1905 with the remaining funds gifted to the Redwood Library and Athenaeum.

Higginson’s participation in the Town and Country Club reflected his renewed interest in intellectual life following his service in the Union Army. He frequently corresponded with well-known literary figures of the period including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott (father of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott) and Lydia Maria Child. He also maintained a close mentorship through correspondence with Emily Dickinson. After her death, Higginson edited the first volume of Dickinson poems to be published.