Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Voices Found: Caroline Atherton Mason

The poet Caroline Atherton Mason was born today in 1823 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a coastal town north of Boston. She and her seven sisters attended the nearby Bradford Academy, where they were collectively nicknamed "the Pleiades."

Caroline began writing at an early age, but her first successful poem, Do they miss me at home?, was published originally in the Salem Register in 1844, the same year she graduated from the Academy. Though the poem was written as the lament of a homesick schoolgirl, it was later set to music by Sidney M. Grannis and became especially popular during the Civil War as a soldier's song.

Her first collection of poetry, Utterance, or Private Voices to the Public Heart, was published in 1852. She also wrote short stories and articles for many journals of the day, as divergent as the St. Nicholas Magazine and the Anti-Slavery Standard. Reportedly she was also a prolific correspondent to local newspapers where her missives were signed "C.A.M.".

In 1868 she was one of six women who wrote hymns for the February 19 ordination and installation services of Universalist minister Phebe Hanaford, the fourth woman ordained in this country. Mason's hymn opened the ordination service in the morning, and was read by the Reverend James Marsden of Abingdon, MA (it's unclear whether it was also sung by the congregation; no record of any tune survives).

Savior! in this sacred hour
With thy grace our spirits dower;
Let thine influence from above
Fill our hearts with light and love.

Lo! thy waiting servant stands,
Asking blessings at thy hands;
Saying, "Who shall speak for thee?"
Saying, "Here am I, send me!"

Oh! sustain her, comfort, guide;
Compass her on every side;
Let thy truth inspire her tongue
Ministering thy flock among.

Clothed with thine own pow'r and might,
Make her earnest for the right;
Strong to do and brave to bear,
Ever watching into prayer,

So her ministry shall be
Owned and blessed, dear Christ, of thee;
Souls be giv'n her, and thy name
Have the glory and acclaim.

Caroline Atherton Mason, 1868; alt.
Emma L. Ashford, 1905

Several of Mason's other hymn texts were included in various hymnals, among them the first Harvard University Hymn Book (1895). A year after her death in 1890, her husband Charles Mason published one final collection of her work, The Lost Ring and Other Poems.

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