Edmonia Lewis’s “Hygeia”

A rare Edmonia Lewis monument exists in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The badly eroded marble memorial marks the grave of Harriot Kezia Hunt (November 9, 1805 – January 2, 1875), an early female physician. Hunt was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Jacob Hunt and Kezia Wentworth Hunt. She and her sister, Sarah, studied medicine under Elizabeth Mott and Richard Dixon Mott. She was the first woman to apply to Harvard Medical School, but was denied entrance in both 1847 and 1850. She was an advocate for the right of women to learn and practice medicine.

Who was Hygeia? She was a daughter of Asclepius, who was himself the god of healing. Greek sources assign to his daughters various aspects of the healing process, with Hygeia being given rulership of cleanliness. She can be said to have dominion over matters of clean living: washing, eating well, looking after yourself, and having a preventative attitude toward disease.

Scholar Marilyn Richardson has commented that Lewis and Hunt, both talented, ambitious, cultural pioneers, were friends, and that Lewis agreed to produce a monument for Hunt upon her death.

photo of Hygeia copyright Christopher Busta-Peck

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One response to “Edmonia Lewis’s “Hygeia”

  1. Variety, Spice, Life

    Hunt and Lewis were friends. They planned the monument design together. Hunt’s will includes payment for the remaining costs of erecting the monument over her grave.

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