A Gentle(wo)man and a States(wo)man

Aunt Harriet was my grandmother’s aunt who lived in Cornwall, CT. She lived to be 102 years old and the breadth of changes to our world she’d seen over her lifetime is staggering.

  • Harriet Lydia Clark
  • b. November 11, 1894
  • c. January 7, 1997

She was an educator and a legislator and a local historian. Her online obituary briefly sums up some of the milestones, but it’s hard to sum up a person in just a few lines.

Portrait of Harriet Clark, high school or college

CLARK. Harriet Lydia Clark was born in East Cornwall, Nov. 11, 1894, daughter of Andrew Miles and Mary Lydia (Brown) Clark. Her formal education included Cornwall District 16, Gilbert (Winsted) Western Connecticut State University, B.S. from Boston University, 1923, and M.A. from Columbia University in 1942. Her 40 year teaching career extended from East Cornwall, College Farm in Warren, West Side in Goshen to Danbury High School 1923-1953. She served four terms in the State Legislature where she was on the Education, Constitutional Amendments and Personnel Committees 1956-1965. Co-compiler of “History of East Cornwall”, she wrote many stories and was a founder of the Cornwall Historical Society, member of the Owls, Cornwall Grange, long active in the Camp Fire Girls, and was the oldest living member of United Church of Christ in Cornwall. Funeral services will be celebrated on Saturday, (Jan. 11), 1 p.m. at the United Church of Christ in Cornwall. Calling hours will also be on Saturday from 10 a.m.- 12 p.m. at the Kenney Funeral Home, 41 Main St., Sharon. Memorial contributions may be made to the United Church of Christ, Cornwall, 06753.

Obituary (courant)

One of the tales my father often tells about her is when he once asked her to what she attributed her long life and she replied, “I never married.” I think about that often these days. In many ways she was ahead of her time, in other ways, she was a product of her time.

I remember visiting when I was a young child. I was advised by my parents to be on my best behavior. That wasn’t anything new, they always wanted me to be on my best behavior (somewhat like ‘crying wolf’, am I right?) but my grandmother ALSO gently appealed to me to behave properly when we set off for Mohawk Farms and that was something unusual. Aunt Harriet was the matriarch of our family – something my grandmother became after Aunt Harriet’s passing –  and we were to treat her with respect.

She was hard of hearing and tended to yell when she spoke, making her stern nature even more intimidating. But Aunt Harriet loved children and would tell us to go run around in the yard and see if there was anything ripe on the raspberry bushes. It’s not my fault I tracked in mud after that!

The last time I visited Aunt Harriet, I was in college.  She had difficulty raising her voice then but commanded such respect from those around her that I noticed even the next generation of children quieted down to listen to what she was trying to say. 

I know my mother and her sisters and cousins have plenty of other stories – some I may not have even heard. I remember a woman who was a bit of an enigma, one who was warm but also formidable.

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