The Dailey Family Home/Site of Sarah Helen Whitman’s Death

17 (1)After the death of her sister Susan in 1877, Sarah Helen Whitman found herself alone in an empty house, and declining rapidly in health. Given these circumstances, it’s clear why she graciously accepted the offer of her friend, Mrs. Albert Dailey, to live with her and her family in their large home on Bowen Street. It was there that Sarah Helen Whitman took her last breath less than a year later.

Shortly after moving in, Helen wrote in a letter to Poe biographer John Henry Ingram “I am for the present in the beautiful home of the Dailey’s—sitting before a cheerful wood fire in an upper-room looking out on fields and meadows and pleasant gardens.” She was no doubt talking about the magnificent scenery which is now Prospect Terrace. She had a generous room, with all her statues and portraits decorated to her liking. She was free to take guests as she pleased and had complete liberty in the home. There’s no reason to believe that Helen was financially indebted to the Dailey family, for the 75 year old was still receiving a generous income that she surely used part of to pay her caretakers. Mrs. Dailey’s oldest daughter, Charlotte Field Dailey, was especially fond of Mrs. Whitman and devoted much of her time to the elderly woman. Charlotte listened to Helen recount her life and talk about all the prominent names she came to know along the way. One name that came up was of course Edgar Allan Poe, whose portrait hung in Helen’s room in the home. Mrs. Whitman would often gaze at the portrait as she recollected her relationship with the poet. Sarah Helen Whitman was fearlessly ready for death.

On June 27, 1878, Sarah Helen Whitman passed away quietly at half past nine o’clock with Mrs. Albert Dailey and her daughters at her bedside. Her cause of death was “affection of the heart, complicated by other ailments.” She was 75 years old. Helen’s friends were beguiled by her cheerful, uncomplaining manner during her final days. She requested that a formal announcement of her death be sent to the papers AFTER her funeral, and that no invitations be sent out. But this request did not halt so large a turnout. The service took place here, at Mrs. Dailey’s home located at 97 Bowen St, Providence. Her remains lied in a casket veiled with white cloth, surrounded by an array of gorgeous flowers. A wreath of green leaves and ripened wheat sat at the top of the coffin, while her hands pressed to her chest, a bunch of beautiful roses. The service closed with scriptures read by her friend, Miss. Anna C. Garlin (secretary of the Women’s Suffrage Association in Providence) followed by a recitation of a poem from the works of the departed, “The Angel of Death.” Helen’s remains were interred at the North Burial Ground towards the closing of the afternoon. Her grave was lined completely with laurel and evergreen so that none of the naked earth could be seen, and after her casket was lowered, friends tossed upon it more bunches of greens and each a scatter of flowers. Although Whitman requested that no stone be placed above her remains, Mrs. Albert Dailey, who was also her executor, commissioned a “suitable tablet” in her honor. In death, Sarah Helen Whitman was smothered with emblems of immortality that truly reflected the legacy she would hold.