133 Brown Street: The Dailey Family Residence/Site of Whitman’s Death

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 home at (then) 97 Bowen Street. It was there that Sarah Helen Whitman took her last breath only five months later.

Shortly after moving in, Whitman 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 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 Whitman was financially indebted to the Dailey family, for the seventy five 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 Whitman 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 Whitman’s room in the home. Sarah Helen Whitman would often gaze at the portrait as she recollected her relationship with the poet. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that 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. Whitman’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 right at the Dailey’s home. Whitman’s 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.” Her remains were interred at the North Burial Ground towards the closing of the afternoon, with her grave lined completely with laurel and evergreen so that none of the naked earth could be seen. After the 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.

In 1878, the Dailey home was perpendicular to Brown Street with the side of the house facing Bowen. Sometime between 1882 and 1899, Brown Street was extended to the front of the Dailey house and it was readdressed entirely to 133 Brown Street. This of course changed the numbering on Bowen Street, making today’s 97 Bowen Street completely irrelevant to Whitman and the Dailey family, and 133 Brown Street the correct location of the house on today’s map.