On September 22, 1848, Poe was introduced to Whitman’s friends during a gathering in Providence. One of these friends, a young Susan Hammond Barney, recalled a “strange proceeding” during the occasion: “Poe and Mrs. Whitman sat across the room from each other…All [present] were drawn toward Poe, whose eyes were gleaming and whose utterance was most eloquent. His eyes were fixed on Mrs. Whitman…Of a sudden the company perceived that Poe and Helen were greatly agitated. Simultaneously both arose from their chairs and walked toward the center of the room. Meeting, he held her in his arms, kissed her; they stood for a moment, then he led her to her seat. There was a dead silence through all this strange proceeding.”
Susan Hammond Barney was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1834 to prominent physician Dr. John Allen and his wife Elisa Brown Hammond. At just 13 years old, Susan’s prowess for writing allowed her to contribute to the local paper. She married Josiah Barney in 1854 and moved from Pawtucket to Providence shortly thereafter. They had two children, Walter and Charles, born in 1855 and 1858.
Susan was an American evangelist who aspired to become a foreign Christian missionary but was dissuaded by her friends and her ill-health. She was, however, involved with the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society which allowed her to pursue the work at a different capacity. She was also the first president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and through this outlet was partly responsible for making prohibition a constitutional enactment in Rhode Island in 1886.
Her most notable endeavors were those in her police, prison, charitable, and reformatory work. She founded the Prisoners’ Aid Society of Rhode Island, which was part of a larger movement expanding the state’s social welfare programs. In 1897, Susan toured the South Pacific, visiting prisons and asylums abroad and giving lectures on prison reform. Her efforts earned her the title “The Prisoner’s Friend.”
After an active and productive life, Susan died at age 87 on April 29, 1922, in Providence. She’s buried at Riverside Cemetery in Pawtucket with her husband, Josiah.