Mary Harden

Bishop Turner greatly valued the intellectual, spiritual and social work performed by women. Unlike many of his male contemporaries, Bishop Turner seemed to hold very progressive, even radical views about women. He was unafraid to voice publicly these views from his pulpit and into print. This obituary, written by Bishop Turner, exemplifies his ideas, courage and egalitarian experience of women though he does draw attention to Mary Harden’s beauty. He emphasizes her skill, determination and belief in his ability to become not just a good preacher but an excellent thinker, writer and speaker.

Turner actually describes a mentor in the late Mary Harden, who in the classic nineteenth-century manner so typical of African American women, seemed to have done this critical work in an unofficial, therefore “invisible” capacity. Turner’s decision to not only render her visible but also praise Harden and thank her publicly, reveals Turner’s clear conviction that women were eminently capable outside of the domestic sphere. But, more interestingly, Harden performs a work, which though suspected of many wives, sisters, employees and mothers of men performed regularly. The meticulous work often required to find and trace the shape of women in the convention minutes speaks to this erasure. 

OBITUARY

H.M. Turner. "Obituary," 25 March 1865. The Christian Recorder. Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.

 

Mary Harden is immortalized by Bishop Turner’s heartfelt memorial, written after she died. Harden was a single woman, whose image and story remain filtered through Turner’s words, Harden becomes a cipher; a way to “see” the many thousands of African American women in the nineteenth century whose names and stories have yet to be retold.  Efforts to reclaim or find her in the archive to date, have been unsuccessful. I hope that present and future scholars will consider this page an invitation and bookmark for future scholarship. Many women like Mary Harden lived lives and left traces which diligent scholarship will reveal. In the meantime, we are afforded the distinct pleasure of “reading” Mary Harden the words of her one who was perhaps her best and brightest pupil: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner.

After reading of the death of his mentor in the popular nineteenth century African American newspaper, the Anglo African, Bishop Turner was both heartbroken and inspired. Embedded with his regiment, Turner penned and mailed this memorial to Mary Harden from the battlefield to his late teacher and friend.

References

 [1] In the obituary, Turner tells readers that Harden lived in Baltimore, Maryland, and he also mentions Harden's grandfather, the late Bishop Waters. There are two AME bishops with the last name Waters. Bishop J.C. Waters was living well after 1865 (year the obituary was published). Bishop Edward Waters, on the other hand, lived in Baltimore all his life and died in 1847, which suggests that he is Mary Harden's grandfather. See Charles Spencer Smith's A History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: Being a Volume Supplemental to A History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,  p. 19.

 

The Presentation, of a gold snuff box to the Rev. R.T. Breckenridge

This illustration of the AME Church in Baltimore highlights the prevalence of women in the pews. Harden, like many women, were important participants in the church. 

"The Presentation, of a gold snuff box to the Rev. R. T. Breckenridge." Image courtesy of Library of Congress.