Edith Ellen Forbes

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Edith Ellen Forbes (Emerson)

Birthdate: (87)
Birthplace: Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: November 20, 1929 (87)
Milton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Lydia Emerson
Wife of (USA), William Hathaway Forbes
Mother of Ralph Emerson Forbes; William Cameron Forbes; Edith Forbes; John Forbes; Edward Forbes and 5 others
Sister of Waldo Emerson; Ellen Tucker Emerson and Edward Waldo Emerson

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Edith Ellen Forbes

Edith (1841-1929) married, moved away from Concord, and enjoyed a family life separate from her identity as an Emerson. In 1865, she married William Harrison Forbes, a son of wealthy railroad magnate John Murray Forbes. They made their home in Milton, Massachusetts, and had eight children (six sons and two daughters). Her departure from the Emerson household prompted her father to comment, “There are several very agreeable circumstances about that child’s going away, but there is one sad one, and that is that she is gone … Yes she was an idle minx, but she has gone and she troubles me.”

  In 1871, at the invitation of Edith’s father-in-law, Emerson—worn out by lecturing—traveled by train to California.  Edith and her husband were part of the excursion party.  On this trip, Emerson met naturalist John Muir, an admirer of his writings and those of Thoreau. 

“Yesterday morning, 24 Feb. at 8 o’clock a daughter was born to me, a soft, quiet, swarthy little creature, apparently perfect & healthy. My second child. Blessings on thy head, little winter bud! & comest thou to try thy luck in this world & know if the things of God are things for thee? Well assured & very soft & still, the little maiden expresses great contentment with all she finds, & her delicate but fixed determination to stay where she is, & grow. So be it, my fair child! Lidian, who magnanimously makes my gods her gods, calls the babe Ellen. I can hardly ask more for thee, my babe, than that name implies. Be that vision & remain with us, & after us.”—RWE, journal, February 25, 1839

“Nellie waked & fretted at night & put all sleep of her seniors to rout. Seniors grew very cross, but Nell conquered soon by the pathos & eloquence of childhood & its words of fate. Thus after wishing it would be morning, she broke out into sublimity; ‘Mother, it must be morning.’ Presently, after, in her sleep, she rolled out of bed; I heard the little feet running around on the floor, and then, ‘O dear! Where’s my bed?’

  She slept again, and then woke; ‘Mother, I am afraid; I wish I could sleep in the bed be side of you.  I am afraid I shall tumble into the waters—It is all water.’  What else could papa do?  He jumped out of bed & laid himself down by the little mischief, & soothed her the best he might.”—RWE, journal, June 26, 1842 

“Be it known unto you that a little maiden child is born unto this house this day at 5 o clock this afternoon; it is a meek little girl which I have just seen, & in this short dark winter afternoon I cannot tell what color her eyes are, and the less, because she keeps them pretty closely shut: But there is nothing in her aspect to contradict the hope we feel that she has come for a blessing to our little company. Lidian is very well and finds herself suddenly recovered from a host of ails which she suffered from this morning. Waldo is quite deeply happy with this fair unexpected apparition & cannot peep & see it enough. Ellen has retired to bed unconscious of the fact & of all her rich gain in this companion. Shall I be discontented who had dreamed of a young poet that should come? I am quite too much affected with wonder & peace at what I have and behold & understand nothing of, to quarrel with it that it is not different.”—RWE to William and Susan Haven Emerson, November 22, 1841.

“My dear Edie,

  Your little letter & flower & some drawings your mother sent me made me very glad about you, & I am making ready as fast as I can to finish my visit and come home and find you again. 
  I shall have a great many stories to tell you about little boys & girls in England and in France; and you will have a hundred things to tell me, now that you have learned to read, & can choose books & stories for yourself.  I am delighted to hear that you take such good care of Eddy, & tell him what is in your books, & teach him verses to say.  I long to hear him say them; & you must not let him forget them.  A few days ago, there were fifty hundred children, all in the uniforms of their different schools, met in the great church of St. Paul’s, and they sung hymns together, & people say, they sung well.  I was very sorry I could not go to hear them.  But I should not have liked it better than I like “Now condescend,” and so forth, when sung by three little people whom I know.  I hope they will sing it for me & Mother together again in five or six weeks. 
  So goodbye for today! 


—RWE to Edith Emerson, from London, June 23, 1848


“Edith, who until now has been quite superior to all learning, has been smitten with ambition at Miss Whiting’s school and cannot be satisfied with spelling. She spells at night on my knees with fury & will not give over; asks new words like conundrums with nervous restlessness and, as Miss W. tells me, ‘will not spell at school for fear she shall miss.’

  Poor Edie struggled hard to get the white card called an ‘approbation’ which was given  out on Saturdays but one week she lost it by dropping out of a book on her way home her week’s card on which her marks were recorded.  This she tried hard to get safe home but she had no pocket so she put it in her book as the safest place.  When half way home she looked in her book & it was there; but when she arrived at home it was gone.  The next week she tried again to keep a clean bill but Henry Frost pointed his jack-knife at her; Edie said, ‘Don’t!’ & lost her ‘approbation’ again.”—RWE, journal, October, 1848
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Edith Ellen Forbes's Timeline

November 22, 1841
Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
July 10, 1866
Age 24
Milton, Norfolk, Massachusetts, United States
October 28, 1867
Age 25
May 21, 1870
Age 28
August 27, 1871
Age 29
July 16, 1873
Age 31
February 28, 1879
Age 37
October 28, 1880
Age 38
May 14, 1882
Age 40