Mary Emery, “Lady Bountiful”
Mary Emery was a modest woman, whose shy and retiring nature has kept her in the background of history. In fact, she was major player on the world stage, and her good works still benefit thousands every day. Known to her close friends as “Guppy,” and to the grateful recipients of her generosity as “Lady Bountiful,” Mary Emery was the initiator, benefactor and visionary who founded the Village of Mariemont.
Mary Muhlenberg Hopkins was born in New York City in 1844, where she lived with her parents and sister, Isabella, until the family moved to Cincinnati in 1862. She had a keen mind, and at the age of 16 was accepted to the Packer Collegiate Institute, where she absorbed lessons on mathematics, the sciences, Latin and elocution, courses usually reserved for young men.
After moving to Cincinnati, Mary met Thomas J. Emery, whose family had built a fortune in candles, soap, chemicals, and real estate. Mary and Thomas were married in 1866, and had two sons, Sheldon (1867-1890) and Albert (1868-1884). While the family’s holdings thrived, Mary’s personal life was marred by the tragic loss of Albert, who died as the result of a sledding accident, and Sheldon, who was carried off by an infection. Mary was then widowed in 1906 when Thomas’s health failed during a recuperative trip to North Africa.
Mary Emery was determined to put the fortune left to her to good use. She continued several philanthropies begun before her husband’s death, and began many new projects. She generously supported the Cincinnati Zoo, was the impetus behind the creation of Children’s Hospital, and donated an entire wing to the Cincinnati Art Museum to house the art she had collected and bequeathed to the museum. Her biggest undertaking, however, was the creation of the “model town” of Mariemont.
Appalled by the unsanitary housing conditions in downtown Cincinnati, she used her vast fortune to create a “national exemplar”, which would be planned in every detail to provide its residents with a high quality of life. Mrs. Emery and Charles Livingood, her business manager, hired John Nolen, an internationally known town planner. He developed the plan for the Village of Mariemont, which was named after Mary Emery’s summer home in Rhode Island. The result of Mary Emery’s amazing vision and John Nolen’s careful planning was a village with a real sense of community.
For further reading: Rich In Good Works, by Millard F. Rogers, Jr.