Charity is a stained glass window once located at Trinity Church in the City of Boston. It was designed by Frederic Crowninshield. The inscription at the bottom of the window, barely legible in the above photo, reads “In memory of Cordelia Harmon, the friend of the poor and friendless. Died May 25, 1883.” In an 1888 publication providing a descriptive account of the church, including of its windows, Harmon was described as “the Almoner of Trinity Church for many years, and through her good deeds was well known by all the poor in any way connected with the Parish. The window was a gift of members of the Parish.”
Born in Maine, Cordelia Harmon (1820-1883) spent her adult life in the Boston area. It is clear from surviving records that she consistently strove to help those who could least help themselves. Regardless of good deeds done as an elementary school teacher, a nurse at Mass General Hospital or serving people through programs offered by her church, Harmon appears to have never turned her eyes away from the wrongs that remained around her.
One of the church-supported programs that she participated on was The Ladies’ Relief Agency. As a part of that charity’s design, every application submitted seeking assistance was investigated, including a home visit. Through such visits, and no doubt her work with other charities, Harmon was able to see firsthand the lack of support for those with chronic diseases, people who were turned away from hospitals, and many of whom had no family to care for them. She would write: “How can a man, breathing fetid air, living in the squalor and debasement that abound, where the poor most do congregate and often of necessity, feel hope or courage to rise above his condition?”
Harmon imagined creating a home for those people where they could live a good life until the end of their days. It was an idea that she would discuss with Phillips Brooks, the rector of Trinity Church. He would help her raise the funds to open The Boston Home for the Incurables in 1881. Harmon would work at this home until she “died at her post” in 1883. Phillips Brooks was traveling abroad when he learned of Harmon’s death. In a letter to his brother he wrote:
Despite his expression of not feeling well-fitted to do the work of Cordelia Harmon, upon his return to Boston, Phillips Brooks did continue her legacy. In 1883, Trinity formed The Committee for the Establishment of The Boston Home for Incurables to raise funds to expand upon Harmon’s idea. Funds raised helped the Home to acquire a larger facility and accommodate more patients. It would continue to expand and refine its services over the next 130 years. Today, the Boston Home is a respected, model institution serving nearly 100 residents.
The only known surviving image of the Harmon window is a black and white photo taken in the 1920s. In the center of the image, a woman and two children, destitute. To the left, a figure with head bowed, the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Standing amidst them is Jesus. And above them all, in capital letters, is the text: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me. The window did not survive major renovations that took place in the 1950s. The window may be gone but the memory and legacy of Miss Cordelia Harmon lives on and continues to evolve.
Sources, Additional Reading, Etc.
September 19, 2014 article with video: http://assistivetech.scripts.mit.edu/blog/finding-a-home/
Charity postcard with insert about Harmon available at Trinity Church Bookshop