Lydia Huntley Sigourney School

Plaque sponsored by the Gernon Trust

Located on 189 Broadway

Born September 1, 1791 in Norwich, Ms. Sigourney was an outspoken activist, humanitarian, and consummate poet. She published approximately 50 volumes of poetry and literature, starting with her 1815 work entitle Moral Pieces In Prose And Verse.

Lydia’s father, Ezekiel Huntley, was the gardener for Dr. Daniel Lathrop, under whose roof the Huntley’s lived (Dr. Lathrop was the same individual who apprenticed Benedict Arnold, in his apothecary shop). Treated as a member of the Lathrop’s extended family, Lydia was privy to the fineries of Norwich, which would have been out of her reach as a child of a servant. The East District School, which she attended, was noted for teaching both sexes in the same room and the same subject matters. This profoundly influenced Lydia and fostered her progressive attitude towards the education of females. In 1811, she and Maria Hyde opened a school for girls (189 Broadway, facing on the little plain). The mission for the school was to teach young women all subjects and encourage them to expect more from life than being teachers themselves (a profession that women of learning were limited to at that time).

After marrying Charles Sigourney in 1819, Lydia and her school relocated to Hartford, she mingled with the upper echelon of society. She dined with U.S. Presidents and European royalty. Her poems and prose reflected her worldly experiences. Sigourney was also a philanthropist. When she started her school, a tenth (tithe) was given to charity. Her biographer (Gordon Haight, in his work The Sweet Singer of Hartford), said that “the Indians, Greeks, missionaries in Asia and Africa, as well as at home, regularly received her unobtrusive gifts. The poor and sick in Hartford were constantly being supplied with clothes and provisions.”

The laureate was unappreciated and ignored in her native Norwich. In Caulkins’ History of Norwich, Sigourney is described as one who has “acquired a literary fame second to that of no female in this country.” Hartford named a street for her. The Hartford Courant’s obituary labeled her writings as, “models of pure and elegant English… contributing to educate the national taste, and instruct the literary judgment of our people. By the purity and simplicity of her rhetoric, as much as she has elevated and ennobled their sentiments by the deeply religious tone, which pervades all her writings.” Her final book, Letters of Life, was published in 1865, shortly after her death.