Harriet Newell Flint, 1815-1896

Wakefield’s Women:

During the month of March, “Women’s History Month,” the Wakefield Historical Society will be publishing the biographies of some of Wakefield’s Women from the earliest settlers.  At the end of the month, all of the biographies will be published at the Society’s website.

The sixth of nine children, Harriet Flint was born and brought up on Salem Street in Wakefield.  Her mother, Phebe Cummings Evans was from an old Woburn family, but her father, Thomas Evans, traced his lineage from Nathaniel Evans, who emigrated from Wales in the seventeenth century to settle in the part of Malden that would in 1726 be annexed by this town and is now known as Greenwood.  An early family trade was shoemaking; Harriet’s brother, Lucius Bolles Evans would start the firm later known as L.B. Evans Sons.

Harriet became a teacher in the North Reading Public Schools.  In 1840, she would marry Charles Frederic Flint of North Reading.  The descendant of another family of early settlers, Charles Frederic Flint was raised on his father’s farm and became a farmer himself.  Charles was a public spirited and ambitious man.  When the Salem and Lowell Railway was laid out through North Reading, Charles decided to invest;  eventually he became a significant stockholder.  When the fate of the enterprise began to seem uncertain, Charles became more involved in the running of the company, eventually becoming a director, and then the president of a company that he helped make a success.  His fortune made, Charles would also become a director of the Wamesit Bank of Lowell.  One day in 1868, on a business trip to Salem, Charles took a fall, striking his head against the sidewalk and succumbing to a brain injury.

A childless widow after twenty-eight years of marriage, Harriet had inherited a significant fortune.  She was fifty-three years old and had never before played a public part in the administration of her husband’s business or financial affairs, but Harriet revealed a  keen insight into business, along with an energetic mind and great determination.   She would more than double her husband’s extensive estate.

The Flints had originally lived in North Reading but upon her husband’s death, Harriet decided to move back to her childhood home.  In his lifetime, Charles Flint had purchased an estate overlooking Crystal Lake.  Harriet made this her home, laying out a street across her homestead and naming it ‘Charles Street’ in her husband’s honor.  The estate consisted of 24 acres, including the picturesque elevation known as ‘Hart’s Hill.’   

From this home, Harriet administered not only her business interests, but also her charities.  She turned her attention first to the town of North Reading and began to carefully choose projects to support.  Charles, who had never achieved more than a common school education, had always had a reverence for higher learning.  In his will, he had left the sum of $1000 to North Reading public schools for medals of excellence.  The execution of this gift proved impractical, so Harriet turned this bequest into the nucleus of a grant to form a public library.  To this gift, she soon added an additional $2000, and then, in 1875, the gift of the structure known as the Flint Memorial Hall, where the town’s library and public offices were located.   She also contributed to churches in North Reading that were struggling, and made donations to keep the roadways in good repair.

Soon after, she turned her attention to Wakefield, making a donation to the Beebe Memorial Library, and supporting the public schools, the police and fire departments,  disabled Civil War veterans and their families and churches and charitable institutions.  She was interested in public works projects and made donations to support roadways and to provide public drinking fountains.   Her favorite charity in Wakefield was the Wakefield Home for Aged Women, established in 1895.  (now the E. E. Boit Home).   

Upon her  death in 1895, Mrs. Flint’s will would continue her charitable work with donations in the amount of over $100,000 to a variety of worthy causes.   The one cherished goal that she did not achieve, due to the suddenness of her final illness, was her intent to bequeath her home and the land now known as “Hart’s Hill” to the Massachusetts Metropolitan Park Commission, for use as a public park. 

Mrs. Flint is best known in Wakefield for her bequest of the sum of $10,000 for the purpose of erecting a monument to the memory of the Soldiers and Sailors who had taken part in the Civil War.  Mrs. Flint had long been a supporter of veterans’ causes, and had donated the furnishings for the War Memorial Room in the old Town Hall.  Her donation for a monument specified that the “monument … be grand in itself, symmetrical in architecture, beautiful in design and finish, attended with solid and thorough workmanship, worthy of the brave men to whom we dedicate it.”   The resulting Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Upper Common, dedicated in 1902, is a testament to the generosity of this fine woman, as are her many bequests, many of which still provide annual interest to support Harriet Flint’s charities to this day, 113 years after her death.

The Wakefield Historical Society’s “Wakefield’s Women” special exhibit was shown at the Museum.  

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