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Whipple, Evangeline Marrs Simpson (1857–1930)

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Black and white photograph of Evangeline Whipple, ca. 1896.

Evangeline Whipple, ca. 1896.

Evangeline Whipple used her wealth to improve the lives of women, people of color, and the poor. She supported social justice for American Indians in Minnesota, for African Americans in Florida, and for villagers and World War I refugees in Bagni di Lucca, Italy.

Evangeline Marrs was born in Wayland, Massachusetts. Her father was an Irish immigrant who worked as a machinist and farmer; her mother was a first-generation immigrant from England.

Evangeline’s first marriage, in 1882, was to Michael Simpson, a textile industrialist forty-eight years her senior. When Simpson died two years later, Evangeline became a wealthy widow at the age of twenty-seven.

Around 1889, Evangeline met Rose Elizabeth Cleveland (1846–1918), a sister of President Grover Cleveland. Since he had been unmarried, Rose had served for fifteen months as the First Lady of the United States during 1885 and 1886. The Minnesota Historical Society owns letters that document Evangeline’s long-term partnership and romance with Rose.

Evangeline and Rose traveled together. They met Bishop Henry Whipple (1822–1901) and his wife, Cornelia, during a winter visit to Florida. Whipple was the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota and worked as an advocate for American Indian people, intervening in Minnesota and U.S. politics on their behalf. He spent time in Florida for health reasons and to escape northern winters.

Cornelia Whipple died in 1890. Six years later, Evangeline married Henry. Her vast financial resources and emotional care supported the elderly bishop during the last five years of his life. Evangeline moved from Massachusetts to Minnesota and joined Bishop Whipple in doing missionary work. She finally had a purpose for her wealth in doing humanitarian work through the Episcopalian Church. She also supported the Church and used her personal fortune to double the size of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault. She was responsible for the construction of seven memorials after Bishop Whipple’s death in 1901, including a bell-tower addition to the cathedral.

Evangeline remained committed to the humanitarian work Bishop Whipple had promoted. During 1886–1910, in Minnesota, she fought for equal education for women and financed St. Mary’s School for Girls in Faribault. In addition to teaching local girls, the school’s staff boarded American Indian children. They taught them English and educated them with a Euro-American worldview. While the education was well intended, the repercussions of the boarding school system Evangeline supported had deeply negative effects on Indian communities through the twentieth century and today.

Evangeline supported Ojibwe and Dakota communities, their schools, and churches. She received gifts from American Indian friends, mainly women. Minnesota was Evangeline’s home. She stayed there for nine years after the death of Bishop Whipple, when realistically, because of her fortune, she could have lived anywhere. She left when her brother, Kingsmill Marrs, who was living in Italy, became ill. When Evangeline heard the news in 1910, she left Minnesota and never returned.

Evangeline travelled with Rose Cleveland to Florence in 1910. They settled in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, in 1912. Over the years, Evangeline purchased three homes. She offered her extra rooms to friends, including Nelly Erichsen, an English artist and writer.

In Bagni di Lucca, Evangeline used her Minnesota missionary experiences to create social service programs. She supported schools for Bagni di Lucca villagers, a hospital, a food pantry for the poor, and cottage industries for women to earn wages.

Evangeline, Rose, and Nelly were involved in World War I Red Cross efforts in Italy from 1914 through 1918. The Spanish influenza hit Bagni di Lucca hard, and Nelly caught the flu while working in Bagni di Lucca’s hospital. She died on November 15, 1918. Rose Cleveland was infected while nursing Nelly and died one week later.

Evangeline continued to live in Bagni di Lucca and serve the community after Rose’s death. The town’s mayor made Evangeline an honorary citizen in 1918 to thank her for her work. The town named a major road after her—Via Evangelina Whipple. She published A Famous Corner of Tuscany, a history of Italy’s Lucca region, in 1928.

Evangeline died in London in 1930 at the age of seventy-three. She is buried next to Rose Cleveland in Bagni di Lucca’s English Cemetery.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Emery, Helen Fitch. The Puritan Village Evolves: A History of Wayland, Massachusetts. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Publishing, 1981.

Giambastiani, Laura. “Cosiderazioni Storiche Sul Cimitero Anglicano al Bagni di Lucca.” L’Aldila, Rivista di Storia della Tanatologia, Anno IX (2003): 46–77.

Laskey, Tilly. “A Famous Corner of Tuscany: Evangeline Whipple’s Community Development and Philanthropic Efforts in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, Based On Work With Minnesota Indian Nations.” Anglistica Pisana: Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2014.

Slattery, Charles Lewis. Rose Elizabeth Cleveland: A Sermon. [New York: s.n., 1919].
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=yale.39002064717938

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Evangeline Whipple, ca. 1896.
Black and white photograph of Evangeline Whipple, ca. 1896.
Black and white photograph of Bishop Henry B. Whipple and Evangeline Mars Simpson Whipple, 1898.
Black and white photograph of Bishop Henry B. Whipple and Evangeline Mars Simpson Whipple, 1898.
Black and white photograph of Rose Cleveland, ca. 1885.
Black and white photograph of Rose Cleveland, ca. 1885.
Black and white photograph of Sarah Good Thunder and Evangeline Whipple, ca. 1905.
Black and white photograph of Sarah Good Thunder and Evangeline Whipple, ca. 1905.
Color image of Dakota beaded and ribbonwork moccasins, made by Sarah Good Thunder (Dakota), 1904. Inscribed: “Made by Mrs. Good Thunder for Mrs. Whipple 1904."
Color image of Dakota beaded and ribbonwork moccasins, made by Sarah Good Thunder (Dakota), 1904. Inscribed: “Made by Mrs. Good Thunder for Mrs. Whipple 1904."
Color image of the graves of (left to right) Nelly Erichsen, Rose Cleveland, and Evangeline Whipple in Bagni di Lucca Cemetery, 2014. Photograph by Tilly Laskey.
Color image of the graves of (left to right) Nelly Erichsen, Rose Cleveland, and Evangeline Whipple in Bagni di Lucca Cemetery, 2014. Photograph by Tilly Laskey.

Turning Point

Evangeline Marrs Simpson marries Henry Whipple, the Bishop of Minnesota, in 1896. After moving to Faribault, she joins him in missionary work, discovers a venue for social justice, and embraces a charitable purpose for her wealth through the Episcopalian church.

Chronology

1857

Evangeline Marrs is born on January 15 to Dana and Jane Marrs in Wayland, Massachusetts.

1882

On June 1, Evangeline marries Michael Simpson in Wayland.

1884

Michael Simpson dies.

1889

Evangeline meets and begins a romantic relationship with Rose Elizabeth Cleveland, a sister of former president Grover Cleveland.

1890

Evangeline meets Bishop Henry Whipple.

October 22, 1896

Evangeline marries Bishop Whipple at St Bartholomew’s Church in New York, New York.

October 1896

Evangeline moves to Bishop Whipple’s home in Faribault, Minnesota.

1901

Bishop Whipple dies on September 16.

1910

On July 20, Evangeline and Rose leave America aboard the Cunard Line’s SS Saxonia and move to Bagni di Lucca, Italy.

1918

Evangeline raises humanitarian aid to bring World War I refugees to Bagni di Lucca and fight the Spanish Influenza pandemic.

1918

Rose dies in Bagni di Lucca of the Spanish influenza on November 22.

1930

Evangeline dies in London on September 1. Her will leaves millions to Minnesota churches, schools, American Indian programs, and individuals.