Category: People U-Z

William Brewster (1851-1919)

William Brewster (1851-1919)
June 24, 2017

Born in Wakefield, Massachusetts, William Brewster was born on July 5, 1851, and went on to become a noted ornithologist.

A descendant of Massachusetts pilgrims, Brewster was educated in the Cambridge public school system and spent his childhood observing birds. He had planned to attend Harvard College, but his weak eyesight and poor health deterred him from pursuing a career in business. He instead studied ornithology and practiced taxidermy, the evidence of which can be seen at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Brewster recorded the diverse bird life in Cambridge, Concord, and greater New England, collecting local and international specimens. He helped organize the Nuttall Ornithological Club (1873) and the American Ornithologists’ Union (1883), serving as president for both groups. He later served as the first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society following its formation in 1896.

A prolific writer, Brewster’s diaries and texts were published posthumously. October Farm (1936) and Concord River (1937) were detailed observations of birdlife framed within the landscape of Concord. In The Birds of the Cambridge Region of Massachusetts (1906), Brewster detailed the habitats of the Cambridge area and outlined a comprehensive list of native birds. While the text offered rich analysis and observation of the local landscape, it did not ignore the negative ecological changes: infected trees, filled meadows and swamps, and the development that forced out birds.


William Alfred (1922 – 1999)

William Alfred (1922 – 1999)
July 26, 2016

This month we celebrate the life of American playwright and poet William Alfred, who wrote The Curse of an Aching Heart, Agamemnon, Who to Love, Nothing Doing and who was Abbott Lawrence Lowell Professor of the Humanities, Emeritus at Harvard University.

Alfred was the son of a Brooklyn bricklayer and a telephone operator, who attended parochial school and served in the Army tank corps during World War II before attending Harvard where he studied English, earned a Ph.D. and soon after joined the faculty as a full professor in the early 1960’s.

A specialist in Beowulf and early English literature, Alfred was known to many students as, simply “The Professor.”

Chairman of Harvard’s Standing Committee on Dramatics for many years, Alfred was a beloved professor who taught popular courses in playwriting while working himself as a playwright. According to the Harvard University Gazette, Alfred often felt conflicted about dividing his time between academics and the theater.  “I feel a kind of double guilt,” he said in a Gazette profile, as if the divide between each pursuit hadn’t allowed enough time for either endeavor.

Students nevertheless adored Alfred and many went on to make their own significant impact in the world of theater and in the motion picture industry – including Stockard Channing, John Lithgow, and Tommy Lee Jones.

Playright William Alfred with friends, actress Faye Dunaway and musician Peter Wolf

In the mid-1960’s, Alfred’s lyrical play, Hogan’s Goat, about turn-of-the-century Brooklyn-Irish politics, featured a breakout role for actress Faye Dunaway – who in addition to Robert Lowell, Seamus Heany, Gertrude Stein, Archibald MacLeish – afterwards remained a lifelong friend of the playwright.

In addition to several plays, Alfred served on the poetry panels of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award committees, was the recipient of the New York Drama Desk Award, penned of a book of poems called The Annunciation Rosary and was a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Medieval Academy of America, the ASCAP, and the Modern Language Association.

Alfred is buried in the Harvard Corporation Lot on Amaranth Path at Mount Auburn Cemetery. The large granite lawn marker bears an image of the sun with the words “Death is undone by love.” Below the sun is a description of Alfred’s career: “Playwright ▪ Poet ▪ Teacher” followed by a selection from the last verse of Henry Vaughan’s (1621-1695) poem “The Night:” There is in God (some say) / A deep but dazzling darkness- / O for that night! where I in him / Might live invisible and dim.

Alfred monument
Lot 330 Alfred