Caroline Frances Orne (1818-1905)

Poet & Librarian

A well-regarded poet in her day, and the first librarian of the Cambridge Public Library, Caroline Frances Orne was born September 5th 1818.

The Cambridge Public Library was known as the Dana Library when it first opened in 1858, after its first major benefactor, Edmund Dana. Cambridge residents could pay one dollar a year to be a member of the library, which was initially open one afternoon a week(1). During Orne's sixteen years of leadership, the library became quite popular, and by the time she resigned, it was open every day but Sunday(2).

Public libraries were only just starting to become common when Orne took the job. The Boston Public Library had opened five years before(3). At the time, public libraries were expected to provide some guidance about appropriate reading for the general public. In some ways, they were arbiters of taste. Orne was well-regarded for her knowledge of literature and her judgment and taste in selecting books for the library. She was known for taking a personal interest in library patrons and helping them choose books(4).

Caroline Frances Orne was friends with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russel Lowell and other women and men of letters(5).  While I'm not a scholar of the poetry of the time, I think I hear a bit of Longfellow's influence in her writing, in the lyric, regular but melodic style.

An image of a page in an old book

Orne wrote throughout her life. In 1844,  she published a volume of poetry titled "Sweet Auburn and Mount Auburn, with other poems." Mount Auburn cemetery, founded in 1831, lauded as being the first landscaped cemetery, breaking the tradition of crowded church burial grounds, but Orne was of the generation that had fond memories of that hill when it was just an open natural space, called Sweet Auburn.

In the two long poems that begin the volume, Orne celebrates both the past and the present.

Far-famed Mount Auburn! in the days of old,
As nature bade thy varied charms unfold,
Ere yet the hand of art had changed thy mien,
And in thy pristine beauty thou wert seen,
A lovelier object wert thou to my view,
Thy name was dearer that my childhood knew.
Sweet Auburn! send the spirit of thy shades
To Iight my song when memory's radiance fades.

Caroline Francis Orne "Sweet Auburn and Mount Auburn, with Other Poems"

Caroline Frances Orne is buried at Mount Auburn in Lot 2422 on Mountain Ave.

Adapted from Tegan Kehoe's Blog: Cambridge Considered. Originally appearing: December 7th 2012

Top Image:

Detail. Librarians of the Cambridge Public Library 1858-1908. The Cambridge Room


1. Doyle, Edward. A Commemorative History of the Cambridge Public Library. Cambridge: Cambridge Public Library, 1989. Page 3.
2. Doyle 6.
3. Doyle 3.

4. History of the Cambridge Public Library, Alfred Mudge and Sons, Cambridge, 1908. Page 13
5. History(1908),13