Eliza Wing Whittier was born in Wayne County, Michigan in 1822 and was educated in Massachusetts.  Known as a charming woman, with a lovable disposition, Eliza married a local merchant, Moses Whittier, when she was 19 and he was 29.  Moses was only married to Eliza for a few months before his death, leaving her a 19-year-old widow.  But Eliza’s quiet inner strength brought her to Hillsdale, in 1841, to live with her sister Harriett Wing Mitchell, wife of early Hillsdale developer, Charles T. Mitchell.  

In the 1840s, a woman was known by whom she married.  An unmarried woman was referred to in slang terms, and generally considered incapable of accomplishing anything on her own.  To this day, few people know of the accomplishments of Eliza Noble Wing Whittier.

 Harriet Wing Mitchell, Eliza and J.R. Sutton, who lived across McCollum Street from the Mitchells

Harriet Wing Mitchell, Eliza and J.R. Sutton, who lived across McCollum Street from the Mitchells

Eliza’s – and Harriett’s - father, Austin W. Wing, was instrumental in securing the tract now known as the upper peninsula of Michigan.  It appears Eliza had learned well from her father.  Once here, her organizational skills and financial abilities went to work to the advantage of the community. 

 The Mitchell home on the corner of Manning and McCollum streets

The Mitchell home on the corner of Manning and McCollum streets

During the Civil War, Eliza was treasurer of the local Soldier’s Aid Society, and one of the founding members of the Ladies’ Library Association, for a number of years donating her services as Librarian for that organization.  One can’t help but think she must have had some influence over her brother-in-law’s willing of his home to the City, to become the Mitchell Public Library.

Following the War, Eliza became Treasurer of the Ladies’ Oak Grove Cemetery Association, when the cemetery had become “a disgrace to our community.”  She continued as treasurer during the era of fund raisers held to raise money for the upkeep of the cemetery and the building of the stone archway over the original entrance.  

Mrs. Whittier was also instrumental in establishing the Women’s Missionary Society of the Hillsdale Presbyterian Church, which for many years was referred to as the Eliza Noble Whittier Missionary Society.  Eliza was also appointed in 1879, by the Hillsdale College Board of Trustees, to an advisory board of six “ladies” to act in conjunction with the “Ladies Principal” in the management of the “Ladies Department.”

And why wasn’t Mrs. Whittier, an active member of our community for 60 years remembered in the early annals of Hillsdale history?  Sadly, volunteers, particularly women were seldom acknowledged in early local histories.  The 1879 History of Hillsdale County mentioned the improvements of the Oak Grove Cemetery following the Civil War, and that the archway was built during the time Dr. Underwood was mayor, but never mentioned those who raised the funds and did the majority of the improvement work.  

May the stone monument dedicated in the spring of 2017, built using some of the original archway stones be a continued reminder of Eliza Noble Wing Whittier, a perfect example of the Ladies of the Oak Grove Cemetery Association, whose quiet work made Hillsdale a better place to live!  

Carol A. Lackey