August 13 - She Knew Her Mission

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On August 13, 1895, a woman named Mary Young died unexpectedly in Dayton.  She was a well-loved person who acted charitably toward the Black community during a time when Paul Laurence Dunbar and his mother Matilda lived in the city.

Mary Young, one of the most lovable characters known to any circle of admiring friends, died with shocking suddenness this morning, in the very prime of life and womanhood.  She was taken ill last Friday night, yet she was not considered in any way seriously ill till this morning.  Mary Young resided in Dayton all of her short but beautiful life.  She was an exceptionally vigorous young woman, full of animation and spirit.  She was uniformly kind to everybody.  There was no one so humble but that she was ready to reach out her hand to help;  and all honored and loved her, from the lowest to the highest in life's sphere.

"Obituary.  Mary Young."  The Dayton Evening Herald (Dayton, Ohio).  August 13, 1895.  Pages 1.

The funeral of Miss Young yesterday afternoon brought together many who were her near and dear friends.  Rev. Dr. Edgar Work conducted the solemn service and paid to the memory of the deceased a beautiful tribute.  "Her life is counted not by figures on a dial, but by heart-throbs, by thoughts, and smiles, and sacrificing deeds.  It was where she came in touch with other souls that she showed herself a messenger of love and good to all.  She was one who knew her mission and labored unceasingly to fulfill it.  She was always ready to sacrifice herself for others.  Unto white or black she was always ready to give the cup of cold water."

"She Passed."  The Dayton Evening Herald (Dayton, Ohio).  August 16, 1895.  Pages 1 and 4.

Two years earlier, Mary Young spent Christmas day delivering food and supplies to Black residents of Dayton.

Miss Mary Young was out on a mission of mercy nearly all of Christmas day.  She distributed groceries, provisions, clothing, candy, fruits, nuts, etc, to over a hundred poor colored people all that day, and her name is a blessing among them.  Her noble work was wholly without ostentation, and mention of it was not desired.  But a number of her beneficiaries, in grateful acknowledgement of her kindness, took the method of requesting that the Herald publish the incident in its columns.

"City Items."  The Dayton Evening Herald (Dayton, Ohio).  December 27, 1893.  Page 8.

Not long after her death, Paul published a poetic tribute in memory of Mary Young.

A gentle spirit sweetly good,
The pearl of precious womanhood;
Who heard the voice of duty clear,
And found her mission soon and near.
Her home to her was shrine and throne,
But one love held her not alone;
She sought out poverty and grief,
Who touched her robe and found relief.
So sped she in her Master's work,
Too busy and too brave to shirk,
When through the silence, dusk and dim,
God called her and she fled to him.


Excerpt from "To the Memory of Mary Young," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Majors and Minors (1895).