The Other Anagnos

Julia Romana Howe Anagnos

Portrait of Julia Romana Anagnos

Julia Romana Howe Anagnos

December 12, 2019

Anagnos Cottage on Perkins' campus is commonly assumed to be named for the school's second director, Michael Anagnos. But it's not! In fact, it is named for his wife, Julia Romana Anagnos, who was also the eldest daughter of Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe. 

In her biography about Anne Sullivan, Beyond the Miracle Worker, Kim Nielsen wrote that “of Julia Romana Anagnos, we know virtually nothing.” Unfortunately, she’s not wrong. But what we do know about Julia paints a picture of a pretty interesting woman, certainly deserving of having a cottage named in her honor. 

Julia Romana was born in Rome on March 12, 1844. She was very close to both of her parents, especially her father. Elaine Showalter, in The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A biography, described Julia Romana as “shy and uncomfortable with parties and dances.” She goes on that Julia Romana was “awkward in company, studious, sensitive, and selflessly benevolent,” but also “stubborn” and “hot-tempered.”

On December 30, 1870, she married Michael Anagnos, who she had met on a trip to Athens with her father. Dr. Howe had hired Anagnos to be his secretary and tutor Julia Romana in Greek. Anagnos became the director of Perkins after Howe's death in 1876. Julia Romana was involved in Perkins throughout her life, and supported the day-to-day activities during her husband’s directorship. She taught classes, including a course on Greek history. She read to students, taught them German, and held small festivals and parties for students. At the same time, she studied ferociously for pleasure and spent a summer at Bronson Alcott’s Concord School of Philosophy. Inspired by her time there, she founded and served as president of the Boston Metaphysical Club. She also published two volumes: one of her poetry, and another about the Concord School of Philosophy.

Julia Romana is perhaps best known, at least in the Perkins history crowd, for her dying words: “Take care of the little blind children.” When she died in 1886, Anagnos was working to establish the first kindergarten for the blind. Julia Romana was a staunch supporter and advocate in her husband’s work and was excited about the kindergarten. Although she never got to see the opening of the kindergarten in 1887, her influence remained part of the school for many years. When the school moved to Watertown from Jamaica Plain in 1912, Anagnos Cottage housed the kindergarten students.