Latimer Society founders Ron and Leo Robinson announced last week that the last remaining granddaughter of Lewis Latimer – the renowned inventor who was born in Chelsea – has passed away and the Society will put on a show in April to honor her.
Dr. Winifred Latimer, 99, passed away earlier this month, and the Robinsons said it is a loss that their organization cannot ignore. The local Society had hosted her in Chelsea numerous times for lectures and opening, and she had donated a number of original Latimer artifacts to the Society over the years.
“We are hoping to have the show in April and dedicate it to her and also mark our 15th Anniversary,” said Ron Robinson. “Without Winifred, we would have never got the type of information we have. There are pages and pages and pages of information about Latimer on the Internet, but it’s all the same stuff. We have original and firsthand information from her and we have Chelsea-specific information about Latimer and his family. We have documents and items that were his during his life and are related to Chelsea. Latimer was very important in history, but so was his family members before him. We learned a lot about that from her.”
Lewis Latimer was one of the first recognized African American inventors in the U.S. and helped Thomas Edison draw up plans for the light bulb. He also worked for a number of other inventors, including Alexander Graham Bell. His family lived in Chelsea during and after the Civil War and served as a crucial piece in the Underground Railroad.
George Latimer was an escaped slave from Virginia who settled in Chelsea and was part of an historic case in the state – a case that set the precedent for escaped slaves in Massachusetts being free men as long as they paid their former masters.
All of that, including new information dug up by the Robinsons and Historian George Ostler about Chelsea’s “Civil War” Mayor Frank Fay, will be on display in the April show – which will likely be in the City Hall Gallery.
Leo Robinson said Fay had taken his governess, Helen Gilson, with him to the front lines to serve in the medical corps for the Union Army. The two were present at just about every major battle, including Gettysburg, Antietam, the Wilderness and Fredericksburg. He said they were notable because they made an effort to pick up wounded black soldiers and white soldiers at the same time.
“The black soldiers were being left while they were taking the white soldiers first,” said Leo. “Gilson got her own boat and started going up and down the river picking up soldiers of both colors at the same time so they could all get medical attention.”
Their travels and experiences are explained in great detail in a long-forgotten memoir by Fay – called ‘The War Papers of F.B. Fay.
Both said that they are excited to begin working on the show and hope to have it ready by April