October 19: Eleanor Augusta Norcross (1923)

Eleanor Norcross was an artist, collector, and museum founder. She was born in 1854 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Her father, Amasa Norcross, was a lawyer, became a member of the Massachusetts legislature, mayor of Fitchburg, and eventually a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Her mother, Susan Augusta Norcross, was a schoolteacher and known for her work with the Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society. Both parents instilled in Eleanor a commitment to her community that she honored her entire life. Her young brother Nelson died of scarlet fever during the Civil War, and her mother died of consumption a few years later. These sad deaths left Eleanor and her father as a small family that remained close throughout their lives. Norcross attended the Massachusetts Normal Arts School in Boston to become an art teacher. She obtained her teaching certificate and began to teach drawing in Fitchburg. When her father was elected to the House of Representatives, Norcross accompanied him to Washington, D.C., where she acted as his hostess.

While in Washington, the Norcrosses became associated with the Church of the Epiphany. A year after their arrival, Eleanor was baptized at the church. Three days later, she was confirmed there. At the age of 24, Eleanor moved to New York City to attend classes at the Art Students’ League. Her teacher, noted American Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase, was so impressed with her talent that he urged Eleanor to continue her studies in Paris – the art capital of the Western World in the late 1800’s. While in Paris, Eleanor’s skills and reputation as a painter grew. Her paintings were exhibited in Paris, New York City, Boston, and Chicago. Eleanor collected textiles, dishes, and furniture while living aboard, with the dream of creating an art center in Fitchburg. Although she did not live to see her dream of opening an art center fulfilled, her bequest of her collections and funds made it possible to open the Fitchburg Art Center in 1929 – “for the joy and inspiration of art.” In 1951 The Fitchburg Art Center became the Fitchburg Art Museum, where Eleanor Norcross’ legacy lives on.

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