If you live in the Plymouth Meeting area, you likely recognize the family names Corson and Hovenden. These families owned Abolition Hall, one of the many local sites connected to the Underground Railroad. It was also the studio of famous artist Thomas Hovenden.
Thomas Hovenden, HSMC Photograph Collection
However, you may or may not be familiar with the name Helen Corson Hovenden. She was born in Whitemarsh to George and Martha (Maulsby) Corson on September 15, 1847. Helen wanted to become an artist, so she attended the School of Design in Philadelphia, now known as the Moore College of Art and Design. In 1875, she traveled to Paris to study painting at the Academie Julian.
While studying art in Paris, Helen met her future husband and fellow artist, Thomas Hovenden. They both moved back to Montgomery County in 1880 and were married on June 9, 1881. Helen and Thomas used the Corson family barn (Abolition Hall) in Plymouth Meeting as their art studio from 1881 to 1895.
Abolition Hall, HSMC Photograph Collection
Helen was a widely respected artist in Montgomery County and Philadelphia. She was mostly known for her portraits and animal paintings. You can find her work at places like Woodmere Art Museum and the Smithsonian. HSMC even has two portraits created by Helen.
The first one is of Dr. Louis W. Read. He was a renowned Civil War surgeon from Upper Merion.
Dr. Louis W. Read, HSMC Collection
The second portrait is of Dr. William Corson. He was Helen’s uncle.
Dr. William Corson, HSMC Collection
Helen died on October 6, 1935. She and her husband are buried at Plymouth Meeting Friends Cemetery.
Helen Corson Hovenden. Woodmere Art Museum. https://woodmereartmuseum.org/explore-online/collection/artist/helen-corson-hovenden
Montgomery County the Second Hundred Years, Edited by Jean B. Toll and Michael J. Schwager. Montgomery County Federation of Historical Societies Norristown, PA 1983