By Aram Arkun
WORCESTER — Hagop Bogigian (1856-1931) was one of the early emigrants from Ottoman Armenia to the United States. Though penniless upon arrival in 1876, he succeeded beyond his own expectations in the oriental rug business in Boston, and became a millionaire. As a philanthropist, he supported Armenian and non-Armenian causes.
Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian, Bogigian’s great-nephew, has written a short biography of his relative entitled Hagop Bogigian: Armenian American Pioneer and Philanthropist, published by the Armenian Cultural Foundation of Arlington, Massachusetts this year. This 115-page volume is richly illustrated. The author has used personal family papers and reminiscences, Bogigian’s own published 1925 autobiography (In Quest of the Soul of Civilization), and articles in various newspapers and periodicals to present the arc of Bogigian’s life, stretching from the town of Hussenig in the Ottoman Empire to Boston.
During his long life, Bogigian interacted with many notable individuals. The first customer of his rug store was the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and through him he came to know many New England intellectuals. Longfellow sent Harvard professor Charles Elliot Norton to see Bogigian, and later introduced John Greenleaf Whittier, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and Oliver Wendell Holmes to Bogigian.
Bogigian came to know the Marquess of Salisbury in London, who served as prime minister of Great Britain thrice, and William E. Gladstone, a four-time prime minister, as well as Armenophile James Bryce, in connection to a project to get British teachers to help the Catholicate of Cilicia prepare clergymen. Unfortunately the project fell through due to political problems.
During the Hamidian massacres, Bogigian was active in raising funds for Armenian relief and convinced Clara Barton to get the American National Red Cross involved in a mission to help Armenian victims. He personally gave bonds to allow some 92 Armenians who were to be deported back to Turkey to stay in the US. Moses Gulesian, another successful Boston Armenian businessman, then quartered these Armenians in his factory building on Waltham Street in Boston.
Bogigian was also outspoken in the US press in favor of the Armenians during the Armenian Genocide and attempted to organize relief.
Despite his financial and diplomatic assistance to Armenians, Armenian revolutionary parties threatened Bogigian in order to extort money to support their causes. He refused, and some think a fire in 1903 in his mansion was their revenge. His life was also threatened a number of times.
Bogigian was also involved in strictly American philanthropy and conservation work. He helped save some historical buildings such as the Park Street Congregational Church in Boston from being sold. He tried to correct what he saw as injustices in American business practices.
He became a benefactor of Mount Holyoke College, his wife’s alma mater, Wilson College in Chambersburg, Penn., and Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. He established a fund which would provide assistance for needy or worthy women to study at Pomona. In his will, he established scholarships for women at Mount Holyoke, with preference to be given to those of Armenian origin. The Hagop Bogigian Scholarship Fund there in 2013 reached a market value of more than $1 million.
The bulk of Bogigian’s estate was left to Wilson College, as he had no children. The Hagop Bogigian Fund there was to provide low interest loans to young women, again with preference to be given to students of Armenian origin. In 2009, Wilson College also established two full-tuition scholarships for students who were Armenian citizens. Wilson’s art gallery is named the Bogigian Gallery, and the College holds biannual Bogigian Convocations to educate its community about Armenian history and culture.
Deranian, a dentist by profession, has published a number of works pertaining to Armenian history and American Armenians. He translated his father’s memoir on his native town, Hussenig: The Origin, History and Destruction of an Armenian Town (1996), and authored Worcester Is America: The Story of Worcester’s Armenians (1995), Miracle Man of the Western Front: Dr. Varaztad H. Kazanjian, Pioneer Plastic Surgeon (2007), and President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug (2013, 2014).