WWHP Newsletter Vol. 1, No. 12, Summer 2001
A Rich Legacy
The Rich Sisters of Worcester event held March 11, 2001, at Emmanuel Baptist Church was a great success with over 160 people in attendance.
Those responsible for this entertaining and informative accomplishment include Shirley Wright and Rev. Wright who hosted the event; Dorista Goldsberry who served as MC; Shirley Carter, Ogretta McNeil, and Mary Collins who portrayed the Rich sisters in costume; local historian, Thomas Doughton, who spoke beforehand giving background on the black community in mid-19th century Worcester; and Beth Sweeney who spoke eloquently about developments in feminism and women’s history.
You can pick up your own copy of Annette Rafferty’s recently published memoir, Wearing Smooth the Path: 25 Years at Abby’s House, 1976–2001. The title comes from the words of Abby Kelley Foster, spoken at the second national woman’s rights convention held in Worcester in October 1851. Urging women to work hard and not sit back hoping others would do what needed to be done, she charged, “. . . bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you have come up hither.”
Annette, a former nun, has been an important figure in Worcester, battling on behalf of poor and battered women and children, leading the way for others with her gentle manner. In her story, Abby’s House is about building a community, and creating a new kind of sisterhood, and she sees the spirit of Abby Kelley Foster guiding the steps along the way.
The book is loaded with pictures and it is very entertaining to read. Anyone who knows Annette knows she is a good storyteller. Books are available at Abby’s House and The Tatnuck Bookseller.
This March and April, WWHP had nine display cases at the Worcester Public Library on Fremont Street. The theme was “Celebrate Women” and highlighted last October’s WOMEN 2000 conference.
Design and setup were by Nancy Avila, Carolyn Howe, Laura Howie, Barbara Ingrassia, Linda Rosenlund, and Karen Moran assisted by Sharon Smith Viles and Nancy Austin.
Karen and Sharon, with Nancy Austin as a consultant, produced a provocative exhibit about how to dress 150 years ago. Included were a costume from Angels and Infidels, a cast photo and primary source documents. A mobile was hung in the display case to show all the layers of undergarments. Here are some of the questions and concepts for thought and discussion presented by the exhibition:
- How did 19th-century fashion help keep woman in her place?
- Imagine walking through the snow 150 years ago wearing 7 layers of petticoats under a long skirt.
- Imagine trying to move quickly wearing 15 pounds of petticoats and skirt in all kinds of weather.
- Try encircling your waist with your hands. Do your little fingers and thumbs touch? If not, tight lace your corset to be in fashion 150 years ago.
- Why should a gentleman push a lady’s chair up to the dinner table? Answer: She cannot bend in at the waist while wearing a corset.
- Imagine standing to argue your point while wearing the new bloomer. Would anyone listen to your words? Would they be laughing at your attire?
- What is the price women paid for comfort?
- Hold your hands out to your sides. Visualize taking up this much space while wearing a hoop. How easily could you move through a door? Enter a carriage? Move on a dance floor? Would working women be able to wear hoops at work?
- Why are gentlemen expected to hold a door open for a lady? Answer: She cannot gracefully reach the door while wearing a hoop or seven layers of petticoats.
The annual exhibit for National Women’s History Month has been a key in reaching an estimated 40,000 people per month who come through the doors of the Worcester Public Library.
Life Is My College
On July 15–18, 2001, Orchard House presents the series “Life is My College”: Concord’s Culture of Education. This workshop identifies education as “the great equalizer” in the 19th-century struggle for universal human rights and social reform. It explores how the Alcotts, and other reformers who gathered in Concord, viewed education as a means of gently influencing a new generation of democratic citizens. These reform ideals are directly reflected in Louisa May Alcott’s fiction. She wrote “Life is My College” at a time when a formal college education was rare for American men and rarer still for American women.
Women Work for Women
Over the past year, I have been researching the earliest records of the Worcester YWCA looking for clues about how this organization was connected to the women’s rights movement. One of the most interesting sources has been the General Secretary reports written by Sybil Gray, the first paid staff person of the YW. These reports interpret the role of the YWCA to the membership and to the general public. Published annually starting in 1886, they sketch out a pro-woman agenda focusing on work and health.
From the beginning, the YW was concerned with the welfare of working women in the city, and the first year’s high priorities were the employment bureau and boarding homes. The next year, Miss Gray, a working woman herself, suggested that the situation could be positive: “We have the highest respect for the self-supporting young woman. She does not need our pity or commiseration.” That year, she asserted that the YW should offer more than just sewing and cooking classes, and she called for the first exercise class to teach “physical culture” and the “sacredness of the body.” In 1890, Gray characterized the work of the YWCA as “essentially woman’s work for woman.”
From the President
As many of you know, Worcester was not only the site of the first National Woman’s Rights Convention, it was also the site of the second National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1851. It was at the second convention that Abby Kelley Foster made her famous speech, saying “Bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you have come hither.” While the work of the WWHP is not causing any bloody feet, we continue to help create the path of racial and gender equality by uncovering and celebrating the history of the struggles for racial and gender equality and by pursuing that equality through our own work.
I want to thank all of you who have sent in your membership renewals and made additional donations to the project. Your support allows us to continue to carry out our mission to promote women’s history in Central MA. The Heritage Trail committee is developing a detailed work plan in hopes that by next March we can unveil the first phase of the Women’s Heritage Trail for Central MA. Jessie Rodrique will feature some of the historical information she has uncovered in this and in subsequent issues of the newsletter. The Education Committee will develop a brochure for classroom use to accompany the large exhibit, “Reclaiming Our Heritage: Worcester Women’s History, 1850.” The committee is also looking at possibilities for funding and producing a more portable version of the exhibit that could travel around to area schools and cultural institutions.
In October, we celebrate the anniversary of the first and second National Woman’s Rights Conventions with a “conversation” with area students and a public lecture by Dr. Johnetta B. Cole, former president of Spelman College in Atlanta, a historically Black women’s college. Dr. Cole will speak about building coalitions for racial and gender equality, and her talk will be set against the background of the first and second National Women’s Rights Conventions. Last year, we celebrated the importance of the 1850 resolutions calling for equality “without distinction of sex or color.” The divisiveness the “color issue” caused after the convention perhaps explains why resolutions were passed on the issue of racial equality at the second national convention in 1851. The difficulty of linking the struggles for racial and gender equality was evident, even among ardent abolitionists and woman’s rights activists. We recognize this difficulty both then and now, and hope that Dr. Cole’s visit will help us “wear smooth the path” toward more effective coalitions.
Women’s Equality Day
Liberty Farm, Abby Kelley Foster’s homestead, 116 Mower Street Worcester, MA, Sunday, August 26, 2001 2-4 p.m., Refreshments to follow
Each year since 1993, women and men gather on Women’s Equality Day to remember Abigail Kelley Foster, and to recognize the importance of Abby’s House in our Worcester community.
WWHP is well familiar with Abigail Kelley Foster, whose life exemplified the dual mission of obtaining women’s right to vote and an end to slavery. She is one of four women whose portraits now hang in Mechanics Hall, and one of the women portrayed in the World Premiere of the play Angels & Infidels at the phenomenally successful Women 2000 weekend last October.
The Abby’s House celebration has several themes each year: remembering Abby Kelley Foster, Worcester’s suffragist and abolitionist of the mid-1800s; remembering guests, staff, volunteers, and supporters who have died; telling the story of how volunteers and staff are carrying on Abby’s work. This year, the theme will focus upon the 25th year of Abby’s House and its expansion—a shelter for homeless and battered women and children, a thrift shop, a day center, more and more sheltered and affordable housing—a community in which women and men and girls and boys, of all social classes and life stories, fortunate and unfortunate, of all ages and colors, greet each other and work together.
As in past years, the ceremony includes the reading of the names of guests, supporters, and volunteers who have died, keeping them in community. Most often, this celebration has been held at the tombstone of Abby, husband Stephen and their daughter Alla, in Hope Cemetery. This year we are fortunate to visit their former home.
We hope to see you there!
Charter Member WWHP,
In 1999, WWHP Board Member and Worcester Human Rights Chairwoman Shirley Wright spoke to the Women’s Equality Day Ceremony at the gravestone of Abby, Stephen, and Alla Foster. She began her 1999 speech this way:
“The dual focus of Abby Kelley Foster as abolitionist and women’s rights advocate was not by accident. Both were addressed because of Abby’s world of the mid-1800s. Slavery and Women’s Rights were very real and present conditions that pricked her conscience. What was the connection between these two? They were both limiting and destructive forces within her society. . . . . I have written a letter to Abby to update her in our progress and the challenges that still lie ahead. . . .”
After that letter was read at the Celebration, WWHP President Carolyn Howe and her students placed it on one of the panels of the WWHP History of Worcester. This was displayed at College of the Holy Cross, at the Worcester YWCA, and at Women 2000.
Participants at the 1999 celebration gave their signatures and affirmation of three documents: the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls; the Preamble and Resolutions composed by the Business Committee of the first National Women’s Rights Convention held here in Worcester in 1850; and the 1998 Declaration of Sentiments, written by NOW for their conference in Seneca Falls. WWHP President Carolyn Howe received the compilation, and WWHP now holds these affirmations in its archive
In 2000, Abby’s House dedicated its Memorial Garden, for Women’s Equality Day, including gifts of plants from WWHP members. In turn, WWHP members gathered at the Foster gravesite to memorialize her work.
Your work for my people was not in vain. I am a living testimony to your life. I am your legacy. The chains that held down my flesh could not hold by spirit. You affirmed my humanity by unlocking those chains so that I could be my own, and not owned, by someone else.
I want you to see me standing here with my sisters of many colors and hues paying tribute to you and your work. The innumerable speeches, the sleepless nights, the leaving of your own daughter, Alla, on my behalf to advocate for freedom for blacks and women were courageous acts of self-sacrifice.
We still need to hear your voice crying in the wilderness, pleading to humans to be fully human in their attitudes, speech and behavior.
Your work is not complete because women are not yet equals in the classroom, the workroom, or in the boardroom. We do not have equal entry-level opportunities, neither is our advancement or promotions commensurate with our counterparts, and there are glaring discrepancies in our wages.
We are here today and many others across our city, our state, our nation and across the world need to check and examine our feet. I wonder if we would even find a callous or a blister, unlike your bloody feet which took you into hostile and life-threatening environments. You paved the way, and we are walking in your footsteps.
Today we must make a personal commitment to speak out with passion, persistence and promise that we will not continue to be satisfied with leftovers. We must make it known that we want a real and lasting stake in business and industry, in the civic and private institutions and even within our neighborhoods and homes.
Abby, we have a house with your name on it because the beacon of your life still draws women and children to a safe and nurturing place. Your inspiration is still rippling through the ages, even to 1999. Yet we know that we must continue to be vigilant and continue to forge ahead with renewed vision, renewed commitment, and renewed vigor to break down the walls that separate us.
Abby, your strong Quaker faith seems to have been the engine that drove you and supplied you with moral strength. I too am relying on my faith to break down the walls of education, economics, politics, and yes, even the walls of religion that have served for centuries to divide us.
I want to build a Beloved Community where each person is valued, where human rights are upheld for all people and where love abides.
Thank you for being a witness to God’s love and for putting that love into action. We too are called to do no less.
Well Abby, my letter is finished but there is a postscript: As we face the future, we pause here today to take a look back from whence we’ve come. Your life remains an inspiration to each of us as we face the future together.
Excerpt from a speech given by Shirley Wright at the Women’s Equality Day celebration 2000.
Dr. Johnetta B. Cole, the speaker for our October 2001 event, is the former president of Spelman College. Spelman College, founded as a school for African American women, was first called the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, renamed Spelman Seminary in 1884, and given its current name in 1924. The Seminary was founded by two women who at one time were a co-principal and a teacher at the Oread Institute, a private school in Worcester for girls and women.
The Oread Institute was founded in 1849 in Worcester to offer primary, secondary, and college education for women. It was the first women’s school to offer a full collegiate curriculum (modeled after Brown University, alma mater of the Oread’s founder, Eli Thayer). Two teachers from the Oread Institute (co-principal Sophia Packard and ornamental music teacher Harriet Giles) went on to found Spelman Seminary, which later became Spelman College. Spelman was named after Laura Spelman, a former student at Oread and wife of John D. Rockefeller, a major donor to Spelman Seminary. Sophia Packard was the first president of Spelman Seminary and after her death, Harriet Giles became the second president.
At our October event, we hope to initiate a drive to have a plaque placed at the site of the former Oread Institute. How fitting that we bring the most recent former president of Spelman College to help us celebrate the Oread Institute.
Thanks to Jessie Rodrique for the research that made this little article possible.
Sarah Hussey Earle (1799–1858)
Thank you for continuing the effort we began at the first National Woman’s Rights Convention held here in Worcester on October 23–24,1850. I was so proud to open that historic event which organized the woman’s rights movement.
It is indeed fitting you also celebrate the August 26, 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. Our convention called for just such an act seventy years earlier.
Change is certainly a slow process, but the two wars after my death did much to hinder and help the struggle. Reformers also gradually realized they must agree to disagree in order to move the greater cause forward.
On that historic day the power of “the hand that rocks the cradle” became evident when 24-year-old Tennessee State Representative Harry Burns received a telegram from his mother urging him to “Be a good boy and vote for suffrage…” His single ballot ruled the day.
It pleases me to know this took place on the anniversary of my birth. Please use your elective franchise to raise high the banner for “Equality before the law, without distinction of color or sex” in the 21st century.
Your loving friend,
Sarah H. Earle
Linda Rosenlund has resigned from the Steering Committee and as chair of the Marketing Committee. WWHP reluctantly accepted her resignation. Thanks to Linda for all her very hard work with Women 2000. We’re sorry to see her go.
The Oread Institute
Oread Institute was built by Eli Thayer of Worcester on a piece of land known as “Goat Hill” off Main Street in 1849. The Oread offered three levels of instruction: primary, academic and collegiate. The four-year collegiate program offered a classical, college-level curriculum and is thought to be the first institution of its kind exclusively for women in the country. It was modeled after the program at Brown University, Thayer’s alma mater. The Oread taught women students for 32 years, from 1849–1881. Laura C. Spelman, later the wife of John D. Rockefeller, and her sister Lucy M. attended Oread in 1858. It later became The Worcester Domestic Science Cooking School (1898–1904) where, it is reputed, shredded wheat was invented. The Oread was razed in 1934.
Oread graduates & administrators
Laura and Lucy Spelman
Miss Giles and Miss Packard
Sophia B. Packard (1824–1891) Educator, born in New Salem, MA. co-principal of Oread 1864–1867. In 1877, Ms. Packard presided over the first meeting of the Woman’s American Baptist Home Missionary Society and became treasurer and secretary. In 1880, she moved to Atlanta and, with the help of the Home Mission Society, opened a school for African-American girls named the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary in the basement of the Friendship Baptist Church. The school received generous funding from John D. Rockefeller in 1884 and was named Spelman Seminary after his wife, Laura. Packard became treasurer and President of Spelman until her death in 1891. Spelman Seminary became Spelman College in 1924. Packard is buried in Silver Lake Cemetery in Athol, MA.
Harriet E. Giles (1833–1909) Educator, born in New Salem, MA. Teacher of “Ornamentals” and Music at the Oread from 1864–1867. Co-founder of Spelman Seminary with Sophia Packard, she became its President after Packard’s death in 1891.
Helen Louise Kendrick Johnson
Helen Louise Kendrick Johnson (1844–1917) Hamilton, New York. Attended Oread 1863–1865. Wrote several children’s and travel books and, in 1897, Woman and the Republic, a collection of articles and arguments against woman suffrage. During 1894–1896 she edited the American Woman’s Journal and was founder of the Meridian Club in 1886 and the anti-suffrage Guidon Club in 1910 in New York City.
Abby Leach (1855–1918) Educator born in Brockton, MA, attended Oread 1869–1871. Graduated in 1871. Taught at the Oread from 1873–1878 and from 1876–78 was the “preceptress.” She took private instruction in Greek, Latin and English from Harvard professors in 1878 and was one of the first students enrolled in classes opened to women in 1879 at the “Harvard Annex,” which would later become Radcliffe College. In 1883, she became instructor in Greek and Latin at Vassar College. She became an associate professor in 1886, and full professor and head of the Greek department in 1889. She remained at Vassar for the next 29 years. She was president of the American Association of University Women 1899–1901.
Isabel Florence Hapgood (1851–1928) Translator and writer. Born in Boston attended Oread from 1863–65. She then attended Miss Porter’s school in Farmington, Connecticut until 1868. By the 1880s she had mastered all of the Romance, Germanic and many of the Slavic languages. She began translating in 1886, some of her translations include works by Tolstoy, Hugo, Dostoevski, Gorky, and Chekhov. She was a pioneer in introducing Russian Literature to English readers. She was a correspondent, reviewer and editorial writer for the New York Evening Post and the Nation for twenty-two years. She died in New York City and is buried in Worcester.
Webster’s Dictionary of American Women, Merriam-Webster, Inc. New York, 1996.
History of the Oread Collegiate Institute, Worcester, MA 1849–1881. Martha Burt Wright, editor. New Haven, Connecticut, 1905. From the collection of Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester, MA.