“Discovering Plymouth Through Women’s Stories”

Every year, I look forward to WWHP’s annual day trip. This year, in June, I was particularly pleased to learn the destination would be historic Plymouth, MA. Plymouth is usually associated with Plimoth Plantation and the Pilgrims, but we were treated to a different view of Plymouth’s history through learning about important women of Plymouth.

While we were on the bus on the way to Plymouth, WWHP Events Chair Judy Finkel handed out an article about Zilpha Harlow Spooner. Spooner was a member of a prominent Plymouth family and her name came up many times throughout the course of the day. Spooner also was an ardent abolitionist and women’s rights activist and attended the first National Woman’s Rights Convention in Worcester in 1850.

Our first stop upon arriving in Plymouth was the Harlow Old Fort House. This house, built in 1677 by William Harlow, is one of the few buildings still standing in Plymouth from the 17th century. Most of Plymouth’s original waterfront was razed in 1920 to prepare for the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing, but fortunately the Harlow Old Fort House was saved by the Plymouth Antiquarian Society and converted into a historic house museum in 1922.

While at the Harlow Old Fort House, we were greeted by Dr. Donna Curtin, Director of the Plymouth Antiquarian Soci- ety and our guide for the day. Curtin began a one-hour Women’s History Walking Tour of Plymouth by giving us some history of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society. A group mostly comprised of women founded the organization in 1919. These women were dedicated to preserving the town’s historic buildings and landmarks. They also were interested in preserving green space in the town, such as Brewster Gardens. The Gardens were created in 1920 on the original garden plot belonging to Elder William Brewster in 1620. In the Gardens, there is a tribute to women in the form of the statue “Pilgrim Maiden”, created by sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson in 1922.

Our walking tour also led us to the childhood home of Lidian Jackson Emerson (wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson), the Revolutionary War-era home of Mercy Otis Warren, and the former Russell Library building, which is now the home of the Plymouth Guild for the Arts.

We then proceeded to Patrizia’s Trattoria for lunch. During lunch, Dr. Curtin told us about some exciting news pertain- ing to Zilpha Harlow Spooner’s family. Last fall, it came to the attention of the PAS that some 19th and early 20th century documents, papers, and photographs related to the Harlow, Hussey, and Knapp families of Plymouth had been found. Some of these documents include letters written to Zilpha Harlow Spooner from friend and fellow abolitionist, Nathaniel Whiting of Marshfield and “constitution” created by Plymouth women in 1831 as a guide for their anti-slavery activities. The PAS has been able to purchase some of these documents and are currently raising funds to hopefully purchase the rest.

Our tour concluded with a tour of the recently restored Hedge House. The house was originally built in 1809 by sea captain William Hammatt, and purchased in 1830 by merchant Thomas Hedge. The Hedge family lived in the house until 1918. The house was originally located on Court Street, where Memorial Hall is currently located. The house was nearly demolished in order to build Memorial Hall, but one of the first initiatives of the women of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society was to save this historic house. They bought the house for $1 and moved it to its current location on Water Street. The house contains original furnishings and possessions belonging to the Hedge family and many more are still being restored to display to the public in the future. It wasn’t until the end of the day that I learned that Dr. Curtin and the PAS created this women’s history tour of Plymouth specifically for WWHP. What an honor! I was pleased to learn they intend to continue conducting the tour on a regular basis for future groups. Dr. Curtin and all of the docents throughout the day were extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We were also fortunate to have with us Katherine Kowaloff, former WWHP Events Committee member and current PAS trustee, who had a hand in planning the day trip. As always, Judy Finkel, CJ Posk, and the entire WWHP Events Committee did an outstanding job planning and executing another wonderful, informative day trip. I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip.

Published Date: 
October 4, 2010