Finding Worcester Women's Stories of the Past

By Karen Board Moran

Close to the founding of WWHP as members tried to uncover the stories of the members of the 1850 first National Woman’s Rights Convention, we encountered a strong kinship network of Quakers and reformers. One well known antislavery family line evolved from William Buffum (1784-1869) and Lydia Arnold (1749-1828) of Rhode Island. Two of their children Arnold and Patience produced children who attended the convention as members. Elizabeth Buffum Chace of Valley Falls, RI signed the call to the 1850 Convention and signed in as #50 while her cousin Lydia Earle Chase of Worcester signed in as #220.

How did these woman’s rights activists end up with with such similar names? Elizabeth had married Samuel Chace while Lydia had married Anthony Chase.

Following WOMEN 2000, WWHP’s Project Coordinator Jessie Rodrique transcribed Lucy Chase’s diary found in the Chase Family Papers in the American Antiquarian Society Manuscript Collections. This was part of WWHP’s efforts to follow the effects of the 1850 first National Woman’s Rights Convention to discover the women of the Worcester area who continued the reform movement . The manuscript biography for Lydia’s daughter Lucy Chase (1822-1909) in the Chase Family Papers (c. 1787-c. 1915) provides a window on this woman. "...[A]n intelligent and well-educated woman, as well as an accomplished artist and sculptor. [Lucy] attended the Friends' Boarding School in Providence, R.I., from 1837 to 1841. For the period 1863 to 1869, Lucy taught in contraband camps and freedmen schools in the South. She and her sister, Sarah, traveled in Europe during the years 1870 to 1875. They returned to Worcester and Lucy remained there until her death in 1909....

Much of the correspondence to Lucy Chase is from her siblings, cousins, and school friends. There are also school compositions, notebooks, and fragmented diary excerpts kept by Lucy [—transcribed by Rodrique]. The activities of Lucy as seen through her diary fragments span the years 1841 to 1846 and encompass several geographic locations including Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. The diary fragments read in their entirety give an excellent overview of antebellum America. Lucy's gregariousness along with her social awareness and critical sense provide both description and understanding of the religious and reform movements of the day. Reared as a Quaker and strongly influenced by Unitarianism, Lucy demonstrates the liberal and rationalist doctrines of the faiths by her eclectic church attendance and discerning remarks. Her involvement in Unitarianism brought her into contact with a network of notable Unitarian ministers primarily from Boston and Philadelphia. She either met personally or attended the lectures of George Washington Burnap (1802-1859), James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888), Ezra Stiles Gannett (1801-1871), and Samuel Joseph May (1797-1871).

The relentless thrust for improvement and reform, so characteristic of Jacksonian America, is especially evident in Lucy's diary entries. She is influenced strongly by women's suffrage, temperance, abolitionism, and is interested in Millerism, mesmerism, Grahamism, and phrenology. These interests brought her into contact with another network of luminaries. Among them were the abolitionist/reformer Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), Charles C. Burleigh (1810-1878), Alvan Stewart (1790-1849), Joshua Leavitt (1794-1873), John Anderson Collins (1810-1879), John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), La Roy Sunderland (1802-1885), John Gorham Palfrey (1796-1881), William Wells Brown (1815-1884), women's rights advocates Abby Kelley Foster (1811-1887), Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), educator Horace Mann (1796-1859), humorist/journalist Joseph C. Neal (1807-1847), and phrenologist Orson Squire Fowler (1809-1887).

The influence of women's suffrage facilitated Lucy's sensitivity toward the precarious position of women in nineteenth-century America. She comments disapprovingly upon women's unequal status, whether it be within a religious context or the separation of men and women at abolition and temperance meetings. On the lighter side, Fowler the phrenologist told her that she must not study because her brain was already too large. Distressed, Lucy writes, "I shall be obliged to lay aside my course of study and try to be a character that has always been unpleasant to me to contemplate, a very common character." With perception, however, she also writes, "I took Lucy Hind's place in the kitchen today—I presume Fowler would say that is the place for me."

Lucy's intermittent visits to Philadelphia, c. 1842-1845, provide glimpses into a city experiencing an almost schizophrenic transformation. Underscoring a general Jacksonian thrust for improvement and social reform, Philadelphia also witnessed its bloodiest ethnic riots of the century. The Kensington Riots of May 1844 were Nativist attacks on Irish Catholic immigrants that resulted in dozens of burnt homes and two burnt churches. She writes of soldiers in the city protecting the Catholic churches and the dispersal of all meetings by the powers of authority. This marked the first time in Philadelphia's history that martial law was instituted. Included in Lucy's diary are comments on the beneficial aspects of the Eastern State Penitentiary (which she calls "one of the wonders of America"), the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, and the city's numerous almshouses. On a more, personal level, the diary provides a wealth of information detailing Lucy's emotional and intellectual growth. As her understanding of the world around her increases, she comments extensively and keenly upon slavery, inequality in general, the factory system, and the laboring classes. Her inspirations coincide with her growing interests as she comments, "Oh! how I wish I could go to college!" However, she experiences frustration upon realization that college is inaccessible to her after an evening of social discourse with her brother Pliny's friends, Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909) and William F. Channing (1820-1901).

Included in the collection are lengthy, articulate letters home to Worcester written by Sarah and Lucy Chase while they were teachers in the South (beginning in January 1863 in Virginia) describing their experiences and observations. Sarah, who was in poor health, stopped teaching in 1866, but Lucy continued in Virginia and Florida until 1869. After teaching they traveled in Europe, writing home letters and keeping fragmented journals. In 1902, Lucy visited Cuba and wrote several articles based on her obser-vation of Cuban life and social customs.

As Northern troops moved into the South toward the end of the Civil War, Lucy and Sarah were able to secure nu-merous documents and papers from the offices of recently vacated buildings. These papers (from the office of a Rich-mond slave dealer, the office of Jefferson Davis, the plantation of Governor Henry A. Wise, and the headquarters of General Ulysses S. Grant at City Point, Va., have been separated from this collection. The papers of the slave dealer, R. H. Dickinson and Brother, have been placed in the Slavery in the U.S. collection. The Grant and Davis items have been placed in the Civil War Papers collection. The correspondence to Governor Wise is now filed with miscellaneous manuscripts collection (Misc. mss. boxes "W")...." Learn more at

Visit Lynne McKenney Lydick’s February 14, 2012 article "Abby Kelley Foster is back and WELCOMED this time!" to learn about Elizabeth Buffum Chace’s review of Abby.

May the power of women’s stories throughout history, and the world, keep your creative spirit and courage alive into the future. Thank you Gerda Lerner(April 30, 1920 – January 2, 2013) for your inspiration to tell women’s history.

Karen Board Moran’s website is


Google her new book

Gates Along My Path.

Published Date: 
February 14, 2013