WWHP@WHM Announcement & Celebration

We are pleased to announce that Worcester Women’s History Project has merged with Worcester Historical Museum.  WWHP will be referred to as Worcester Women’s History Project at Worcester Historical Museum, or WWHP@WHM.

WWHP started as a non-profit educational organization almost 30 years ago.  In 1994, a small group of women met at the YWCA of Worcester to begin planning a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first National Woman’s Rights Convention held in Worcester in 1850, and to promote the history of women in the community, according to Lisa Connelly Cook, one of the organization’s founders.  

In late October 2000, six years later, a weekend of events called Women 2000 featured a reenactment of the original convention, performed by equity actors and community volunteers at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall (across the street from where the original convention was held in 1850).  WWHP commissioned playwright Louisa Burns-Bisogno to create a 90-minute dramatization of the original 2-day event.  In addition to this play, the Women 2000 celebration included a contemporary conference revisiting many issues discussed in 1850, such as increasing women’s access to education, government and employment as well as greater attention to cases of “outrage” against women.  

Cook, a scholar on the history of feminism in the United States, emphasized that among other demands, the 1850 convention, which included Black and white men as well as women from 11 states, called for “equality before the law without distinction of sex or color,” a controversial statement at the time.  Taking a clearly anti-racist position led to condemnation from many quarters, while roiling the early woman’s rights movement, catapulting it onto the international stage.  Cook asserts, “the controversy in 1850 reveals the early roots of twentieth century debates over the place of social justice, identity and inclusion within feminism.”

In addition to Women 2000, WWHP spearheaded the effort to place original portraits of four women in Mechanics Hall.  Portraits of Abby Kelley Foster, Lucy Stone, Dorothea Dix and Clara Barton, renown leaders of the 19th century, painted in a style to match the existing portraits, joined the men on the walls in October of 1999.  They may be seen today in the city’s famous performance venue.  

An ongoing effort started by WWHP is the Worcester Women’s Oral History Project, which began in 2005 to train local college students and community volunteers to record, document, and share the stories of Worcester-area women. While many of the Project’s almost 500 oral histories are available for viewing on the WWHP website, the permanent repository is at the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University. Dr. Charlene Martin, co-chair of the Worcester Women’s Oral History Project explains, “We seek to build community by sharing experiences through a diverse collection of women’s stories—stories that have previously been excluded from the historical narrative.”

The move to merge WWHP with WHM aligns the two organizations’ commitment to documenting and sharing the multi-layered stories that are the history of Worcester.   WHM began in 1875 as a society of men interested in preserving artifacts and telling stories of local history, according to Executive Director William Wallace, who added that it took nearly two decades before the association allowed women to join in 1893.  Prior to the recent merger, WWHP has maintained an office in WHM for several years and has held numerous public events at the museum. 

Partnership with WWHP furthers WHM’s commitment to expanding the scope of our shared history and its impact on community.  In recent years, WHM has embraced an effort to center previously marginalized histories, most recently establishing collections and creating programming emphasizing local LGBTQ+ experiences in partnership with The College of the Holy Cross, Clark University and WPI.  WHM has for decades cultivated similar collaborations to elevate important voices and tell often overlooked stories, beginning as early as 1983 with Worcester’s Jewish community—resulting in “Water Street, World Within A World”—to the current Worcester Black History Project as well as The Latino History Project of Worcester. “Somos Worcester,” a major bilingual exhibit documenting the local Latino experience will open at the Museum in spring 2024.

On October 26, 2023, WWHP@WHM will hold a public event to commemorate the 173rd anniversary of the 1850 convention.  Author Anne Marie Murphy will present “Women at Work in the City of Corsets,” and share from her new book, “A Proper Fit,” on women’s work in Worcester’s corset factories. Doors will open at 5:00 PM, with a program beginning at 5:30.  This event will be free and open to the public, but online registration is highly encouraged.


Published Date: 
October 26, 2023