The Marblehead Female Humane Society’s Annual Meeting will be held on Thursday, November 2, 2023 at the Boston Yacht Club in Marblehead, MA.
The Women Of Marblehead by Robert Booth and published by the Marblehead Female Humane Society is available for sale at the following locations in Marblehead:
- Abbot Hall Gift Shop 188 Washington Street
- Marblehead Museum 170 Washington Street
- Marblehead Mercantile 132 Washington Street
For Women’s History Month – March, 2022
Marblehead Women in History
By Pam Peterson, Historian and MFHS Secretary
From the beginning, women in Marblehead were strong, self-reliant, and often enterprising. Functioning in what was, in essence, an industrial community; a commercial fishing seaport that welcomed vessels from many ports of call, women needed to work hard. A large percentage of men were often away at sea for long periods of time, so they developed a resilience and even toughness that was necessary in early rural America.
In this environment, there was a variety and abundance of work needed to support fishing and then the shoe industry, and to keep households operating in the absence of the men. Beginning at around the age of eight or so, boys, and their fathers and uncles and brothers, went to sea for months at a time, fishing offshore throughout the year, and on the frigid Grand Banks in spring and in fall. They also served on merchant vessels crossing the Atlantic and, later into the Pacific. Some women ran taverns, and some worked at trades while their husbands were away at sea, or at war, or dead. They were part of the shore-based support industries of fishing, or they labored at piecework, shoe-making in their homes for additional income or as their sole means of support. Marblehead women were hard workers as well as prolific and dedicated mothers.
Throughout their lives, Marblehead women endured unspeakable losses, as fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons were lost at sea or perished on distant shores from disease, accident, or maritime warfare, never to return again. Many an entry in Marblehead death records reads “fell off a mast,” “drowned off (some faraway place),” “died of (some exotic and/or debilitating disease)” contracted in foreign lands or on unsanitary ships. While many women married several times, others remained widows, often relying on their community for support. In the 1800s, those who lived to old age often died “in the poorhouse.” It was this significant social need that impelled women’s groups and churches to offer relief funds. Social welfare organizations such as the Marblehead Female Humane Society (1816) were established very early on in Marblehead.
Most women were part of the sisterhood of community support that has persisted throughout time, helping less fortunate neighbors and friends as much as possible. Some women made distinct contributions to social welfare, religious and academic developments, or the socio-cultural vitality of the town. In one way or another, all contributed to the nurturing of the Marblehead community. This spirit of involvement for the betterment of the community is alive today, in the many social, health-related, and cultural groups, including the still active MFHS, that thrive in Marblehead.
Lucretia Brown (“Aunt ‘Crese”) was the wife of black Revolutionary War veteran Joseph Brown, who won his freedom by fighting in the war. Together, they operated a tavern beside the pond on Gingerbread Hill, where Election Day celebrations were held, with spirits and ‘Lection buns consumed in great quantity. Lucretia was famous for her “Joe Frogger” molasses cakes (or cookies), which continue to be popular today.
Agnes Surriage was an 18th c. fisherman’s daughter who worked in John Bartlett’s tavern, the Fountain Inn, high on a headland (Bailey’s Head) overlooking Little Harbor. In 1742, she captured the attention of an English nobleman and customs official, and became his mistress. He finally married her after a 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, when she rescued him and saved his life. She died in England in 1783.
Mary Alley was a Marblehead school teacher in the late 1800s. She was highly aware of the problems and illnesses of
townspeople. She bought medicines and food to needy individuals, and co-founded the Marblehead Visiting Nurse Association in 1895. She served on the Board of the Marblehead Female Humane Society. She donated her home on Franklin Street to be a hospital. In the 1920s, the Mary Alley Hospital opened, and continued in service until the mid-1960s.
Marcia Selman studied at the Marblehead Academy on Pleasant Street, She was an active participant in the North Shore temperance movement, the fight for women’s right to vote, and eventually pursued her early dream of becoming a minister, serving as minister of the Unitarian Church in Marblehead. She wrote a temperance song, Marblehead Forever, which became the town anthem in the 1900s.
Louise DuPont Crowninshield (b.1877 – d. 1958) was a summer resident of Marblehead. Mrs. Crowninshield attended St. Michael’s Church, and supported many charities. With her innate sense of taste, and knowledge of antiques, she was a strong voice for the colonial Revival movement of the 20th century. She established the National Trust for the Preservation of Historic Homes. In Marblehead, she supported the Lee Mansion with many gifts of colonial American furnishings.
We are proud to present….
“The Women of Marblehead”
A new book by Marblehead historian Robert Booth, published by theMarblehead Female Humane Society.
The Marblehead Female Humane Society has published a new book, The Women of Marblehead, in connection with its 200th Anniversary celebration this year.
The book is 200-plus pages in length, with more than 60 illustrations, and tells the story of Marblehead in the 1800s with special focus on the role of women an
d their evolution from dependency to self-sufficiency. Subtitled A Women’s History of Marblehead, Mass., in the 19th Century and of The Marblehead Female Humane Society and Its Activities from 1816 Forward, the book was commissioned by the Society and written by historian Robert Booth.
The Women of Marblehead traces the history of the town through the perspective of girls and women in each generation, starting with the very hard times of the early years and the War of 1812 and its aftermath, which led to the formation in 1816 of the Marblehead Female Humane Society as a means for women to help other women and their children.
Booth tells the story of Marblehead’s transformation from a seafaring town to a shoe manufacturing center, and of how women were able to earn their own livings and to pay for construction and ongoing expenses of four new churches starting in the 1830s. Women led in running the Underground Railroad before the Civil War, in operating the new machinery introduced in the shoe factories, in striking against the owners, and in taking to the streets in temperance marches. In 1889, 31 years before women got the vote in America, a woman was elected to the town’s School Board. The main story closes as Marblehead became a summer resort.
Readers will recognize familiar names and will enjoy the many illustrations depicting Marblehead and Marbleheaders in the 1800s. Also included is material written by Martha Bessom Gorman that discusses the role of the Society in the 20th century.
“I found the rise of Marblehead women from the poverty and oppression of the early 1800s to the self-empowerment of the 1830s and onward to be an inspiring story,” said Booth. “The Female Humane Society, then as now, provided help to those who needed it and inspired women to improve their own lot. Many of the stories and events were a revelation to me, since so little had been written about women in this town, which, in the days of seafaring, had both a large majority of females in it, and very few men around for the nine months per year that they were at sea. As such, it was like no other place, and Marblehead women were not like others—they had to deal with terrible losses of their men at sea and in war, to be resourceful in raising fatherless children, and to earn their own way in life starting with shoe-making in the 1820s.”
“In ‘The Women of Marblehead,’ Bob has given us new reasons to appreciate Marblehead’s history and those who have come before us. Their strength, their resolve, and their compassion continue to inspire us,” said Lee Weed, the Society’s directress. “We thank Bob for his fine work and for his meaningful insights on our shared history…must-reading for everyone interested in Marblehead.”
The book was designed by Peter Schalck of Flat Rock Creative and published by Maple Press.
About The Author
Robert Booth works as Executive Director of the Center for Clinical Social Work, a national credentialing and advocacy organization in the field of behavioral healthcare. He is a native of Marblehead, where he resides with his family. He was educated at public schools, Harvard College, and Boston University.
He is the author of the guidebook Boston’s Freedom Trail and contributed a chapter to Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory, recently re-released in paperback by the University Press of New England.
In 2011 St. Martin’s Press (Thomas Dunne Books imprint) published his nonfiction story about Salem in the period 1815-1830, Death of an Empire. A repeat visitor to the Boston Globe bestseller list, this work was named Best Book of New England History in 2012 by the New England Society of the City of New York.
His nonfiction Mad For Glory, a book about American intervention in the Pacific in 1813, was brought out by Tilbury House Publishers in November, 2015.
Marblehead Female Humane Society Announces
Year-Long Celebration of its 200th Anniversary
With Preview of Its New Logo Designed by Bob Baker
Marblehead, Mass. – The Marblehead Female Humane Society [MFHS], the oldest philanthropic organization in Marblehead and among the oldest in Massachusetts, will be celebrating its 200th Anniversary throughout 2016.
“For 200 years, the Marblehead Female Humane Society has remained faithful to its original mission of Marbleheaders helping Marbleheaders,” said Lee Weed, the organization’s directress. “Since its founding, The Society has continued to quietly and respectfully help Marblehead residents in need.”
On November 19, 1816, the Marblehead Female Humane Society was formally organized by a membership of 125 women with the objective of helping the indigent, sick and infirm at home.
The idea for the Marblehead Female Humane Society was first proposed by Reverend John Bartlett in response to the town’s unusual level of poverty after Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo of 1807 and its impact on fishing and commerce; the devastation of The War of 1812; the seizure of American ships and impressment of American sailors into the British Navy, and the year of “no summer” in 1816 when there was a frost every single month of the year causing gardens and crops to fail, according to a brief history of the Society written by Martha Bessam Gorman in 2003. “There was definitely a great need for an organization to help the poor,” Gorman wrote in her book.
Bartlett came to Marblehead in the spring of 1811 as the pastor of the Second Congregational Church. A graduate of Harvard College, he was already well-known in Boston where he had served as Chaplain of the Almshouse of Boston from 1807 to 1810, and had initiated the movement which resulted in the founding of McLean Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, according to Gorman’s history.
Barbara Miller and Judith O’Leary are the co-chairpersons of the MFHS 200th Anniversary Celebration.
As the society was looking forward to the 200th Anniversary Celebration, the group turned to Marblehead resident Bob Baker, founder and president of Baker Advertising, to design the organization’s first logo. Baker’s career has spanned publishing, advertising and prose writing. A recognized advertising and creative talent, he is a winner of New England advertising’s top creative award – The Hatch Awards Best of Show, was named one of “The Top 10 Creatives in New England” by Ad East, and honored by The Advertising Club of Boston for a career of excellence in advertising combined with excellence in the arts. In Marblehead, he is well known for the foot outline-with-holly-on-toe logo he designed for The Marblehead Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas Walk, for the seagull logo for Marblehead Savings Bank, and the now-iconic sailboat in the wine glass for The Landing Restaurant.
For The Marblehead Female Humane Society’s logo design, Baker, whose specialty is branding, was inspired by the strength and generosity of the early 19th century Marblehead women. In addition to designing the striking logo, he also created the eloquent theme line, “A beacon of hope and help since 1816.”
Baker says, “When I heard what The Society’s mission was and how it’s still advancing that mission, I found it incredibly impressive.” And so the creative process began.
Baker says, “I woke up in the middle of the night and I’m thinking, you know, this organization is a ray of hope to society.” On a bedside notepad, he drew a descending ray. “The ray has to have a source,” he said, and so he drew a circle atop it. “That source could be the sun — but, if you add a base to it, you have a lighthouse — or, a Victorian woman. Then add the horizontal lines and they become the passage of time or even the waters of Marblehead Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.”
The tagline came just as easily to him, he says. “The ideas just flow. I call it a gift. It’s not me. I’m a funnel.”
“We saw so many layers of meaning in Bob’s logo,” O’Leary said. “Bob’s design is rich with time-honored significance and yet it is simple and elegant. It resonates with history — a 200-year history.”
Baker says he strives for simplicity in his designs. “‘Simplify’ is the essence of my whole creative mission. It’s my motto. It infuses me.”
The unveiling of the logo heralds the beginning of a year-long celebration that includes the publication of a book MFHS specially commissioned to be written and researched by Marblehead author and historian Bob Booth that is scheduled for publication in the spring; a lecture series in conjunction with the Marblehead Museum, and a 19th century inspired tea party in September, according to Miller.
In February, MFHS will issue an invitation to the Marblehead community to join the historic organization during the Society’s 200th Anniversary Celebration year. Membership is open to men and women. And the Society still maintains membership dues at 10 cents per month or $1.20 per year as first established in 1816. Donations of any amount are always appreciated.