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Benevolent paternalism?
Linda Hixon
December 31, 2021

Workers in Draper foundry
Workers in the Draper foundry

The aim of the Hopedale Women’s History Project is to find and share Hopedale stories – not just about women, but about everyone. Our project for 2022 is to gather the stories of Draper Corporation workers, both men and women. We want to share personal stories and remembrances of Draper workers for our upcoming book, scheduled to be published this summer.

Contact us at hopedalewomen@gmail.com for more information.

The Draper Corporation was the largest manufacturer of automatic cotton looms and textile equipment in the world, and its workers were a major reason why the company was so successful. This upcoming book is the second in a series about living or working in Hopedale. Our first book, Symbol of Progress: A photographic history of the Draper Corporation is available now on Amazon.

A Symbol of Progress
Linda Hixon

Like the Draper plant itself, the history of the Draper Corporation was huge. The business started with the founding of the Hopedale Community in 1842, although the company would trace its roots back to Ira Draper’s patent for an improved and automatic loom temple in 1816. The Drapers were an inventive family, and through their inventions and those of others the company became a behemoth while the town, mostly under the family’s control, stayed a small almost quaint place to live.

Symbol of Progress is a photographic homage to a company and a workforce that made Hopedale one of the most important towns in Massachusetts and brought our small town world-wide attention. The information accompanying the images is gleaned from historical sources and the writings of the time – descriptions written today along with voices from newspapers and records of the time, telling the story of the Drapers and the town. As the last bricks of what was the Draper Corporation leave the roughly 50 acres formerly fronted at 25 Hopedale Street, we should remember the company and the workers who passed through those doors – the men and eventually women who helped an inventive and complex family create a company that literally changed the textile world.

Linda Hixon
February 13, 2021

The Hopedale Women’s History Project is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization!

It has become obvious that finding, saving and sharing women’s history is now more important than ever.  HW is currently working on several community history projects, including the story of the women of the original Hopedale Community, Hopedale during the “Roaring Twenties,” and coming to terms with Hopedale’s racist past.

If you’re interested in volunteer opportunities – transcribing handwritten records, doing genealogical research, conducting oral histories – please contact Linda Hixon at hopedalewomen@gmail.com for more information.

The Dread Influenza
Linda Hixon

The influenza pandemic of 1918 was the largest loss of human lives in the shortest span of time. So many died that the exact death toll is unknown – mostly due to inconsistent records but also because of the devastation of the Great War, which was still raging as the pandemic hit.

Milford, Massachusetts suffered losses above the average for an American town. Many who died were poor immigrant workers living in the Plains and Prospect Heights sections of town. This was not a democratic disease.  Few wealthy people died of “the grip.” Its victims were the working poor and their children. Between September, 1918 and the end of that year, 105 Milford residents died officially of influenza, with dozens more dying of pneumonia. Almost two dozen babies were stillborn, six taking their mothers to the grave.

The Hopedale Women’s History Project is looking for relatives of those Milford residents who perished from the first modern-era pandemic. Contact Linda Hixon at hopedalewomen@gmail.com for more information.

Where are their voices?
Linda Hixon
June 13, 2019

Anna Bancroft grew up in Hopedale.  Born in 1853, she was college educated and active in town, serving on boards and taking part in local women’s groups.  Yet none of her personal letters can be found.

In fact, we’ve only found the group records of women with last names like Draper, Dutcher, Northrop, and Osgood, and we’re starting to wonder why?

The Hopedale Women’s History Project is looking for the personal writings of women from all walks of life who lived or worked in Hopedale.  We don’t care if the words are a century old or written a decade ago, all women’s voices are important.  Please contact hopedalewomen@gmail.com or like us on Facebook at Hopedale Women.

Here’s a list of names that repeat in the Sewing Circle records for generations, and these are just a few of the surnames of Hopedale women!

A highly appreciated utility
Linda Hixon
May 15, 2019

With summer heat approaching, the women of Hopedale decided to take matters into their own hands.  The town had built a new bath house on the edge of Hopedale Pond in 1904 “for the use of men and boys.”  But the ladies of town wanted a cooling dip, too, and needed a safe place to dress.  So in 1905, they demanded access.

Bathing – what today would be called swimming – became a hit during the Victorian era.  Many early beaches were separated by sex, and few people could actually swim.  That’s probably for the best as swimming costumes covered much of the body and were made out of wool.  Females in Hopedale wanted a chance to dunk themselves in the cooling waters of the pond, but without a place to change enjoying that summer pastime was impossible.

The bath house was built five years after the formation of the town’s park commission, and had an inauspicious start.  According to the blueprints of Boston architectural firm Chapman and Frazer, the plan was to tear down Henry Patrick’s ice house and re-use the wood for the framing and rafters.  Unfortunately, the ice house caught fire during demolition, “burning so rapidly as to endanger the men on the roof, and also preventing the removal of tools and implements stored therein.”  With no insurance, an extra $300 needed to be spent to cover the losses.  But by summer, the men and boys of town had a place to put on their itchy bathing costumes.  Almost 2,000 “baths taken and parties having baths” happened that first summer.

Hopedale built the bath house in part to stem the tide of male skinny dipping and spare the sensibilities of local ladies.  The town encouraged residents to bathe in front of the bath house in order to keep them in their suits, but it was a losing battle.  “No person in a state of nudity shall bathe in any of the waters of the town between the hours of sunrise and sunset in places exposed to public view or in the vicinity of any dwelling-house,” town bylaws read.  Each scofflaw could face a $20 fine, over $500 today.

Hopedale’s elite spent their summers at seaside resorts, so this was mostly likely a middle class fight.  The women suggested female matrons be on duty to keep the bath house a secure area for changing from corsets to bathing costume.  The town relented.  “With the cooperation of ladies offering their services as matrons, we arranged for use of the bath house facilities by women and girls two afternoons each week,” park commission records for 1905 noted.  Even with the truncated schedule, 222 women participated that summer – and the town didn’t even let them swim until August 3, with the season nearly over.

A decade later, about 1,000 females were using the bath house facilities each summer, compared to about 5,000 males.  “There are times when our facilities are overtaxed, but as a rule we can take care of all applicants,” the park commission reported.  The number of female attendees rose to over 3,000 by 1920, almost half the number of males.

The records don’t indicate when women were allowed to use the bath house full-time, but female residents began to dominate the numbers.  By the summer of 1935, when attendance topped 12,000, girls swimming outnumbered boys by over 1,500.

Swimming at Hopedale Pond peaked in 1968, with over 18,000 townspeople registered – an increase, the commission noted, of 6,000 over the previous five years.  But the numbers would slowly drop, until swimming in the pond was restricted in 1997.  The town’s selectmen finally closed the town’s beach in 2003 due to funding issues and “lack of interest.”  But the bath house still stands as a reminder of a fight for the right to take a dip.

“There is but a step between me and death”
Linda Hixon
February 8, 2019

Hopedale was heartbroken.  The Community’s favorite son, Adin Augustus Ballou, was dead.

In the early 1850s, young Augustus was well on his way to his future.  He graduated from the Bridgewater “Normal” School – a training school for teachers of the time – and began working there as an instructor, honing his skills.  The hopes of his father, esteemed minister Adin Ballou, hinged on Augustus finishing his training and taking over the Hopedale Home School, a private facility created to help the Community raise much-needed funds.

In January 1852, Augustus was making that dream a reality, but like many young people he took on too much.  The hard work taxed the 18-year-old, and he wrote about the joy of a day off.  “You say you see me in your dreams, and that I appear to look tired,” Augustus wrote to his mother, Lucy Ballou on January 25.  “Sunday is a welcome day – welcome, because on that day books are laid aside, and the tired brain is rested.”

But Augustus didn’t stop to rest.  At the end of January, he delivered a much-heralded oratory at the school’s Lyceum on “cooperative Associations” like Hopedale – a more expert voice on the subject could not be found.  Augustus lived much of his boyhood in Hopedale hearing the ministrations of his father.  He wrote for the local youth group’s handwritten newspaper, The Inductive Harbinger, and his future persona was evident.  “Be an independent man, a free thinker, a mighty actor.  Be a wise man, a careful discriminator,” Augustus wrote in 1851.  “Be a good man, blending humanity, with impetuosity; humility with power.  Be independent and bold for the right, and let your whole strength go to improve.”

But within days of his triumphant presentation at the Lyceum, the young man was ill.  According to his father, a bout of influenza just after the holidays had “left his physical system an easy prey to the renewed onsets of disease.”  Unfortunately, the disease was typhoid fever, and little could be done to save Adin Augustus Ballou.  His parents rushed to bedside, spending four days nursing their son, praying in vain for his life to be spared.

Augustus died February 8, 1852.  His parents were distraught.  This was a family that had suffered loss, and it did not get easier.  Adin Ballou lost his first wife, Abigail, in 1829, and his first son, Adin Junior in 1833.  Adin and Lucy lost their first son, Pearley, within days of Adin Junior’s death.  Adin Augustus was born that same year, and the loss of him left Lucy inconsolable.  The couple’s only surviving child was Adin’s grown daughter, Abbie Heywood, and when she heard the news of her brother’s death “the shock nearly crushed her.”

“They are bowed in sorrow as never before,” William Fish wrote of the couple’s pain in the town’s newspaper, The Practical Christian, but everyone was shocked at the young man’s passing.  “He had pure and high aspirations within him, and noble objects before him, for the realization of which he had already marked out some of his life-plans.”  Even famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was stunned by the news, calling Augustus “a beautiful and most promising youth” in his paper The Liberator.

“And even now, may one not think of Augustus as being dead, for he is not dead,” his friends wrote in the Harbinger.  “Perhaps his spirit is here with us to night, seeking to elevate our minds and thoughts, and to raise us from this Low and groveling earth, to more holy thoughts and pure aspirations.”

For Adin Ballou, the spiritualist movement – the idea that the living can communicate with the dead – became a way to deal with his loss.  Adin turned to his pen, writing two books, The Memoirs of Adin Augustus Ballou and Spirit Manifestations, in an effort to work through the death of his son.  “And in tears there is relief to the overburdened heart,” he wrote.  Adin Ballou turned his tears into words.

Happy Birthday, HNG!
Linda Hixon
January 17, 2019

Harriet Newell Greene’s words came to Hopedale before she did.

Born in Rhode Island on January 18, 1819, Harriet came from writing stock.  Some of her female forebears had dabbled in the literary arts, and she first came to Hopedale through her pen rather than in person.  Harriet’s first poem was published in Adin Ballou’s Practical Christian newspaper in 1848, but she didn’t move to the Community until 1852.

Poetry wasn’t her only passion.  Harriet, who married the much younger Brian J. Butts in 1858 as she headed up to her 40th birthday, never had children.  But she had the knack of writing for little hands and little minds.  About 10 of her children’s books on moral values including racial equality, temperance, and spirituality, survive in collections at the Bancroft Memorial Library in Hopedale and the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.  Harriet often wrote under her maiden name – she refused to use Bryan’s last name until later in life, much to the chagrin of many around her – or under the pseudonym Lida.  More of her books were printed during her lifetime, but some have been lost to history.

There is a tenderness to Harriet’s writing.  Her book, Ralph, or I wish he wasn’t black, is the story of two friends, a young white boy and a young free black boy living in the antebellum north.  Tommy’s father has been abducted under the fugitive slave law and forced into bondage to the south, and Tommy wishes he could “rub off” his black skin.  In her works, the women of the story – the mothers of Ralph and Tommy – stand up for their abolitionist beliefs in a quiet, Christian way, and forgive the evils of the world and the slaveholders in particular.

I own a copy of this book, but the copy I have was printed by a London publisher rather than Harriet’s husband or her dear friend, Emily Gay.  With a new title, a changed ending, and no credit given to Harriet, this tiny plagiarized book is my prized possession, a tribute to a Hopedale woman whose story may have been stolen but should never be forgotten.

Harriet Newell Greene book published in Hopedale by Emily Gay, from the Collection at the American Antiquarian Society.

A Family Story
Linda Hixon
December 28, 2018

His name was so unusual, I thought he must be yet another of the dozen or so immigrant Draper workers who had succumbed to the influenza pandemic in 1918.  But Watrous Garnsey’s American family lineage went back to before the Revolutionary War.

The Garnsey family had deep roots in Richmond, New Hampshire.  Dozens of Garnseys are mentioned in books about the town, and Garnsey men served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.  Watrous Garnsey, Sr. and his wife, Emily Newhall or Newell were both natives of Richmond, although this branch of the Garnsey family may have originally come from Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

The elder Watrous was born in 1842 and served as a young man in the Civil War.  He earned his military pension and became a farmer.  He was important in the town, even playing tenor drum in the “Richmond brass-band,” which had been organized in June 1874 using instruments bought by John C. Haynes of Boston.  Haynes spent $300 to equip the band, but why he did it is unknown.

Also unknown is the reason Watrous Senior brought his family to Blackstone before 1889.  His father, Amos had died in 1886; that death may have precipitated the move.  Watrous Garnsey, Jr. would be the first member of the family born in Massachusetts in generations; he was born in East Blackstone on February 2, 1889.  But Watrous Junior had a bumpy start in life – just three days after his birth, his mother Emily died, probably of complications from childbirth.

The family stayed in the area, and Watrous Garnsey, Sr. remarried.  After the death of Emily, he the sole parent of three daughters and an infant, so he needed help.  Watrous married Mary E. Mentzer Sawyer in Northborough about a year after his son was born.  It appears it was a second marriage for both of them.

Young Watrous ended up working for the Draper Corporation as an “assembler.”  In the 1915 town directory, he is living on “Green” Street near the railroad tracks with his wife, Mildred F. Pratt and their two children – Alice Augusta, who was born in 1910, and Kenneth W., born in 1912.  Watrous Junior seems to have decided not to pass on his first name, although “Watrous” could be Kenneth’s middle name.  Watrous also did his duty and followed the family tradition of service to his country – or at least he tried to.  He registered for the draft during World War I, and was described on his card as being average in height and weight, but having “Dark blue” eyes and black hair.

Watrous Garnsey, Jr. became ill with the flu before Christmas, 1918, dying in Milford Hospital of pneumonia on December 28.  He was only 29 years old, and had outlived his father by little more than a decade.  Watrous Senior died of nephritis in 1907.

A Mother’s Pain
Linda Hixon
December 14, 2018

The fact that Sewing Circle member Mary Burnham’s son died in World War I was a sad story.  But a trip to the Massachusetts National Guard archive turned the story into a tragedy.

On December 14, 1918, Second Lieutenant Edward Clifton “Clif” Burnham, Jr., died during “rifle practice” at Camp Hancock, Georgia.  All three of Mary’s sons, Clif, Malcolm, and Kenneth, enlisted to fight in the Great War.  Ken was in the thick of it in the trenches of France, but it was younger brother Clif who died.

The worst part of the story, the part that wasn’t shared with the public, is that the military records show there is more to this sad tale.  Clif’s record reads “gunshot wound (Suicide).”

The military cards for World War I were created several years after the war, and although these are official records the cards are not infallible.  I’ve done two military history projects and have occasionally found cards that are incorrect.  One of Clif’s two cards has his address listed as “Northryn St” rather than 1 Northrop Street, where the family lived.  And another official document simply notes Clif “died.”  But in military parlance, the word “suicide” can also mean something slightly different from today’s connotation.   The card of a Worcester soldier who died in that same war reads, “suicide, result of own misconduct.”  That, to modern eyes, looks more like an awful, self-inflicted accident.

But the story goes deeper.  The archive holds the letters of both Clif and older brother Ken, a gift that the Burnham family has left to historians.  Ken served with the in the 103rd Field Artillery as a Private First Class, and he was in the thick of it.  In letters to his family, Ken hints at his location because he knows censors will come down hard if he gives specifics.  He also shares details his daily hardships.  “The things I’ve seen during the past few days! War is a terrible thing, but the fascination of it all!” Ken wrote excitedly in early 1918, but by fall he is seeing the hum-drum of horror.  “The only vegetation which struggles up between the many shell-holes consists of a little ragged grass and a few weeds and thistles.  The ground has been pitted and raked up by a withering artillery fire,” he wrote to his family in September, 1918.  “I am in a little dugout where the rain drips through at all times, and where the rats scurry around during the night.  But we are getting accustomed to the raindrops and the rodents.”

At the end of October that year, Ken is in the middle of a bombardment, possible as part of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the most deadly battle for American soldiers in our history.  His letter is a mess, he says, because “the concussion is strong enough to shake the ink out of this pen of mine.”

Clif, on the other hand, is at an officer training camp in Georgia, and now outranks his two older brothers as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry.  His last letter, written 11 days before his death, is hopeful and maudlin in turns, and even seems a bit prophetic.  “Seriously there is a great chance of you two fellows never having to salute kid brother,” Clif writes to Ken.  The war is over, and Clif is trying to figure out the next stage of his life.  Before the war, he was a student at Brown University along with both Ken and Mal, and he would have graduated in the class of 1920.  Now he has to decide between staying in the National Guard as a reserve officer or “staying in the service and qualifying for a real commission.”

Clif writes about the training he is receiving with the Browning machine gun, “belching forth 600 per minute,” and how he is at a range at Camp Johnson, about 12 miles outside his home base at Camp Hancock.  Even though his letter ends with an invitation to fish with Ken in Minnesota after the war, the letter turns dark.  “Where there is no action no ink can run and so until I get out of this stagnation my letters will be insipid as the life I live.  Your kid brother Clif.”

Whether or not Clif Burnham caused his own death, either accidentally or on purpose, his family must have been devastated.  When he was buried in Hopedale Village Cemetery just before Christmas, he was given a hero’s send-off.  “The funeral was one of the largest held in Hopedale,” the Milford Daily News reported.  The president of Brown University, where all three of Mary’s sons were students, attended and “delivered a fine eulogy.”  The Franklin State Guard fired three volleys “and taps were sounded.”  Clif’s casket, the paper noted, “was completely surrounded by floral offerings.”

Edward C. Burnham, Jr., the baby of the family, was only 21 years old.