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The official site of the Hopedale Women's History Project


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Hopedale’s Hidden History: Who is Miss Margie?
Linda Hixon
September 18, 2022

Join Hopedale Women’s History Project founder Linda Hixon as she probes Hopedale’s Hidden Histories on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 at Bancroft Memorial Library. The presentation, which is offered through the support of the Hopedale Cultural Council, is free and will be held in the library’s program room starting at 6:30 p.m.

The Humphrey family was very important in Hopedale history. William and Almira came to Hopedale in 1849 and quickly became “devoted members” of Adin Ballou’s Practical Christian Community. In his History of Milford, Ballou called the couple “among our most exemplary people” and praised their daughter Lizzie as “our excellent artistic designer,” noting her “sterling moral character.” Lizzie became a successful artist, and a search for her in newspaper archives shows acclaim for her illustrations in hundreds of articles and publishers’ advertisements. Her drawings, often based on the faces of Hopedale’s children or on sights around the town, appear in dozens of books and cards.

But the Humphrey family had a secret. Around 1860, just before Lizzie’s 20th birthday, William and Almira welcomed a new child to their home. Margaret, born when Almira was 51, was listed as the Humphreys’ daughter in the 1865 Massachusetts state census. But Adin Ballou, as the town’s minister, never mentioned “Margie” in his 1882 genealogical register. In fact, he called Lizzie Humphrey the couple’s “only surviving daughter.” Margie was living with the family in the 1880 federal census and was very much alive in 1886 when she showed up in a newspaper article traveling with Lizzie in California.

This begs the question: who was Margie Humphrey and why, except for a few tantalizing glimpses, has she been lost to Hopedale history?

Share your photos at Draper Scanning Day!
Linda Hixon
May 27, 2022

Be among the first to have your photos scanned into our Hopedale Digital Archive project at Draper Scanning Day, Sunday June 5 from 1-4 p.m. at the Little Red Shop Museum, 12 Hopedale Street in Hopedale.

Bring up to 10 photos of the Draper plant or your favorite Draper worker to be digitized – we’ll scan your image and it will become part of our Hopedale Digital Archive project. Help us identify the people and events in the photo, if possible, and take your original image home with you.

Together we can expand Hopedale’s digital history collection! Email any questions to Linda at hopedalewomen@gmail.com.

A Month of Hopedale Women’s History!
Linda Hixon
March 1, 2022

Women in corsets

Join historian and Hopedale Women’s History founder Linda Hixon for a month of Hopedale women’s history. “Our Own Worst Enemy” tells the stories of the Hopedale Community’s early women’s rights pioneers, the dress reform movement, the fight for voting rights, and the pioneering women of the Hopedale Sewing Circle.

The programs air throughout March on Hopedale Cable on Comcast channel 8 and Verizon FIOS channel 29 every Friday at 7 p.m. with a second run on Saturdays at 5 p.m. Sponsored by the Hopedale Cultural Council.

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.