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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.

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.

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.

The Small State of Hopedale
Linda Hixon
October 27, 2018

On October 23, 1850, Abby Hills Price came to Brinley Hall in Worcester to give a speech at the first National Woman’s Rights Convention.  She stood before the crowd of 1,000 to talk about equality – not for herself, but for her daughters.  Abby wanted them to have the same opportunities as her sons, and she was not afraid to use the P-word to make her point – prostitution.  Even that made Elizabeth Cady Stanton take notice.  “She thought the speediest solution of the vexed problem of prostitution was profitable work for the rising generation of girls,” Elizabeth noted about the speech.  For Abby, this wasn’t about shock-value – she simply wanted her daughters to be able to work in the world.  “Human beings cannot attain true dignity or happiness except by true usefulness.  This is true of women as of men.  It is their duty, privilege, honor, and bliss to be useful,” she said.

Abby lived in Hopedale, where she had almost total equality with the male Practical Christian members in town.  She and her female neighbors voted on local matters and served in local government.  They worked in local businesses and had a voice in the local paper.  The women of Hopedale were 70 years ahead of the rest of the country.

Abby Hills Price was used to an audience.  She cut her teeth on the abolitionist rally circuit, even reading an “effusion” at an 1844 anti-slavery fair where she asked the country to “free these millions from the chain.”  Frederick Douglass heard her speak on that day in Upton, at a time when women were told to stay home and keep quiet.  In 1837, the General Association of Congregational Ministers here in Massachusetts warned against letting women address the public, which they said would lead to “degeneracy and ruin.”  Abby and the other women of Hopedale were undeterred.

In her Worcester speech, Abby went further and her words still echo today.  “Woman, in order to be equally independent with man, must have a fair and equal chance,” she told the crowd, and she bemoaned the fact that her daughters, even if they could find work, would make significantly less than her sons.  “When she is engaged in the same occupations with men, her remuneration is greatly below what is awarded to her stronger associates.”  Today, at a time of the “Me, Too” movement, “stronger” may be an outdated term.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton knew Abby Hills Price and called her “large hearted, and large brained, gentle and strong,” noting that the speech centered on “the injustice of excluding girls from the colleges, the trades and the professions, and the importance of training them to some profitable labor, and thus to protect their virtue, dignity, and self-respect by securing their pecuniary independence.”  Abby was speaking as a woman, yes, but also as a mother.  “Women at present are cramped, dwarfed, and cowed down.  Mothers, with large families of girls, though they may see in them intellect and genius, which, were they boys, might open to them in the future the pathway to independence and perhaps to fame, find that to girls nearly all avenues are closed.”

But Abby couldn’t resist a parting shot, sharing with the audience that she and the women of Hopedale had equality in their “little Commonwealth.”  “Where I live,” she said, “all persons have equal rights, in public deliberations.  Men and women are alike recognized as having a common interest in public officers and public measures.”  Yet she tried to soften the blow for those who opposed a woman’s right to vote.  “I have never, in the small State of Hopedale, heard of one home being neglected, or one duty less thoroughly attended to by allowing women an equal voice.”