Thursday, March 21, 2019

Cavendish Women You Should Know: Barbara Phillips/Cavendish Mills

Barbara Scott Phillips was from Solon, Ohio, but made her home in Cavendish when she and her husband Harold bought an 1861 gristmill on the Black River and an 1821 home across the river.

Having taught social studies in Ohio, CHS board member Bruce McEnaney said, “Barbara was a good historian” and specifically referenced how Barbara is as an “expert on the American Civil War.”

In addition to helping to document and preserve Cavendish’s history, Barbara raised two daughters Alison and Carolyn. While we hope to do an interview with Barbara this spring, we want to share some of the research and writing that she’s done on Cavendish. This week’s post is on the Cavendish Mills that she and her husband bought and restored.

Phillips home across the river from the Mill.
It was in 1860 Everett Atherton built a gristmill on the Black River, one-half mile down river from the Cavendish Gorge.

There had always been mills at this location since 1784, when Seth and Nathan Dean built the original buildings for the town proprietors.

About the same time, Jonathon Atherton moved his family from Harvard, Massachusetts to Cavendish and built a log homestead not far from the mill property. His son, Jonathon Jr.,  raised five children on the family farm, the youngest being Everett Atherton.

In 1854 Everett, at thirty-two years of age, bought Cavendish Mills from Oliver Sykes. The gristmill building was not large enough for what Everett had in mind. He wanted to have one of the finest and most modern mill operations in the area. In order to accomplish this, Everett tore down the old gristmill building and built the present three-story structure. He would rebuild the adjoining sawmill at a later time.

Of post and beam construction, the gristmill building sat solidly on a dry-laid stone foundation, which on three sides reached fifteen feet in depth. The steep, gabled roof was made of slate. To insure that there would be plenty of light, Everett had thirty windows set in the building and three, massive, sixteen paneled doors hung on the first and second floor facing the river.

A large, overshot water wheel was constructed at the rear of the mil. The stone dam across the Black River was rebuilt and the water diverted back through the raceway under the sawmill building. At the rear of the gristmill, the water was held back by a log dam and ponded for use by the mill.

A sign was made from one, large, pine board some twenty feet in length. Workmen then hoisted it into place high on the front of the building. In bright, gold lettering it boldly state, “E.H. Atherton, Cavendish Mills.”

Finally, Atherton had a business card printed. “Everett H. Atherton, dealer in flour, feed, grain, and manufacturer and dealer in lumber.” Now, he was ready for business.

It did not take Atherton long to build a large custom patronage. The Mil had been known in the area since early days and another advantage was its central location.

Every farmer from the tiny hamlet of Baltimore, Vermont, which was located just over Hawks Mountain from the mill, bought their loaded wagons over the mountain road down to Atherton’s mills. The mill was not only the focus of business activity, but it became a social gathering place as well. While waiting for their grain to be ground or lumber to be sawed, men gathered on the circular bench Atherton had built around the stove at the back of the mill. Neighborhood news was passed from one to the other, and local politics was often a topic of conversation. Checkers sometimes were played on a handmade checkerboard.

At noon, the mill became quiet as the big stones ground to a halt and the sawmill shut down. Atherton would ask those seated around the bench if they had brought their lunch. If the answer was no, he would say, “Well, come on over to the house, we’ve got plenty.”

So, business prospered as Atherton at one time employed four or five men in the gristmill and another four or five in the sawmill to keep both operations running smoothly.

The gristmill did quite a volume of business in flour, as well as feed for cattle, horses, and chickens. At one time the mill ground approximately 1000 bushels of corn a week. Most of this corn was shipped in by railroad car from the West. Atherton’s grain wagons picked up the corn at the local railroad depot and hauled it to the mill. The loaded wagons then backed up to the front door of the mill and dumped the corn into the large, main chute, which was located just inside the door. From there, it was picked by an elevator system and carried to the second-floor bins for storage.

In the adjoining sawmill, Atherton was sawing around 500,000 feet of lumber annually. A picture, taken in the early 1900’s, shows the mill yard and the bridge landing to it, filled with huge logs waiting to be sawed.

Atherton, miller and sawyer, oversaw the entire operation, constantly checking to see that the saws ran smoothly and the millstones did not stop grinding. By this time, Everett’s three sons, Charles, Hugh and Walter, were helping in the mill and it became a family operation.

Then in 1869, a major flood swept through the Black River valley. Mills and dams on 20 Mile Stream, and further down river at “New City,” were swept away in the torrent. Atherton’s own home was carried away by the flood of 20 Mile Stream. Atherton Bemis, Everett’s grandson, tells the following story about the flood. “Laura Atherton, his grandmother, had two pies cooling on the kitchen windowsill at the time. The last anyone saw was the house, all its effects, and the two pies, still on the sill, floating down river.”

Fortunately, Cavendish Mils survived the flood. After 1869, Atherton’s business increased as sawing and milling were concentrated at his place business due to the loos of the other mills in the “freshet” of “69.”

In 1873 Atherton built a beautiful Victorian mansion just across the river road from the mill. A three-story structure with mansard roof, it had fifteen rooms, each with a different kind of  woodwork. The third floor contained a large ballroom.

The name Atherton was well respected in the community, as is seen in an article about the mills in the November 3, 1889 edition of the Vermont Tribune.

Everett’s son Walter was taking a more important part in the business now, since Charles had gone to Portland, Oregon as a timber inspector, and Hugh had gone into farming. Atherton’s only daughter Marion came home from Seward, Nebraska and brought a young son, Atherton Bemis, back to the family home to raise.

Meanwhile, Walter and Everett continued to update the mill operation. They decided to rent space in the U upstairs of the gristmill to Owen Willard and son, cabinetmakers, and Willard rocking chairs became a popular selling item in the area.

In 1891 a new sawmill building was erected and the up and down saw replaced with a circular one. In 1900 the water wheel was removed and Rodney Hunt turbines installed. Atherton also purchased a Eureka magnetic separator for the gristmill. It was considered quite innovative for its day. Bits of metal were separated from the grain and deposited in a box beside the separator. Seven year old Atherton Bemis’s job was to empty the box. The young boy loved to spend his time at the mill with his uncle and grandfather. He especially liked the whine of the saws, the smell of the wood and the look of the clean, white boards as they came off the carriage in the sawmill.

In 1909, Everett, then in his eighty-first year, passed away from a liver ailment. Everett’s dream of having one of the largest and most modern mill operations in the area had been fulfilled. Now he passed the legacy on to his son Walter.

So, Walter took over complete management of the business. A bachelor, he lived in the family home with his mother.

In the late 1920’s the gristmill business started to decline. There was not as much demand for mill ground flour, since housewives could buy it at the local store. Also, when the number of farms decreased, the feed business did too.

So, in 1936, when the main shaft to the turbine under the gristmill broke, it was never repaired and the grist stones were silent for the first time in over one hundred years. The sawmill, however, continued to operate.

When Walter passed away in the late thirties, Everett’s grandson, Atherton Bemis, came home to run the business. It was no longer profitable to run the gristmill, but the turbine continued to supply the power for the sawmill until Atherton converted to electricity in 1946. Atherton operated the old mill until he was eighty years old. In 1972, due to failing eyesight and poor health, it became necessary to sell the mill property.

Cavendish Mills was sold to the Phillips family from Ohio. A complete restoration of the mill buildings and equipment was undertaken in 1973 and completed in 1976. When the renovation was complete, the original sign was hoisted into place once more.

Now, a new whirr of activity fills the air. Phillips [Harold, Barbara’s husband], a master cabinetmaker, has converted the sawmill into his cabinetry shop. He skillfully makes handsome pieces of furniture from old, seasoned wood. Phillips believes he was able to purchase the mills because he intended to restore the buildings and keep the business in woodworking. The gristmill is now used as a retail shop to display Phillip’s finished products.

Since 1784, there has been continuous business activity at Cavendish Mills. Reminders of these activities can still be seen.

Atherton Mill as it appears today.
Ledger books in Everett’s handwriting are on the shelf. Part of the log dam can be seen at the back of the mill. A pattern for a Willard rocking chair hands on an upstairs wall. There are penciled notations about the weather, births, deaths, and orders for grain and lumber, on bins and chutes all over the mill. The heavy grist stone, elevator shafts, and magnetic separator still remain in the floor. A poster, which Everett put up in 1812, announces a fair to be held mid-way between Proctorsville and Ludlow. Old turbines, half buried in sand, rest under the mill and the handmade checkerboard is still there. A beautifully dove tailed tool box, containing Everett’s handmade wood planes, is stored on the second floor; and a tin advertising stencil hangs on a nail near the front door, along with a large, brass skeleton key.

There is much about the old mill, which reminds us of Everett Atherton and his mill operation. It is almost as if he turned the key in the lock and intends to return after the noon meal. One almost expects to hear him say, “Come on over to the house, we’ve got plenty.”

The Phillips sold the gristmill and house separately. The Mill was remodeled to be a private home and is now referred to as the “historic Atherton Mill House.” Ownership has changed hands several times. The Phillips home is now owned by a year round resident who continues to honor the heritage of the home and property, including the first indoor bathroom in Cavendish.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

First Ladies of Cavendish: Political/Postmaster & Other Town Positions


While this list was initially compiled by Barbara Kingsbury and Sandra Stearns, we have added to the list of “First Ladies of Cavendish.”

 Postmaster/Cavendish: The post office in Cavendish was started in 1800 with Salmon Dutton as postmaster.
Marion C. White 1904

Postmaster/Proctorsville: The post office in Proctorsville was started in 1821 with John Proctor as postmaster
Martha S. Taylor 1887

Town Clerk: The first recorded town meeting in Cavendish was held March 12, 1782. Josiah Fletcher was elected town clerk.
Marion C. White 1935

Town Treasurer: The first town treasurer elected in1782 was Salmon Dutton. This job remained separate from the town clerk position for many years. Marion White was elected town clerk in 1935 but George H. Parker was treasurer until 1944. Marion carried both positions during the rest of her service as town clerk until 1954. Ina B. Butler was elected town clerk in 1955 but Marion continued to be treasurer until 1960. Since 1961, both positions have been filled by the same person.
Marion C. White 1945

Selectmen: John Coffeen signed the warrant for the first recorded town meeting in 1782 as selectman. Elected to serve in 1782 were Salmon Dutton, Ephraim Foster and Josiah Fletcher.
Gertrude Foster 1918

Overseer of the Poor: This position was first recorded in the 1859 town report, filled by Daniel H. Wheeler
Vera Archacki 1940

Town Grand Juror: In 1782 Joseph Rice was elected Grand Juryman.
Gertrude Jewell and Abbie Moore 1918

Town Agent: This position was not recorded in town reports before 1907. From 1907 until 1916 this position was filled by the selectmen. George A. Grant was elected in 1917.
Lucinda Lovell MD 1918

Listers: The first listers recorded at the first town meeting in 1782 were Jesse Spaulding, David Wetherbee nad Isaac Baldwin.
Lucille Coombs and Beverly Stowell 1968

Library Trustees: The first recorded representatives for the two libraries was in the 1872 town report-Luke Parkhurst was for Cavendish and Kendall Taylor for Proctorsville
Erminie Pollard 1949

Trustee of Public Funds: This was first recorded in the 1892 town report-John H. Stearns
Eva Goodrich 1947

Town Representative: Though no record of a town meeting exists before 1782, John Coffeen represented Cavendish at the Convention in Windsor on June 4, 1777, which the name of this state from New Connecticut to Vermont.
Erminie Pollard 1950

Moderator: Salmon Dutton was elected moderator at the first recorded town meeting in 1782. For several years a moderator was chosen at each meeting. To date there has been no woman as moderator of town meeting.

School Directors: At first each individual school had its own board. Later all town schools except Duttonsville Independent District were under the control of one board-about 1893-Sanford E. Emery
Marcia Amsden-Lucinda Lovell was appointed replace O.C. Blanchard who moved of town that year after being elected. 1918

Green Mountain Union High School: This union between Chester, Cavendish and Andover was formed December 12, 1967.
MaryAnn Benoit (Westcott) 1968

Green Mountain Unified School District: The GMUSD was formed in response to Act 46 in 2017.
Kate Lamphere 2017

Superintendent of Schools: This position was first listed in the 1859 town report-Henry D. Saunders.
Mrs. E. G. (Nelia) White 1886

Cemetery Commissioner: This was first listed in the 1905 town report-Henry D. Saunders
Wanda Wierzbicki 1979

Justice of the Peace: This position was first listed in the 1982 town report.
Katherine Moore1982

Auditor: This position was listed in the 1859 town report and filled by Thomas Whitcomb, Joseph Adams, and Joseph White.
Mary A. Parker 1930

Tax Collector: This office has been filled since 1782-Thomas Baldwin
Vera Archacki 1943

Constable: First elected in 1782-Noadiah Russell-the position was never held by a woman and was abolished in 2018.

Women Fire Fighters: The Proctorsville Volunteer Fire Department  (PVFD)was formed in 1833. The first woman fire fighter was Donna Blanchard in 1985. She was followed closely by her sister Amy. In 2016, Karlene Glidden becomes the first female volunteer to achieve Life Membership and in 2018, Lt Amy Perry becomes the first woman to be an officer of PVFD.

Fire District #2 was officially formed in 1957. Until that time, the town relied on the internal fire team from Gay Brothers Mill and PVFD. First female fire fighter was Lisa Ballentine in 1981.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Beyond Cooking and Cleaning: Cavendish Teachers

As the Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) continues honoring the women who helped to shape Cavendish during Women’s History Month, this week we focus on Sandra Stearns' article on teachers that was written in 1996.

She provides an interesting overview of teaching in Cavendish, showing there was not equal pay for equal work, as men were paid more than women, and even when it came to room and board, female teachers were expected to “help out,” which was not the case for their male counterparts.

Following Sandra’s article is a Cavendish Schools Timeline.

Common school teaching in Vermont began as a male occupation, with men being the predominate teachers of both summer and winter terms till about 1802. By that time it was beginning to be a sexually integrated profession. Women quickly won the right to teach the summer term when the larger boys did not attend school, needing to help on the farm. Summer school usually ran from May to September and was attended by small children-who usually did not attend during the winter-and the girls. The average wages in 1845 were $3.00 a week for a male teacher and $1.15 for a female.

The “industrial revolution” which was on going in the early 1800s, offered many new opportunities for males.

In the early 1800’s womanhood was divided into 4 virtues-piety, purity, submissiveness and domestic talents. These virtues were the rationale for hiring women as teachers. Teaching was a way to display marriageable girls outside their own neighborhoods. Low pay and high turnover indicates that the community did not expect them to teach very long. Males controlled their working conditions and the community controlled their living conditions and behavior. Public opinion-not law-held that women could not both work and marry.

One of the big champions of women as teachers, and who helped to shape the profession, was Catharine Beecher. Sister of the author/abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, she believed it was the school’s responsibility to stress the moral and physical, as well as intellectual, development of children. With the country’s rapid growth and men leaving teaching to work in business and industry, Beecher recognized the untapped potential in the growing population of educated women and advocated for females to be trained as teachers.

In 1823, Beecher co-founded the innovative Hartford Female Seminary, whose purpose was to train women to be mothers and teachers. In 1829, her essay "Suggestions Respecting Improvements in Education," promoted women as natural teachers, but also advocated for an expansion and development of teacher training programs, claiming that the work of a teacher was more important to society than that of a lawyer or doctor.

In 1852, Beecher founded the American Woman's Educational Association with the goal of recruiting and training teachers for frontier schools and advocated for teachers until her death in 1878. Although she was influential in providing women with the education necessary to become teachers, many have viewed her efforts to transform teaching into “women's work” ultimately led to a decline in the social esteem accorded the profession.

Center Road School House as it appears today
In the Cavendish Center School in 1844 Isaac Clark received $62.50 plus board of $12.50 for 12 weeks of winter school while Harriet Smith received $15.00 plus board of $12.32, which also included a broom, dipper and glass. Board for women was cheaper as they supposedly ate less and were expected to help in the house.

The practice of boarding around was abolished by the Legislature in the late 1860s. (They stated that “all money necessary to defray the expenses in the support of schools be raised by a tax upon the Grand List.” This enabled the burden of funding education to fail proportionately on the real property rather than on the number of scholars who used the school.)

As many able young men left home to fight in the Civil War, 75 to 85% of the teachers became women. Miss Eveline Kendall taught summer school at the Center School in 1864 and received $18.00 plus $15.00 for board while Benjamin Giddings taught the winter school that same year and earned $54.00 plus $21.00 for board. The next year, however, Eveline taught the winter school and earned $60.00. Many men returning from the war did not return to the teaching profession. Eveline was still teaching at the Center School in 1868-$50.00 for summer school and $75.00 for winter school.

Proctorsville School
It remained an unwritten law in Vermont that married did not continue to teach until about 1868. (VT School Report urged married women to remain in the teaching profession in that year.) The first married teacher I have been able to find was Mrs. Emma Wiley who taught fall and summer school in the Proctorsville School “upper room” in 1876.

They have been many outstanding women teachers in this town over the years. I list only a few that I have heard about or knew.

1.    Fanny Ward Raymenton-born in Cavendish September 1859, she taught in Cavendish (Duttonsville), Chester and Meridan, Connecticut until her marriage. After her husband died in 1899 she returned to teaching. She taught first in Springfield and later in Cavendish (Duttonsville). Sophie Snarksi told me she went to school when she was five years old to this lady. Sophie ran away from home to school. Mrs. Raymenton was nice to her and let her stay and take her first grade a year early.

2.    Gertrude Warren Barrows was born in Greenfield Center, VT in 1905. She later lived on Twenty Mile Stream and drove a horse to teach at Tarbell Hill School. Carmine Guica had her as his first grade teacher. I believe he told me.  Gertrude taught for many years in Amsden, Perkinsville, Baltimore and Cavendish.

3.    Bessie Thomas Morse was born in Rutland in 1878. In 1963 she received a letter from the White House congratulating her on retiring after 46 years of teaching. Many of these years were spent teaching in Proctorsville School where she was instrumental in creating an outstanding toy band.

4.    Beatrice Fairbanks Pickard taught in the Duttonsville School before her marriage. My father, Hollis Field, had her as a teacher there. After the birth of her daughters she returned to teaching at the Center School. She was my teacher for 7 years. She later taught in Chester till her retirement.

5.    Sadie Allen Bidgood was born in Reading, Tom Lazetera, her son-in-law thought. She graduated from Woodstock High School and began teaching when she was about 16 at Tyson School where she received $6 or $8 a week. She later taught in the Weathersfield area and drove a buggy to school. She went to Castleton and got her teaching degree at the same time as Stan Firkey did. Continuing to teach she went to Tarbell Hill, So. Woodstock and ended her career teaching in Proctorsville for a number of years. She continued to substitute teach till she was about 80 years old.

6.    Clara Webster Slack was born in Danville, VT. She taught in Proctorsville for 13 years, before and after her marriage. She recalled receiving $665.00 a year, teaching 35 students in 3 grades at Proctorsville. It cost her $8:00 a week for room and board. She taught in Ludlow for 20 years, retiring to care for her husband who was ill. Clara said there was never any tenure, never knew from year to year whether you had a job the next year. Also, no teacher retirement till after she had been teaching about 7 years. Took advantage of it and is very glad she did. If she had it to do over, she would still teach, as she loved working with children, especially 3rd graders such as she had at Ludlow. The pay was not like it is today. “I didn’t do it for the money! I loved doing it!” Clara said she never had discipline problems. She told them the first day what she expected of them. One little third grader to her, “It isn’t what you say. It’s how you look.”

Jane Quinn's first class at Center School
7.    Jane McFarland Quinn left Massachusetts to teach at the Center School after college. She was so pleased to be teaching in “a little red schoolhouse” and told all her friends. The school was painted white before she returned in the fall. I was privileged to have Jane as my first grade teacher and she has remained my friend ever since. After her children were born she taught at Tarbell Hill, Proctorsville and Duttonsville till those schools consolidated. She taught till her retirement at Springfield.

Hollis Quinn provided the following information about his mother, “She boarded with Sandy Field Stearns parents at their farm on East Road and walked to the Center school with Sandy's older sister, Jannette Field Carlisle.”

Cavendish Schools
Duttonsville School
From 1795 to present day, there have been 13 public schools in Cavendish. Students were assigned to the school closest to where they lived. Schools included: 

District 1 Center School (closed 1955) Building is still standing and is on the property of Hollis Quinn. Have a variety of materials related to this school, including a model. 

District 2 Proctorsville Village School (1875- 1959) Building has been replaced. 

District 3 Coffeen (Densmore) School (burned in 1922)

Tarbell Hill School
District 4 Tarbell Hill School (closed 1955) No longer standing

District 5 Wheeler School (closed 1955) Converted to a home

District 6 Hudson School (burned down in 1901)

Fittonsville School as it appears today.
District 7: Fittonsville School (Spring Mill) 1875 (School built to accommodate the influx of children associated with the Mill. The Mill did not last long nor did the school. Now a private residence

District 7 Duttonsville School (1861-1971) Home of Dan Churchill and his business, Commercial Radio. The current building replaced a stone one-room schoolhouse, which was sold as a family dwelling and remained on the property until the flood of 1927.
District 8 Gilchrist School (closed 1947)

District 9 Parker School (closed 1911)

Rumke School (closed 1923)

Stockin School (half in Weathersfield and under Weathersfield)

Bailey Hill (unorganized district)

Cavendish Town Elementary School in Proctorsville.
Cavendish Town Elementary School (1960 to present-only school operational in Cavendish)

Cavendish Academy (Private school 1812-closed in the 1850's, building was used as a drill hall during the Civil War-building is still standing)

Saturday, March 2, 2019

CHS Briefs March 1, 2019


Happy Women’s History Month!

There is never a slow time of the year for CHS, but the snow and ice has keeps us a bit more home bound so it’s a good time to catch up on various research projects and to prepare for the season ahead.

Women’s History Month CHS is continuing their series “Cavendish Women You Should Know.” This year we have gone back to our archives and are updating information to previously collected materials. Part I is by Barbara Kingsbury. She not only provides an overview of what life was like for women who helped to settle Cavendish, but she discusses women who worked in the mills, owned businesses as well as those who worked in health care, including three sisters who became doctors. Throughout March, CHS will be providing another chapter in the women who have helped and continue to shape our town.

CHS Winter Newsletter: Contains our research on the 106 year old abolitionist and former slave Peter Tumbo who lived in Cavendish for about 40 years. Tumbo was a Revolutionary War veteran and this issue includes various stories about other Cavendish Patriots.

No Mr. Hickernell is Not Buried in the Basement: The rumor has long persisted that since Mr. Hickernell seemed to have disappeared around the same time his wife had a concrete basement poured, that this was his final resting place. Yes, Mr. Hickernell did die, but in his garage (Dr. Bont was called) and he’s buried in Pennsylvania. However, his wife Theresa Ruth Swetitch Hickernell-Smith is a whole other story. We’ve received lots of comments to the original post, so we’ve added them. They’re almost better than the original post.

Carmine Guica Young Historians: We were fortunate to have local fiddler Bob Naess to explore with 5th and 6th grade music classes the origins of American music as part of Black History Month.  He will be bringing his Irish band to school on March 15 for a concert, which will be part of a St. Patrick’s Day celebration at CTES. We’re working on various trips, workshops and activities for the months ahead. Among these are trips to Shaker Village (3rd grade); one room school house experience (2nd grade); trip to Precision Valley Museum (4-6th grades); and a trip to the archeology dig site, which is part of the Castleton South Champlain Historical Ecology Project in W. Haven, VT.

Solzhenitsyn: We’re working with the state to erect an Historic Road Marker in Cavendish regarding Solzhenitsyn’s time here. Hope to have it up this summer.

March 31 (Sunday): Annual Meeting will be held on Sunday, March 31 (Sunday), 4 pm at the Cavendish Baptist Church. As part of the Meeting, we will be screening Alone in the Wilderness. The film provides a glimpse into what life might have been like for Cavendish’s pioneering families. We hope to have Proctorsville resident, Tim O’Donoghue on hand that afternoon as he visited Proenneke’s property this past June.

May 25 (Saturday): CHS Annual Plant Sale. NOTE CHANGE OF DATE.

If you have questions or wish to volunteer with CHS, please call 802-226-7807, e-mail

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Beyond Cooking and Cleaning

March is Women’s History Month and the Cavendish Historical Society marks this occasion by continuing their series “Cavendish Women You Should Know.” This year we have gone back to our archives and are updating information to previously collected materials.

In their series “Beyond Brooms and Dustpans: Pioneering Women in Cavendish History,” on September 23, 1996, Barbara Kingsbury, author of  Chubb Hill Farm and Cavendish Vermont: A Family and Town History and Sandra Stearns, Cavendish Hillside Farm 1939-1957 gave a talk called “Beyond Cooking and Cleaning.” Focusing on women who worked “beyond housekeeping,” Part I is by Barbara Kingsbury. She not only provides an overview of what life was like for women who helped to settle Cavendish, but she discusses women who worked in the mills, owned businesses as well as those who worked in health care, including three sisters who became doctors.

If you have information you would like to contribute to Cavendish Women’s History, please call (802) 226-7807, e-mail or send to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142

Our title, “Beyond Cooking and Cleaning,” obviously restricts this program to a discussion of Cavendish women who have done something that took them outside the role of housewife. We do not wish, in any way, to belittle the role of housewife. When we read the diaries of some of the women who were early settlers, we are overwhelmed at how much some of these women accomplished-besides cooking and cleaning, they carded and spun wool, knit or wove clothes and bedding-besides making candles and soap, and raising and processing much of the food for the family-in addition to caring for the children. One housewife in her diary mentions that she made 10 pies before breakfast! They were great! Both now and back then; running a household and raising a family takes great management and technical skills, wisdom , and  just plain hard work.

One thing that many of the earliest women settlers did and that some women do today in addition to household chores is actual farm work. It was traditional for women to garden, raise the chickens, and feed the calves-but some did a great deal more than that. In Europe, women were often the “milkmaids.” That was not so common a role for women in Cavendish, but my mother-in-law, Ellen Kingsbury, did the milking in her early married life and Sandra Stearns has done so more recently, and probably several other Cavendish women. Many women have helped with sugaring, but Sandra’s mother, Marjorie Field, was often the one in charge of boiling the sap-a skilled job some men would not relinquish to their wives! Sandra herself was boss sugar maker for Will Atkinson in later years. Many Cavendish women could harness up a team of horses. A farmer’s wife and daughter would often help with the haying or other field jobs if the man was short of help. Sometimes the wife did the bookkeeping as well.

In the villages, women often helped their husbands in their trade. Cornelia Bent assisted her husband, Walker, in job printing, and continued that trade after his death. She is listed as a job printer in Child’s 1883 Gazetteer. [The Gazetteer also lists Bent as “dealer in drugs, medicines, confectionery, etc. Also listed in Gazetteer for that year is Betsey S. Bigelow of Proctorsville, also a widow but working as a dairy farmer.] Martha Kendall is in that Gazetteer list as a milliner or maker of ladies’ hats. Ladies were expected to have sewing or millinery skills. Some were shopkeepers in their own right. Many of you may remember Anna Percy running what is now the Cavendish General Store (1930s and early 40s). In the 1930’s Fanny Bacon and Carrie Spafford had a gift shop on Main St. Many other women ran stores too. The records say that Melvin and Grace Boyce ran the Cavendish Inn (now the Black River Medical Center) from 1928 on for over 25 years. When I talk to people, I always heard, “When Mrs. Boyce managed the inn....” Everyone seems to mention her rather than Mr. Boyce.

But you might say it was natural for a farm housewife to work on the farm where she lived or for a woman in the village to have a little store in her home (usually storekeepers did have their living quarters behind or above the store) or work with her husband in keeping an inn-but women didn’t work much outside their home in the old days. That was probably true in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, by the mid-1800’s, several Cavendish women did work outside their homes in the woolen mills of Cavendish and Proctorsville. This meant a 12 to 14 hour workday, too. After Stearns Gay rebuilt the Cavendish Woolen Mill, with the help of his father and brothers in 1886, more women joined the work force. The early pictures of Gay Bros. Mill workers show only a few women compared to the number of men, but later ones show a much higher percentage of women. Cornelia Bemis was one of the first Cavendish residents to work for Gay Brothers Mill and she worked there for 55 years before she retired in 1940. At one time, she, her daughter, and a grand daughter were all working together at the looms. She started at 10 years of age as a pooler in Fitton’s Mill; she was a young married woman when she started at Gay Brothers.
Gay Brothers Mill in Cavendish

From 1900-1950, many Cavendish wives worked alongside their husbands, and brothers and sisters worked together in the mills....Merton and Muriel Kingsbury (twins) got jobs in the weave room at the same time and Muriel said they were paid the same price for piecework. Whether women were paid the same wages on an hourly basis, I don’t know. Sophie Snarski said she was given as much maternity leave (unpaid of course) as she asked for and always was given her job back-so young married women could keep on working even while they were in the child-bearing years.....

Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania
At the turn of the century, three Cavendish sisters, the daughter of Cyrus and Lydia Lovell of Cavendish Center, all became medical doctors. Lucinda Sarah, the oldest, was born in Boston in 1863 but her family moved to Cavendish when she was a child. She attended Black River Academy in Ludlow, as did her two sisters. She graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1900. [Today part of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.] She is listed in the 1900 census of Cavendish as a physician. She came home to what is now Bud Johnson’s farm in Cavendish Center to help care for her elderly parents. Her father, Cyrus, died in 1915 and her mother in 1926. Her father’s obituary states that she had cared for her father the previous seven years-that would make her living in Cavendish again from 1908 on. A local news items in 1916 says she was raising hogs and had bought a pure-bred boar. She was Town agent during the First World War and school director for a term in the early 1920s. She seems never to have practiced medicine in Cavendish. Muriel Kinsbury and Gertrude knew her well and say loved to visit with the neighbors and was a great story-teller. She died in Cavendish in September 1945 at age 82.

Her next younger sister, Martha. E. Lovell, also attended the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia and graduated in 1899 (a year before her older sister). She spent the rest of her life in Boston, serving 34 years as staff physician for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. [She was listed as the “Examining Physician.”] At that time, she was one of the best known physicians in the field of social work. She died in April, 1940.

We don’t have as much information about the youngest Dr. Lovell, Hattie. We know she was a physician and that she lived in Boston with her sister, Dr. Martha until her death in November, 1933.

Cavendish resident Carolyn Solzhenitsyn, MD is currently a practicing physician in the field of psychiatry. She is the Medical Director at Hanover Psychiatry and a faculty member at The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Solzhenitsyn is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and completed her psychiatry residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Interestingly, Solzhenitsyn attended the medical school that incorporated the medical college the Lovell sisters attended.  Like the Lovell doctors, she is an active member of the community, having served on the Cavendish Fletcher Community Library board as well as the Cavendish Recreation Committee. Most recently, she was one of the driving forces in creating Cavendish Streetscapes, of which she is a committee member.

We recently learned from Phyllis Bont, RNP and her daughter Carole, that Sarah McCarty graduated from the University of VT Medical School and is an internist in Huntington West Va., where Carole’s brother-in-law is also a doctor. McCarty was the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Marshall Medical School “She grew up in the brick haunted house [ [Novak Federalist house that is now owned by Bruce and Betty McEnaney] with her two older brothers Tommy and Denny...She used to faint all of the time during health classes and at the sight of blood,” Carol noted. McCarty went to Duttonsville Elementary School.

During the First World War, Mary Victoria Pollard (Erminie’s older sister) joined the Army, along with her four brothers. She was a dietitian in an Army hospital on Ellis Island until June, 1919. After holding various jobs, she eventually became the Director of the Madera School in Washington, D.C.

In WWII, Imogene Morse Baxendale served in the Army as a nurse. She graduated from the Brattleboro School of Nursing in 1928, and served in the US Army Nurses Corps in the Philippines near the end of the War and in Japan immediately after the war. She was a member of the Wallace-Hoyle-McNulty American Legion Post #4 and the Veteran’s of Foreign War. She worked in several New England hospitals and died at age 84 in 1992.

Doris with her husband, Herb, son of Florence Eddy
Mrs. Florence Eddy, was school nurse in Cavendish from 1947 to 1950. Her daughter-in-law, Doris Eddy, would follow in her mother-in-law’s footsteps and was the school nurse at Cavendish Town Elementary School from 1999 to 2009. Just prior to starting at CTES, Doris was awarded Vermont School Nurse of the Year for her work at Kurn Hattin. Doris is now the Cavendish Town Health Officer and is involved in a number of community projects.

Phyllis Bont  was a member of the University of Vermont’s third graduating class of nurse practitioners (RNP). She worked at the Black River Health Center with her husband Dr. Eugene Bont and eventually was part of the faculty and clinical practice of Albany Medical Center’s Family Medicine program. Read more about Phyllis in the 2018 Cavendish Women You Should Knowseries.

It is interesting to note how few nurses were mentioned by Barbara Kingsbury in her talk in 1996, let alone those who worked in other aspects of health care. More than twenty years later,  there are a number of Cavendish women in the health care professions including physical therapists, nurses, addiction specialists and complementary and alternative medicine practitioners. The Black River Health Center provides office space to several women who offer clinical social work-Mercury Ripley and Deb Harrison-and there a number of female students who are pursuing careers in health care, including several who are pre med majors in college.

Stone Church-Universalist Church
Women have always taken part in church work and religious activities in many ways (such as teaching Sunday School and raising funds with church suppers), but usually the former leaders, the pastors, are men. This was not always the case in Cavendish where women have been church leaders. It is interesting to note that the first recorded woman pastor of any denomination in Vermont was Ruth Damon who pastored the Universalist Church in Cavendish from 1867-69. The Assembly of God Church in Proctorsville was begun by a woman evangelist, Rachel Thibodeau, who preached in a tent set up on Greven Field in 1958. Cavendish Baptist Church has more recently been served by two women for a total of 24 years. Katie MacNeill from 1965-1978 and Greta Down from 1979-1990 were each a very active part of this community. These ladies were not from Cavendish but other preachers were.

When the Cavendish band of the Christian Crusaders was formed in 1894, it was composed of three mean and three women. It was a woman, Alice Hubbard Gay, who was chosen to be the leader of the group. Her husband, Stearns Gay, managed the woolen mill, and was also a member of the band. He was known as a man with very conservative religious views, but he accepted his wife’s leadership. Alice Gay found it difficult to go on out of the town trips a great deal because of her three small children; Leon, Olin and Vernice, and so was not able to continue traveling with the band very long. She then held weekly “cottage meetings” where she preached to a small local group in Cavendish. Lorette Kingsbury thought she was a fine preacher. ..Alice died in September, 1895, at the age of 36 from “quick consumption.”

The first librarians in town were men, with their wives as “assistant librarians.” But that was a job evidently deemed proper for women and it didn’t take too long for women to become librarians, a paying job. Marion White combined that job with her other roles and then Mildred Ward was librarian of the Cavendish branch of Fletcher Community Library for 25 years from 1955 till 1980. The librarian for the Cavendish Fletcher Community Library is Kata Welch. This position was held for many years by Joyce Fuller of Cavendish.

Articles from Previous Years
Overview: Includes Keepers of Cavendish History and “firsts” of Cavendish women