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 

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