The Farm Hills Civic Society

Individually we are ineffective, united we achieve results.

While researching my neighborhood around Peter Hobart Drive, I noticed that information about its history was limited in comparison to other parts of town. The road connects to upper Gardner Street, an area whose history extends to the early days of Hingham’s establishment. Various smaller streets branch off and create an entanglement of roads that forms our neighborhood community. My street was named after the Reverend Peter Hobart, one of the original settlers of Hingham and a pastor of the Town’s first church. However, the life of this neighborhood only stretches back to the early twentieth century, far later than the time period when Hobart lived.

The chicken barn that started the neighborhood c. 1963

Development began in 1938 with a chicken barn hiding behind an old bucket factory, and the rest of the houses were constructed throughout the fifties and sixties. To my dismay, much of Hingham’s historical research does not extend beyond World War II but rather focuses on the original era of English settlement. Although newly developed areas of town were not involved in Hingham’s establishment, they illustrate the pathway of change taken throughout Hingham’s existence.

The neighborhoods of upper Gardner Street have contributed greatly to the town’s politics and communal activities for the past few decades. The concern that initially brought the Farm Hills Civic Society together involved a proposal to extend Route 3 into the upper Gardner area. Residents worried that adding a busy highway in the middle of the neighborhood would  negatively affect the area’s character and interfere with the neighborhood’s tranquil and hospitable personality. In collective agreement that this proposal would create a great disturbance, residents collaborated to prevent the extension from being constructed.

Writing articles and calling meetings to present their views to others, the group achieved success in preventing the extension. This communal organization endures, still presenting their collective ideas for improvements to the neighborhood while fighting against town proposals that would threaten the area’s character.

Throughout the organization’s life, it has accomplished a variety of goals, both small and large. Creating a sense of community has been a principal goal of the Farm Hills Civic Society since it first began. One manner of accomplishing this has been hosting social events, such as annual Easter egg hunts and block parties. Involving neighbors in enjoyable communal activities enhanced the feeling of togetherness necessary for the FHCS to continue working for the benefit of the community as a whole. These events often catered to child residents, indicating the group’s desire to create a positive environment for families to raise their children.

According to an early resident of Peter Hobart Drive, Mary Thomas, many families moved from the Boston area to suburban towns, considered the “countryside” in the fifties, to enjoy the improved school systems, and today the neighborhood remains home to many families with young children. Consequently, many of the FHCS’s smaller goals centered on maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for children to grow up in. In the late seventies, the association prevented Pilgrim Arena from gaining a liquor license. This popular ice rink is often frequented by children for its exceptional activities and sports practices, and allowing such an establishment to sell liquor seemed inappropriate to the FHCS. The group also advocated for the preservation of safety in areas within the neighborhood where children often played. The same year as the ice rink victory, the society prevented an access road from being constructed through Kress Field. This plot was donated to the town to allow for a children’s playground to be built, and today it is a beloved part of the neighborhood’s child-friendly environment. In the early 2000s, they petitioned for the installation of a four-way stop at the intersection of Gardner Street, Winfield Lane, and Farm Hills Lane in order to preserve safety for families living near this area.

A 1969 newspaper article by Debra K. Piot in which the Thomas’s explain that they bought their home “looking for family roots in Hingham”

Just a few years after the FHCS was first incorporated, it faced a significant concern presented by the town government. The town provided the Selectman with permission to determine the relocation process of Route 228 with state officials. The six-lane highway would have cut through the Gardner Street neighborhoods, polluting the water supply with oil and salts while removing up to eighty-five homes around Farms Hills. To avoid the devastation this relocation would have caused, the FHCS united to defeat the proposal, which had been presented two separate times.

Gardner Street in a snow storm c. 1898

One of the Farm Hills Civic Society’s most notable accomplishments occurred between the years 1999 and 2000. A real estate company known as Mills Corporation of VA proposed a plan to construct a mega-mall where the South Weymouth Naval Air Station was once located. The development would have needed a connector road to be structured through the neighborhood, causing endless traffic on the surrounding streets. When the residents of the Farm Hills Area learned of this proposal, local town and state officials were already finalizing negotiations, explaining to the FHCS that the project was a “done deal.” However, neighbors rallied together, publishing newspaper articles to educate fellow townspeople about the issues this connector road would cause. With the tide turning in their favor, the FHCS called a town meeting, demonstrating the community support that their efforts had garnered and disrupting the supposedly “already decided” project.

The FHCS has seen incredibly dedicated presidents and members over the years. Notably, Stephen Kelsch served as president during the eighties, and members of his community remember and admire his efforts. He focused much of his attention on the effects of development in the South Hingham area, and current residents appreciate the enduring accomplishments he allowed the FHCS to achieve. Kelsch, sadly, passed in 2013, but his impact on the town’s politics remains apparent. Alongside the FHCS, he involved himself in multiple town committees and historical associations, including the Hingham Historical Society.

Current resident of Farm Hills Lane, Judy Kelley, has been an active member of the FHCS for many years. Her efforts in vocalizing the ideas and opinions of the FHCS have tremendously aided the accomplishment of many of the neighborhood’s goals. One significant issue that she helped the neighborhood overcome was the impending development of a substantial apartment complex near the upper Gardner area. Between the years 2011 and 2013, a development company known as AvalonBay planned to replace 18.5 acres of wooded area on Recreation Park Drive with an apartment complex comprised of sixteen buildings and one hundred seventy-seven individual apartments. This location was chosen to avoid specific town zoning regulations that inhibit crowded population densities. The construction of these apartments would have also required an access road leading into the neighborhood from Deerfield Road. This development would have resulted in multiple four-story housing complexes squeezing uncomfortably into the small streets of upper Gardner, inevitably increasing congestion on nearby roads and highways. Judy Kelley explained in an interview with Jeff Keating from WGBH News that the development would not have been accepted if the size of the land and the community were taken into greater consideration. Ultimately, with the help of the FHCS, the town selectmen passed a proposal to utilize the land for further development of the South Shore Industrial Park.

Gardner Street (with stone walls and chickens), c. 1900

Documents describing the accomplishments of the FHCS express: “Individually we are ineffective, united we achieve results.” This statement perfectly depicts the organization’s dedication to creating a supportive community and advocating for the best interests of the entire neighborhood. The community still remains politically active, with residents involved in various aspects of the town’s government, and the Farm Hills Civic Society continues to advocate for the good of the neighborhood under the current president, Ted Healy, who has served since 2014. Former residents believe that the group is more dynamic now than ever before due to dedicated leadership over the years.

The author, Ella Kennedy, is a member of the Hingham High School Class of 2022.  She participate in the Hingham Historical Society’s high school intern program during the fall term 2021.    

To My Children

After recuperating from a wound suffered during the Saratoga Campaign at his home in Hingham, Massachusetts, Major General  Benjamin Lincoln of the Continental Army was well enough to rejoin George Washington in New York in early August 1778.  Although he did not yet know it, he would be given the command of the Southern Division of the Continental Army in September 1778.  He would not be home again for any period of time for five years.

When General Lincoln left Hingham, his wife Mary was recovering from smallpox.  His eldest son, Benjamin, Jr., was 22 and away from home, studying the law.  Six children were at home:  Molly, 20; Elizabeth, 19; Sarah, 17; Theodore, 15; Martin, 9; and Hannah, 5.  Molly, the oldest daughter, who is referenced in this letter, was intellectually disabled and lived with her parents throughout her adult life.

On July 28, 1778, en route to New York, the General penned this letter to his children:

My Children:

The ill health of some of you, joined to my great hurry, prevented my making some general observations to you relative to your future conduct before I left home—some of which are of the greatest importance.

In the first place you will never forget your God—the duty you owe to him as your creator, preserver and best benefactor.   The duty you owe to your neighbor and to your selves you will learn from divine revelation, which you will attentively study, and the example of our dear redeemer.

I must mention to you the peculiar state of your mother whose cares and burdens are greatly increased by my absence. I need not urge; I am sure your own feelings will always suggest to you the propriety of your lessening her cares, lightening her burden, and treating her with every mark of tenderness, duty. and respect.  Never wound her by doing a wrong action. You may safely confide in her advice.

I must in the next place recommend to your constant notice your sister Molly. Consider who made you to differ.  You owe her every attention.  Make her life as happy as in your power. Some are made strong to bear the infirmities of the weak.

You will love each other.  Those of you who are grown up will counsel those who are not. Never set an ill example before the little ones.  Encourage them to every act of goodness, charity, and benevolence by precept and example.

As our happiness is connected with the happiness of those about you, always watch over yourselves; let your deportment at all times be such, if possible, that even the malicious shall be constrained to acknowledge its fitness.

I am in haste, must close ,but cannot do it without saying again remember your God, love your fellow creatures, injure no person.

I am, with every wish for your present and future happiness, your affectionate father,

B. Lincoln

 

Schooner Lizzie C. Lane

Schooner Lizzie C. Lane

Howard Leavitt Horton (1904-1983) extensively annotated the back of this photograph of a three-masted schooner tied up at Hingham Harbor over one hundred years ago, melding an image, a business transaction, and a cherished childhood memory.

Schooner Lizzie C. Lane . . . Built at Searsport, Maine 1874. Burned at West Dublin Bay, Nova Scotia, June 3, 1921. 231 gross tons.  115.8’ x 29.8  x 9.2.  Crew of 5.

Called at Hingham – Geo Kimball Lumber Co. about 1914 or 15 as arranged by James Wiley Gilroy, lumber merchant and nephew of my grandmother Annie Eaton Horton of Elm Street (Mrs. Geo. W. Horton), my grandfather’s second wife, who was like a mother to me after my mother’s death in 1911.  I sat in Geo. Kimball’s office at the Harbor while Mr. Kimball and Mr. Gilroy made the business deal for a load of lumber shipped from Lunenberg, N.S.  I saw the schooner come into Hingham a couple of months later and dock at Kimball’s Wharf and went aboard. Mr. Hough, uncle of Karl Hough, was an employee of Kimball Lumber Co. at this time.

[Signed] Howard Leavitt Horton, Sr.

P.S. This was before World War I or before U.S.A. was involved.  I was in Lincoln School, 6th grade, so it was around 1914.

Fearing Burr’s Christmas

Fearing Burr of Hingham kept a journal from 1840, when he was 25 years old, until his death in 1897. We are fortunate to have all fifteen volumes in our archives.  Burr recorded his day-to-day observations about the weather; town and church affairs; his mercantile pursuits, which included the shop in Centre Hingham which he ran with his brother ; and the horticultural interests for which he is remembered.

In an entry penned on Christmas Eve, 1872, this life-long bachelor wrote about Christmas gift-giving, noting how customs had changed since he was young.  Indeed, these were the years when the Christmas holiday began to take the shape we know today!

Burr wrote:

Was very busy in the sale of gifts for the holidays – it’s an illustration of the great change that has gradually taken place since Peter and I first began to sell goods. We are satisfied that the sale of confectionaries for one week of 1872 was very largely in excess of the gross sales of this article for one year from 1825 to 1830 and after. My brother affirms that some of his young patrons in this line expend one dollar per week. The change in the quantity and costly character of gifts of other descriptions is scarcely less noticeable.  I recall the days of my early boyhood when my holiday gifts were summed up in three or four copper cents – presents which so far from creating any feelings of dissatisfaction were regarded as truly munificent. Today it is by no means rare that a parent who is wholly dependent on his daily labor invests in toys or articles for amusement, from one dollar upwards, for each of the little ones comprising his family.  The change in the general distribution and enjoyment of the more important articles of human comfort and luxury is almost equally great.

Hingham’s Tercentenary Pageant

 

Pageant Title PageHingham pulled out all the stops in preparation for its 300th anniversary celebration. Twelve hundred of the Town’s residents participated in a three-plus hour historical pageant, which was performed before 2,000 attendees on the evenings of June 27, 28, and 29, 1935.  In the midst of the Great Depression, the Town appropriated an astonishing $14,000 for its tercentenary observance, which was written and directed by Percy Jewett Burrell, a well-known producer of such extravangas. Reunions of Hingham’s oldest families were held, the Boy Scouts gave tours of Town buildings, and the Hingham Historical Society put on a special Historic House Tour to mark the occasion.

Pageant Site“The Pageant of Hingham” was performed on a sprawling outdoor set at what was then called Huit’s Cove (current site of the Shipyard development) and comprised ten “episodes,” interspersed with music and dance.  The episodes portrayed key moments in Hingham’s history, including the “landing” at Bare Cove, the Rev. Peter Hobart’s dispute with Gov. John Winthrop, an early Town Meeting, receipt of the Town Deed from the Wampanoag, the erection of Old Ship Church, a Colonial “husking” bee, the Battle of Grape Island, Madam Derby’s bequest to found Derby Academy, the ordination of the Rev. Henry Ware, and the Civil War.

We were recently fortunate enough to receive the donation of a costume that a 12-year old Hingham boy wore as a pageant participant: breeches, jacket, hat, and shoe buckles.  Who would have imagined that the costumes were this brightly colored?  Certainly the black and white photographs of the Pageant that we have posted elsewhere provide no hint.

Pageant Costume

The boy who wore this costume, Malcolm Newell, scored a speaking role in the “husking” scene—that of Abner Loring (1742-1789), a 13-year old Hingham boy. According to the Pageant Program, this scene was set on Theophilus Cushing’s farm in South Hingham, “midsummer 1757,” and celebrated peace and prosperity in mid-18th century Hingham:

Here, there is peace, as onward Hingham moves. What was in early days a wilderness is now a fruitful place. The hills, the plains, the streams, and vales lie quiet . . . .  It is a mid-century year—an August month, and beautiful is the harvest . . . .

Husking CroppedYoung Newell and Herbert Cole, another Hingham boy also cast as an 18th century Hingham boy (Perez Cushing, 1746-1794), called out the names of the guests arriving at the Cushing farm.  An example of their lines, taken from the Pageant Program:

Perez Cushing (shouting): “Here they come from Scituate! The Jacobs, Farrars, Curtises, and Faunces!

Abner Loring (shouting): “And the Gannets, Fosters, and Manns.  And see! Hanover’s a-comin’, too!”

It must have been a memorable several evenings for a school-age boy to have performed in this Pageant before the Town and many visitors.  The addition of this purple Pageant costume to our collection makes it all seem a little more real to us today.

Hingham Tercentenary Pageant Scrapbook

Ebenezer Gay, another young Hingham participant, with his mother, in costume for the Tercentenary Pageant.

 

High-Wheelers in Hingham

These seven Hingham boys posed with three bicycles are witnessing the birth of modern cycling. Behind them are two older bicycles—so-called “high wheelers” or “penny farthings” (the latter nickname descriptive of the relative sizes of the two wheels). High-wheelers originated in England and became popular in the United States in the early 1880s. As this photo lets us see clearly, these early bicycles had a “direct drive” mechanism, that is, the pedals attach directly to the wheel, so that the cyclist’s motion turns the wheel directly. Enlarging the front wheel, therefore, was the only way to make the bicycles go faster–and this is what happened. Front wheels often five feet in diameter, with the cyclist perched directly over the wheel, meant an increased risk of the cyclist pitching headfirst from the front of his bike. Cycling in the era of the high wheelers was a sport for athletic young men.

By the early 1890s, however, “safety bicycles”—like the one lying on the ground in front of the boys—had been introduced and quickly grown in popularity. With two wheels of equal size and pedals connected to a chain that propelled the rear wheel, this direct ancestor of our modern bicycles had a lower center of gravity and was easier to ride. With these technological advances—and the pneumatic tires which smoothed out the ride, bicycling became a very popular past time, with men, women, and children all participating.

Derby Day, Then and Now

Old Derby Academy, see from the North.  Postcard collection at the Hingham historical Society

Old Derby Academy.  (Hingham Historical Society)

Hingham residents know to watch for the early June procession through Hingham Square that kicks off Derby Academy’s graduation ceremonies. Boys in chapel dress and girls in white dresses march from the current Derby campus on Burditt Avenue down Fearing Road to New North Church, where the day’s ceremonies are conducted.  This tradition is almost as old as the Academy itself. Ever since the New North meetinghouse was erected in 1806, at least part of Derby’s end-of-year ceremonies have taken place in it.

Of course, the walk wasn’t always so long: when Old Derby Academy was the schoolhouse (from 1818 until the 1960s), the procession started on Main Street in Hingham Square.

New North Church, Hingham

New North Church. (Hingham Historical Society) 

A Hingham Journal article from 1861 describes what was the “annual exhibition” held partly in New North and partly in Loring Hall. In those days, the focus was not on the graduating class but rather on the progress made by the student body as a whole. “Scholars” of all grades demonstrated the fruits of a year’s hard work by presenting dialogues, original oratory, dramatic performances, and, of course, music. A needlework display in the basement of Loring Hall showcased the girls’ handiwork.  Exhibition programs from the 1833 and 1892 exhibitions, reproduced at the bottom of this post, differ in detail but not in overall conception or scope.

Loring Hall, Main Street, HIngham.   From the photograph collection at the HIngham Historical Society

Loring Hall. (Hingham Historical Society)

The Journal described the 1861 Derby Exhibition as “one of the most agreeable [days] of the season,” and it was truly a major social event. Derby Academy was Hingham’s only secondary school for much of the 19th century, and it continued to dominate our educational landscape for years afterward. The exhibition day was not just a chance for parents to see what their children had learned or for the oldest scholars to say goodbye in style: it was an opportunity for the entire community to come out, celebrate the onset of summer, hear a few interesting lectures, and listen to some good music.

Did the ’61 Journal have any complaints? “If we were disposed to criticize,” it remarked, “the speaking would have been more effective had it been less rapid.” However, “the music was excellent, the hall packed to the utmost,” and we can catch a modern-day echo of the buzz and bustle of this celebration when the Derby students make their way through the Square next week.

Derby Exhibition 1

Order of Exercises, Derby Academy Exhibition, May 22, 1833. (Hingham Historical Society)

Order of Exercises, Derby Exhibition, 1892  (Hingham Historical Society)

Order of Exercises, Derby Exhibition, 1892 (Hingham Historical Society)

Our Autograph Albums

Autograph albums were all the rage in mid-19th century America—and Hingham was no exception.  We have a collection of the small books in which Hingham boys and girls exchanged signatures, messages, and verse during the 1860s and 1870s.  The albums themselves came in all shapes and sizes–the boys’ albums more conservative  and the girls’ more elaborate, with illustrations, decorations, and fanciful covers.  Willie Leavitt’s album was compact and business-like,

Willie Leavitt's Autograph Album

Willie Leavitt’s Autograph Album

but the photograph below does not do justice to Minnie F. Burr’s autograph album, which was covered with deep-pile, chartreuse green velvet with the word “Album” inlaid in shiny celluloid letters.

Minnie F. Burr’s Autograph Album

Some boys and girls (mostly boys) simply signed their names in their friends’ albums but many penned a few lines of poetry or prose.  As would later be the case with high school yearbook inscriptions, there must have been some pressure to write memorably, and to meet this need, collections of autograph album inscriptions were published.  The Album Writer’s Friend, a copy of which is in our archives, helpfully asked,

Who among the readers of this preface has not been invited to write a few words of sentiment in the Albums of a friend? As an aid to the many thousands who have received this invitation and have not known what to write, we offer this collection of choice verse and prose . . . embracing sentiment, affection, humor, and miscellany . . . .

Its offerings ranged from the florid–

Our lives are albums, written through
With good or ill—with false or true—
And, as the blessed angels turn The pages of our years,
God grant they read the good with smiles
And blot the bad with tears

to the light-hearted–

In the storms of life
When you need an umbrella
May you have to uphold it
A handsome young fellow

The young people of Hingham did not appear to have needed much help, and the entries they made in their friends’ albums sound original and genuine, whether penned in verse (like Maud Cushing’s entry in Lizzie Hersey’s album, April 8, 1876),

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Lizzie Hersey’s Autograph Album

or with a touch of sophistication (like Eliza Cushing’s perfect French in Hattie Cushing’s album, August 14, 1863).

"Pensez a moi, ma chere amie"

“Pensez a moi, ma chere amie” — Hattie Cushing’s Autograph Album

Otis Remington’s humor, penned in Minnie Burr’s album on April 23, 1879, is corny but funnier than The Album Writer’s “humorous” suggestions:

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And inside jokes must have been as prevalent then as they are now:  who knows what Frank Pollard meant by this vaguely ominous note made on April 4, 1872 in Willie Leavitt’s album?

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These Hingham young people left often-endearing reminders of their daily life and friendships in their autograph albums.  They never imagined that their schoolroom would become an historical society’s archives or that these notes exchanged among themselves would survive as “artifacts.”

Lydia Sprague: Young Artist and Scholar (Part 2)

[Second part of a post about young Lydia Sprague, an artistic girl in 1840s Hingham]

Lydia attended school in the large upstairs room at Old Derby that we know today as the “ballroom.” The room was divided in two, with girls in the southeast half and boys in the northwest half. Up to 30 North Parish girls, age 9 or over, could attend the Academy. As a Hingham resident, Lydia’s minimal tuition included supplying her share of firewood during winter for the one stove in the room.

Girls were taught writing, English, French, arithmetic, geography, and needlework, a traditional skill for schoolgirls who demonstrated their proficiency by embroidering samplers.  Our prior post featured examples of Lydia’s penmanship exercises and maps; if any of her needlework survives, it did not come to us.

Drawing was also a desirable skill for young ladies and one at which Lydia Sprague clearly excelled. Her sketchbooks date from 1844 through 1846, beginning when she was 12 years old. They contain numerous landscape vignettes with figures and cottages, charming and detailed and derivative of engraved illustrations she may have seen in local gazettes, copies of European paintings or popular Currier and Ives prints. Copying such images was a common way for a motivated student to develop drawing skills.

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Some sketches in her books appear to be imaginary scenes–

IMG_3214 –but others appear to have been influenced by direct observation. Many landscapes include a bay-shaped expanse of water that suggests Hingham Harbor.

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Other than her school work and drawings, we know little about Lydia Sprague’s life. She grew up in Hingham Center, married young, and had no children. In all likelihood, she set aside her artistic ambitions when the demands of married life shifted her priorities. Similarly, the story of her sketchbooks before they came into the Society’s collection is also a mystery. Lydia’s survive today in very good condition, perhaps treasured and protected for decades by a doting niece or nephew before finding their way into our collection.

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Lydia Sprague: Young Artist and Scholar (Part 1)

IMG_3205Our archives contain a partial school record of an artistic young Hingham scholar.  Her name was Lydia Sprague, and she attended Derby Academy from 1844, when she was 12, through 1846. Her sketchbook, hand-drawn maps, copybook, and other school work provide a glimpse into schoolwork at Derby Academy in the mid-19th century and reveal a schoolgirl’s love of drawing and a desire to excel by attention to detail.

Lydia’s small sketches of possibly local scenes, landscapes, and figures engaged in play and daily life suggest a family talent shared with the more famous Hingham artist Isaac Sprague. Isaac Sprague, an older second cousin, was born in 1811. Like Lydia, he was the son of a box-cooper and grew up in Hingham Center. It is likely that Lydia knew and looked up to her cousin Isaac.

Isaac Sprague was a self-taught artist and naturalist who met early success when he accompanied John Jay Audubon on the 1843 expedition up the Missouri River that led to Audobon’s famous portfolio, “Quadrupeds of North America.” An obituary of Isaac Sprague quoted him as saying, on the subject of his training, “I always had a fondness of making pictures and made small drawings at school.”

IMG_3216Young Lydia Sprague also made “small drawings at school,” and we have in our collection three of her pencil sketchbooks, highly detailed maps of American states and territories, and a copy book of exquisite penmanship. This fascinating legacy conveys her individual achievement as a diligent student and young artist.

The repetitive penmanship exercises of moral phrases and the exhaustive information included on her maps provide a glimpse of Derby Academy’s high expectations both of virtuous behavior and proficiency in these areas of study.

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Before the advent of universal public primary and secondary education, most children who received a good education had affluent parents who could pay for it. Lydia was the daughter of a box-cooper and born in 1832, when most Hingham girls of her class were taught only enough reading, writing, and arithmetic and needlework to prepare them for their lives as the wives or tradesmen, mariners, and artisans. IMG_3198She had the good fortune to have been raised by parents who valued education and who enrolled her for a few years at Derby Academy. This progressive school, the first in New England to offer a rigorous education to girls, was founded shortly after the Revolution and perhaps reflected a new republication concern that women be prepared to raise knowledgeable and patriotic citizens.

–To be continued