Springfield History Museum News

Exhibit Celebrates Springfield Women through History

Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History

February 17, 2011

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of Women’s History Month in March and the 375th anniversary of the founding of the city of Springfield, the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History will present the exhibition Women’s Work: The Untold Story from March 1 through September 25. The exhibition was developed with the assistance of guest curator Frances Gagnon.

Women’s Work: The Untold Story describes the challenges and accomplishments of a dozen Springfield women from Springfield’s past. From the daughter of Springfield’s 17th-century founder to a 20th-century entrepreneur, these women are representative of many others who labored, often without recognition or compensation, to enhance life in the city.

They include Mary Parsons who suffered a mental breakdown after the death of her children and was accused of witchcraft in 1651, 40 years before the Salem witch trials. Parsons was later acquitted and but died in prison.

Rachel Capen Merriam helped launch the Children’s Study Home in 1865 and was elected its founding president at a time when women seldom headed organizations.

Lucy Walker Mallary, widow of the president of American International College, devoted her life to assisting thousands of immigrants with issues such as housing, employment, health care, and citizenship in the early 20th century.

As a 17th-century widow who never remarried, Margaret Bliss was permitted to retain legal control over her property and family and became a skillful business woman, dealing in real estate and becoming involved in political affairs.

Jenny Cumfrey was a former slave who escaped to Springfield from New York in the early 1800s. When her former owner came to claim her several years later, many of Springfield’s most prominent citizens contributed to raise the $100 needed to purchase her freedom. Thus, more than 20 years before abolitionism became a major movement, Springfield residents were already taking steps to oppose slavery.

The widely acclaimed Springfield artist Harriet Randall Lumis helped to establish the Springfield Art League in 1918 and later helped form the Academic Artists Association to promote exhibitions of realistic works of art in Springfield’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Julia Buxton, along with her mother, created a line of leather goods and rose to positions of prominence in the Springfield business, philanthropic, and civic community. The South End Bridge is named in her honor.

The other notable women featured in the exhibition are Lucy Bugbee Carew, a prominent Springfield resident who presided over a large family and large property holdings until her death at age 90; Mary Ames, who with a friend spent a year on an Island off the Carolina coast assisting a community of 10,000 newly-freed African Americans; political activist Emma Brigham who became Springfield’s first female City Councilor; Mary Holyoke, daughter of Springfield’s founder William Pynchon, an example of the courageous Colonial women who accompanied their fathers, husbands and brothers to the wilderness and helped lay the foundation for today’s cities and towns; and Catherine Howard, who, with her sisters, founded the Howard School for Girls where young ladies studied math and science, subjects usually reserved for boys.

Women's History Month highlights contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. The event traces its beginnings to the first International Women's Day in 1911.      

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