Daily Archives: December 19, 2020

The Disposition of a Directress

Well I have to admit that I’m feeling pleased with myself this week as I have finished a challenging on-line semester of four courses while writing a book, my blog has reached its 10th anniversary, and I’m wrapping up my #SalemSuffrage Saturdays! Pardon my boasting, but sometimes you must indulge yourself. I’m really proud of the blog: I think that there is a lot here; I’ve certainly learned a lot while writing it, and that was my primary reason for starting it in the first place. Salem’s history is so deep; I don’t know if anyone can really scratch the bottom, and it is also wide-ranging, consisting of much, much more than the Witch Trials and the China Trade. Certainly this year’s focus on women’s lives has underscored that point, with its artists and authors, abolitionists and suffragists, physicians and shopkeepers, students and teachers. It’s been a bit challenging trying to draw out the details of some of these women’s lives in this particular year, but I’ve learned to be creative as Salem’s primary historical repository has been out-of-town and off-line for most of this blog’s life. Nevertheless there are holes and gaps and lots of work to be done to put together a cohesive and comprehensive history of Salem women’s lives. Before I end this year’s deep dive, I wanted to offer up something about women’s charitable roles in Salem: this is a topic with great continuity, as Salem women continue to be extremely active in charitable institutions, some of which are still extant after decades, or as in the case of the Salem Female Charitable Society, centuries. This is also a HUGE topic: the roles which Salem women played in institutions such as the Salem Children’s Friend Society, the Seaman’s Widows and Orphan Association, the Woman’s Friend Society (still with us), and the Salem Woman’s Club, just to name a few, were a really important part of civic life in Salem. For the most part, it’s only possible to write about this form of women’s work on very general terms, but we can get a bit more personal about the founder of Salem’s first woman’s charity, the Salem Female Charitable Society (SFCS), because of the remarkable obituary written by her friend, Mrs. James King. I’ve NEVER read so long an obituary of a woman in this era, much less written by a woman. Lucretia Ward Osgood must have been an extraordinary woman.

I love this, particularly the line she had the happy faculty, while she derived pleasure from the company and converse of others, to make them unusually pleased with her, and happy in themselves. Who doesn’t want that faculty? Yes, she was a good mother and Christian but we get some insights into her personality as well, which was obviously charming. These antebellum charitable societies get criticized later on for not lifting the poor up very far—essentially for training servants—but this is not the time nor the place to get into that. Lucretia and her fellow society ladies put themselves out there, got organized, dispensed charity, and impressed contemporaries like the Reverend Thomas Barnard, who spoke at their first anniversary in 1803: Ye, my female friends, feel her Spirit! In all the forms of society ye make your publick appearance: With your Directresses, Managers, and Members: With your Governess, and the Children of your affectionate charge! When ye first formed, I will confess to you, I, with many others whose judgement I respected, felt averse to your society. We thought Charity might be better ordered. But upon a deliberate view of your Constitution, I change my opinion. In the following year, the Salem Female Charitable Society was formally incorporated by Massachusetts law, and it remains so.

 


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