The Gershom Bradford House is an easy museum to miss, which is surprising since it faces Route 3A. It served its purpose well for decades, interpreting the daily life of the South Shore through time, but now, compelled by stirring stories about the lives of the house’s ancient inhabitants, the Duxbury museum has been reborn as a monument to 19th century women’s history. A visitor walking through the historic home will meet Transcendentalists, witness the ravages of aging in the 1800s, see a prototype invalid bed and a homemade wheelchair, and consider how one of the rooms on the first floor has not been painted since the house was built in 1808.
The house is a simple Federal-style home, with four main rooms, anchored by a central door and balanced symmetrically by even numbers of windows on either side (with a later addition). Sarah Hickling Bradford had no choice but to lead the construction of the house while her husband Gershom, a sailor, was held captive by the French, with whom he occasionally skirmished on the high seas.
Lucia Bradford also served as a Civil War nurse and helped cement the family legacy at the Gershom Bradford House. In a time when women were far from equal citizens in American society, unable to vote and expected to leave the work of politics and therefore policy setting to men, the Bradford women held autonomy in their own home long after the death of Gershom in 1844.
Elizabeth Bradford followed the finer, soul-filling pursuits of life. An excellent watercolorist, she also dabbled in amateur botany. The Bradford family decedents turned the home over to the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society in 1968.
The star of the Gershom Bradford House is Charlotte, one of the four daughters of Sarah and Gershom. A Civil War nurse, she is one of Duxbury’s greatest historical figures. She was an understudy of Dorothea Dix and the matron for the Home for Wives and Mothers under the United States Sanitary Commission.
The Bradford women embodied the many social causes of the 19th century. Their belief in the temperance movement reached all the way to medicine; rather than use alcohol-based remedies, they sought alternatives. Maria, an educator, married the Reverend Claudius Bradford, an abolitionist minister who helped to erase the scourge of slavery.