Walking In Their Footsteps: South Shore Women in History

By John Galluzzo

Let’s face facts. For much of the South Shore’s recorded history, women have been treated as second class citizens, expected to take a subordinate role to men in almost all phases of life. Yet, even before women had the right to vote, South Shore women had voices to rally behind. These individuals stood up at town meetings. They owned, edited and published newspapers, broadcasting their opinions to all. They founded some of our most important nonprofit social service, conservation and preservation organizations. In short, these women changed life on the South Shore for good—and their impact is still felt today.

Women of the Mayflower
The Pioneers

Without them, where would we be today? Thirty women and girls uprooted their lives in England to set sail for a new land. They are forever memorialized in Plymouth.

Martha Ware
The Judge

Born in Weymouth in 1917 and raised in Abington, Martha Ware became the first female selectman in Abington (and the first in Plymouth County). She also became the first female judge in Plymouth County.

Hulda Barker Loud
Unabashed Journalist

At a time when women were supposed to stay mum, Hulda Barker Loud not only spoke out, she stood out. In 1884, she became owner and editor of a local paper called the Rockland Independent and wore a bold polka-dot dress to work every day.

Courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Abington

Nina Larrey Duryea
War Relief Hero

Born in Cohasset, Nina Larrey Duryea was a writer, but her legacy comes from her war work. During World War I she formed an organization that aided 70,000 individuals affected by the war in France, where she summered.

Charlotte Bradford
Civil War Nurse

Charlotte Bradford was 48 years old when shots were fired on Fort Sumter. Armed with nursing skills, she left Duxbury to play her part in the war, working alongside the famed Dorothea Dix in Washington, D.C., among other places.

Courtesy of Duxbury Rural and Historical Society

Esther Dill James
The Lifesaver

When her two-year-old fell down a well, Esther Dill James wasted no time. She climbed down into the well, grabbed him and climbed back out. Years later, Esther tragically drowned off Hull Gut, while at the helm of her son Reinier’s boat. Her son Joshua watched the scene from the shore and vowed to become the world’s greatest lifesaver–and he did.

Bernice James DePasquali
Coloratura Soprano

In the early 1900s, Hullonians would gather on Christmas Eve to hear opera singer Bernice James DePasquali sing “Silent Night” in Elm Square. That is, if she wasn’t busy performing with Enrico Caruso at the Met.

Hull Historical Society

Floretta Vining
Fearless and Proud

Owner of the Vining Syndicate of newspapers, Floretta was born in south Scituate (today’s Norwell), summered in Hull, wintered at the Parker House and fought for whatever the South Shore needed. For instance, when she thought the people of Hull needed twice-a-day delivery of mail, she went to Washington D.C. and met with the Postmaster General in person.

Helen Holmes and Emily Drew
Historic Preservation Champions

Helen and Emily knew the value of an old home, beyond its charm. Saving the Major John Bradford House in Kingston, they preserved one of the town’s iconic buildings for all to enjoy through their Jones River Village Historical Society.

Helen Holmes | Courtesy of the Kingston Public Library Local History Room

Hannah Thomas
Keeper of the Light

When her husband died in the Revolutionary War, Hannah Thomas didn’t wait for the next man to come along. She picked up his job at Gurnet Lighthouse in Plymouth and became the first female lighthouse keeper in the United States.

Catherine Elliott Hedge
Flower Girl

A society woman living in a large waterfront home, Catherine Elliott Hedge had an undying passion for wildflowers. She gathered them in her book “Wildflowers of Plymouth and Vicinity”, capturing the beauty of a region on the edge of suburbanization.

Beatrice Roberts
Hollywood Starlet

A New Yorker by birth, Beatrice Roberts spent her last days in Plymouth, but in between she went to Mars. An actor in Hollywood between 1933 and 1946, making 60 films, most notably playing Queen Azura in the “Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars” serial.

Harriet Quimby
First Lady of Flight

An aspiring writer, Harriet Quimby fell in love with aviation during the earliest days of powered flight, becoming the first licensed woman pilot. She fell to her death during a meet in Quincy in 1912.

Courtesy of the Quincy Historical Society

Amelia Earhart
Fearless Flyer

Amelia trained to fly at Dennison’s flying school in Squantum, then soared off to fame. On her first transatlantic flight she flew over the school and waved her wings to her friends below.

Courtesy of the Quincy Historical Society

Emma Tousant
Chief Volunteer Officer

It was always called the Quincy Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), but women were involved from the beginning. Emma Tousant cemented the role of women as leaders in the organization in 1964 by becoming the first female board chair in the United States.

Courtesy of South Shore YMCA

Esther Sanger
A Caring Heart

Esther Sanger started caring for society’s unseen and unserved in 1979 when she opened the Center for Compassion (now named for her), ensuring that everyone had a place to turn to, even when it seemed that most of society had passed them by.

Lee Remick
Academy Award Nominee

Quincy-born Lee Remick took Broadway by storm in the 1950s and Hollywood in the 1960s, with roles in “Anatomy of a Murder,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “The Omen” and many more.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Maria Louise Pool
Loud and Proud

People just didn’t talk about such things in the late 1800s, but Maria Louise Pool was a lesbian and proud of it. A prolific novelist, the Rockland resident wrote 18 books, many depicting the scenery of the South Shore in the 19th century.

Courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Abington

Josephine Hasham
Baseball Star

Brockton’s “Jo” Hasham batted right and threw left, pitching in 179 games for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, from the Muskegon Lassies to the Peoria Redwings to the Battle Creek Belles.

Rebecca and Abigail Bates
The Army of Two

Scituate’s famous Bates sisters led the way for passive resistance with their fife and drum version of Yankee Doodle in 1814, cleverly scaring away the British Navy. Deny their story if you like, but never tell a Scituate resident it didn’t happen.

Inez Haynes Gilmore (Irwin)
The Feminist Writer

Born in Brazil, Inez married writer Will Irwin and together they summered in Scituate. When her husband died in 1948, Inez moved there permanently. She wrote more than 30 novels, but it was one of her nonfiction titles, “Angels and Amazons: A Hundred Years of American Women” (1933), that probably defined her passions best.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Doris Hauman
Illustrator with Impact

Writer and illustrator Doris Hauman worked together with her husband, George, to create the drawings for fellow Scituate summer resident Watty Piper’s picture book “The Little Engine That Could,” one of the finest feminist children’s books ever written.

May Futrelle
Titanic Survivor

Scituate resident May Futrelle last saw her husband, mystery writer Jacques Futrelle, smoking on the deck of the Titanic as he willed her to safety, before meeting his untimely demise when the ship sank. May tossed a wreath on the water every year on the anniversary of his death, and finished her husband’s unfinished work “My Lady’s Garter,” published posthumously in 1912, adding a touching tribute: “To the heroes of the Titanic, I dedicate this, my husband’s book.”

Ruth Gordon
From Stage to Screen

Quincy’s Ruth Gordon, the daughter of a sea captain, had to do some convincing to work her way into the theater, but she did, and ended up acting in some silent films before making it big on the stage. Late in life, she became a movie star in films like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Harold and Maude.”

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

(The Other) Ruth Gordon
Newspaper Editor

Ruth and Herb Gordon bought the Hull Times during the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression. When World War II dawned and Herb was called off to fight, Ruth took over the newspaper, listing herself as editor “for the duration,” keeping the ship afloat until Herb came marching home.

Harriet Hemenway
Nature’s Advocate

By 1896, the millinery market was out of control. Birds were being slaughtered by the thousands for their feathers, all to decorate women’s hats. Harriet Hemenway, from Canton, joined her cousin Minna Hall to form an agency to protect them: The Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Courtesy of Mass Audubon

Mildred Morse Allen
Artist and Activist

Heiress to not one but two fortunes, Mildred Morse Allen spent her days in Canton doing whatever she wished. She studied and painted birds and then took up photography and film. She left it all—land and house included­–to what eventually became Mass Audubon’s Museum of American Bird Art.

Courtesy of Mass Audubon

Sarah Derby
Education for All

From humble roots, Sarah Derby was a forward thinker who rose to become one of the South Shore’s most beloved figures and the founder of Derby Academy in Hingham, the first school in the United States to admit both boys and girls.

Deborah Sampson
Patriotic Heroine

At a time when it was considered unseemly for a woman to fight, Deborah Sampson, who was born in Plympton, disguised herself as a man so that she could serve in the Continental Army. She fought in the Revolutionary War alongside her male companions in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment for two and a half years before falling ill, which led to the discovery of her secret. Honorably discharged, she was known for demonstrating military drilling techniques, dispelling notions that she had fabricated her tale.

Ruth Wakefield
Cookie Creator

Ruth Wakefield operated the popular Toll House restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts, from 1930 to 1967. She famously traded a recipe for Toll House cookies to Andre Nestle in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate chips, and went down in history as one of the shrewdest businesswomen of the South Shore.

Abigail Adams
The First Second Lady

Born to a prominent family in Weymouth, Abigail Adams was the wife of the second President of the United States, John Adams, and the mother of the sixth, President John Quincy Adams. One of the most respected and influential women of the early revolutionary period of American history and an early advocate for women’s rights, she famously wrote to her husband on March 31, 1776, advising him and other members of the Continental Congress to “remember the ladies” as they drew up the country’s new laws.

Mary Weston Chapman
The Abolitionist

With Boston as the hub of the antislavery movement in America, Mary Weston Chapman, born in Weymouth, took hold of the opportunity to push for abolitionism. She spent three decades fighting slavery overseas and at home through her editorship of journal The Non-Resistant, and by serving on the Executive Council of the American Anti-Slavery Council.

Mary Jeanette Murray
Fighting for Our Rights

Elected a Cohasset selectman in 1969, Mary Jeanette Murray took her political act to Beacon Hill in 1976. She retired from politics in 2000 after sponsoring legislation that extended drunk driving laws to boats, among many other bills.

Courtesy of the Cohasset Historical Society

Adelaide Phillips
Celebrated Songstress

Marshfield welcomed British-born Adelaide Phillips with open arms. One of the most popular opera singers of her time, she toured the world, but to Marshfield residents she was a dear friend and neighbor, often hosting parties at her estate.

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