By Dyke Hendrickson, Outreach Historian at the Custom House Maritime Museum
Newburyport has had strong, capable women since its inception in 1764, but their greatness is not easily documented because most are not mentioned in seafaring-history books.
With the exception of several wives of captains, they generally did not go to sea.
This illustration, a well-known fixture in Gloucester, represents the travail – and added responsibility – that women experienced when seafaring men were lost.
Because many men disappeared, one of their strongest attributes was coping.
Hundreds of husbands, brothers and fathers never came back to port, and countless numbers of women had to prevail after their breadwinners were gone.
In the mid-19th century, for instance, a fast-moving storm known as the Yankee Gale was responsible for the loss of 92 fishing vessels from the North Shore.
Twenty-four boats from Newburyport were gone, meaning that dozens of men never came back.
That said, the names of two women that resonate today are Anna Jaques, whose generosity marked the beginning of Anna Jaques Medical Center, and Emma Andrews, an educator after whom a library branch here is named.
According to local historian Ghlee Woodworth, in 1881-82, a young ladies association held a series of fundraisers to build a hospital. Anna Jaques (1827-1911), a single woman and lifetime resident, gave $22,000 to get the project started. Others followed, and today a modern medical center of that name serves the region and employs close to 1,000.
Emma Lander Andrews (1852-1928) was a teacher at the Johnson Grammar School on Hancock Street and a co-founder of the South End Reading Room. She led the drive to provide families in the South End with reading materials. In 1905, a house at the corner of Purchase and Marlboro streets was purchased. As her health deteriorated in the ’20s, the reading room became a branch of the Newburyport Public Library.
I will highlight more women in the next blog.
(Image: Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Memorial. Gloucester, Ma.)