Mattapoisett Museum explores notable women in town’s history

Nov 19, 2020

MATTAPOISETT — An author of the first woman-written Great American Novel, a prolific writer with a sense of humor and connections including Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy who founded the Mattapoisett Improvement Association, the founder of the Mattapoisett Historical Society, and a WWI nurse who ran a hospital.

There are many notable women in the history of Mattapoisett, and Jennifer McIntire and Carole Clifford of the Mattapoisett Museum highlighted four women from the seaside community who made significant contributions to the town and society as a whole at a Nov. 18 lecture.

McIntire, an art historian and educator, said that current historical depictions of women “does a disservice to strong women,” and the museum is “seeking to challenge and expand the historical consensus” as it’s written in textbooks and taught in classrooms.

One of these strong women was Elizabeth Drew Barstow Stoddard. Born in 1823, she was an author who McIntire said has yet to get her due credit as a writer, and said that many historians predict she will be remembered in the futurea.

She wrote three novels, a children’s book and a collection of poems. Her most notable work is “The Morgensons,” a semi-autobiographical novel that has been called the first great American novel written by a woman.

Motherhood was central to Stoddard’s life, but she sought to rise above the notion that this was a woman’s only job.

After finding financial success as an author, she had her husband hire a maid to do as much housework as possible. She insisted on being an author, not a housewife.

“Even today, she would be considered a feminist,” McIntire said.

Huybertie Lansing Pruyn Hamlin was also a writer, but she took on a rather humorous view of life and documented everything about it.

“She just wrote everything,” Clifford said, noting that her journals include descriptions of Democrats in Washington D.C., the hurricane of 1938, political parties and social gatherings.

Her father was a NY state Senator and U.S Representative, and she knew everyone as a result.

She was lifelong friends with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Clifford said, and she once held a tea party as a kid and invited the then-New York Governor Grover Cleveland. Naturally, he showed up.

Though she and her family lived in the “finest house in Albany, NY,” her life in Massachusetts started when her husband, Charles Sumner Hamlin, bought a fix-up home in Mattapoisett on Ned’s Point. 

Although Charles worked in Boston, “they considered it their home,” Clifford said. 

In her life, Bertie met people like Queen Victoria, but she still cared about the town.

“She has the two sides to her which I find very interesting,” Clifford said. 

Bertie started the Mattapoisett Improvement Association, which helped increase the standard of living in the town by creating a trash pickup system, committees for different public services, and helped plant 700 trees.

Notably, there was a requirement that the board had to have six women on it. But, that was still a small portion of the board as a whole.

Minerva Miller Sparrow contributed to the town by preserving its history.

She helped found the Mattapoisett Historical Society, established its HQ at the old baptist church, created a board of trustees and volunteered there up until her death in 1968.

And this was only her first career.

Before this, she taught in eight schools and colleges across the country and was described by students as one of the best teachers they had in all their time learning. 

“Our museum would not be in existence without her,” McIntire said. 

Another woman who took initiative, Florence Eastman sought to help others through nursing. 

She enlisted in the military at 23 as a nurse to help the fight in WWI.

During her time, she was put in charge of a hospital on Long Island and oversaw 200 orderlies and 20 nurses.

At the time, the major cause of death among soldiers in the hospital was influenza. 

She was committed to her job, even trying to take care of the soldiers when she contracted the flu.

“She was a very determined woman,” Clifford said.

Unfortunately, she died from the flu in 1918, which was also a pandemic much like today. The Florence Eastman American Legion Post 280 is named after her, and she is commemorated with a wreath hung on a tree planted in her honor at Veteran’s Park every Memorial Day.

Being the one hundredth anniversary of the women's suffrage movement, Mattapoisett played a pivotal part in the fight for the right to vote for women. 

Mattapoisett housed a headquarters for a pro-suffrage group, while nearby Wareham headquartered an anti-suffrage group.

The two battled in Mattapoisett and the Cape to convince people for women’s right to vote.

According to Clifford, the pro-group would make a speech in a town and leave, and the anti-group would come into the town the moment the pro group left to spread their message. 

The museum has a list of all the women who were registered to vote in 1920, which can be found here

The full lecture can be viewed here.