WOMEN AT WORK
A LOOK AT RURAL WASHINGTON COUNTY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Many moons ago Dorothy Robertson Kinney of 79 Miller Street, Belfast ME 04915 sent a picture and the School Register.
Dorothy found two connections to this area. First, Lucy A. Edgerly, (a daughter of Isaac and Lucy, and the granddaughter of Richard and Abigail (Bickford) Edgerly) was Alwilda Edgerly of South Princeton. Alwilda went to Bancroft Plantation (Bancroft Plantation is located in Aroostook County, just northwest of Danforth.) to teach in the area known as Smart Ridge and there she married George Smart. George was a brother of Peter Smart of South Princeton. The Smarts were from Scotland. Alwilda and George built a house in the area and she lived there until she was 96 years of age. Alwilda “adopted" Olive Brannon and she (Olive) married Thomas Robertson. Olive and Thomas were Dorothy’s grandparents. Another connection she found this issue was the listing of Jacob and Nancy McLellan since her husband, Basil Kinney, was a grandson of their son Charles McLellan”.
I am always pleased
when readers make connections as a result of our newsletters. I try
within these newsletters to show connections between people and
events in the past and to our lives. Thank you, Dorothy, for finding
the connections to you and sharing them with us. And thank you for
the picture. It was a slow process for me to find a way to use the
picture and make it connect with more than family. Hope this makes
the right connections!
Prior to the Civil War few occupations were available to women outside the home. Farm women worked hard at a variety of jobs which we hope to address at a later time. The following information has been gathered from census records. We must realize that folks didn’t always give all the facts to the “government man.” Also some census takers did not ask enough questions or record all the answers. Also I may have missed something in my research.
Therefore, additions and corrections are welcome.
Who were the women who worked in our area? What jobs did they do? How old were they? How many years did they stay with the job? Were all our towns alike? Let’s look at the record. The number in (parenthesis) after town is population for that year. All women listed were single unless so noted.
1850 - The census records for 1850 listed occupations for men, but none for women.
1860 – Alexander (445)
Joanne Loverin, 19, teacher
1860 - Crawford (274)
Rebecca Dirling, 23, milliner (wife)
Sarah A. Fenlason, 17, teacher
1860 – Cooper (468)
Julia Burbank, 21, teacher
Harriet Howe, 32, tailoress
Carolyn P. Cooper, 28, teacher
Helen M. Cooper, 26, teacher
1860 - Baileyville (363)
Mary R. Anderson, 23, teacher
Angelia Anderson, 18, teacher
Harriet Bailey, 20, teacher
Mary J Hair, 28, dressmaker
Priscella Kincaid, 20, teacher
Sophrona Kincaid, 18, teacher
Sarah Robb, 24, tailoress
1860 – Meddybemps (297)
Nancy Allen, 26, teacher
Ella L. Bridges, 28, teacher
Sarah A. Bridges, 20, operative
Mary E. Bridges, 25, teacher
Olive F. Bridges, 25, operative
Susan W. Newall, 24, teacher
There were several mills in Meddybemps
Village. Sarah and Olive must have
worked on one of them.
1860 – Princeton (626)
Amelia Bonney, 23, teacher
Lizzie Metcalf, 16, dressmaker
Martha Doyle, 33, milliner (wife)
Josephine Stone, 18, milliner
Lucy A. Edgerly, 19, teacher – aka Alwilda Edgerly
Amanda Greenlaw, 26, milliner
Mary J. Libby, 19, teacher
Lucille Trott, 19, teacher
1860 – Wesley (343)
No occupations listed for women
Many women are listed as “domestic”. Some are widowed mothers-in-law living in their daughter’s homes; some are young women living with their husbands in his family home. And some apparently have no connection with their host family except for employment. For example, in 1880 widow Rachel Stephenson, 57, was a housekeeper for widower John Sears. Now we will move ahead a score of years to compare occupations and names.
1880 - Alexander (439)
Annie Brown, 18, cotton mill
Josephine Godfrey, 22, teacher
Evalin Huff, 30, cotton mill
Mary Stephenson, 18, cotton mill
Jennie F. Strout, 19, teacher.
1880 – Crawford (206)
No occupations listed for women
1880 – Cooper (346)
Lizzie Hayward, 25, cotton mill
Alice Howe, 27, cotton mill
Ada Howe, 24, cotton mill
Rhoda Leland, 27, cotton mill
Mary Leland, 25, cotton mill
Charlotte Sawyer, 33, shoe factory
Alice Sawyer, 32 shoe factory
Percis Vining, 26, cotton mill
1880 – Baileyville (376)
Elizabeth Dean, 30, seamstress
Agnes Hogan, 26, dressmaker
Julia Hogan, 23, dressmaker
Mary Jane Maloy, 18, dressmaker
Gertie Redding, 23, teacher
1880 – Meddybemps (172)
Georgianna Bearce, 17, straw shop
Stella Bearce, 16, straw shop
Mellissa Stewart, 20, woolen mill
Stella Tarbell, 18, teacher
1880 – Princeton (1038)
Emma F. Bates, 20, teacher
Flora Belmore, 31, milliner (wife)
Lovina Buck, 41, dressmaker (wife)
Ruth Caldwell, 46, C. factory
Laury Caldwell, 29, teacher
Almira J. Carle, 17, C. factory
Lydia R. Carle, 23, C. factory
Maggie Davis, 16, W. factory
Sarah Fenlason, 25, works in hotel
Elizabeth Furbush, 39, clerk in husband’s store
Drusila Duplisea, 23, Dressmaker
Lucy Doten, 28, works in hotel
Fannie Larrabee, 23, music teacher (wife)
Pauline Legacy, 25, table waiter
Clara Peabody, 26, artist
Annie Steves, 38, dressmaker
Georgia Rose 17, music teacher
Clary Sprague, 20, teacher
Velma Sprague, 19, teacher
Mary Willot, 23, works in factory
1880 – Wesley (245)
Ella B. Munson, 21, teacher
Josie F Rollins, 21, teacher
As a researcher, I was quite excited at the trend that has been established by these records. This trend reflected the national trend. In 1850, most women were working in the home, or on the family farm. By 1860, society allowed a few women to have occupations such as teaching, dressmaking, and nursing. The Civil War (1861 – 1865) pulled many men from their jobs, many never to return. Women moved into some of these jobs during the war to support the national effort. The 1870 census records of our towns did not reflect much growth in the women’s occupation. However, the 1880 census did reflect this growth.
In 1880 we find women working in the cotton mill (likely at Milltown, NB), at a shoe factory (at Calais), at a straw shop (maybe in Massachusetts, but definitely a place where straw hats were made from palm leaves), woolen mill (was that a carding mill at Meddybemps or Calais?), and in Princeton at the C. factory and the W. factory. What were they?
In 1880 all the towns studied except Princeton, were rural farming communities. Women from those towns working in the factories were home (unemployed) when the census man visited. If they had been working that day, they would have been counted at their boarding place in the city.
Princeton had grown in population because of the pine woods up river, the river which was used for the log drives and water power for saw mills, and because the St Croix and Penobscot Railroad. It had an economic base that allowed people to earn money. It had a group of mill owners, managers, and skilled workers who earned money enough to support two female music teachers and an artist.
Census records for 1900, 1910, and 1920 gave a mixed message. Alexander had no women’s occupation listed and Crawford just Fannie Archer, 42, postmistress in 1920. Her husband was Cyrus.
Cooper had Mary Thornton, 21, teacher in 1900; and Florence Howe, 40, as postmistress in 1910. (Some will say that she inherited the job from her father. It also is said that today women senators or representatives inherit their positions from their deceased husbands. Either points to the struggle women have had breaking the apron strings.) In 1920 Gertrude Farmer, 21, was a teacher.
Meddybemps in 1900 had two boarding houses. Sadie Dwelley (originally from Alexander) and Helen Saunders ran these to board the men working at those mills along the river and canal. In 1920 Bernice Card, 24, was a telephone operator.
Wesley in 1910 had three teachers, Mary Day, 21, Lola Gray, 24, and Minnie Rollins, 22. Susie Trafton, 38, was a dressmaker. In 1910, Edith Sprague, 18, was a teacher, and Serena Day, 53, was tending store while her husband Arlington drove the stage. (No 1920 census in files)
Where were the factory and mill workers from these rural communities? Unlike the day the 1880 census was taken, they likely were working in the urban community.
Princeton continued having about the same number of women listed with occupations outside of housework. Must jobs are the same, but in 1900 widow Anne McGuire, 35, is listed as a nurse and Roxanna McLaughlin, 51, cooked at a hotel.
Baileyville changed from a rural community of 215 souls in 1900 to a mill town of 1137 people in 1910 and 2243 people in 1920. Even though many from our rural communities moved to the village of Woodland to work in those mills, we won’t include it in this study.
The Maine Bureau of Industrial and Labor Statistics was created in 1887. It found women employed in 284 branches of industry. Most of the women employees were young and intended to work only until married. This kept the wages low.
Examples of some of those industrial occupations include the making of boots and shoes, cotton cloth and goods (such as sheets and dresses). candy and cigars, and matches at the Portland Star Match factory. Women also worked as cashiers, bookkeepers, librarians, cooks, and in photographic shops. Of course the old occupations of teaching (school, music, and art). nursing and dressmaking were found throughout the state. Many farm girls worked as help in summer resorts, then did contract knitting in winter. Farm women, single or married, raised poultry, kept a dairy (made butter), and picked berries.
By the 1890’s Maine had over 4000 schoolhouses. Children up to fifteen were to attend at least 16 weeks of school each year. Schools kept 5 and ½ days. Men teachers earned about $35.00 a month. Women teachers had to be single or possibly widowed. Once married, a woman had to resign from her job. Women averaged $4.80 a week, the lowest average in the country.
Thank you Dorothy Kinney for the idea behind this article and to Bill Bunting whose book A Days Work gave general information about women at work in Maine.