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Salem Female Employment Society (1861-1879) Records

Salem Female Employment Society (1861-1879) Records

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 161 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-948-6012
Creator:Salem Female Employment Society
Title:Salem Female Employment Society (1861-1879) Records
Quantity:2.5 linear feet (4 boxes)
Abstract:The Salem Female Employment Society records document its administrative and production activities from the beginning of the society to its demise.
Collection Number:MSS 238

Series List

SERIES I. Administrative Records
SERIES II. Subscription Records
SERIES III. Financial Records
SERIES IV. Production Records

Scope and Content Note

The Salem Female Employment Society records document its administrative and production activities from the beginning of the society to its demise. The collection has been divided into four series.

Series I. Administrative Records includes the bylaws and regulations, a record book, secretary's reports, and miscellaneous papers, such as the charter and newspaper clippings. If the bylaws and regulations book is held in reverse, the back section lists employees of the society, their addresses, and if they moved or died. The record book documents the beginning of the society as well as providing a list of all officers and managers. Some financial records mentioned in the meetings are also listed. A list of the subscribers will be found at the end of the book. The secretary's reports reflect an annual accounting of the society's activities; they are duplicated in some of the newspaper clippings. The other newspaper clippings pertain to notices of the society's sales. The charter (B1 F2) duplicates material found in the record book.

Series II. Subscription Records consists of church subscription records and correspondence from individual donors. The subscription records contain lists of all subscribers from ten local churches. Of special note in the donor correspondence are letters pertaining to sizable donations given by Mrs. Caroline Saltonstall.

Series III. Financial Records documents fiscal obligations of the society as well as their profit/loss margins. The treasurer's reports recap the society's finances. The account books list the monies paid out to employees as well as expenditures of the society. The sales/cash book itemizes garments sold daily and payments to employees. The receipt book lists donations and subscriptions, 1861-1877; receipts and expenditures, 1861-1868; and treasurer's accounts, 1868-1879.

Series IV. Production Records reflects work ordered and/or produced by the employees. Arranged by workers, the managers' sales books list employee addresses, items ordered by whom, costs for materials, and price. Entries marked in black in the ledgers were commissioned by the workers themselves. The work ordered books provide the following information: articles ordered, by whom, under whose supervision, and to whom the payment was given. They do not indicate who made the garments. The production accounts tabulate by garment and then by type the number of items produced each year. The lists of articles cut and made provide a monthly inventory by piece count.

Historical Sketch

The Salem Female Employment Society was founded in Salem, Massachusetts, on January 15, 1861 by members of the North Church Sewing Circle as the Society for the Employment of the Poor. The purpose of the society was to produce sewing work for poor women who were unable to gain employment elsewhere, therefore lessening the need for almsgiving. Membership consisted of wives and daughters from Salem's prominent families. The society met regularly at the house of Nancy P. Cole, the society's president. Other officers elected initially were Mrs. Esther C. Mack, secretary; Mrs. J. Bertram, vice-president; R. J. Rantoul, treasurer; and A. Johnson, purchaser.

Manufactured garments were sold by members at a store they owned and operated at 366 Essex Street. Their products ranged from underclothes and nightshirts to flannelwear and hospital gowns. Begun as a charity organization, the society began to add a ten percent profit in 1865 to maintain operations. By April 22, 1867, the society had incorporated as the Salem Female Employment Society. In the last two years of the society's operation, the demand for coarse products - garments utilizing calico or unbleached cotton - had diminished, forcing the society to give away many of its products to groups such as the Salem Hospital and the Freed People of the Mississippi Valley. The society received many donations from prominent people and churches, but its inability to maintain self-sufficiency led to its dissolution in 1879.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Barton Square Church (Salem, Mass.)
Crombie Street Church (Salem, Mass.)
First Baptist Church (Salem, Mass.)
First Church (Salem, Mass.)
Grace Church (Salem, Mass.)
North Church (Salem, Mass.)
South Church (Salem, Mass.)
St. Peter's Church (Salem, Mass.)
Tabernacle Church (Salem, Mass.)
Universalist Church (Salem, Mass.)
Clothing trade
Women in charitable work
Salem (Mass.)--Churches
Account books


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Salem Female Employment Society (1861-1879) Records, MSS 238, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material is from an unknown source.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Archives & Mss. Course, 1988. Updated by Jane Ward, February 1994 and Tamara Gaydos, October 2015.

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