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Marblehead Female Humane Society Records

Marblehead Female Humane Society 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:Marblehead Female Humane Society
Title:Marblehead Female Humane Society Records
Quantity:2.5 linear feet (4 boxes, 2 volumes)
Abstract:The Marblehead Female Humane Society records contain the administrative, membership, financial, and beneficiary records of the society from 1816 to 2002.
Collection Number:MSS 260

Series List

SERIES I. Administrative Records
SERIES II. Membership Records
SERIES III. Financial RecordsSERIES IV. Beneficiary RecordsSERIES V. Miscellaneous Records

Scope and Content Note

The Marblehead Female Humane Society records contain the administrative, membership, financial, and beneficiary records of the society from 1816 to 1992. The collection is divided into five series.

Series I. Administrative Records includes the constitution, annual meeting reports, subscriber lists, reports of committee meetings, by-laws, by-law changes, and miscellaneous administrative records.

Series II. Membership Records includes membership lists from 1869 through 1928. Members are listed alphabetically by year.

Series III. Financial Records includes treasurers' account books, bank books, records of bequests, and miscellaneous financial records. The bequests (1916-1986) are arranged alphabetically by the name of the person leaving money to the society.

Series IV. Beneficiary Records includes lists of beneficiaries. The earlier records (B2 F4, B3 F27) give the articles loaned beneficiaries, but later records list only the names of the beneficiaries and amounts given. Material concerning the Harris Home is grouped in this series, including a history and description of the home, lists of residents, photographs, legal permits and papers relating to the upkeep And renovation of the home, and a scrapbook of photos and newspaper clippings about the home. The loose materials removed from Volume 1 include newspaper clippings, photographs, information about the society, several contemporary guides to Marblehead, and Mary E. Harris' wedding booklet. The loose materials removed from Volume 2 refer primarily to the 1924 Marblehead Street Fair.

Series V. Miscellaneous Records includes two printed items: A Memoir of the Reverend John Bartlett by Willard Reed, and The Fourth Reader; Or, Exercises in Reading and Speaking, owned by Ebenezer Harris, Mary Harris' husband.

Historical Sketch

The Marblehead Female Humane Society was organized on November 19, 1816 at the suggestion and with the aid of the Reverend John Bartlett, parson of the Second Congregational (later Unitarian) Church in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Rev. Bartlett was concerned with social welfare and had a keen interest in those suffering from mental illness; he did much to further the betterment of these causes during his lifetime.

Marblehead had lost many of its husbands and fathers to the War of 1812. By 1815, seven hundred residents of Marblehead had been captured and were on prison ships or in English prisons. During the year 1816, a great many storms caused numerous shipwrecks and loss of life. Many needy residents, particularly widows, in the town would be helped by the new society. The Marblehead Female Humane Society was founded as a Christian charity to aid the oppressed people of Marblehead, especially needy women in their own homes.

The founding government of the society consisted of a directress, a secretary, a treasurer (the first was Mrs. John Bartlett), and a standing committee of twelve members. The dues for members were ten cent per month. There were 125 women who were founding members. Members were able to propose candidates who they believed would benefit from the relief provided by the society. Donations of money, clothing, bed linen, and groceries were collected, and th3en anonymously distributed to the needy residents of the town. The society voted in its first year to purchase materials for spinning and weaving work to be one by residents who were housebound. The idea was that they would be able to create objects at home and then sell the articles, allowing them to earn money.

The society incorporated in 1845. In 1846, it came to the aid of impoverished families who were suffering as a result of a terrible storm off the Grand Banks, which ruined Marblehead fishing for that year.

Upon its centennial, the society decided that it was time to direct its charitable work toward a home where aged gentlewomen with no family might be cared for. IN 1924, Mary E. Harris died and left her house to Everett Paine, who was the president of the National Grand Bank. Mr. Paine was also the husband of the secretary of the Marblehead Female Humane Society, and he gave the Harris home to the society. The house was located at 10 Mugford Street in Marblehead. The Mary E. Harris Home for Aged Women opened on January 14, 1925. The home was able to provide a residence for four to six women, along with a resident matron. The early residents paid four hundred dollars at their entrance to the home for life residency. The society was to provide room, board, laundry service, replacement of clothing, medical care, and burial expenses for each resident. An applicant t the home was to be a woman of 65 years of older, and she was to have resided in Marblehead for ten years prior to her application to the home. She was also to transfer her property to the home. Rules were set up for the operation of the home, which was a successful endeavor for 60 years.

By 1969 the society's funds were becoming leaner. With the advent of Social Security payments, fewer were making applications for residency to the Harris Home. By 1972 the Harris Home had become a boardinghouse. The residents were charged monthly fees and were expected to carry their own health care insurance. The society decided to close the Harris Home, which was done on September 30, 1984.

In 1987 there were 600 members of the Marblehead Female Humane Society. Dues were still $1.20 per year. They bylaws of the 1980s state that the mission of the society is "'to establish and support programs dedicated to the maintenance and care of elderly persons, and to engage in activities having a general charitable and benevolent purpose in Marblehead." The society in its post-Harris Home period has assisted the Marblehead Visiting Nurse Agency to sponsor flu shots and "'Well-Elderly" clinics, helped support the "'Meals on Wheels" program, and has also arranged temporary housing, transportation for individuals, and home aid projects for those requiring assistance.

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.

Bartlett, John, 1784-1849
Harris, Mary Elizabeth Newcomb, 1848-1922
Harris Home (Marblehead, Mass.)
Older women
Social service
Women in charitable work
Marblehead (Mass.)


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

Marblehead Female Humane Society Records, MSS 260, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The bulk of this material was donated by Evelyn Willard, Directress of the Marblehead Female Humane Society in 1989 (acc #89039). Annual reports for 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992 were donated by Lois MacDonald in May 1993 (acc #93012). The original constitution and list of subscribers (1816) was donated by Gail P. Hercher in April 1995 (acc #95010). Annual reports for 1991 through to 2002 were donated by Jane Faulkner in 2003 (acc #2003.014) and added to Box 1 Folder 4a.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Daniel S. Curtis, March 1993. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, November 2015.

Related Material

Rules and Regulations of Marblehead Female Humane Society: Organized, 1816. Incorporated, 1845. Marblehead: Society, 1916.

Gorman, Martha Bessom. A History of the Marblehead Female Humane Society, Inc. Ed. Evelyn T. Willard. Marblehead, MA: Society, 1987.

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