Celebrate Women’s History in the Merrimack Valley

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March is Women’s History Month, which since 1987 the contributions of women throughout American history, society, and culture have been highlighted and celebrated. And while the Greater Merrimack Valley is known for the Founding Fathers, that doesn’t mean there aren’t just as many great women whose stories should be explored.

Some women in the Greater Merrimack Valley are great authors. Others helped fight for women’s rights. Still others stood up against slavery and segregation. From mill girls to preservationists, they influenced our country’s history as we know it.

While visiting the Greater Merrimack Valley, be sure to download our app for a self-guided walking tour as you visit these special locations that have either been impacted by women, celebrate women, or have played a significant role in women’s history.

The Wayside (Author’s Home)

455 Lexington Rd, Concord

Known as both the Wayside and “Hillside,” this historic house was home to several great literary figures, with two of the most prominent being Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) and Margaret Sideny (Five Little Peppers). The childhood home of Alcott, it’s the setting for several iconic scenes in Little Women, as well as events not featured in the book, such as the time the family harbored a fugitive slave.

Years later, it was purchased by the Lothrop family. Harriett Lothrop (pen name Margaret Sidney) was not only an author, but founder of the Children of the American Revolution, and also ran her husband’s publishing company after his death. One of her greatest contributions to Concord, however, was her preservation of its history. Without her hard work and campaigning to preserve them, we would not still have the Wayside, Orchard House, Grapevine Cottage, or the Tollman House in Concord’s Monument Square.

Boott Cotton Mills

115 John St, Lowell

In the late 19th century, women held nearly two-thirds of all textile jobs in Lowell, with many immigrant women joining Yankee mill girls in the textile industry. Part of Lowell’s industrial history, the Boott Cotton Mills Museum is the premiere place to learn about mill girls. There, you can watch oral history videos about the workers’ experiences and see electric power looms from the 1920s that still weave cloth to this day.

Who were the “mill girls?” This was a term to describe the young women, usually aged 15-30 years old, recruited from New England farms and villages, who worked in textile mills. They had few economic opportunities so they were enticed by the prospect of monthly wages along with room and board in a comfortable boardinghouse, but were basically trapped into indentured servitude. They were an important part of early labor protests, staging walk-outs while asserting themselves “the daughters of freemen” whose rights could not be “trampled upon with impunity.”

Lowell Mill Girls

Mogan Cultural Center

40 French St, Lowell

Speaking of Lowell’s mill girls, the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center features the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit. Thanks to Lowell’s many factories, there was a great need for workers, so to attract and meet the basic needs of a varied workforce, the textile factories built low-cost communal living spaces that became known as boardinghouses. By the mid-1830s these three-and-a-half-story brick rowhouses generally housed 20 to 40 people and contained a kitchen, a dining room and parlor, a keeper’s quarters, and up to ten bedrooms.

The Mogan Cultural Center has restored the 1850s boardinghouse’s kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms, allowing you to take a self-guided tour through the daily life of a mill girl. The experiences of 19th-century women workers are brought to life through an audio program, listening to conversations between the girls about their lives, hopes, and dreams. Visitors can even go more in-depth about prominent mill workers like poet Lucy Larcom and suffragist Harriet Hanson Robinson.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

34 Bedford St, Concord

There are several notable women buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery; some household names, others more obscure. But every woman there has contributed in both big and small ways to how our history has been shaped.

There are of course members of the Alcott family including Anna, who was the basis of Meg from her sister Louisa May Alcott’s famous book Little Women. There is also Katherine K. Davis, the composer of the Christmas carol “The Little Drummer Boy” and Emily Daniels, who was one of the first women to work behind the camera on television. The first burial in the cemetery was even a woman – Maria Holbrook.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

399 Lexington Rd, Concord

The Orchard House is most notable for being the very house where Louisa May Alcott wrote and set her beloved classic, Little Women, in 1868. Guided tours of the house are offered where visitors can view the rooms filled with furnishings owned by the Alcott family. Many say it’s like stepping into the story of Little Women itself and being among the March Family as they put on their plays. 

Louisa May Alcott

Robbins House

320 Monument St, Concord

Home to the Garrison Family, Robbins House has no shortage of female anti-slavery activists. Susan Garrison was a charter member of the Concord Female Antislavery Society, hosting the second CFAS meeting in her home and being the only woman of color listed in existing CFAs records.

Meanwhile, Ellen Garrison, who was born and raised in the house, was walking hand-in-hand with a white schoolmate in Concord parades at age 12 and in 1866 defied anti-segregation laws nearly a century before Rosa Parks. This and more has earned her her own exhibit in the Robbins House.

So come explore the incredible historic places of the Greater Merrimack Valley this March! Celebrate the women whose contributions have shaped local and national history in ways they likely didn’t realize. 

Lowell Cemetery

77 Knapp Ave, Lowell

Like Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Lowell Cemetery is the final resting place of some of the Greater Merrimack Valley’s esteemed and historic women. While their names might not be as famous, their more modest contributions still should be celebrated and respected in a world where, for quite some time, women were expected to be seen and not heard.

There’s Edith Nourse Rogers, who was one of the first women to serve in Congress. Then there’s Helen Augusta Whittier, who was the first woman to run a mill in Lowell during a time when women were rarely in positions of industrial leadership. And then there are the mill girls Lousia Wells and Barilla Taylor, whose contributions to history might have been minor, but whose monuments represent the importance of mill girls to Lowell’s local history.

Want to learn more about the great women and historic places that can be found in the Greater Merrimack Valley? Visit us and discover the incredible history of New England.

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