A Page from North Quabbin History: Women of Royalston display

Carla Charter pf Phillpston.

Carla Charter pf Phillpston. Paul Franz

A new display at the Royalston Historical Society will highlight the women of Royalston, telling the story of their lives throughout the town's history.

A new display at the Royalston Historical Society will highlight the women of Royalston, telling the story of their lives throughout the town's history. PHOTO CREDIT/BETH GOSPODAREK

Published: 04-23-2024 3:31 PM

By Carla Charter

The Royalston Historical Society will hold its grand reopening on May 19 with a “Women’s Lives of Royalston” exhibit, which will share the stories of Royalston women’s lives throughout history from their own perspectives, according to Beth Gospodarek, historical society secretary.

Among the items on display will be information about the palm leaf hat industry, how important it was to women and how it affected their lives. An exhibit displaying a typical Royalston store will be available to view, where these women bought their palm leaf supplies and returned with the finished plaits (braids) which they often exchanged for store credit. Palm leaf hat expert Kathy Morris will speak about this during the event. Also on display will be textiles and women’s fashions over the years along with original Royalston store artifacts, include sewing notions, tinware and medicine.

“The store is a conglomeration of several historical stores in town,” said Gospodarek.

The Ladies Benevolent Society of Royalston will be celebrating their 200th anniversary this year and their contributions to the town will be highlighted at the exhibit. The society was originally an organization associated with the First Congregational Church in town, but separated from the church in 1967 and is now a secular organization. Society items on display include restored posters from the 1920s, 30s and 40s which advertised fundraising events the society held. The posters were restored by Ed Levine of Frames/Ink and Lorraine Casinghino, member of the Ladies Benevolent and historical societies.

Royalston quilt work will be on display in the form of a South Royalston Signature Quilt made in 1885 in celebration of the New Year. The quilt incorporates New Year’s themes such as clocks and owls with other depictions, such as a man walking a pig and a reference to Green Mountain, the famed horse from South Royalston owned by Silas Hale.

“There are initials and names on almost every square” Gospodarek said.

Female artists and poets from the town will be featured. These include poet and artist Mary Raymond, whose letters she wrote to friends came complete with hand-drawn doodles in the borders.

The late Mildred French of Royalston, who wrote a Royalston Social Column for the Athol Daily News from its first daily edition in 1934 until the 1970s, will be highlighted as well. At the time of her retirement she was considered the longest-working journalist in the nation.

Women in politics will be featured, with a picture of all five women selectmen who have served in Royalston – the first being elected in the 1980s and the newest elected last year. Included will be quotes where they discuss what it is like to be a woman on that board. Other political history exhibited are artifacts from school board elections, which prior to women receiving the right to vote were the only elections they were allowed to participate in, along with items from the Suffrage and Temperance movements in Royalston.

Notable Royalston women will be recognized with their own section in the exhibit, such as the Empress Zita of the Austria-Hungary Hapsburgs, who lived in the Bastille Home in Royalston during the summers of 1940-1944 with her children. Another famous resident is Mina Crandon, a famous psychic in the early 20th century. During her readings, Crandon would often use a bell to alert people when spirits had entered a room and would have ‘ectoplasm’ coming out of her ear, a photo of which is in the display. Meanwhile, Harry Houdini was on a mission to prove mediums were frauds, particularly Crandon.

Belinda Sutton, one of the slaves of Isaac Royall, for whom the town is named after, will also be featured. Although neither Sutton or Royall lived in Royalston, when Royall went back to England, he left several slaves behind, including Sutton. Sutton sued the newly-formed state of Massachusetts for a stipend to live on.

Memories of Old School House #1 Postmistress Arline Vining will be highlighted, including her experiences during hurricanes in Royalston and how she met her husband when he was cutting trees after the storm.

There will be a segment on the history of schools and education in Royalston, including a video interview with Maxine Wilcox, who taught school from 1929 through the 1970s.

“There is a map of the schools – you can figure out which school you would have gone to and how far you would have had to walk to get there,” said Gospodarek.

Information about High View Farm will be exhibited. The location served as a farm in the 1700s through the 1880s, then briefly as an inn until 1900. In 1901, the farm was turned into the School for the Conservation of American Girlhood. The school served between 5 to 15 girls at a time from “troubled” homes, according to the school’s prospectus. Those attending, according to the prospectus, came with the express purpose to allow them to be a child.

“How they got there was never explained in the prospectus I’ve seen,” said Gospodarek.

The first library in town was created by the women of the Ladie’s Benevolent Society and housed in the town hall.

“They raised money and worked really hard,” said Gospodarek.

While Phineas Newton donated a large sum of money for the current library, it should be remembered that he made his wealth in the palm hat industry. These hats were mainly made by women, Gospodarek added.

Refreshments including Election Cake made from an early 1800s recipe will be served at the exhibit, which opens on May 19 at 2 p.m. Gospodarek explained that in the 1800s, people did not always see their neighbors frequently so an election was often a social event as well.

For those not able to attend the reopening, the display will be opened on the third Sunday of every month through September. A related event, a spooky historical reenactment entitled “Women of Royalston Come to Life,” will be held on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Historical Society. This event will be family-friendly.

The society is always willing to consider Royalston relevant artifacts for its collection and are particularly interested in any information or items related to High View Farm and it’s School for the Conservation of American Girlhood. The society may be contacted at Royalstonhistoricalsociety@gmail.com. More information about the Royalston Historical Society can be found at www.royalstonhistorical.org.

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.