A Walk-through Women’s History in Marblehead

Marblehead shoemakers, many of them Canadian and Irish immigrants, joined a New England-wide strike for better wages and working conditions in 1860. Photo by Marblehead Museum

This past Saturday, the Marblehead Museum hosted a tour around town highlighting women in Marblehead who made history.

The one-hour walking tour was sold out as Associate Director for the Marblehead Museum Jarrett Zeman guided 50 attendees through historical sites in Marblehead.

“This tour focuses on the history of Marblehead women from the Civil War to World War I,” said Zeman. “We’re very familiar with the colonial and Revolutionary women of Marblehead, but we wanted to focus on this time period because there are some lesser-known stories of women.”

During the tour, Zeman spoke about controversial political movements that Marblehead women were involved in between the 1860s and 1920s, a time period that he said shaped the way Marblehead is today.

“The women on this tour are not sitting at home making dinner and dusting their knickknacks. Instead, they’re active members of their community,” said Zeman. “Many are involved in what I like to call the big three political movements of the era: the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the temperance movement.”

Zeman said the local women mentioned during the tour were leaders in the three movements and acted as the town’s “conscience” while it dealt with those issues.

Betsey Dodge was one of the women discussed. She, along with her husband Simeon Dodge, ran an underground railroad site on Washington Street for almost 20 years. They sheltered hundreds of former slaves, also referred to as freedom seekers, and put themselves at great risk in the process.

The Dodges sheltered Ellen and William Craft, who became prominent abolitionists after their highly-publicized escape from slavery in Georgia. During the tour, Zeman discussed how the Crafts came to the Dodge house and what they did during the week they spent in Marblehead.

Movie star Mary Pickford, pictured here on the Marblehead Neck, in 1916.

Zeman also discussed the town’s working-class women, some of whom were Irish and Canadian immigrants working in local shoe factories during the 1860s.

At one site, Zeman talked the Lynn Shoemaker’s Strike of 1860, in which 20,000 shoemakers throughout New England walked out of their factories.

“Marblehead participated in this, and 500 Marblehead women joined their shoemaking sisters in Lynn at the Lynn Town Common and held a giant rally where they talked about the issues they were fighting for,” said Zeman. “Better wages, safer working conditions, and they decided that going on strike was the way to achieve this.”

The 500 Marblehead women were escorted to Lynn by Marblehead’s local fire department — and a brass band playing songs to accompany them.

Zeman also discussed movie star Mary Pickford, who came to Marblehead in 1916 to appear in a silent film called “The Pride of the Clan.” A film crew turned the Neck into a Scottish village.

During the tour, Zeman and the 50 attendees visited Abbot Hall, Maddie’s Sail Loft, and Seaside Allure to discuss the history of those buildings, and the important roles women played there.