Historic Building of the Week: Hannah Ireson House

At the time of the 1860 census, Hannah Ireson lived at 269 Washington St with mother and daughter pair Elizabeth and Lydia Cushing. Photo by Emma Fringuelli

I think Women’s History Month is a cool month. That said, I am a little biased given that I am, in fact, a women.

Conflicts of interest aside, I do believe that women’s history – the stories, contributions, and achievements of women – should be studied and presented the same as anyone else’s history. 

But there is one thing that gets in the way of that: methods of historical study. It may seem contradictory to say that history gets in the way of history, but just hear me out.

Take a stroll around the Boston Public Garden, wander throughout the Museum of Fine Arts, or even look at all the marked historic sites and buildings in Marblehead. Keep count of how many of the names are men compared to women. Chances are, you will see far more men than women.

This is not because women sat around and did nothing for millenia. Rather, as Janice Law Trecker points out in her 1973 journal article “Women in US History High School Textbooks,” women made history in different ways.

“Male activities in our society are considered the more important; therefore male activities are given primacy in the texts,” SHE WROTE.

Take, for example, a married couple during a war. The husband may go off and fight while the wife stays home to lead the household, raise the children, and/or even work as a combat nurse. Though both the man and woman are contributing to society, it is clear that the male activity makes a better statue.

Perhaps we do not know the full contribution of women because they entered into fields like literature during a time when it is unacceptable for them to participate. We know the Brontë sisters and Louisa May Alcott are among those who once took up a male pen name to write literary works, but which other women could be still hidden?

Or take homeownership. If a husband and wife work together to make an income, raise the children, and manage the household, but do so when women cannot own property, then only the man is entered in as homeowner, and only he is written into history.

Thus, women, by the nature of their historic place in the home and subjugation, are fewer and farther between in the historical record, even when an equal party to history-making.

I cannot fix the historical record, but I can amplify where women do appear.

Hannah Ireson was a single woman who lived at 269 Washington St. According to a document from the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS), she lived with a widow named Elizabeth Cushing and Cushing’s shoebinder daughter Lydia. 

This is corroborated by the 1860 census. At the time of census recording, Ireson was 55, Elizabeth was 60, and Lydia was 22. However, in the death records of 1869, Ireson is listed as having been 70 years old when she passed on May 23 from consumption (today known as tuberculosis).

Despite Ireson being the modern namesake of the house, on the 1850 map of Marblehead, the only Iresons mentioned are J. D. and W. P. Ireson, likely her father Joseph and brother Wesley, respectively. The MACRIS document theorizes that the Hannah Ireson House was likely owned by one of these men or her other brother Rev. Joseph Ireson, as the 1872 map denotes the property being owned by J. Ireson.

Not much is readily known about Hannah Ireson other than that she did live in this house. Nevertheless, she is one of the women, who, against all odds, got her name into the history books.