History by Charlotte Lane

History of the Annisquam Female Benevolent Society, Charlotte Lane

What is the Annisquam Sewing Circle?

The Annisquam Sewing Circle was begun in 1837 as the Annisquam Female Benevolent Society. It is thought to be the oldest continuous independent society of women on Cape Ann.

The Society’s purpose as stated in its Preamble, was “for the performance of acts of benevolence.” Through the years, the Society, and now the Circle, has contributed generously to community programs and to individuals. The Scholarship Fund, to assist young people in the Village continue their education, was established in 1974.

Membership is by invitation only and includes Active, Associate, and Honorary members. Meetings are held the second Tuesday of the month in the Village Library from September to May.

History of the Annisquam Female Benevolent Society

May 24, 1889       By Miss Charlotte A. Lane

Mrs. President, Friends and Fellow-Workers:

Following a pleasing custom of celebrating events of ordinary interest, we have met this evening. The event we celebrate is the fiftieth anniversary of the “Annisquam Female Benevolent Society”, but like the Irishman, I must add, it is not the anniversary “at all, at all”. In copying the records of the Society into a new book some thirty years ago, or more, a mistake was made in regard to the date of the Society’s formation and 1837 was changed into 1839. The error was not recognized until the thought of celebrating the Society’s anniversary was mentioned, then it was too late for the real date, so we keep the date recorded, heeding the saying, “better late than never.”

Feeling how incompetent I am to do justice to the part assigned me, I beg you to excuse all imperfections of style and speech, and trusting to your leniency in former years,

“I feel assured that you will take,
Even the offering that I make
Kindly for the giver’s sake.”
or like Emerson’s “Henry Rees”

“Seeing only what is fair
Supping only what is sweet,
Leave the chaff and take the wheat.”

The veil that shades the past, with reverence I draw aside and bring to you from out those vanished years, sweet memories fragrant with kind generous deeds, wrought by brave and thoughtful women, “for to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

In the autumn of 1837, Miss Eunice Fellows, a benevolent, thoughtful woman (many here remember her), waited on her friends and neighbors and invited them to join her in forming a society for helping the poor. At that time there were quite a number needing a helping hand.

The ladies responded to her call and met with Miss Fellows and her sister Anatiss in their rooms in Mrs. Pulcifer’s house on Leonard Street: there they formed a society and elected Mrs. Nancy Leonard, President; Miss Teresa Lane, Secretary; Miss Eunice Fellows and two ladies whose names are not recorded, Directors.

Mrs. Leonard was the wife of Rev. Ezra Leonard, who was settled for life over the Annisquam Society: he died in 1832. Mrs. Leonard wrote the preamble and drew the articles of the Constitution, which were adopted at the following meeting. The preamble read thus:

“It is a duty we owe our fellow creatures, who are placed in destitute circumstances, to bestow on them part of this world’s goods with which kind providence has blessed us. By performing such kindness we are obeying the injunctions of our Divine Master, who has strictly enjoined it up us to visit the widow and fatherless, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and believing such kindnesses are better performed by organizations for charitable purposes, we do agree to form ourselves into a society for the performance for acts of benevolence, and adopt the following Constitution for our better government:


Art. 1 This society shall be called the Annisquam Female Benevolent Society.

Art. 2 Any lady may become a member by paying twenty-five cents initiatory fee.

Art. 3 The officers of this society shall consist of a president, three directors, and secretary, all to be chosen annually.

Art. 4 It shall be the duty of the directors to make all purchases on account of society.

Art. 5 The secretary shall keep an account of all money received an expended, and summit a statement of the treasury at each quarterly meeting

Art. 6 This Constitution may be amended or altered at any time by a majority of the members.

Art. 7 The society shall meet at such time and place as may be designated.


Mrs. Nancy Leonard, Mrs. Augustus Day, Mrs. Sally F. Davis, Mrs. Caroline Saville, Mrs. Charlotte Lane, Mrs. Eliza H. Lane, Mrs. Hannah Lane, Mrs. Joanna Day, Mrs. Martha Jewett, Mrs. Laura Griffen, Mrs. Mary L. Griffen, Mrs. Sally P. Griffen), Mrs. Mary F. Lane, Mrs. Sphronia Pulcifer, Mrs. C. M. Smith, Mrs. Elizabeth Bent, Mrs. Dorcas Davis, Mrs. Betsey P. Davis, Mrs. Mary B. Saville, Mrs. Clarissa Lane, Mrs. Hannah Griffen, Mrs. Ann Saville, Mrs. Martha Lane, Mrs. Betsey F. Day, Mrs. Charlotte Lurvey, Mrs. Elizabeth Sargent, Mrs. Nancy Robinson, Mrs. Mary Wheeler, Mrs. Mary D. Chard, Mrs. Elizabeth Peabody, Mrs. Nancy Fits, Mrs. Dorcas Haraden, Mrs. Abagail Wheeler, Mrs. Lydia Phipps, Mrs. Mary E. Norwood, Miss. Eunice Fellows, Miss Austin Fellows, Miss Nancy Davis, Miss Jane Butler, Miss Eleanor Davis, Miss Mary Davis, Mrs. Eliza W. Dennis.

Of the original members there are but seven living: Mrs. Pulcifer, Mrs. Sally F. Davis, Mrs. Dorcas F. Davis, Mary E. Norwood, Mary O. Moore, Martha Lane and Elizabeth Bent. The names enrolled on the Society’s book, numbered in 1837, 42 members: 1847, 59: 1857, 121: 1867, 162: 1877, 199: 1887, 213: 1889, 223.

The presidents have been Mrs. Nancy Leonard, Mrs. George Lesch, Mrs. Martha B. Jewett, Mrs. Joanna Day, Mrs. Charles Fernald, Mrs. Elizabeth Bent, Mrs. George N. Davis, Mrs. George Norwood, Mrs. Betsey Barber, Mrs. Jane Pierce, Mrs. Beulah Marchant, Mrs. Prynthia Davis, Mrs. Hannah G. Davis, Miss C. A. Lane, and Mrs. Clara Benton.

Secretaries: Mrs. Willis, Mrs. Moore, Mrs. M. E. Norwood, Mrs. C. M. Smith, Mrs. Sophronia Pulcifer, Miss C. A. Lane, Mrs. Willard P. Griffin, Mrs. S. C. Pulcifer, Miss C. M. Lane, Rev. N. Gunnison, Mrs. George El Lane, Miss Caroline Griffin, Mrs. Carrie Norwood, and Miss B. A. Lane.

Mrs. Martha B. Jewett served at various times ten years as president, faithfully performing all duties. Mrs. Clara Benton has served as an earnest active president nearly ten successive years. Mrs. Caroline E. Griffin has in attendance excelled them all, having been secretary twenty-three years, from 1858 to 1863 and from 1869 to 1886 seldom omitting a meeting through that long series of years. Mrs. M. E. Norwood comes next in attendance, having served as both president and secretary, and an earnest worker in times of fairs. Faithfulness to duties like this, none need feel ashamed to have recorded.

I well remember the second or third mating of this Society which was with my mother. The preparation of so many candles with their white fringes elicited my admiration. Petroleum and electric light had not been thought of. The Franklin fireplace with its decorations of brass, and its attendant andirons, shovel, tongs and bellows shone resplendent, for cotton stone and sweet oil had wrought their magical effect, and, childlike, I imagined something fine was in preparation: but disappointment ever hovers near, and I realized it at this time for when I had been put to bed my wonder had not lessened and every tine the door opened to admit a member I peeped out to see what was in progress. I can recall a number of members as they laid aside their wraps, and disappeared within the door, where to me, the mystery could have been solved had I been permitted to enter. I have to know the value of the work those members founded, but the fancies of the child can never be realized.

“For restless time has closed the door
And locked and barred it fast.
And only in the memory
Come those visions of the past.”

Those members have entered that wider door where they have solved life’s greatest mystery. And ’round their graves are quietness and beauty. “And the sweet heavens above, the fitting symbols of a life of duty. transfigured into love.”

In 1839, Mrs. G. Leach was president; Mrs. Susan Bassett, vice president; Mrs. Jewett, Mrs. Pulcifer, and Mrs. Hannah Griffin, directors; Mrs. M. C. Moore, secretary. Work made and sold to Mar. 20, 1839, $25.25, expended $31.54.

At the beginning of the year in 1840, there was $207 in the treasury. In 1846 there was $27 and it was paid toward a carpet in the church. The record for several years was imperfectly kept, but the Society grew by slow degrees. Willing hands clothed the poor when needed, and members worked for three cents an evening, when anyone wished their services. They knitted nippers and mittens, which they sold to members of fishing crafts. How fast their fingers flew, their tongues often keeping pace with their needles. They were usually at their post at six o’clock, and worked until nine. For awhile they had readings at their meetings and the Society took the Ladies’ Book, some members reading from it each evening. In March, 1846, the Society held its first fair. The annual meeting this year was with Mrs. Hannah Lane. The fair was held in the concert hall in the school house. I can recall what an event it was for the children, with what admiring eyes they gazed on the tables, placed on each side of the hall, neatly arranged, and lighted chiefly by candles. The figures of men made of raisins strung on wires, little tables and chairs of pine and various colored worsted, the perforated cardboard book-marks with mottoes: “Friendships offering”, “Remember Me”, and “Forget-me-not”. Pen-wipers from the wishbones of turkeys or chickens, dressed as Satan, had cloven feet of black sealing wax, red wax for lips, horn and tail, white beads for eyes, his raiment of bright-colored woolen or velvet. The toy stores of Smart or Partridge seem tame in comparison to the delight which memory recalls of those unique and tasteful articles.

I think the fair must have been a success as $33 was expended that year on the church, which seems to have become the most needy object. In 1847, $5 was given to the Sunday School. 1848 seems to have been a prosperous year as $1.38 is recorded as interest money. In March 1852, the Society held its second fair in Washington Hall. This fair was on a more elaborate scale; the hall was trimmed with flags and evergreen and a “Post Office” found favor. I remember two gentlemen from Gloucester received each a package through the office, fifty cents postage each. On opening the packages two very large clams were displayed, the largest I think I ever saw. A friend who sent them said, referring to the gentlemen, “They loved clams”. These clams realized for the fair a goodly sum. They entered the grab box several times and caused much merriment; one young man drew then forth three times, ten cents a grab. If every clam from Rigg’s Flats or Coffin’s Beach had been disposed at the same rate, the clam men of Gloucester could have bought out all the Astors, Vanderbilts, Jay Goulds and a score or more of millionaires and have paid them fifty cents bonus on every dollar. The ring cakes were an important factor in adding to the fund, several ladies of the Society, among them Mrs. Bent, Mrs. Norwood, Mrs. C. G. Lane met with. Mrs. Clarissa Lane made the cake, baking it in the brick oven. It was rich, sweet to the taste and filled with fruit. Mr. John Knowlton frosted it, kindly giving his services. No record of this fair is on the books, but I think the amount raised was more than $300, which was used for the church and toward the minister’s salary.

In March 1854, the Society held another fair in the same hall, realizing $252.29. In August the same year, they gave an afternoon tea party in Mrs. Pierce’s grove, adding $76.00 to the fund, and a tableaux party and dance the same evening added $10.74 more. This money was expended in repairing, painting and carpeting the church. The pulpit was changed at this time.

In Jan. 1855, the Society held a “festival” entertainment, consisting of tableaux; entrance fee 12 cts. In an adjoining room was a supper. In this room twenty or more ladies and gentlemen were dressed in the style of 1776. This was a grand feature of the evening. The record says everybody was happy “I cannot say how the truth may be I tell the tale as ’twas said to me.” With the dance that followed they realized $107.10.

For two or three years gentlemen had been admitted as members, and each evening was cheered by their presence. In time of fair reparations they served as models in fitting that now almost extinct article of dress, the nightcap – most becoming those creations of dainty muslin and lace to a full bearded model. A smile will come even now at the remembrance of the same. Whist and euchre were introduced as entertainment of the gentlemen, who often paid the amount which was expected some fair damsel to earn, to have her as a partner in a game of cards.

From this time to 1873, a fair and tea party was held each year. In 1854 and 1855, Mr* Gunnison was pastor of the Society; both himself and _______ were earnest, active members and the gatherings at his house were well attended and very enjoyable. The winter schoolmasters found a home with him and were usually present at the meetings, with a number of the young men of the village, who wound yarn for mittens or held the skeins for some favored miss to wind. A record of one meeting reads thus: “the Ladies’ Sewing Circle (the name seems changed at this time) met with Mrs. Gunnison this evening; 24 worked for her, as many more worked for themselves or did not work at all. Quite a number of gentlemen present. The young people occupied the kitchen and after they became weary with their labors they laid work aside and engaged in various games, and apparently drew nectar from each other’s lips; to me, not very well posted in the matter, it seemed more strange than interesting; however, if they enjoyed it, we old fogies have no right to complain, having received a full share of the entertainment.”…… N. Gunnison, Secretary.

From the record of Mr. Gunnison’s report I copy the following “I here record my conviction that the ladies comprising the Sewing Circle connected with the Universalist society of Annisquam, are the most prompt, energetic and active of any circle of ladies with which 1 have passed an acquaintance; when they resolve to do a thing they go ahead and do it without any bluster at all. Their names will be held in remembrance so long as our hearts beat on earth: in heaven their society will add to our happiness.”

In 1857 and ’58, Mrs. Bray entertained the Circle in this hall, the members sewing and knitting for her. She would furnish a nice supper and all enjoyed their meetings who were present at the time.

In the records of one meeting about this time, the shirts upon which the evening’s work was spent were for an old bachelor of nearly seventy years, and the cloth being of a fine texture it was hinted that he might be contemplating matrimony. The young ladies began to arrange their curls, and look toward each other with that resignment which is usual on such occasions.

April 18, 1861: The ladies availed themselves of Mrs. Jewett’s invitation and at an early hour the room was filled; toward tea time the gentlemen arrived; 22 sat down to supper; several men came in the evening; all were excited over the news of the firing on fort Sumter.

Oct. 16th the same year: In response to a call from the Governor for socks and other necessaries for the soldiers, the ladies voted to buy yarn and knit socks. A quantity of Calico was given by patriotic citizens: the ladies are making it into quilts: every one seems much interested in working for their brave brothers who are engaged in defending their country’s flag.

“So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man.
>When duty whispers low “thou must”,
Then youth replies “I can”.

At a meeting a week or two later: We have 14 quilts ready to pack. The ladies are requested to buy linen, towels, sheets, pillowcases, etc. Some of the young people volunteered to beg money for blankets. Some gave money, some dry goods, some milk and some vegetables. Mrs. Pierce offered to find a horse and wagon and assist Miss Ann Sargent in finding a market for their produce. The next day found them on the road, some smiled at the novel eight, but all agreed at admiring their patriotism. They raised $15.75. The box: was packed and sent to Dr. Howe. The box contained, 43 pairs of socks, 2 1-2 dozen towels, 10 pair pillow cases, 11 shirts, 11 sheets, 17 quilts, 2 pair of mittens and two pair blankets. The ladies voted to spend the rest of the money in yarn for mittens, as government cannot furnish them in sufficient quantity, as they require a thumb and forefinger.

In January, 1862, they sent 40 pair of mittens to the Gloucester company at Fort Warren, and paid $137.76 to the parish committee towards Mr. Record’s salary. In 1862 at their festival, the entertainment consisted of singing, charades, a song of welcome, music by the orchestra, “A Nautical Sketch” written expressly for the occasion, by John N. Day, entitled the “Homes of England or the Meeting of the Dolphin”. In 1864 the fair was held 16 and 17. The weather was so cold and the large fire at Gloucester happening, it was postponed to February 22nd, when an entertainment of singing and charades was given: 23rd a supper for 25 cents, entrance fee included. 300 persons were fed. It was indeed a feast of fat things, realizing $341.09

In 1865 the ladies finished a quilt, the lining made of 262 pieces of unbleached cloth, an instance of their economy. 1866, voted to buy heating apparatus for the church. 1868, the proceeds from a festival, $124.97. The ladies voted $125 towards from the parish debt. 1869, the proceeds of a calico party were given for the same object. From a sale supper and dance, 1869, $146. 1871, they raised the price of an evening’s work from three to five cents. 1873, the proceeds from a festival was $90. 1875, from the same, $80.36. 1876, a sale brought $41. In June, 1877 the circle met with Rev. Mr. Leonard and wife at Pigeon Cove, and all present enjoyed the gathering very much. From an operetta in 1882, under the management of Mrs. Dyer and Miss Sarah Griffen, $30. 1883, from a Mother Goose Party, conducted by Miss Myrtle Davis, $10. A sociable in April of the same year with Miss Jarley’s “wax works and Fan Drill” $16763. 1884 from supper $38. 1885, coffee party, $14.43. Our last fair at Christmastime, $353.24.

By their untiring industry and perseverance, the ladies have raised nearly or quite $4,000, the greatest part being expended for the church and preaching, a most worthy object.

This hall, where on so many happy occasions this Society has gathered, seems haunted with the presence of those who now rest from their labors.

“Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors
We meet them at the doorway, on the stairs,
Along the passages they come and go.”

“Yes, happy places have grown holy:
< If we go where once we went,
Only tears will fall down slowly,
At solemn sacrament”,

“Tonight, royal womanhood gathers here
Not alone to toast, and cheer,
There’s a deeper meaning in song and speech,
Than aught save the ear of heaven may reach,
< Some smiles have served as a sigh to hide,
Under some laughter a sob has died
For the great brave hearts, that we ever miss
At the home, by the hearth, or in scenes like this.”

To you, my friends, who are still bearing the ark on your shoulders, may your courage never fail, or falter, but emulating the example of those who have done so nobly, may it descend to other generations with as blessed memories.

“We are older, and footsteps so light in their play
Of the far-away school-time, move slower today.
Here’s a head touched with frost: there’s a bald shining crown,
And beneath the cap’s borders grey mingles with brown;
But faith should be cheerful, and trust should be glad,
And our follies and sins, not our years, make us sad.”

And when this Society’s 100th anniversary is celebrated, though we cannot be present in form, may we in spirit see that the tree our mothers planted, shall have grown to more beautiful proportions, and that its fruits are still blessing this community.

“Time hastens on, and we,
what our mothers are shall be:
Shadow shapes of memory.
Joined to that vast multitude
Where the great are but the good.

The golden sands run out; illusions like these
Glide swift into shadow like sails on the seas.
Not vainly the gifts of its founders were made,
Not prayerless the stones of its corners were laid.
The blessings of Him who in secret they sought
Has owned the good work which the mothers have wrought.”