By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The recent Living History Day held on the grounds of Westborough High School was co-sponsored by the Westborough Historical Society and the Westborough Historical Commission. It emphasized the important work of the women who stayed behind as husbands, fathers and brothers went off with the Union Army in the “War of Rebellion.”
Phyllis Jaffee of the Historical Commission said, “The re-enactment has given me wonderful insight to what the women of Westborough contributed to the war effort. The Women's Sewing Society was partially funded by the town and was charged with outfitting the town's soldiers.”
Detailed minutes of their monthly meetings were kept by the group from April of 1861 through 1865.
“The minutes give us an incredibly interesting catalog of everything they sent to the soldiers,” Jaffee said.
Soldiers” Sewing societies were actually a branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which was expected to prevent diseases in hospitals and campsites occupied by the troops. The group worked to improve sanitary conditions, provide clean water and good food for the soldiers, and also was responsible for the distribution of the supplies provided by the local women.
Back home, one of the first tasks was making traditional blue flannel shirts and drawers. The women also sewed towels, blankets and handkerchiefs. They used wooden knitting needles to knit socks, mittens and scarves. Making and rolling bandages was another important task. Some of the supplies collected included spices, pickles, wine, cheese and other scarce food items.
Each soldier was issued only one shirt, one pair of drawers and one pair of wool socks. In 1861, the Sewing Society contributed 1,700 pieces of clothing, including 56 pairs of mittens to supplement the meager military gear.
In order to pay for these supplies, the women raised money through concerts, programs, fairs and community dinners. The women of Westborough made it their mission to improve the lives of their loved ones who were off fighting.
The local ladies who portrayed the women during the Civil War Encampment were dressed in period costumes, including crocheted mitts and snoods (old-fashioned hair nets) with long hoop skirts. Paula Skog, of the Historical Commission, wore a special brooch made of dried flowers.
Of the 56 Westborough men who served in Company K of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 25 were killed during the war. The dedication and commitment of the faithful women back home contributed to the Union cause.