By Joan Goodchild, Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – Notable events in women's history in the United States often bring to mind the women's rights convention that took place in 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y. But what many may not realize is that, while Seneca Falls was a regional gathering, Worcester was the place where women's rights first gained national prominence. The first national women's rights convention was held in Worcester in 1850.
Inspired by this, a group of women launched the Worcester Women's History Project (WWHP) in 2000, 150 years after the Worcester conference. In 2008, the Worcester Women's Oral History Project was born out of the WWHP initiative. With the help of area college students, 250 stories were collected from women of varying ages, ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. They are now included in the archives of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe Institute, part of Harvard University.
Shrewsbury resident Charlene Martin and Maureen Ryan Doyle, of Holden, co-chaired the oral history effort and decided the compelling stories should be available in a more accessible form. They have created a book that compiles many of the tales and is called, “Voices of Worcester Women.”
“The issues of the convention in 1850 were education, work, health and politics,” Martin explained. “We decided to have chapters on these themes to see how far we have come in 160 years and how far we have to go.”
About a third of the 250 stories collected made it into the book.
“Deciding which of the 250 would be included was the hard part,” she said.
Subjects who were interviewed range in age from 18 to 103 and include some of the first women professors at area colleges and universities such as Assumption, College of the Holy Cross and WPI. Another interviewee spoke of her time teaching at a Japanese internment camp in the 1940s because she felt compelled to help.
“I think these stories really help people connect with other people,” Martin said. “When you hear another person's story, regardless of how different it may be from your own experience, you can appreciate what they have gone through.”
Martin and Ryan Doyle have been signing their book at area bookstores and libraries and maintain a blog page about the effort at http://voicesofworcesterwomen.blogspot.com.