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Holliston - Local Town Pages

Celebrating Women’s History Month, Holliston looks to its archives

Historical Society shares glimpse of lives of historic Holliston women

March is Women’s History Month, a time to consider the impact that women have had on history. 

A look at Holliston’s women of the past tells us a lot about what it was like for women living in Holliston – the challenges of the times, and the impact women made on local history. They have many stories to tell.  Looking back through Holliston’s three centuries of history reveals many of these forgotten heroines.

Life in Holliston, especially for the ladies, was not always a comfortable existence. Previous histories written in the 19th and early 20th town histories seldom mentioned women.  The ladies of Holliston formed religious, charitable, suffrage and anti-slavery societies.   Newspaper articles featuring them were few, but the scant few of the articles do manage to give us hints about their existence. For instance, there were stories about their legal status.

Hint to Engaged Young Ladies

It is probably not generally known that when once a woman has accepted an offer of marriage, all she has or expects to have, becomes virtually the property of the man thus accepted as a husband, and no gift or deed executed by her between the period of acceptance and the marriage, is held to be valid; for were she permitted to give away or otherwise settle her property, he might be disappointed of the wealth he looked to in making the offer.  The Holliston Transcript, Dec. 27, 1856.

Stories mentioned other aspects of women’s lives – not surprising, even about their clothes.


Quite a lively controversy is in progress concerning this fashion of female attire.  If we may venture to touch so delicate a topic, we would say that a moderate use of this article gives a very graceful air to the figure, and is unquestionably far more conducive to health than the quantities of skirts and bishoply appendages which previously weighed down and encumbered the form.  We believe in hoops; only, kind ladies, don’t expand them too widely.  There is only so much breadth to our house-doors, church-aisles, and side walks; and please do not use it all up yourself, when others may be waiting for a chance to move on.  The Holliston Transcript, July 25, 1857.

The lives of women in America, and in Holliston as well, began to change in the 1850s – what with those legal and cultural circumstances driving many women to – politely, usually – rebel. What taught women to speak out more forcefully was the suffrage movement. Many of the old laws began to disappear due to the strong support of women who learned how to organize with the abolitionist societies in Massachusetts. One Holliston woman, “C.C.M” – likely a pseudonym – published a long tirade forcefully advocating for the right to vote. Here is an excerpt of that long tirade published in a local newspaper on Oct. 17, 1871:

“But how much freer do we stand to-day before the nations of the earth?  But little.  The country has been rid of a terrible pest in the shape of slavery, but woman is still held in subjection without a  voice in her government; and she may accumulate property, while man ---  that little, puny being, man --- who thinks himself almost a god, will extort from her as high a tax upon it as possible in order to further his own sordid self-interest and selfish  ends.  

That women will have the right of suffrage is only a question of time; then I say to the women of the country, Demand your just rights.”

Life was often difficult for women in Holliston. Many had to find a way to survive on  their own. Some were lucky to have family to help with support. Some did not. All their stories are thought-provoking. Here is another snippet from a local newspaper: 

Sept. 24, 1898: A lady in East Holliston, whose husband has been absent for 14 years, was surprised one afternoon this week by his unannounced return.  He stopped only an hour or two, and on leaving left five twenty-dollar gold pieces with the daughter.  He said he had been living in Dakota and owned a nice farm there.

Reading through the archives of Holliston’s history, one develops a great respect for the many brave women of Holliston living in a time of few supports and overwhelming challenges. May we honor them all during this 300th year celebration.

Submitted by Joanne Hulbert of the Holliston Historical Society