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Frances (Fanny) Wadsworth Valentine

Frances (Fanny) Wadsworth Valentine (1880-1959). Source: Ashland Historical Society

Write your article here..In honor of Women’s History Month, this article was submitted by Cliff Wilson, President of the Ashland Historical Society. 

Fanny Wadsworth Valentine (name on birth record) was born April 5, 1880, on Mt. Bowdoin Terrace in Dorchester, Mass., the daughter of George Albert Valentine and Anna Elizabeth Loring. To simplify matters for the rest of this article, it should be noted that her grandfather John Tyng Valentine was the first cousin of William Price Valentine who, at the time of Fanny’s birth, owned what we now call the Valentine Estate on West Union Street in Ashland.

At 18 years old, she graduated from Girl’s Latin School and enrolled at Smith College in Northampton. Frances was captain of the Pomeroy Delta Sigma basketball team. She graduated from Smith in 1902 and maintained a lifelong connection to the school.

In May of 1905, she was at the Grafton Country Club’s horse and hound show along with President Garfield’s son and Senator Hanna’s son and in April of the same year she was a bride’s maid at the wedding of Elizabeth Whitin in Whitinsville. Her father, George, died in 1907. In 1910, she was still living with her mother, brother, and sister-in-law in Boston. In 1912, the family moved to Westerly, RI, where Frances took up the occupation of farming.  

In 1914, Frances, at the age of 33, moved to Washington, DC, and was employed by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics. She began to travel the country, gathering information on minimum wages, wages paid to women, health issues, and workman’s compensation. As the United States entered World War I, Frances was in Kansas, recruiting women to go to New Jersey to peel tomatoes for the canning industry. But this was evidently not enough support for Frances. In March of 1918, she joined 18 other “Smith Girls” in France, driving supply trucks for the ravaged villages. In May of the same year, she was in the Somme district in France, 10 miles from the advancing enemy line. Although ordered to retreat, Frances and her friends felt they could not leave the peasants alone. They spent two days under fire evacuating villages and bringing the French to safe quarters. In October, Frances and two of her friends left the unit and joined the American Women’s Hospital Service, driving ambulances for the French army.

In 1920, the French government honored Frances with an individual citation, as follows:

“Miss Frances Valentine, American member of the American Red Cross of New York: Under shell fire during the offence of March and April 1918, she helped with the evacuation of the sick, aged, and children and with the establishment of canteens and rest huts on the Montdidier, Poix, and Beauvais fronts. She has had nearly three years’ service and had actual charge of the reconstruction and relief of 30 villages.” 

After returning from the war, Frances again took up her job with the Department of Labor. In 1922, she went to Pennsylvania to study the living conditions and costs in the coal mining communities.

In March of 1924, Frances bought two parcels of land on West Union Street in Ashland. One parcel contained 12 acres, the other contained 30 acres. She moved into the house across the street from the Valentine estate and began to farm in Ashland on land that past-generations of Valentines had owned.

In 1927, Frances, representing the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of America, went to

Alabama to study the use of hydro-electric power in providing electricity to rural communities. She took special interest in the farms and their use of electricity.

Frances was elected to the executive committee of the American Red Cross, Ashland Chapter in 1929. They had just set up their headquarters at the new Telechron clubhouse on Main Street. That same year she purchased an additional 129 acres of land adjacent to her farm. Today, the Ashland Community Center is located on a portion of that property.

Along with her farming, she continued her work with the Department of Labor, supervising many surveys mostly regarding health.

World War II obviously brought many changes to the labor market as many workers joined the armed forces. Farm labor was no exception. The country still needed a food supply. Frances was appointed to represent the Women’s Bureau of the Labor Department on the regional labor supply committee. Recognizing the need to use women in the farm labor force, Frances opened her house to a dozen or more Smith College students and assisted training them in farm work as part of the newly formed Women’s Land Army. She continued her work with the Labor Department trying to determine the fate of the women as the men returned from the war.

Frances continued to live in Ashland until her death on Feb. 5, 1959, at 78 years old.