The Hippo


Nov 20, 2019








Unsung female heroes
Historian talks about notable Derry women

By Kelly Sennott

 Robert Frost. Alan Shepard. General George Reid. If you live in Derry — probably if you live anywhere in New Hampshire — you know that these famous, historic men have ties to the area. 

But not so many people know about Derry’s women, says local historian Karen Blandford-Anderson, which is why she’s presenting a lecture, “Heroic Women of Derry,” at the Derry Public Library Monday, Aug. 10, as part of its adult summer reading series, “Escape the Ordinary.”
“We hear a lot about Alan Shepard, Robert Frost, the Pinkertons — the famous men. But very rarely do you hear about the women!” Blandford-Anderson said via phone last week.
Even before it was acceptable for women to go to school, vote, run for office, run a business or have a career, there were women in Derry who snuck through the cracks and did it anyway. Blandford-Anderson discovered women like Molly Reid, Flora Stewart, Annie Fraser Norton, Helen Hood and Harriet Prescott Spofford through her own personal research and her volunteer work at the Derry History Museum (located inside the Adams Memorial Building). They paved the way for women in Derry, but they often did so unnoticingly. 
Reid, for instance, raised five kids and successfully ran her husband General George Reid’s farm while he was fighting alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War.
“Molly Reid’s husband was gone for seven years. He’s the one who got all the glory. but she ran the farm, raised the kids, and did all the things to keep her family afloat, and she probably sent money and supplies to her husband,” Blandford-Anderson said.
Of course, that was normal; all the women ran things while the men were away fighting the British. (Even Ben Franklin’s wife, Blandford-Anderson explained, ran the printing company while he was gone. “He’s famous for the printing press, but his wife was the one who was doing the majority of the work,” she said.)
Mary Lyon was a teacher at the Adams Female Academy in Derry — a private all-girls school, established when Pinkerton became all-boys — before founding Mount Holyoke College in 1837 and becoming its first principal for 12 years. And she taught everything.
“She didn’t just teach them reading and writing and manners,” Blandford-Anderson said. 
From her letters and biographies, it’s clear Lyon’s lessons required high-level thinking, and that she thought women needed to be educated in the same way men were. 
Harriet Prescott Spofford was another notable Derry woman. She was known for her novels, poems and detective stories, and for being published in the Atlantic Monthly in the mid-1800s.
“Harriet Prescott Spofford’s parents wanted her to become a nice housewife. They sent her to all these schools, but she kind of refused to do that,” Blandford-Anderson said. “She wrote books, short stories. … One of her contemporaries was Emily Dickinson.”
Blandford-Anderson said her presentation will likely cover 10 to 12 of Derry’s notable females. Details about some of the older ladies — Reid, especially — were difficult to find, but she found a few anecdotes, which she’ll share. 
Blandford-Anderson was still in the midst of research at the time of her interview. There were a few texts to go over, a few details to finalize, plus she wanted to interview some of her subjects still alive — like Phyllis Katsakiores, a former Derry town councilor and newspaper reporter who was one of the first women to serve the New Hampshire House of Representatives in the 1980s.
“It’s interesting,” Blandford-Anderson said. “In the early 1900s, of course, women got the right to vote, but it wasn’t really until the ‘70s and ‘80s that women really got the chance to be elected. So those are the kinds of things we’ll talk about, both the progression of the town and the women who have kind of set the pace for us. … Some of these women really had to break some ground.” 
As seen in the July 30th 2015 issue of the Hippo. 

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