Framingham History Fun Facts

How Framingham got its Civil War Memorial monument

It is recorded that after the Civil War, when the people of Framingham desired to erect a memorial to their soldiers, they found they could buy the present monument for thirty-five hundred dollars. Of this amount, five hundred dollars came easily; then donations lagged. A delegation contacted George Phipps in the old B. & A. depot – he was bound for St. Louis. They explained their position, spoke of the need of funds, and emphasized the beauty of the memorial. George Phipps listened patiently and then reached for his wallet, from which he counted out and handed to the speaker three thousand dollars, saying “Here’s your money, now buy your ‘dumb’ graven image!” And that’s how Framingham got its Civil War Memorial.

Framingham in the Civil War

The Edgell Memorial Library is a lasting symbol of extraordinary volunteer spirit that runs through Framingham’s rich history. That community spirit was on full display when Framingham was the first town in Massachusetts to establish a volunteer regiment to fight in the “War of the Rebellion.” As Tom Ellis, a Civil War historian wrote, “Framingham has a record of contributions toward preserving the Union that is second to no other municipality in the Commonwealth. Framingham acted as a lion during the Civil War, giving much more than was required of her.” It sent 12% of its population at the time – 530 men and suffered 52 fatalities.

34 Star Civil War Flag

One of the highlights of a tour through the Edgell Memorial Library is viewing the 34-star Civil War flag carried by the 13th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. This silk flag (c. 1861) was a gift to the Regiment from the firm of Hogg, Brown & Taylor of Boston, through the efforts of George B. Brown of Framingham. It was carried into battle at Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and elsewhere. Twenty-eight men from Framingham were members of the 13th Regiment. Altogether 530 men from Framingham were enlisted in the Union Army.

At the end of the war, the 13th Regiment returned the flag to Mr. Brown who then passed it on to the Town of Framingham at the dedication ceremony of the Edgell Memorial Library in 1873. Members of the Framingham Historical Society discovered the tattered flag in a cupboard in the Library in 1999 and raised the funds to restore it for the town’s tercentennial in 2000.

Hurricane of 1938 in Framingham

The first casualty of the hurricane of 1938 was the Civil War statue in front of the Edgell Memorial Library. He was knocked off his pedestal not by the wind but by a maple tree that was blown over by the 100 mile an hour gusts. He’s looking good as new now after about 20 children at Family Day gave him a bath last Saturday with Rika McNally an outdoor sculpture preservationist.

Framingham’s Connection to the Salem Witch Trials

Did you know that Thomas Danforth provided part of his land to a victim of the notorious Salem Witch Trials? In 1692, a council was established to look into the accusations of witchcraft in Salem. As Deputy Governor of Massachusetts Bay, Thomas Danforth presided over these early proceedings. After leaving office in 1693, Danforth worked behind the scenes to bring an end to the witch hysteria. Sarah Clayes, one of the accused, mysteriously escaped from prison and ended up, with her husband and children, living on Thomas Danforth’s land in an area that came to be known as “Salem End.”

Top Ten Remarkable Women from Framingham ‘s History

In honor of Women’s History Month, we are sharing former Town Historian Stephen Herring’s list of 10 Remarkable Women from Framingham’s history!

First some rules. Framingham has a history as a town that is older than the United States, and as a plantation that goes back to the earliest days of colonial settlement. It is important to demonstrate that the historical contributions of the women of Framingham encompass our entire history, and that excellent nominees may be found in every era.

Mary Eames (16?? – 1676) PIONEER

Mary Eames was born Mary Blanton in the early 17th century. She was a widow when she married Thomas Eames, a widower, in 1662. They both had children by their previous marriages, and together would have six more. In 1669 they moved from the relative security of the town of Sudbury to take advantage of better farm land to the southwest. This was in unincorporated territory owned by Thomas Danforth who called his land Framingham Plantation after his native English village.

But this land was on the edge of civilization, open to wilderness lands where the native people still lived. The Eames family was thus a true American pioneer family, and Mary Eames, raising all those children as well as working a large farm, was a true pioneer woman. And unfortunately, this family would pay the price that many American families paid as the westward expansion of American civilization clashed with the native inhabitants of the land.

By 1676 the Eames farm was well-established. A house and a large barn stood on a hill near Farm Pond called Mount Wayte. The Indians under a chief named King Philip had begun a campaign of terror to rid the land of the English intruders. Outpost farms such as the Eames homestead were the most vulnerable. On February first of that year, while Tomas Eames was away to get soldiers to help guard his farm, eleven warriors attacked. Mary Eames valiantly defended herself, her family, and her farm. She and at least three children were slain, and three or more taken into captivity.

Our histories call this the Eames Massacre. But as Mary Eames did fight back, I prefer to call it the Battle of Mount Wayte, the only battle in our nation’s history to be fought on Framingham soil, and it was fought by a woman. This alone earns Mary Eames a place in our hall of fame, but I present her to you as a pioneer wife, mother, homesteader, as well as a defender of the American dream.

Sarah Clayes (1638-1703) SALEM REFUGEE

Mary Eames showed great courage in facing her assailants, and courage is a theme that runs through the women’s history of Framingham. My next nominee, Sarah Clayes, was also a woman of remarkable courage. In her case it was not the native people of Massachusetts that she had to stand up to, but her own neighbors who nearly had her hanged.

Sarah Clayes was born Sarah Town in 1638, probably in Salem. Like the Eameses, she and Peter Clayes were both widowed when they married in 1682, combining large families. Sarah and her family were well settled into life at Salem Village when a new terror swept across the land. It was the witchcraft hysteria that held most of Essex County in its grip for most of the year 1692.

Salem Village was at the epicenter of the crisis. A gang of repressed pubescent girls had taken control of a credulous, superstitious community. These girls discovered that their “visions” of certain women of the village were taken seriously by the authorities. The women appearing in these visions were deemed to be witches, subject to the capital laws of the colony. Sarah’s older sister, Rebecca Nurse, was one such woman. According to legend, when the town minister started preaching about witches among them, Sarah abruptly got up and left the meetinghouse, slamming the door behind her. She was accused, indicted, and put in jail. While in jail she learned that her sister Rebecca, and a younger sister, Mary Easty, had both gone to their deaths at Gallows Hill. She would surely be next. But with the help of her husband, she managed to escape her jail and disappear into the night, only to reappear the next spring, after the crisis has passed, at a place called Framingham Plantation.

And so Sarah Clayes, a refugee from terror and oppression as would be so many refugees to America after her, began a new home on the frontier. With many other families from Salem, they founded the Salem End community, along Salem End Road. It was this group of families that opened the door for Framingham Plantation to become the Town of Framingham, seven years later, in 1700. So, in addition to the courage with which Sarah Clayes stood up to the hysteria of Salem, I credit her as a founding mother of the Town of Framingham, earning her a place in our hall of fame.

Lydia Learned (1730-1792) WRITER and POET

The Framingham that Sarah Clayes had helped bring about was run by men in a man’s world. She could not vote at Town Meeting nor hold elective office. This is the way our civilization was back then, and would be for more than two centuries. During this time the education of women was not considered of great importance, and by some it was considered downright dangerous.

It is therefore remarkable to find in the eighteenth century a woman of letters, even more so in a remote farming village as Framingham was at that time. But Framingham does have in its history such a woman, Lydia Learned.

Lydia Learned was born in Framingham in 1730, the second of eleven children born to Moses and Lydia Learned. Their farm was at the south end of a pond we know today as Learned Pond. We know little of Lydia’s formal education, but must suppose that she was self-taught, for the Framingham school system at that time offered little more than functional literacy, especially for girls. She became a school teacher herself, and had a natural love of writing. Historian Josiah Temple described her as “a voluminous writer in prose and verse, much of which was printed.” That her work was published is most unusual, as there were few printing presses in colonial America, certainly none in Framingham, and anything that was printed was usually by ministers or politicians, all men.

Lydia wrote wonderful poems and serious religious treatises. When the community was shocked by the sudden death of two of its citizens by a bolt of lightening in 1777, she wrote a lengthy elegy that was printed and widely circulated. It so moved the families of the deceased that parts of it were inscribed on the headstones of the victims, and can still be read in the Old Burying Ground cemetery to this day.

In my estimation, Lydia Learned sowed the first seeds of a Framingham tradition that values education; a tradition carried on by the Framingham Academy, the Sate Normal School, and the model school system of the twentieth century, and deserves a place in our women’s hall of fame.

Hannah Gleason Nixon (1744-1831) MINUTEMAN WIFE

American history glorifies the many men who fought in the wars that made this country great, but pays little attention to the women who were left behind, who kept the home fires burning, tending to business, raising families, and keeping the community together after the men marched off to war. I would like to include in our hall of fame a woman who represents the wives who had to carry on back home, and all too often found themselves a widow when it was all over.

The woman from Framingham’s history who best meets these criteria is Hannah Gleason Nixon. She was born Hannah Drury in Framingham in 1744, and married Micajah Gleason about 1763. They lived on a part of the main county road that is now called Old Connecticut Path. They had two daughters. When the troubles with Great Britain began, Micajah was elected captain of one of Framingham’s two companies of minutemen. (LED/DD?) When the Revolutionary War began in earnest, Micajah went off to serve in the Continental Army. Hannah decided to take advantage of the location of their farm and opened their house as a tavern, and to the surprise of many, actually made a profit.

Micajah Gleason was killed in the Battle of White Plains. Now a war widow, it might be expected that Hannah would be reluctant to remarry a military man, but that is what she did. The war was still raging when she agreed to marry John Nixon, another captain of minutemen who had risen to the rank of general in the Continental Army. He was a widower with young children of his own who needed a mother, and Hannah did own a tavern. What more would a soldier want?

And so I offer Hannah Gleason Nixon, the wife a two heroes of the American Revolution, a war widow, and an enterprising business woman, as a deserving nominee for our hall of fame.

Mary Rice  (1762-1855) INDUSTRY FOUNDER

Hannah Gleason Nixon also represented a tradition in our history of women skilled in business, and that tradition really took off in the nineteenth century when the new nation was free to expand into new and exciting business ventures. In Framingham, one woman who demonstrated that spirit of American entrepreneurship to its fullest potential was Mary Rice, founder of a major Framingham industry.

Mary Rice was born Mary Eames in 1762, a descendant of early settler Thomas Eames. She married Captain Uriah Rice in 1784 and had three daughters. They lived at Rice’s End on Old Connecticut Path, near Concord Street.

About 1800 a new fashion in women’s headgear was spreading from England. It was called the Dunstable bonnet, and it was made of straw. As an imported article it was too expensive for poor farming families to afford, but Mary Rice was among the first women in New England to realize that such bonnets could easily be made right here, from good old American straw. So she and her three daughters got to work raising winter rye, cutting and splitting it, and braiding it into long ribbons that were then sewed into the shape of bonnets of various sizes and designs. They were an instant hit. Mary Rice had founded a cottage industry that was taken up by many families in Framingham, and eventually moved into factories and was the major manufacturing business of Framingham by the 1850’s.

And Mary Rice kept good business records. In her own hand she described her first year: “We began working on straw bonnets and trimmings on October 2, 1800, and cleared $340.” Not bad for a start-up. She stayed in this business for fifty years, retiring at the age of eighty-eight. As the founder of Framingham’s first major manufacturing business, I recommend Mary Rice for our women’s hall of fame.

Margaret E. Knight  (1839-1914) INVENTOR

Framingham’s business history has always been tied to developments in technology, and the history of technology in America is also the history of invention. America has many great inventors, and this too seems to have been a domain of men. But there have been many women inventors, and one of them was also a Framingham woman, Margaret Elizabeth Knight.

Margaret Knight was not a Framingham native. She was born in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1839. Manchester is a famous mill town, and Margaret, like so many girls of that town, worked in the mills. Her natural talent for understanding all things mechanical, and the many horrible accidents that she witnessed in the mills, led her to invent several safety devices that became standard to textile-making equipment. Soon she was devoting all her time to inventing mechanical devices for a wide variety of applications.

She moved her office and lab to Boston, but decided to be a Framingham commuter.

In 1889 she rented a house on Hollis Street from the Curry family. She was already a well established inventor at that time. In 1871 she had received a patent for the machine that makes the flat-bottomed paper grocery bag that we all still use today. Her 87 patented inventions include an improved tin can for food storage, shoe making machinery, machines for processing cotton and rubber, steam engines, gas engines, and even a rotary engine. Her last invention was an automobile engine: the silent Knight motor, invented shortly before her death in 1914 at the age of 75.

And so, as a pioneer in the field of technical advancement carried on in Framingham by such names as Dennison, International Engineering, and Bose, I nominate Margaret Knight to our women’s hall of fame.

Louise Mayo (1868-1952) SUFFRAGETTE

One of the most important events in our national women’s history was the opening of the voting franchise to half the nation’s population — its women — an event that culminated with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution. And the women of Framingham were active in that effort. To represent these women, and to honor her own personal sacrifice for that cause, I would like to nominate suffragette Louise Mayo.

Louise Mayo was born Louise Parker in 1868. As a mother of seven living up on Nixon Road, she felt so strongly about the issue of women’s rights that she joined the local chapter of the Equal Suffrage League. With encouragement from the new and more militant National Women’s Party, she put aside the many responsibilities of family life to travel to Washington in July of 1917 to picket the White House. Unjustly arrested and sentenced to 60 days along with 16 other women, Mrs. Mayo endured two days in jail before a pardon came from President Wilson. That event received national attention and moved this nation closer to embracing the idea of voting rights for all Americans.

The National Women’s Party recognized the special sacrifice that Louise Mayo made for the cause by awarding her and others who were imprisoned for their beliefs with small pins in the shape of a jail door. We are very fortunate to have Louise Mayo’s jail door pin in the collection of the Historical Society, and thanks to the efforts of Laurie Evans-Daly, silver reproductions were made, and I am proud to be wearing one of them today.

And so as the leading suffragette of Framingham, I am pleased to place the name of Louise Mayo in our hall of fame.

Meta W.Fuller (1878-1968) ARTIST and SCULPTRESS

I have recognized Framingham women as pioneers, leaders in business and technology, and bringers of social change, but I do not want to neglect the arts. We have had many fine female artists in Framingham, and I know the activities of the Garden Club involve artistic expression that the entire community can appreciate. The artist that best epitomizes this endeavor, in my opinion, would be Meta Warrick Fuller.

Born in Philadelphia as Meta Vaux Warrick in 1878, Meta Fuller received an education in art in Philadelphian and in Paris. With encouragement from famed French sculptor Auguste Rodin she launched a career as an internationally recognized sculptress of subjects with African and slavery themes. She returned to the United States and married Dr. Solomon Fuller in 1909. In her studio on Warren Road, Mrs. Fuller worked on various commissions, and taught classes in sculpture. An exhibit of her work was mounted in Washington, D.C. in the early 1930’s. Mrs. Fuller received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Livingston College in 1962. She was active in Framingham civic organizations, and many of her works were done for the benefit of this town.

On January 17, 1995, the Framingham School Committee voted unanimously to name the new middle school on Flagg Drive (formerly Framingham South High School) the Fuller Middle School, in memory of Dr. Solomon Fuller and his wife Meta Warrick Fuller.

I would now extend that honor by naming Meta Fuller to our women’s hall of fame.

Dr. Miriam VanWaters (1887-1974) REFORMER

The women’s history of Framingham would be incomplete without mentioning the fact the Framingham is home to the only women’s prison in Massachusetts, MCI-Framingham. This prison came about in the nineteenth century as an act of social reform, to protect women from the male inmate population. This idea of social reform was advanced at the prison by a succession of women superintendents, including Red Cross founder Clara Barton, but was probably take to its highest point by Dr. Miriam VanWaters.

Born in Oregon in 1887 to a pioneer family that valued social equality, Miriam VanWaters received her doctorate from Clark University in Worcester in 1913.

Miriam VanWaters was a recognized author of books on juvenile crime when she was appointed superintendent of MCI-Framingham in 1932. She gained a national reputation for her progressive management of the prison, where she referred to inmates as students, and developed programs to rehabilitate them as useful citizens. This reputation attracted the attention of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited the prison and addressed the inmates.

In 1948 these reforms came under attack by more punishment-oriented officials. Public hearings in Boston put her whole career on trial. Leading citizens of Framingham stepped forward and courageously supported Dr. Van Waters, helping to secure her vindication and allowing her to keep running the prison as she saw fit until her retirement in 1957.

She has been the subject of two biographies, the latest in 1998 titled “Maternal Justice.”

As a social reformer, and one who stood up to those who would destroy her work, I heartily recommend Dr. Miriam VanWaters to the hall of fame.

Christa McAuliffe (1948-1986) TEACHER ASTRONAUT

My final nominee brings us into the space age. But in a way, this woman represents a culmination of the contributions made by all these Framingham women that came before her. Christa McAuliffe was a pioneer, a woman of courage, advancing technology, promoting education, ultimately reaching a position as a woman in a traditionally male domain.

Born in Boston as Sharon Christa Corrigan in 1948, her parents were part of the great post-WWII migration to the suburbs, coming to Framingham in the 1950’s. Her mother, Grace Corrigan, still lives on Joseph Road. She graduated from Marian High School then went on to prepare for a teaching career at Framingham State College, graduating in 1970. She married attorney Steven McAuliffe, had two children, and was a social studies teacher at the Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire.

On July 19, 1985 Christa Corrigan McAuliffe was selected from a field of 10,000 candidates to be America’s first teacher-astronaut. She became an international celebrity overnight. She was assigned to the seven-member crew of NASA’s shuttle mission 51-L, a ninety-seven orbit voyage aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

The Challenger disaster of January 28, 1986 put Christa McAuliffe’s celebrity in a whole new light. She became a true American hero. The Town of Framingham honored her by naming the Saxonville Branch Library after her. Framingham State College established the Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Center for Education and Teaching Excellence and later the Challenger Learning Center. Today, Christa McAuliffe’s words appear in large shining letters over the stage at Framingham State College’s main auditorium in Dwight Hall: “I touch the future, I teach.”

And so as the model for Framingham’s women of the past and the future, I complete my nominations with the name of Christa McAuliffe.