hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

January 26, 2012

city's women behind the Civil War

City museum seeks stories of locals who did their part at home

By Tim McCarthy
tmccarthy@hgazette.com

The Buttonwoods Museum wants to resurrect some long-forgotten Haverhill history.

It has to do with events that took place far behind the front lines during the Civil War.

"Serve the Common Cause: Haverhill's Women in the Civil War," an exhibit planned by the museum for this summer, will expose visitors to the stories and struggles of the women and families left by behind by Haverhill's fathers and sons during the war.

These aren't stories the Buttonwoods hopes to tell alone, however, as the museum solicits donations of artifacts, photographs and other items that can be provided by Haverhill residents.

"It's a story that's not been told very often," museum curator Janice Williams said. "We're hoping to find enough stories about Haverhill women to really bring it home."

So far, the museum has collected 75 objects and images to display. The museum's seven volunteers expect to spend more than 150 hours piecing together histories and local legends of how Haverhill women helped in the war effort.

Two such stories include those of Nancy Buswell and Lucinda Worther.

Buswell, a hat maker by trade, knitted together a makeshift Old Glory out of hat materials for the Hale Guard in 1861. She made the flag after discovering the men in that fighting group from Haverhill lacked a flag. Williams said Buswell's flag and portrait will be on display for the exhibit.

Worther, a nurse for the Union, disguised herself as a solider and snuck into military units in order to find her brother. She was eventually caught by officers during a uniform inspection when, upon removing her cap, they saw her full head of hair.

Williams said these stories should draw families across the region to the museum and, hopefully, encourage them to share their own family stories or historical items.

Other tidbits of forgotten history the museum is keeping tabs on include women's "benefaction" societies, which put together care packages for soldiers and their families, and photos of a nurse training ground at the former Bradford Academy — which later became Bradford College and is now Zion Bible College.

Besides the displays, Williams said the museum will offer Civil War-focused events during a youth camp in February and a quilting contest in September.

Other Massachusetts museums will take part with their own Civil War exhibits. They include the Wenham Museum, Ipswich Museum and the North Andover Historical Society.

Lindsay Diehl, executive director of the Wenham Museum, said it will focus on the home life of Massachusetts families, with special attention paid to children growing up during the war.

"A large part of our mission is to make history feel relevant today," Diehl said. "It's a way to connect with people living then and now."

To contact the Buttonwoods Museum with information on your family's Civil War-era women or for more information, email info@haverhillhistory.org or mail the Buttonwoods Museum at 240 Water Street, Haverhill MA 01830.