The Latest News
Your donations help support Hopkinton Historical Society's efforts to preserve and share the history of our town and its people through exhibits, programs, and special events. Thank you for your support!
Recent Zoom Programs
Railroad Driving Tour
Hopkinton Historical Society Hours
Hopkinton Historical Society is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 9-4.
Beginning April 16, the Society will also be open from 9-1.
Thank you, and we look forward to seeing you!
Frederick Douglass Community Reading
A public reading of one of the 19th century’s most famous speeches will take place at noon on Friday, July 1 at the Hopkinton Town Hall in Hopkinton, N.H.
“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” asked Frederick Douglass in 1852. Douglass, one of our nation’s greatest orators and abolitionists, was asked to speak at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In his provocative speech, Douglass said, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” And he asked, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?” Douglass’s speech remains emotionally powerful and thought-provoking more than a century and a half after he gave it.
Organized locally by the Hopkinton Historical Society and statewide by the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, people of all ages and different walks of life are asked to gather at noon at the Hopkinton Town Hall located at 330 Main St. to take turns reading parts of the speech until the entire speech has been read. Community leaders around the country participate in these readings—people such as town officials, teachers and activists, the police and fire chiefs, and heads of key organizations come together with ordinary neighborhood folk.
All are welcome to participate. Contact Heather Mitchell at the Hopkinton Historical Society if you would like to read part of Douglass’s speech. Email email@example.com or call 603-746-3825.
6/25 Abenaki Birchbark Containers with Dan Shears and Brian Chenevert, 10 am at the Society
7/TBD Pop-Up Event: Mushroom Workshop and Forage with Will Hopkins, location TBD
Due to the necessity of rain for mushroom foraging, the date for this program will not be set until a few days prior to when it is held. Sign up for the program in advance by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and an email will be sent to you when the date is determined.
7/11 Cooking Program: Abenaki Squash Soup with Liz Charlebois via Zoom. Register here.
7/31 Herb Walk with Lynn Clowes, 10 am at Kimball Lake Cabins
8/4 Native Plants and Food -- Connecting with Plants through Time with Ruth Smith, 6:30 pm at the Society
8/11 Cooking Program: Fry Bread with Darryl Peasley, 7 pm via Zoom. Register here.
9/17 Dugout Canoe Program with Dan Shears, 10 am on the front lawn of the Society
10/10 Abenaki Harvest Food Tasting Event, 4 pm at the Slusser Senior Center in Contoocook
Lafayette Trail Marker
What an honor to have a new marker in town commemorating Lafayette's stop in Hopkinton Village in 1825 as part of his Farewell Tour! Special thanks to Julien Icher of The Lafayette Trail and Hopkinton author Dorothea Jensen for organizing the event.
If you'd like to learn more why and how the new Lafayette Trail marker was installed in Hopkinton Village, you can watch this program put together by Dorothea Jensen.
One hundred years from now, what would you like people to know about the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020? Hopkinton Historical Society would like to document people’s stories of what they are feeling, seeing, and/or doing during these unprecedented times. How has your daily scheduled changed? What are your fears? How long do you think we will have to physically distance ourselves from each other? How can we help others in our community? What acts of kindness have you seen? Email your pandemic story and photos to email@example.com. Below is a submission from Lissa Jones.
Life During Covid-19
by Lissa Jones
I start my day watching 20 minutes of the news. Who knows what to believe any more, and how much slant there is when it is reported, but I do want to know if we're still supposed to be wearing masks or not, or if we're back to the fear of touching our groceries (and the mail and the bottoms of our shoes) or if we're supposed to be 6 feet apart or 10. Every time I hear, "as we learn more about this virus, we realize we should..." I get either more frightened or more relieved. And when I feel relief (that I don't have to wipe down my milk or take my shoes off or that I can go for a walk with a friend on a windy day), I feel worried that I'm feeling too relieved. Am I letting down my guard? Being irresponsible? Or am I letting fear run my life?
Too. Much. Input.
And then there's the guilt. Watching those poor patients on ventilators, I wonder why MY life circumstances are such that I can sit beside my pool, ride my horses, escape to the lake for a swim and a boat ride while others worry about their health and their finances. Who knew that living in rural New Hampshire was such a good choice? Who knew that all those years of criticism and mocking about my husband working for Comcast would stop when the internet was literally a digital lifeline to everything? Who knew that being unemployed meant less exposure to the virus and less time having to wear a mask?
I judge everyone who doesn't wear a mask in public. I judge the media for creating a frenzy. Or not. There is so much reason for doubt that even educated, caring people just don't know what to believe any more. I judge myself for giving up on trying to see the ultra-conservative point of view. I no longer follow anyone on Facebook who says that wearing a mask is taking away our freedom.
It is in my nature to be a volunteer, but my skills are not what are needed right now. I don't sew and I don't have a medical degree. The only thing I can do is be a good listener as friends, family and neighbors vent about how all this has affected them. And how we all feel similarly: uncertain, guilty, fearful, lucky, judgmental, imprisoned.
Sure, there are plenty of places that want donations. And my family is financially stable... for now. But just like the hoarding of toilet paper over the last few months: This pandemic could hit my family, too. I wouldn't even know where to give which would make an impact.
I have read a couple novels about the Holocaust. I visited Dachau last year. What the Jews endured was so much worse than this pandemic. So. Much. More. Indescribable atrocities that must've seemed interminable. I just short-circuit when I think about it. And here we are, a society that has the choice to stop this thing, simply by staying home, missing a graduation, a wedding, a game. Staying out of bars and gyms and restaurants. And wearing a mask. We must be patient, for sure, but there is almost definitely an end in sight within a year or two. The Jews had no idea what they were in for and for how long. They were not given a choice. We DO!
And yet... I get it. If you own a restaurant, or work at a big arena or airline or tattoo parlor, you need to make money. You could lose everything.
For me, I think it boils down to too much time to think. My kids (ages 22 and 24) are home until they can afford to move out. They both want to launch... soooooo badly! But meanwhile they feel stuck, stuck with US. And I feel THEIR anger and frustration and loneliness and boredom.
On days when I am busy, I feel everything less. I'm distracted by errands and chatting with friends. Walking for a few miles dissipates the pent-up negative energy. But there are many, many hours when I just stew and fret.
Finally, I worry about my own courage should this virus hit me or someone I love. I am positively phobic about breathing issues. I don't know how I'll be if a family member gets the terrible cough and can't catch their breath or has to go on a ventilator. It terrifies me, and yet as a mother I have to be strong and give my kids hope.
I check the banner running across the bottom of our local news every day. I check the numbers of cases in Hopkinton. And Henniker. And Warner. And Concord. Places where I go grocery shopping and get my hair cut and get my car fixed. Our numbers are low, probably because we're a pretty rural part of the world. There are plenty of people who refuse to wear a mask, but I just do my best to wear mine and wash my hands.
I haven't hugged my parents, who live down the road and have lived in Hopkinton for over 50 years. However, we see each other frequently because we've decided to be part of their "bubble". I know our choices influence them and vice versa, but this is hard on them and for either of us to be extreme in our perception of this virus or how we behave during it could hurt our relationship.
So, as we endure this pandemic, I've chosen a "low risk" lifestyle rather than "no risk". I will get my hair cut, I will go out to dinner (occasionally. And sitting outside), I will ride in a car with certain friends. I will allow my kids to see their friends, after promising me to be careful.
To me, this pandemic is mostly inconvenient and surreal. I'm not suffering. I live with people. I am outdoorsy, so I can exercise and entertain myself. We don't worry about money. I have faith in scientists, even if I have absolutely, positively no faith in politicians. Covid-19 is present, but not near me.
That said, I can't wait for it to be over so that "maskers" won't judge "non-maskers". So that we can travel to far-away places again. So my kids can move out safely. So I don't have to take out my hand-sanitizer when I feel like splurging on a coffee and a donut.
This, too, shall pass. Hopefully, sooner than later.
Hopkinton Historical Society Releases “ALL…ABOARD!”
Driving Tour of Railroad Points of Interest in Hopkinton, N.H.
Looking for something to do from the comfort of your car or couch? Want to learn more about the impact the railroad had on the town of Hopkinton? If so, please take a look at Hopkinton Historical Society’s “ALL…ABOARD!”, a driving tour of railroad points of interest in Hopkinton, N.H.
In March 2020, Hopkinton Historical Society was in the middle of planning its summer exhibit, as part of a 16-member collaboration (MUseums Sharing Experiences, or MUSE) that had organized eight exhibits and more than 30 programs on the economic, social, and environmental impact of the railroad in New Hampshire. When the pandemic forced the closing of the Society, we knew we still wanted to move forward somehow with our summer exhibit. Given the continued uncertainty regarding opening dates and people’s comfort levels with gathering in groups indoors, we decided the best approach was to take our exhibit on the road! Specifically, to put together a driving tour that can be viewed or downloaded from our website, or followed on Clio, a downloadable app that allows you to view driving tours of historical and cultural sites. Clio can be accessed via its website or on a mobile device.
The tour includes seven stops in Hopkinton and Contoocook. In addition to physical landmarks, the tour examines how the railroad expanded markets for farmers, increased tourism, expanded mobility for rural communities, and impacted mills and factories along the Contoocook River. However, not all of the changes brought about by the railroad were positive. Information about immigrant laborers, those displaced from their homes along the river, and the townspeople and other investors who purchased bonds that paid for the railroad is also included in the driving tour.
We hope you enjoy the driving tour. If you have images or stories you would like to share, please contact us at 603-746-3825, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.HopkintonHistory.org.
This project was made possible with support from New Hampshire Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Hopkinton Historical Society
Receives National History Award
The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) proudly announces that the Hopkinton Historical Society is the recipient of an Award of Excellence for the 2019 Putney Hill Cemetery Walk. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 75th year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.
Performed in October 2019, the Putney Hill Cemetery Walk is a theatrical production designed to entertain and educate attendees about people buried in, or excluded from, the town’s earliest cemetery. Written by Lynn Clark, the script deconstructs the traditional narratives of conflict, racism and misogyny and instead constructs an inclusive, multi-vocal narrative of Hopkinton past and present. Volunteers carried out extensive research, and under the direction of Beth Spaulding, local actors vividly brought to life 26 of Hopkinton’s former residents. Audience members were appreciative of the historical context and multiple perspectives about issues that people are grappling with today, noting that issues from 250 years ago, such as religious freedom, voting rights, settler colonialism, racism and women’s rights, have their parallels today. The Putney Hill Cemetery Walk is the seventh Cemetery Walk produced by the Hopkinton Historical Society. DVD copies are available at the Society.
This year, AASLH is proud to confer fifty-seven national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, and publications. The winners represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history.
One hundred years from now, what would you like people to know about the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020? Hopkinton Historical Society would like to document people’s stories of what they are feeling, seeing, and/or doing during these unprecedented times. How has your daily scheduled changed? What are your fears? How long do you think we will have to physically distance ourselves from each other? How can we help others in our community? What acts of kindness have you seen?
Please share your stories and photos by at email@example.com.
Image of Hopkinton High School graduation on June 13, 2020 taken by Bob LaPree.
Covid-19 was for Me the Best of Times and the Worst of Times
by Ruth Chevion
Image: "A Sign from Niaux Cave," painted by Ruth Chevion
I was deeply saddened that so many people got sick and died. I was horrified at the early anger against our local Chinese restaurant owners. I was pained that our country is so divided we could not unite against a common enemy, an epidemic. At first it seemed as though we would unite, but with poor leadership from the president, it broke down. I was horrified to learn that a majority of Americans live from hand to mouth, that they did not have $400 in the bank to tide them over, that they were going hungry. I was looking under the hood of a broken engine.
By contrast, for me as an individual at home, it was in many ways a good time. Everything slowed down. I felt like I was having the first rest of my life. For whole days I didn’t do anything. I realized I didn’t have to wear a bra all the time. And I didn’t have to keep the house as tidy because nobody dropped in. I loved the quiet and the singing of the happy birds in my yard. I had long walks. I did a lot of yard work that yielded an exceptional crop of flowers.
My only visitor was Alan Scribner, my long-time partner, and I didn’t visit anyone else’s house except his. Our relationship deepened as we looked more to each other for entertainment, and conversation, especially about Covid and what was going on. We went swimming almost every day. We watched movies.
I was 74 years old when Covid hit. While being old made me more susceptible to the disease, there were financial benefits to being old. Unlike the young people being sent home from low paying jobs, I am retired. I have savings, and I collect social security. I’m saying this to emphasize that something has to be done for our young people. The current situation is unacceptable. Even education doesn’t always help them as they graduate with debt, and meaningful jobs are hard to find. This came to light as never before during Covid.
Being old also brought generous friends to my aid. I did not go out at all in the beginning so getting food was a problem. I had beans in the pantry, but I craved fresh food. One dear friend shopped for me when she went to Market Basket, and another ordered stuff for me from a delivery service. My dear neighbor has chickens, and kept me supplied with fresh eggs. Then later, when I was less fearful, I availed myself of Market Basket’s elderly shopping hours from 6-7 in the morning. They did a great job of making it feel safe.
Before Covid, I had been running an art gallery in the Bates building in Contoocook. When it started I had a beautiful show with Jeff Schapira’s photography and Lisa Sheiman’s fiber sculpture. Covid put an end to that, and I was home for the duration.
At home, I cooked a lot. I’m not sure why I was cooking so much more than usual, but it turned out that the same was true for a lot of people. I cooked beans and lentils, and other stuff I could keep in the freezer in case this was a long haul. Also I needed to keep the shopping lists short. I started baking “Life Changing Crackers” for the friends who helped me, just to have a concrete way of expressing my gratitude.
I loved being frugal again. I realized I could use a lot less toilet paper and also paper towels. I used cloth napkins, and re-used coffee filters. I ate less. I cut my coffee in half. I was able to donate toilet paper for others. It made me see how much I was influenced by TV to buy and use more than I needed.
It was beautiful how many people reached out to me with calls and texts. And I did the same to others. People I had not had contact with in years called to find out if I was OK. There was a lot of warmth in the beginning of Covid, a lot of reconnecting and caring.
After the initial do-nothing stage, I started researching cave paintings of the Dordogne region of France, and doing paintings inspired by the masterpieces of the Lascaux and Niaux caves. Covid made me need to understand homo sapiens, my species. I felt the need to know what is basic to us, to roll back my mind set from advertising and modern amenities. Who are we? What matters? Where did we come from?
My biggest takeaway from this study is that everyone, every person living on the planet, is the same species. It made me think that the term race is overused. Black, white, red, yellow, pygmy, curly hair, straight hair, no hair, whatever, we all came out of Africa at the same time, about 40,000 years ago, migrated though the middle east, and conquered all the other human species we encountered. We are all the same. We are the only humans left. We are all one species.
Then, on top of Covid, I shared with my fellow Americans, the horror of watching George Floyd, a big tall black man, be shamelessly, purposely and coldly murdered before my very eyes on TV by a white male uniformed representative of the government who forced him to the ground and pressed a knee into his neck until he was dead. Horror is too weak of a word. I began to think and talk with other people about blackness in America, and what we can do about it. I was thinking at least some of it could be solved with a $15/hour minimum wage, as race crosses issues of class. Plus, I still feel strongly that America should pay reparations to people with slavery in their family history. It’s the right thing to do.
But of course later events, more killings shown on TV, proved to me that all black people live with some level of fear and injustice, that the murder of George Floyd was far from unique, and that the issues his murder brought to light cannot be solved with economics alone. Attitudes must change. The woman in Central Park who felt free to call the police because a black birdwatcher asked her to leash her dog was instructive to me.
Lately, in the quiet isolation time of Covid I think a lot about my mother who died two years ago. I am feeling grief in a way I had avoided earlier just by being out and about and busy. My mother being a news hound, we would have had great conversations about all of it. Plus, she would have been on my short list of people I wouldn’t wear a mask with. I have started cooking her recipes, especially as she was an expert on beans. It has gotten to the point that I want to write down her recipes. So that is what I’m doing now. I’m writing about how my mother cooked. Perfect for Covid time.
I would say we are in mid-covid at the time of this writing on July 13, 2020. How the rest will go will depend on many things. We’ll see.
Thanks to the Hopkinton Historical Society for asking what we are doing, and for collecting information about this strange moment in our history.
“Very seldom have we seen our village so quiet for many days and weeks. Little is being done but care for the sick and gather crops.” Kearsarge Independent & Times, October 11, 1918
1918 Influenza Pandemic in Hopkinton, NH
Photograph of Etta Lucy Bohanan Nelson and her daughter Margery. Etta was one of 13 victims of the influenza pandemic in Hopkinton. She died October 18, 1918.
The 1918 influenza pandemic was unlike any other. Originally known as the Spanish flu, it is now thought to have originated in the United States. Starting as any other flu virus, it mutated into a highly virulent “super-virus” that targeted young adults in their prime and spread easily especially in crowded quarters such as military training camps, college dormitories, schools, and social gatherings. Once contracted, it progressed quickly and violently, causing extremely intense head and body aches, internal bleeding, changes in skin coloration, and rapid deterioration of the lungs; within four to seven days, the victim could be dead or on a slow path to recovery. Globally, it is estimated this pandemic caused 20 to 50 million deaths; a large percentage of these were young adults in their twenties and thirties. Present in 1917, the pandemic reached its peak of destruction in the United States from mid-September to early December, 1918.
Like many towns, Hopkinton folks did not immediately recognize the seriousness of the pandemic. The first death in town was George Conant, a bright and popular recent high school graduate. His body was returned to Contoocook for his funeral one week after departing for Dartmouth College, having died on September 22, 1918. In fact, even his family members assumed his illness occurred as the result of sleeping on a rain-soaked mattress, not the pandemic influenza. It took another week for people to take precautions; in the meantime, the Hopkinton Fair, with some 4,000 attendees, did not seem to be affected. By the end of the first week of October, the local newspaper reported “there are 70 cases of influenza in town, and many of them very severe, but at this writing, none have proved fatal. How thankful we are for our capable physicians.” In reality, four Hopkinton deaths had occurred by October 6th and five more would occur in October. The drug store advertised Sunday hours, 8-10 am and 12-1 pm, beginning after October 1st. Hopkinton schools were closed week by week for the month of October, with hope in each announcement that reopening would be possible the following week. Meetings of the Grange and Rebekahs were cancelled. As stated in the Kearsarge Independent and Times newspaper on October 11th, “Very seldom have we seen our village so quiet for many days and weeks. Little is being done but care for the sick and gather crops.”
By November 1st, schools had reopened and there was a sense of relief that the worst had passed. With the end of WWI, the spirits of all were high. A peace rally occurred in mid-November and the whole town enthusiastically participated, with bells and whistles early in the morning, celebrations all day long, and a huge parade and Kaiser effigy burning in the evening. Still there were more deaths from influenza, one in early November, one in December, and two at the beginning of January, including the death of the high school principal, Wesley Eastman.
The profile of the pandemic in Hopkinton mirrored that of the United States as a whole. The majority of deaths had occurred in late September through early November (10 of 13) and had taken adults ages 35 and under (10 of 13). The care of those who were ill, however, differed from that of many towns and cities. Even in Concord, hospitalization and congregate care were common, but in Hopkinton, doctors and local caregivers went to the patients’ homes. This likely may have prevented a larger number of deaths in Hopkinton.
As a result of the 1918 influenza pandemic and new requirements of the State Board of Education, Hopkinton schools made several changes to promote good health:
George Elmer Conant, age 17, September 22, 1918: “One of the most promising and popular young men in town” and having been accepted at Dartmouth College, he left home on Tuesday for Hanover, took sick Thursday, was hospitalized Friday, died Sunday, and was honored with a funeral of very large attendance on the following Tuesday.
George William Marsh, age 63, September 27, 1918: Having labored at many jobs throughout his life, George and his equally hard-working wife Ella had finally gained financial stability and home ownership with a mortgage which was lost upon his death; Ella at age 67 became a live-in servant to an older man.
Clarence Lorenzo Tilton, age 28, October 3, 1918: A recently divorced father with day-to-day responsibility for two young children, Clarence, a resident of Webster, was being cared for in Contoocook when he died.
Birge Lester Fenton, age 29, October 6, 1918: Unmarried and a fireman for the B & M Railroad in Concord, Birge was active in the Order of United American Mechanics, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, and the Loyal Order of the Moose, each represented at his funeral.
Mildred Lillian Jordan White, age 20, October 8, 1918: Mildred died while trying to care for her three little children, ages 4, almost 3, and 10 months, her husband being out with a lumber crew in the Hatfield area. Mildred had been caring for another young woman with influenza who also died, as did Mildred’s two youngest.
Howard Adams, age 23, October 13, 1918: Howard lived with his mother and step-father, Laura and Frank Fifield, in Contoocook, worked in the local silk and saw mills, and was a member of the Free Baptist Church. He was a person of fragile health, exempted from the draft due to “ill health.” The Kearsarge Independent & Times newspaper reported him to be very sick with influenza for over a week and being cared for by Mrs. J. A. Sherwan, evidently one of a number of caregivers who attended very ill townspeople in their homes.
Jane Magnan, age 86, October 15, 1918: The oldest pandemic victim in Hopkinton, Jane appears to have had a full life with a long first marriage and two more marriages later in life; her controversial will left her property to her third very young husband and to a very long-time boarder.
Herman Scott Spoffard, age 35, October 15, 1918: Born and raised on a farm in Hopkinton, Herman became a miller of grain, saved his money, and bought a milk route in Concord. In support of the Great War, he put many extra hours into crop production while continuing milk production and also purchased war bonds being quoted in his obituary, “Certainly, I can at least do that much.” He may have been only the second of these Hopkinton thirteen who died in a hospital.
Etta Lucy Bohanan Nelson, age 34, October 18, 1918: Married for fourteen years and with two children, Margery, 6, and Stanley, 1, both Etta and her husband Eddie, in the prime of life, became so severely ill with the influenza that neither was expected to survive. Eddie finally recovered and raised the two children with the help of his mother-in-law, Delia Bohanan.
Eugene Andrew Tallant, age 33, November 4, 1918: One of 15 children raised on a farm in Pelham, Eugene came to Hopkinton, working as a farmer and a lumberman. His obituary noted, “Gene was industrious, and on account of his unusually strong physique and jovial nature was well known about his town.” He had been married five years and was without children at the time of his death. His wife Emma never remarried and eventually became a nurse.
Dwight Eugene Conant, age 46, December 14, 1918: A hard-working, well-respected manager of the Conant Manufacturing Company in Contoocook, a silk mill which had been established by his father, Dwight and his wife Blanche were parents of George, the first local fatality of the pandemic. Though violent illness had spread rapidly through town, theirs was the only family to lose two of its members.
Wesley E. Eastman, age 29, January 2, 1919: Raised on a farm in Andover, NH, Wesley had earned his degree at the state college in Durham, gained an advanced degree in Michigan, and taught geology at Michigan Agricultural College before coming to Hopkinton in the fall of 1918 as the new principal of the high school. At the time of his death, he had a 3-year-old son and his wife Elaine was pregnant with a daughter born one month later.
Mabel C. Martin, age 19, January 3, 1919: Mabel died at the home of her friend, Jessie Gould, while both were on winter break from Keene Normal School. Mabel had graduated from Henniker High School with high honors and was demonstrating excellence as a student teacher. Her mother had died when Mabel was only 5 years old; her father had boarded her with a family living next door to him. Her loss was deeply felt by her community.
Allita Paine 20 March 2020
update of original from 2017
Notable Women of Hopkinton:
Celebrating the 100th Anniversary
of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, Hopkinton Historical Society is recognizing some of the women of Hopkinton whose accomplishments – both large and small – deserve to be highlighted. Their bravery, ingenuity, intelligence, and tenacity is inspiring and we thank them for their contributions.
Laura Emily Sanborn
World War One Army Nurse Corp.
Served June 28, 1917-April 27, 1919
Born February 5, 1881 in Webster, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, Laura Sanborn was the eldest daughter of Charles F. Sanborn and Jennie E. (Colby) Sanborn. Charles F. Sanborn was a farmer and a descendant of Captain Peter Coffin, soldier of the American Revolution. Not much is known about Laura’s early life. She was raised on her father’s farm in Webster along with her siblings, John, Scott, and Annie. In the 1900 United States Federal Census, Laura was 19 years old and single. There is no notation as to her occupation. Between 1900 and 1910, Laura left the family farm in Webster and went to Boston to study nursing at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1910, Laura was employed as a private nurse in the home of Anna Wright, a widow. Laura was one of seven employees living in Mrs. Wright’s home on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.
A small item in The Kearsarge Times, dated 16 February 1917, noted, “Miss Laura Sanborn, trained nurse of Boston has been spending some time here at the home of her father, Charles Sanborn.”
The First World War, originating in Europe, began on July 28, 1914. The United States entered the war on 6 April 1917, joining its allies, Britain, France, and Russia. Two months later, on June 23, 1917, Laura signed a United States passport application to travel overseas to France as a nurse. She was enrolled as a Red Cross nurse, sworn into the army, and on July 10, 1917, Laura, along with 63 other nurses, departed New York City sailing on the Aurania to be stationed with Base Hospital No. 6, a medical surgical unit of Massachusetts General Hospital, in Bordeaux, France, where the nurses were known as the “Bordeaux Belles.” Base Hospital No. 6 was well equipped to handle wounded and sick soldiers, including the treatment of soldiers with infectious diseases. By the last months of the war, the hospital ran at capacity with casualties from the Meuse-Argonne offensive, a major part of the final Allied offensive of World War One that was fought for 47 days and is one of the deadliest battles in American history, resulting in over 350,000 casualties, including over 26,000 Americans. Between August of 1917 and September of 1918, the total number of patients treated, both surgically and medically, was 26,156, including 580 allied sick and wounded.
It must have been a relief to Laura when the war ended on November 18, 1918. Laura departed from Bordeaux, France on 14 February 1919 on the ship Abengarez to the port of Hoboken, New Jersey, arriving on March 2, 1919. Laura returned home to Contoocook, where her parents and her brother, John, were living on Pine Street. In 1920, Laura was employed as a private nurse and living with her family in Contoocook. In the 1930 United States Federal Census, Laura was living with her mother, Jennie, and her brother, John, on Pine Street. Her occupation was a private nurse however, it was noted on the census form that she was an “unpaid worker, member of the family.” This likely indicates that she was the caretaker for her mother. The 1940 United States Federal Census records that Laura was living alone on Pine Street as the head of household. Her occupation was left blank. Laura never married. She died January 10, 1969 and is buried alongside her family in Contoocook Village Cemetery.
Laura’s 1917 passport application describes her as 36 years-old, 5’6” tall, with blue-gray eyes, and medium brown hair. The accompanying passport photo of Laura reflects a woman, half in shadow, staring directly into the camera. She has a kind face and a slight smile on her lips. She appears to be a woman who knows what she is about, where she is going, and what she has to do. One can only imagine the horrors she witnessed taking care of the young men on her watch at Base Hospital No. 6. One can also imagine that, perhaps, while tending to a dying solder, Laura Sanborn’s calm blue-gray eyes were the last vision a young man saw in the Great War.
January 24, 2020