Gifts from our Founding Mothers


By Chryseia Brennan

Looking back, our Sturbridge history leaves little information about our founding mothers. It’s only natural; men held positions of record: landowners, military leaders, pastors, judges, and every manner of career. Women left few records other than birth and death, marriage and childbirth. We learn a great deal of our early mothers from inference.

My grandmother, born in 1900, had a proverb for every situation. Her saying, “A man’s work lasts from sun to sun; a woman’s work is never done” could not have been more true than in our early days. Women’s responsibilities included the household garden (where medicinal herbs grew), tending the dung hill fowl pen and collecting eggs, churning butter, cooking and food preservation, making and cleaning clothing and blankets, candlemaking, weaving, bearing and raising children.

The bearing of children was particularly hazardous to early mothers. Today in the US, about 15 women die in pregnancy or childbirth per 100,000 live births. During the 1600s and 1700s, the death rate was much higher. Some estimates indicate up to 1200 deaths occurred per every 100,000 births. Being a founding mother was hard, dangerous work with long hours. Add to that the infant mortality rate of about 50% and it becomes obvious that, in addition to being arduous, the duties of a founding mother were also hard on the heart.

We thrived and prospered, our little town of Sturbridge. While women may not have been recorded as the owners of property and business, they certainly made prosperity possible. As the northeast moved from agriculture to manufacturing, we followed suit. The “Historical Collections: Being a General Collection of Interesting Facts” by John Warner Barber reports that “In 1837 there were 6 cotton mills, 8,664 spindles; 829,749 yards of cotton goods were manufactured: value, $117,134; males employed, 71; females, 117; there were manufactured 2,220 pairs of boots, and 12,660 pairs of shoes; value, $18,306.40; males employed, 35; females, 15: value of pocket rifles manufactured, $20,275; hands employed, 36” in Sturbridge. So in less than a hundred years women had moved into manufacturing jobs here, in almost as many numbers as their male counterparts.

The story of another woman relates the unusual work she did near Sturbridge. According to the “Historical Collections Relateing (sic) to the History and Antiquities of Every town in Massachusetts with Geographical Descriptions,” by John Warner Barber, published by Warren Lazell in 1848: “In the southern part of the township is an extensive tract of broken land, called Breakneck, near which the Breakneck pond in Union, Conn., takes its rise. A ledge of rocks in this tract extends about a mile, which, in some places, is 100 feet perpendicular. This ledge has been a great place for rattlesnakes. It is stated that an old lady, the wife of an extensive farmer by the name of Howard, living in this vicinity, after her dairy business was done in the morning, in the Month of May used to go out and kill rattlesnakes; and that she had been known to have killed as many as 16 in one morning. These snakes, some years ago, were made considerable use of for medicinal purposes; the oil as a remedy for the quinsy and sprains, the skin for rheumatism and head aches; and the gall was also used in medicinal preparations. They were worth from about 50 to 75 cents per head, and it was for the profit of the business that it was followed by the old lady.”

The offspring of our founding mothers came through the 1800s and 1900s, becoming increasingly educated and employed as machines and electricity made life easier and gave women more free time. They were made of tough stock. Women attended abolitionist lectures and took up moral issues, fought for the right to vote and own property, shortened hair and hemlines, and kept things going at home as men left in droves for two great wars.

As we honor our mothers this month, take a moment to think a little farther back in time, to a moment when our ancestral mothers braved it all to labor in a new land, eking out a living along the banks of the Quinebag River. Whether just homesteading, or tending dairy cattle and killing rattlesnakes, these founding mothers were made of the right stuff, that needed to build families, towns and a new country. And whether genetically directly or not, they have passed on to us the toughness, ability to nurture and pure persistence that has given us our Sturbridge way of life.

The Sturbridge Times


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Sturbridge, Massachusetts


Sturbridge, first settled in 1729, by settlers from Medfield, was officially incorporated in 1738. The town is situated with Route 20 ribboning through, and Interstate 90 (Mass Turnpike) and Interstate 84 (heading to Connecticut and beyond) meeting in town. In the 2000 census Sturbridge counted 7,837 residents in 3,066 households (34.2% of which had children under 18), with an average density of 89.1 per square mile. The median income for Sturbridge families was $64,455.


Places of Interest:

Sturbridge, located on Rt. 20, is a “living museum" that re-creates life in rural New England from 1790s to the 1830s

Old Sturbridge Village, located on Rt. 20, is a “living museum" that re-creates life in rural New England from 1790s to the 1830s.

Tantiusques is an open-space reservation and historic site here in town.

Wells State Park is a 1,400-acre (570 ha) woodland park and campground located on Rt. 49. The park includes 10 miles (16 km) of trails and Walker Pond, which offers a setting for fishing, canoeing, and swimming.


Sturbridge has become a dining destination for people who travel from Worcester and Hartford, with many popular dining establishments such as the famous Publick House, Cedar Street Grille and Avellino.