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Portsmouth Women: Gertrude Macomber and the Girls Scouts

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Last year when we featured Ruth Earle as a Portsmouth woman of note , we highlighted her involvement in the Girl Scouts among her achievements. This year we introduce Gertrude Macomber Hammond – the woman who was Ruth’s Girl Scout Leader and a founder of the scouts in Portsmouth. There are so many interweaving of our Portsmouth women that it is not unusual for us to find them in each other’s stories.

Gertrude Macomber was leading the “Bluebird” Girl Scout troop in Portsmouth in 1921. She wasn’t alone in this effort. Fifteen women met in 1922 to form a troop committee to aid the Portsmouth scouting movement. They lent their support to provide money and assistance to Gertrude and the thirty-five girls who regularly attended the weekly meetings.


In a 1923 Newport Mercury article we find ladies formally calling themselves “The Portsmouth Girl Scout Aides.” These women were meeting to support the efforts of a Girl Scout troop in Portsmouth and “Captain” Gertrude Macomber gave a talk on her recent camp and convention experiences in Washington. Mrs. John Eldredge, a school superintendent and director of the Social Studio, was there to serve tea.

Under the auspices of “Captain” Gertrude Macomber, newspaper accounts show the Girl Scouts engaging in some creative activities. A Girl Scout Circus was held in 1925. Miss Mary Chase acted as ringmaster. There was a chariot race between two girls in kiddie cars and Marjorie Hall did a tight rope act with the rope stretched over the floor. The girls played homemade musical instruments made from curtain rods, funnels and frying pans. There was a parade with animals like monkeys and ducks – perhaps girls in costumes?

By 1926 the Girl Scouts had grown large enough to have two patrols in the troop. The “Monkey Patrol” had a camp at Gertrude’s home to work toward a cook badge. Gladys Gibson made a meatloaf, Hope Manchester made a fruit salad, baking powder biscuits were created by Margaret Martin and a mystery cake was make by Ruth Peckham.

That same year Gertrude opened “The Quaker Hill Tea Room and Craft Shop” in her home. She added a “glassed-in piazza” to the north side of her house so that her customers would have “a wonderful view of the Seaconnet River to the Stone Bridge and the northwest part of the Island and Narragansett Bay.” – according to a 9/11/26 Mercury article.

Gertrude was the daughter of Isaac Macomber and the grand-daughter of Joseph Macomber who brought the Aylers and other families to Portsmouth. In 1931 Gertrude became the bride of Noel Hammond who leased and farmed her father’s land. She continued with her Tea House and lived a long life in Portsmouth

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How many of these 13 requirements for a “Cook Badge” could you master today?

Girl Scout Cook badge, 1918-1927

Girl Scout Cook Badge from the 1920s
  • Build and regulate a fire in a coal or wood stove, or if a gas range is used know how to regulate the heat in the oven, broiler and top.
  • What does it mean to boil a food? To broil? To bake?
  • Why is it not advisable to fry food?
  • How many cupfuls make a quart? How many tablespoonfuls to a cup? Teaspoonfuls to a tablespoon?
  • Be able to cook two kinds of cereal.
  • Be able to make tea, coffee and cocoa properly.
  • Be able to cook a dried and a fresh fruit.
  • Be able to cook three common vegetables in two ways.
  • Be able to prepare two kinds of salad. How are salads kept crisp?
  • Know the difference in food value between whole milk and skimmed milk.
  • Be able to boil or coddle or poach eggs properly.
  • Be able to select meat and prepare the cuts for broiling, roasting and stewing OR be able to clean, dress and cook a fowl.
  • Be able to make two kinds of quick bread, such as biscuits or muffins.
  • Be able to plan menus for one day, choosing at least three dishes in which leftovers may be utilized.

From: Useresourceswisely.com

Portsmouth Women Pastors: Elizabeth Trout

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In 1950 the Friends Church on East Main Road in Portsmouth celebrated the retirement of their longtime pastor, Elizabeth Trout.  She had tried to submit her resignation in 1943 and 1949, but her congregation would not accept it.  By 1950 she was no longer able to attend to all the pastoral duties and she desired a rest to visit family.  Elizabeth was so dedicated to her flock that it was her intention to visit every family in the church before she left on her journeys.

Friends corner at time of the Trouts

In 1918 Elizabeth Trout and her sister Ada came to work at the church.  Both women alternated the work of the church until Ada died in 1934 and Elizabeth continued on with the work by herself.

Miss Trout was well prepared for the work.  Elizabeth was born in Pennsylvania in 1879.  She graduated from the Cleveland Bible Institute and she attended and taught at the Evangelistic Institute in Chicago.  She had experience working as a teacher.

Three years after they came to Portsmouth, Ada and Elizabeth reached out to establish a mission at the Coal Mines.  At first they established a summer mission in a tenement, but the cold prevented them from holding winter meetings.  Three years later they established a year round mission at the old school house at the Coal Mines and continued that mission until Ada’s death in 1934.

Education was important to the Trouts, so in 1925 they established a primary school in the basement of the Quaker Meeting House.  They passed on the teaching to Annie Sherman who continued the school until her death in 1940.  At her retirement Miss Trout reflected that the Moses Brown School had started there are well before it moved to Providence.

Elizabeth lived a good long life in retirement.  Until her death she continued to live in Portsmouth with her sister-in-law.   She died in 1975 and is buried at the Friends Cemetery – close to her place of ministry.

Portsmouth Women: Ellen Gustin, Preacher and Suffrage Pioneer.

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Vintage image of Christian Union Church

Maybe Portsmouth welcomes women preachers and pastors because Anne Hutchinson is part of our heritage.  I knew that Julia Ward Howe had “supplied the pulpit” at the Christian Union Church (now the headquarters for the Portsmouth Historical Society). As I went through church records I was surprised that in the 1870s the church welcomed a woman preacher who did more than guest preach.  Rev. Ellen Gustin was an evangelist who had more of a pastoral role in a time when the congregation had lost a strong pastor.

Ellen led a long and productive life.  When she died at age ninety in 1924, the New York Times carried an obituary that claimed she was the third woman in America to be ordained in the ministry.  She was born in Frankfort, Maine and delivered her first sermon in a school house at the age of eleven.  She toured as an evangelist before she joined the Christian denomination.  The Christian Union Church in Portsmouth was part of this loosely connected group.  Anti-slavery leader Stephen Hopkins was one of the originators of the Rhode Island Christian Church.  The church was progressive and offered a welcome to everyone and sought to work for peace and justice.  Ellen Gustin worked as President of the Women’s Board of Foreign Missions – part of the national organization of the denomination.

From Church Records, George Manchester Clerk

Rev. Gustin supplied the pulpit and served unofficially as a co-pastor from 1872 to 1878.  Church records show no concerns about a woman taking on such a leading role in the congregation.  Ellen was a friend of Julia Ward Howe and shared her work in the Suffrage movement.  In 1872 the Executive Board of the church voted to allow a lecture on suffrage at the church.  Ellen spoke at major meetings of the Woman Suffrage Association in New England.

Julia was even a little jealous of Ellen’s abilities.  Sunday, September 29, 1872, Julia writes:

“Reverend Mrs. Gustine to dine.  I afterwards to church to hear her.  A sweet woman, called of God, with a real power.  Her voice, manner, and countenance, most sweet and impressive.  Intellection not remarkable, I think, but tone, feeling and effect very remarkable.  No one, I think, would doubt the reality of spiritual things after hearing her.  I asked myself why I am not jealous of her, as she preaches far more effectively than I do.  Well, partly because I believe in my own gift, such as it is, and partly because what she does is natural, genuine, and without pretense or pretentious.  Her present Society was much disturbed by strife when she was called to its care.  No man, she told me, could have united the opposing parties.  A true woman could.  This shows me a work that women have to do in the Church as well as elsewhere.  Where men cannot make peace, they can.  Mrs. Gustine says that by my writings and example I have helped her a good deal. I am glad to hear this, but pray to do far better than I have yet done…Thought much about Mrs. Gustine, who, without any of my training and culture can do what I cannot.  I can also do what she cannot – think a subject out. She can only shadow and suggest, yet how powerful is the contact of her soul, and what a good power!”

Recorded in:  Julia Ward Howe. Compiled by  Richards and Elliott – Houghton Mifflin, 1916 page 387.

A short Newport Mercury article from November 11, 1878 shows another one of her causes.

“Rev.  Ellen Gustin has been holding services and speaking at temperance meetings at the Christian Church with great acceptability.  She is a favorite with the people of this congregation and has done much good.”

Ellen continued on to pastor churches in Attleboro and Mansfield, Massachusetts.  Even though Ellen Gustin stayed and ministered in Portsmouth only a few years, she had a remarkable gift of evangelization that recharged the Portsmouth community.

Portsmouth Farmers 1919: Focus on Aylers, John Borden and Benjamin Boyd

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In 1919 Portsmouth’s soil was good for growing and Portsmouth’s farmers were industrious.  It was possible for someone to start as a laborer on someone else’s farm and end their career farming their own land.  Here are more of the farmers listed in the Portsmouth Directory a hundred years ago and information on some of them.

Manuel Araujo – Glen
Joseph Arruda – Glen

Raymond Ayler – farmer and poultry dealer -boards with Edward Ayler
Edward Ayler – Freeborn and E. Main Rd

Edward Ayler came to Rhode Island with his parents, Morgan and Matilda Brent Ayler.  The Aylers had been slaves in Virginia and were brought to Portsmouth by Joseph Macomber.  The Aylers were successful farmers with their own land on Freeborn Street.  Raymond served in World War I.  To read more about the Ayler family, click on this link: From Slaves to Portsmouth Citizens

Matthew Bettincourt – mkt gardener, Indian Ave and Mill
Richmond Bishop – Union
Alfred Borden – E. Main and Schoolhouse
Arthur Borden – E. Main Road

John Borden – East Main and Power

The Borden Farm passed continually through Borden family hands to John L. Borden. During John’s ownership of the farm he added many outbuildings and the farm seemed to be a going concern.   John’s occupation is listed as farmer, but he was also very involved in the Portsmouth community.  In 1898 he donated a piece of land to the Portsmouth Free Public Library Association so that they could build the library that we all enjoy today.  He continued to support additions to the library and he served on the board of directors for over twenty years.  When John L. Borden died he was characterized as “a frugal man,” and at his death he had a substantial estate.

Benjamin Boyd – West Main and Mill (farmer and miller)

Boyd’s Windmill

Benjamin Boyd was a farmer and operated Boyd’s Windmill on West Main Road by Mill Lane.  He was part of the third generations of Boyds to run the mill.  In 1901 he remodeled mill, changing the number of vanes from 4 to 8 to use the mill on days with lighter winds.  In 1916 he converted it from wind power to gasoline.  In 1990 the Boyd Mill which had stood for 185 years in Portsmouth was transferred to Paradise Park in Middletown and restored by the Middletown Historical Society.  For more information on Portsmouth windmills – Click on:    Portsmouth Farm Heritage: Windmills    

Charles Boyd – West Main with William Boyd
William Boyd – West Main and Freeborn
Frederick Brazell – Sprague near E. Main
Joseph B Brazell – at J.C. Brazell
Joseph C. Brazell – Sprague and East Main
Joseph T. Brazell – E. Main Road

Portsmouth Farmers 1919: Focus on Henry Clay Anthony

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The Portsmouth Historical Society website has a wonderful resource if you are trying to get a sense of what Portsmouth was like a hundred years ago. Scans of the town directory for 1916 and 1919 are located under the “Resources ” category. I looked to the directory to see who was listed as farmers a century ago. There were no house numbers in those days, but they do list some street information like “Middle Road by Jepson Lane.” There are certainly names listed in the directory that are familiar to us today. Their families are still among us. I will list these farmers from 1919 in blogs to follow and I will highlight some of the farmers’ stories that I have found.

George Hazard Albo: Braman’s Lane
William Albro: Milk producer, Braman’s Lane
Gaetanas Almeida – Jepson Lane
Edward Almy – Union at West Road
Henry Almy – (Almy Bros) farmer milk producer boards with William Almy
William Almy – (Almy Bros) poultry raiser and milk producer Union St. by East Main Road
Jacob Almy – Poultry dealer 27 Glen
Manuel Alvenas – Mill Road
Benjamin Anthony – Bradford Ave and West Main
Borden Anthony – East Main Rd and Town Hall
Charles Anthony – boards with William Anthony
George Anthony Jr. – East Main Road
Henry C. Anthony – market gardener – Park Avenue
Ralph Anthony – Dexter and Turnpike
William Anthony – E. Main Road

Anthony Seed Catalog

Henry Clay Anthony was a noted seed farmer. He was born in Portsmouth in 1852 and received a business education at Scholfield’s Commercial College in Providence. He made his home at “Elm Farm” on Park Avenue.

Agriculture was his family heritage, but he was scientific and practical as he aimed to create the best results in seed production. He was the largest seed grower in New England and he had large farms throughout the area – not just in Portsmouth. He had 800 acres of land in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. His seeds were in demand throughout the United States and Canada.

Anthony Seed Farm Field

Like many Portsmouth farmers, Henry Clay Anthony served the community in the State Assembly and on the Portsmouth Town Council.

Visit Denise Wilkey’s Pottery Shop on East Main Road to see some of Henry C. Anthony’s seed bins.


Portsmouth Women Educators: Edna Griffin and Edna Brophy

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In the 1930s and 40s, Edna Brophy and Edna Griffin worked together as teachers and principals in the Portsmouth School system. Miss Brophy was a principal of Newtown School for 45 years and a teacher for over fifty-two years. Newtown School was located on Turnpike Avenue where the playground is today.  Edna Griffin was principal of Anne Hutchinson School (now a Senior Center) on Bristol Ferry Road for only a few years during World War II, but her background and career demonstrate a diversity in Portsmouth Schools.

In a time when Portsmouth had trouble retaining good teachers, Edna Brophy’s long career demonstrates her dedication to teaching.  A 1973 “Gristmill Column) letter in the Newport Daily News tells us a little about Miss Brophy and Newtown School.  Laura E. Wilkey wrote:  “In 1923 I was in Miss Edna Brophy’s classroom in Newtown School  Miss Brophy (remembered for the fancy aprons she always wore) was principal and taught first and second grades. In the northeast room, Miss Flora Phinney taught third and fourth grades.  The west room contained only the fifth grade, the only fifth grade in town.  Mrs. Gladys Seabury Haggerty ruled fifth grade, which contained ‘big kids’ from all over town.  They either walked to school or rode the trolley cars which went from Newport to Fall River and Newport to Bristol Ferry.”  All the other primary schools in Portsmouth were one room schools. Quaker Hill School had two rooms – one for grades six and seven and the other for grades eight and nine

Edna Brophy 1950 courtesy J. Garman

By 1938 Miss Brophy did not have to worry about the “big kids.”  Henry F. Anthony School was functioning with 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Fifth graders were at Quaker Hill School (now the Admin Building) as well.  Edna Brophy still had first and second grade at Newtown.

Miss Brophy was originally from Westport, Massachusetts.  I’m not sure exactly how she came to Portsmouth, but newspaper articles have her as a boarder with the Randalls on West Main Road in the 1920s.

Edna Griffin was a product of Portsmouth Schools. The Griffin family was from Virginia, but Edna was born in Portsmouth.    She was a student at Newtown School and Belle Fish was her teacher in 1918.  Miss Fish’s school record shows a diverse class with students of Yankee, Irish, and Portuguese heritage as well as Edna-a mulatto child.  Newtown School photos from that period show this diversity.

Newtown School – PHS collection

Edna Griffin went on to receive a degree from Pembroke College (at Brown University) in 1931.  She majored in Greek and Latin and was active in the classical club, college magazine and year book.

Edna became a teacher in Portsmouth schools and in her early years she was assigned to different schools.  In 1935 Edna is recorded as teaching primary grades at Vaucluse School (Braman’s Lane) .  In 1936 she was teaching 7th grade at Anthony School (now Senior Housing).

The 1940 Federal Census offers us a glimpse of her life.  At that time she is living at home with parents Wayne and Bessie Griffin.  Her home is on Park Avenue at that time.  She is 28 and single.  She earns $1200 a year for her teaching.  The school year for a teachers was 40 weeks and in the week prior to the census she had worked 48 hours at her job.

Hutchinson School from Pierce’s book

In 1941 through 1944, Miss Griffin had become principal of Anne Hutchinson School.  She was chairperson for Portsmouth’s Rhode Island War Bond and Stamp effort.

At the beginning of the 1944-45 school year, Edna Griffin resigned as principal.  No reason is listed in the newspaper article, but I can speculate.  I find her in the Providence directories, married to Warren Fitzgerald and working as a clerk.  By 1957 in the Providence City Directory  she is listed as a teacher in Cranston.

Why was there so long a period between teaching in Portsmouth and teaching in Cranston?  Portsmouth allowed married teachers to work in our schools, but even in the 1940s state law allowed school systems to discriminate against married women if their school committee had a rule affecting marriage.  School systems could “retire” teachers who married and not grant them tenure.  It might not have been easy for Edna Griffin Fitzgerald to find a teaching position.

Like Belle Fish (who we spotlighted last year), Edna Brophy educated countless Portsmouth children during her tenure at Newtown School.  Edna Griffin represents the diversity and the opportunity for students and teachers in Portsmouth Schools.  Her Portsmouth education led her to a good college and her career as a principal shows that a woman of color could work and succeed as a Portsmouth faculty member.

From Slaves to Portsmouth Citizens

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Fannie Scott’s obituary (Newport Mercury-1/16/1926) provides some intriguing information. “She came to this town over 60 years ago from the South, when the late Joseph Macomber went there and returned with 16 slaves.”  It raised a number of question in my mind.  Who was Joseph Macomber and why did he bring 16 “slaves” up to Portsmouth?  Who were the others that came with Fannie Scott.  She lived a long life in Portsmouth.  What was the experience of these people in our Portsmouth community?

Who was Joseph Macomber and why would he bring former slaves to Portsmouth?  Like many in Portsmouth, Joseph was a farmer.  He was born in 1822 in Vermont and his parents are listed in the census as French Canadian.  He taught in Portsmouth public schools to pay his way through the Friends School on the Hudson in New York and then taught in Portsmouth two more years after completing his education.  He became a farmer working at first for Bateman Monroe.  Macomber became a fruit grower and one of the largest strawberry farmers in Newport County.  He was also a very dedicated member of the Society of Friends.  This connection with the Friends may provide one reason for the trip to the South.  After the Civil War many Quaker groups reached out to help the freed slaves.  Was this Macomber’s goal in bringing 16 former slaves to Portsmouth?  I haven’t found the answer, but the records of the Portsmouth Friend’s Church or Macomber family stories may help us understand his action.  Many of the people he brought with him were also very dedicated to the Friends Church in Portsmouth.

1870 – Macomber Household

Who were the sixteen that came with Macomber?  From the 1870 census we have some clues.  In a previous blog I told the story of the Ayler family.  Among those living on Macomber property were Morgan and Matilda Ayler and their children Robert, Edward and Alice.  Daniel Ayler was another son, but he doesn’t appear on the census.   Fannie Scott and her husband Robert Scott are there as well.  Fannie is listed as Martha Brent – but there were some difficulties with other names on that census.  Fannie is the sister of Matilda Ayler and in the 1880 census she is listed as being in the Ayler household.  Other Virginia born residents at Macomber’s farm are Frank and Mary Curtis.  We know from the obituary of William H. Parker (known as Billy) (Newport Mercury, 5/8/1936)  that he came at the same time as Morgan Ayler.  That accounts for 11 of the 16 listed as the number Macomber brought to Portsmouth.  Who were the others?  I can’t answer that without more information.  I am not even clear what date they came to Portsmouth.

How did these families fare in our community?  Many remained on Aquidneck Island for a long while.  The Ayler’s became successful farmers. See a previous blog for more on this family.

Frank and Mary Curtis settled in Newport.  After working for others, Frank had his own livery service at the corner of Powell Avenue and Kay Street.  “He was known as a thoroughly honest and reliable man, who was kept busy most of the time.  He never hesitated to answer a call at any hour of the day or night, regardless of the weather.” (his obituary – Newport Mercury 1/30/1915).

Billy Parker was a fixture in the Portsmouth community.  His obituary notes that “In the time of the Civil War he ran away from his home in the South and took care of an officer’s quarters.”  Records of the Freedman’s agency show him employed in barracks in Washington, D.C.   He also seems to have received a pension for his service.   John Pierce’s book Historical Tracts of the Town of Portsmouth has a short article on Billy.  It gives Billy a rather colorful background that I cannot confirm.  In Billy’s article it claims he worked in a restaurant opposite the Ford Theater and saw Abraham Lincoln carried out after he was shot.  He said his grandmother worked at the home of General Lee.  A newspaper article (Mercury  11/9/1934) has Billy as part of a parade by the “Portsmouth Protective League.”  The parade of 100 cars was led by William H. Vanderbilt and an orchestra in a truck.  The parade stopped at the home of Portsmouth’s oldest resident – Mrs. Emma Hicks.  At this stop Miss Cornelia Hicks was dressed as Martha Washington, Mrs. Lucy Anthony was dressed as George Washington and Billy Parker was in costume as Washington’s aide.  Billy lived in the Cozy Corners area of Portsmouth and spent the end of life with Alice Ayler Morris.

Robert and Fannie Scott were dedicated members of the Friends Church.  From newspaper articles it seemed that Robert continued to work for Joseph Macomber.  He died suddenly in 1914 and he was buried in the Friends Churchyard.  His widow Fannie at first went to live with Alice Ayler and then became a resident of the Home for the Aged Colored People in Providence.  This home was championed by Christina Bannister and was supported with funds from local black churches.   Local artist Sarah Eddy regularly hosted an outing at her Bristol Ferry home for the residents of The Home for the Aged Colored People.  Fannie died at this home and although her funeral services were conducted there, local Friends minister Elizabeth Trout conducted the services and Fannie was buried in the Friends churchyard next to her husband.

Whatever Joseph Macomber’s motivation was in bringing former slaves to Portsmouth, they became a real part of the Portsmouth community.  Most stayed close to the Quaker faith – a faith that they shared with Mr. Macomber and his family.

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