This Place in History: Abby Maria Hemenway



At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Ludlow with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins. 

“We’re going to talk about Abby Maria Hemenway, one of Vermont’s most famous and important 19th century historians. She was [born in Ludlow] in 1828 on a farm up the hill, and later on the family lived here in Ludlow. She had her formal education at the Black River Academy, which is this beautiful brick building behind us. That’s how she started off her life, but really made her mark after graduating from the academy,” began Perkins.

“She had this idea that if she went to every single town in Vermont and convinced some of the local folks there to write about the history of their town, the great people of their town and on how the town came to be, that she could publish this in a quarterly kind of magazine and over time would end up having a history of the state told by the generation that really founded the state,” explained Perkins.

“She started off in 1859. She decided to go alphabetical by county, so we start with Addison county. She wrote to the Middlebury Historical Society, which was mostly run by professors, all men, from Middlebury College, saying, ‘I’m going to be in Addison county and I want your help. I would love for you to write some articles for my quarterly.’ They wrote back to her and said that this really isn’t a job for a woman. Well, undaunted, she still did. She went to Addison county and talked to Rowland Robinson, of the Robinson family at Rokeby. She convinced him to write an article about Ferrisburgh and like dominoes, the other towns started to come on board.”

“Getting contributions of written work was not a problem at all for her. Getting enough money for her to print the articles was a perpetual problem for her. She spent her whole life working on this through poverty, thick and thin, accidents. You name it, it was thrown at her trying to get this all published. Her sister published volume 5 of the collected histories after her death, in 1892. She died in 1890.”

“The sixth and final volume, all of the work was with her publisher, and unfortunately it was all lost in a fire. She collected it, she edited it, it was ready for publication, but it was never published. That volume was Windsor county, which of course Ludlow is part of Windsor county. So her own home county wasn’t published.”

“After her death, the state legislation, which would not support this up until that point, voted to appropriate funds to create an index to her work, seeing it as one of the greatest contributions to Vermont history, ever,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s historical markers, click here.

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