Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: The story of Manchester's Women's Aid and Relief Society
On Jan. 21, 1875, women representing 11 Protestant churches in Manchester got together to found the Manchester Women's Aid and Relief Society. Their purpose was to help dispel the dark cloud of poverty that hung over Manchester during this era of great economic stress and upheaval.
With government and private services lacking in the city, the matrons of many of Manchester's most prominent and prosperous families decided it was best to take matters into their own hands. They were determined to do what they could to fill the gap in medical and social services needed in their community.
The Clarke family of Manchester, headed by newspaper magnate John B. Clarke, was instrumental in getting the organization off the ground. The involvement of the Blood family was also key to its success. Aretas Blood, superintendent of the Manchester Locomotive Works, provided financial and other assistance. His wife, Lavinia Kendall Blood, was the organization's first treasurer, a post she held for 27 years. Other prominent women involved in the effort were Emily Lane Smyth, wife of former Gov. Frederick Smyth, and Hannah Slade Currier, wife of future governor Moody Currier.
Hannah was one of the brave women who ventured into the neighborhoods of Manchester in February 1875 to assess the needs of the poor and to provide relief for their suffering. Her territory was Janesville, a densely settled warren of streets near the present location of Central High School. Later that year, Moody Currier paid for the decorations for a special fair that netted more than $1,000 for the organization.
The Women's Aid and Relief Society served men, women and children of all races and without regard to religious affiliation. The organization was inspired by the ideals of Christian charity, but it made no effort to evangelize. Each year the society continued to send volunteers into the neighborhoods. Here they visited families and individuals in need and provided them with food, blankets, and money for necessities. They also connected the poor and destitute with the Hillsborough County Commissioner's Office, which could sometimes provide additional assistance.
Many generous people in Manchester from all walks of life donated money to fund the society, and also provided goods and services. Businesses contributed as well. One of the largest of these donors was the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. In 1878, the company renovated a farmhouse in the Bakersville section of town on what is now South Willow Street, and loaned this to the Society. A professional staff was hired, and this became Manchester's first hospital. The society outgrew the facility within a few years. In 1891, Aretas Blood purchased a large home at 180 Pearl St. for $25,000, which he then donated to the society. Over $37,000 in additional donations were collected to help finance the new Women's Aid Home, which could serve many more people.
By the 1890s, the quality of life in the city had improved greatly. Manchester now had hospitals and a more extensive network of social service organizations. Over time the Women's Aid Home began to focus less on general aid and medical services for the poor and instead on providing housing for elderly and disabled men and women. The home became a beloved respite for people who needed a welcoming and secure place to live, including several Civil War veterans.
The Women's Aid Home celebrated its 100th anniversary on Jan. 9, 1975. Remarkably, four of the directors at that time were great-granddaughters of Lavinia Kendall Blood. When Lavinia died in 1902, it was written that she gave "… time and strength and energy in unstinted measure and with her heart's fullest devotion … ." She was called the "Angel of Manchester" by Roman Catholic Bishop Denis Bradley because of her boundless generosity in supporting the Women's Aid Home and other local causes.
The original wooden Women's Aid Home was replaced by a fire-proof brick structure in 1951. It was renamed Pearl Manor in 1991, and by that time it housed only senior women. The residents were moved to Hillcrest Terrace on Hackett Hill (now Birch Hill Terrace) in 1995. In 1996 the Currier Museum of Art purchased the building and converted it into the new home of the Currier Museum Art Center.
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — Aretas Blood and the Manchester Locomotive Works.
Aurore Eaton is the executive director of the Manchester Historic Association. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.