Opportunities for Connecticut women to assume responsibility for
their own affairs and to take on public roles increased dramatically
during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, culminating with
the right to vote in 1920. Advanced and improved education became a
reality and better jobs were available. Women could now own property, be
guardians for their children, and receive and control their earnings.
Organization began on the community level with social, philanthropic,
educational, and reform goals providing motivation. Few immigrant and
minority women, however, shared in these expanded opportunities. Many
women who moved out of their domestic routines into public roles left
behind records of their activities that can be of interest to family
Educational opportunities for women improved after the
Revolutionary War as leaders of the new republic placed greater emphasis
on an educated populace. This trend expanded steadily during the
century. Many girls, especially in rural areas, continued to attend
elementary schools during the summer session only. New schools for girls
were often private and urban. Educated women, usually young and single
or widowed, opened small elementary schools in their homes where they
taught basic skills to local girls. Some schools featured the
“ornamental branches” of fancy sewing, music, and dancing. Female
academies and seminaries offered more advanced instruction similar to
the education college-bound boys then received. Some schools boarded
students who came from as far away as the Carolinas and Ohio. During
their heyday, private schools in Connecticut educated thousands of girls
each year. By the last decades of the century, co-educational public
high schools were replacing private academies and seminaries. Girls who
went to work at age fourteen began to attend evening classes at public
schools to further their education.
Records from some private Connecticut schools for girls survive,
possibly even from a school your ancestor(s) attended. You may find
school catalogs and yearbooks with lists of trustees, teachers, and
students, the school curriculum, lists of alumni with addresses, school
programs naming student participants, school publications with student
literary compositions, report cards, journals, correspondence,
scrapbooks, and photographs.
In Connecticut, school records are kept at the Connecticut State Library,
the Connecticut Historical
Society, and other local historical society archives. Listed below
are selected collections of records from Connecticut girls’ schools.
Litchfield Female Academy
Historical SocietyP.O. Box 385Litchfield, CT 06759
Miss Sarah Pierce founded the school. Extensive collection of
Lydia Sigourney papers from the Hartford school where she taught
Connecticut Historical SocietyOne Elizabeth Street Hartford, CT
Small collection of records.
Hartford Female Seminary
Connecticut Historical Society
Catherine Beecher founded this school. Many records available.
Prudence Crandall School for Black girls at Canterbury, Connecticut
College Library270 Mohegan AvenueNew London, CT 06320-4196
and at Connecticut State Library231 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT
Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, Connecticut
School60 Main St.,Farmington, Connecticut 06032860-409-3500
Miss Sarah Porter founded this school. Extensive collection of
Middletown Female Seminary
University Archives252 Church Street, Middletown CT 06459860-685-3864
Stamford Female Seminary/Catherine Aiken School
Historical Society1508 High Ridge Road Stamford, CT 06903203-329-1183
Extensive collection of records.
Weekly or daily community newspapers were very popular and
increasingly available during the nineteenth century, and regularly
featured articles about local girls’ schools. Nineteenth-century
newspapers (usually on microfilm) can be found at local libraries,
historical societies, the Connecticut State Library, and the Connecticut
Historical Society. Many of these microfilmed newspapers can be
borrowed from the Connecticut State Library, three rolls at a time. To
locate articles, it is necessary to scan the local news pages of
newspapers for the years of interest.
Divorce records are discussed in part
I of this series. In addition, divorce records for several
Connecticut counties have been published:
Church records usually provide dates for baptisms, marriages,
and deaths, yet records of many churches contain additional information,
often about female members of congregations and their activities.
Records can be found at the churches and at the Connecticut State
Library in Hartford. They are also sometimes published separately, as
were Stratfield (later Bridgeport) records. See The Bicentennial
Celebration of the First Congregational Church and Society of
Bridgeport, Connecticut (New Haven, 1895) available at the NEHGS
Library, the Connecticut State Library, and the Bridgeport Public
Library for more information on these records. Published
Stratfield/Bridgeport church records begin in 1695 and continue to 1895.
The annotated list of members indicates previous church affiliations of
transfer members as well as genealogical information. Another annotated
list includes names of persons connected with the parish but not
designated as members.
Minutes of church meetings may include names of members that came up
for discussion. Records of women’s societies affiliated with the church
may also be included. The following examples are just a sampling of
women’s society records kept in the Church Records Collection,
1670-1950s, and the Church Records Group 70, 1639-1956, at the
Connecticut State Library in Hartford:
Secular women’s organizations emerged before the Civil War as
members of a better-educated middle class began to have more leisure
time for meaningful activities outside their homes.
During the Civil War the north desperately needed contributions by
women, creating opportunities for some to serve as nurses at the front
and for those at home to organize Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Societies,
auxiliaries to the Sanitary Commission.
Women from Connecticut cities and towns, including Hartford, New
Haven, Stamford, and possibly others, organized aid societies shortly
after the war began and continued their efforts until the last wounded
soldiers had returned to their homes or northern hospitals. Their
initial purpose was to prepare, collect, and ship supplies needed by
sick or wounded soldiers. Later efforts, directed toward collecting
money for the war effort, culminated in major fund-raising events known
as Sanitary Fairs. Members also went to local train stations to nurse
and feed wounded soldiers who were en route to their homes or hospitals.
For Stamford, I once estimated that twenty percent of town women
belonged to the local society, an indication of the popularity of this
form of wartime service.
Local newspapers routinely featured articles about Ladies’ Soldiers’
Aid Societies in their areas, listing names of members and group
activities, especially during 1863 and 1864, their busiest years. Look
for articles in newspapers from your ancestor’s town to determine
whether she was involved.
Other local women’s organizations whose activities were described in
newspapers include evening clubs for working girls, federated women’s
clubs, hospital aid societies, literary societies, ethnic lodges,
children’s aid societies, and exchanges for women’s work. You may find
your ancestor(s) names included. Examples of records you might find in
historical societies and libraries include:
Norwich Ladies’ Literary Society
Charitable Society of Vernon
Connecticut State Library
Daughters of ’53, New Haven
New Haven Colony Historical Society114 Whitney AvenueNew
Haven, CT 06510
Pertains to an independent Jewish women’s club that is still active
United Order of True Sisters, New Haven No. 4, Jochebed Lodge, New
New Haven Colony Historical Society
Pertains to a national Jewish women’s organization involved in civic,
social, and charitable activities.
Ladies Library Association of the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library
Noyes Library2 Library LaneOld Lyme, CT 06371860-434-1684
If your ancestor was reform-minded and interested in public issues,
she may have been a member of one of the nineteenth- and early
twentieth-century women’s groups organized to achieve political goals.
While Connecticut women were not very involved in the anti-slavery
movement, they were extremely active in the WCTU (Women’s Christian
Temperance Union) and suffrage campaigns after the Civil War era.
Records of reform groups include:
Female Anti-Slavery Society of Brooklyn, Connecticut
Connecticut Woman’s Suffrage Association
New Haven Woman Suffrage Association
Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Guilford
Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Hartford
Young Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Rockville
Hartford Equal Rights Club
Long Ridge Women’s Suffrage Association
Stamford Historical Society
A detailed account of the suffrage campaign in Connecticut that
includes biographical information about its leaders can be found in
Carole Nichols, Votes and More for Women: Suffrage and After in
Connecticut (New York: Haworth Press, 1983).
Native American Women
Records concerning Native American women can be found in superior and
county court records kept in RG 3, Judicial Department, at the
Connecticut State Library.
Immigrant and Minority Women
Most urban immigrant, minority, and young rural women of the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries received an elementary
education at best. They often began working by age fourteen, usually
married early, and then raised large families. Some who lived in cities
were able to continue their education in the evenings and participate in
the working girls’ clubs that were sponsored by civic-minded members of
the community. There they would be taught English, basic skills, and
domestic arts, while engaging in various social activities.
Finding information about specific women can be challenging.
Information from city directories and censuses may give addresses and
workplaces. Many young immigrant and minority women worked in factories
or as domestic servants. Local historical societies may have business
records from the workplaces of your ancestors that will provide
information about salaries, working conditions, and employees. The
Connecticut Historical Society in particular has a huge collection of
business records from all over the state. Census information may also
suggest something about their lives.
Diaries, Journals, and Correspondence
The Connecticut State Library and many local historical societies
have diaries, journals, and correspondence of nineteenth-century
Connecticut women from all walks of life that provide information about
their daily lives and activities in their neighborhoods and communities.
Even if your ancestor is not included, you might find that someone else
in her community did keep a diary in which she described local events
and people she knew.
Beginning in the 1890s, Connecticut women were permitted to vote in
school elections. Some town clerks still have early voter registration
lists that will include names of pre-1920 women voters.
Additional Sources of Information About Connecticut
Women and Their Activities
Connecticut Women’s Hall
Connecticut Heritage Gateway’s Bibliography for Women’s
Moynihan, Ruth Barnes. Coming of Age: Four Centuries of
Connecticut Women and Their Choices. Hartford: Connecticut Women’s
History Project, 1989.
Hinding, Andrea, Ames Sheldon Bower, and Clarke A. Chambers, editors.
Women’s History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscript
Collections in the United States, 2 volumes. New York: R. R. Bowker,
1979. [See index in Volume 2 for list of individuals and Connecticut
section in Volume 1 for holdings of many libraries and archives.]
James, Edward T., Janet Wilson James, Paul S. Boyer, editors.
Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
[Contains biographies of individual women.]