Wellesley Historical Society

Introducing Eleanor Early

Alden Ludlow, contract archivist

March 21, 2019

In celebrating Women's History Month, the Wellesley Historical Society acknowledges the contributions of generations of extraordinary women who have made Wellesley the town it is today. Their unparalleled community engagement resulted in a proliferation of social, civic, and arts organizations over the last century and a half which continue to be the lifeblood of the town.


This month we would like to highlight the life of Eleanor Mary Early (1895-1969), a noteworthy and independent Wellesleyite who, in her time, was an accomplished journalist, travel writer, and novelist. Though her brother James “Jack” Early is better known, Eleanor’s life was far more compelling.


Eleanor's parents, James A. Early and Sarah Jane Dolan, were married at St. John’s Church, Wellesley, in 1891. They had seven children, six of whom survived until adulthood. Eleanor was the oldest. The family moved to the Wellesley area, buying a plot of land in Wellesley Hills in October 1904; they built the family home, which was at 93 Washington Street, and had a grocery business in Newton Lower Falls. All of the children attended Wellesley public schools.


Eleanor Mary Early born in Newton in 1895, and grew up in the family home in Wellesley. She attended Wellesley schools, and graduated from Wellesley High School; her notebooks and school papers reveal a thorough and diligent student who loved to write. When her brother, Jack, went off to fight in World War I, the two carried on an extensive correspondence that reveals her love and wit.


After graduating from Wellesley High School, she attended Wheelock College (then Miss Wheelock's College), and graduated in 1917, certified to be a teacher. But she enjoyed writing above all, and almost immediately pursued a career as a writer and journalist in Boston. She wrote for the Boston Herald-Traveler, the Boston Post, the Record American, and the Boston Globe. In the late 1930s she left Boston to join the staff of the New York Times. She also lived for a time in Washington, D.C. She traveled extensively, and those experiences informed her writing, which extended beyond newspaper reporting; she also was a radio commentator and magazine columnist.


She wrote books on travel, cooking, and history, as well as novels. Some of her lauded works at the time include Adirondack Tales (1939), New England Cookbook (1954), Washington Holiday (1955), Behold the White Mountains (1935), and Boston Yesterday and Today (1939). Early in career she wrote a series of travel books, which included And this is Boston! (1930) as well as And this is Washington! (1934), among others. Most of her books were published by Houghton Mifflin Company.


Throughout her life Eleanor travelled the globe, reporting as a journalist, writing travel pieces, and working on her novels. Independent and adventurous, she never married; she returned to Boston just a few years before her death in 1969. Eleanor Early's papers form a significant part of the Wellesley Historical Society’s Early Family Papers.


-- Alden R. Ludlow, WHS archivist


The Early Family Papers were processed in March 2018 with generous grant support from the Wellesley Community Preservation Commission (CPC) and the Massachusetts’s State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB).

The Other Emma Stone

Alden Ludlow, grant-funded Archivist
August 20, 2018

Academy Award winning actress Emma Stone may be all the rage in Hollywood these days, but a century and a half ago a different Emma Stone, of Wellesley, was the apple of her father’s eye.

At the Wellesley Historical Society, processing archival collections and preparing them for research access can lead in unexpected directions. Recently we received a family collection assembled by Christine Barnes, a lifelong Wellesley resident who passed on in 2015. The collection contains much interesting material, including a set of correspondence between her great-great-grandfather Daniel Stone Jr. and his daughter Emma Stone, Christine’s great-grandmother. In addition to the letters, the collection contains photographs of Daniel and Emma.

Emma Stone was born in Grantville, what is now Wellesley Hills, in 1848, the first of three daughters to Daniel Stone, Jr. and Mary Elizabeth (Chapin) Stone. According to Wellesley historian Joseph E. Fiske, Daniel Stone owned the Elm Park Hotel from 1845-1851, though it is not clear whether it was Daniel junior or his father who owned the property, which stood near the Clock Tower in Elm Park until 1908.

Another mystery is that at some point the family moved to New Hampshire, where, by 1861, Daniel either volunteered or was conscripted into the Union Navy, where he served on the U.S. Bark Roebuck sailing out of Portsmouth. We have a letter addressed to Emma from Grantville dated 1861, at which point she was in New Hampshire with her mother and sisters. That letter is the first in a series of letters in which Emma and her father begin a lengthy correspondence.

From that initial letter onward, Daniel’s letters to his daughter originate from the Roebuck, which served as a notable blockade ship for the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, serving in the Union Navy’s East Gulf Blockading Squadron. Most of the Roebuck’s mission was to blockade supplies coming into Confederate ports in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly in the area of St. Andrew’s Bay, in the Florida panhandle. The official actions of the Roebuck are well documented in Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series I, Volume 17: East Gulf Blockading Squadron, held in the Library of Congress.


What is clear in the correspondence is that Daniel had great love and high expectations for his daughter, even at a young age. He was proud that she was attending high school, and was equally impressed with her writing, though we currently have no letters surviving that she sent to him. He repeatedly stresses her role as the oldest sister, noting, “Emma, be a good kind Girl to your Mother and Sisters, and remember you are the oldest sister and the younger ones will look to your behavior as an example for them.”

“I expect you have got quite a string of Beaus by this time,” he notes in one letter; chiding her about her suitors was one of his favorite topics. She was 13 at the time. In another letter he admonishes her for bringing her sisters to the circus, but changes his mind, writing, “I can see no harm in it if people know how to conduct themselves … But still I think it wrong to make a practice of visiting such places too often. Once in a while I think it a benefit to people of a certain age, as it gives them a chance to see what is going on in the world.”

But the news was not all Beaus and circuses. He tells tales of the ship’s crew and missions, noting details about Confederate actions and the Roebuck’s responses. He lauds the Roebuck’s “rifled cannons.” His 1863 account of destroying the Salt Works at St. Andrews, and the ship taking on the freed slaves who had worked there, is riveting; seven of the freed slaves took on the last name Roebuck to honor their new-found freedom.

He repeatedly notes the incessant “mosquitoes, which act as though they would eat us up alive.” In one letter he sends home a Confederate ten-dollar bill: “I got it off one of our prisoners … I want to keep it as a curiosity.” Many of the letters have their original envelopes, bearing postmarks from Key West and Tampa.

Daniel never made it home to Emma and the rest of his family. He died in 1864 at Egmont Key, near Tampa, just before the Roebuck returned to Portsmouth at the close of the war; to this day Egmont Key is a remote, inaccessible place. Records indicate that the Roebuck had been struck by Yellow Fever toward the end of its deployment, so it is possible he succumbed to that disease. From a historical perspective, it is saddening to note that Emma’s correspondence was likely lost upon his death.

Emma would go on to marry Alfred de Rochemont, of New Hampshire, in 1865; she was 17. At some point after their marriage they moved to Grantville, a sort of homecoming for Emma. Alfred and Emma had two daughters, Eva and Ella Mae; Ella Mae would marry Shelley Denton, the son of William Denton, while Eva would go on to marry William Butman; Christine Barnes, the creator of this collection, was their granddaughter. Emma died in Grantville in 1884.

With this collection, the Wellesley Historical Society holds a substantial number of Civil War era letters from father to daughter, while the father was serving in the Union Navy on the U.S. Bark Roebuck with the East Gulf Blockade. These types of Civil War letters are an important source for historians researching military and social history of that period. This type of material sparks interest in archival collections not just on a local level, but on a national level as well, and are also of interest to African Americans piecing together their more elusive history and genealogical work.

The Christine Barnes Family Collection has been preserved and made accessible with generous grant support from the Wellesley Community Preservation Commission (CPC).

High School Students Complete Senior Project

June 12, 2018

Wellesley High School Seniors Max Perozek and Thomas Weiss (left to right) joined the Wellesley Historical Society for their senior project this spring. Max and Thomas committed a significant amount of time in their 4th quarter to complete the project and we are thankful for their efforts. They processed hundreds of historic photos in the Townsman Collection by removing harmful adhesive tape, transferring important information about each photo onto acid-free paper, and placing them in protective sleeves. The photos dated from the 1980's-1990’s and include images of several elementary schools and the high school. Thanks to their efforts, these photos are now available for research. 

We wish the best to Max and Thomas as they head off to college in the fall!

Left to right: Thomas is carefully removing adhesive tape which was used by the Townsman staff to affix the date and subject to each photo.

Max wears white cotton gloves while handling the photos so that oils from his hands do not transfer to the photos.

Kathleen Fahey, Curator

Ether Day - History Mystery, October 2016


Question - October 15, 2016

Every October, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) celebrates Ether Day. On this day, a Wellesley resident is recognized as being the first person to publicly demonstrate the use of ether for anesthesia during surgery at MGH on October 16, 1846.  This person lived in the home pictured above, appropriately named "Etherton Cottage.” Do you know the name of this noted Wellesley resident?  Return on Oct. 28th for the answer!

Answer - October 28, 2016

The name of the Wellesley resident who lived at Etherton Cottage was Dr. William Thomas Green Morton.  Surprisingly, Dr. Morton was a dentist, not a medical doctor, when he demonstrated the use of anesthesia.  Dr. Morton manufactured artificial teeth and did so in an outbuilding on his property.  In fact, it was his patients’ discomfort while having teeth pulled that led to his interest in anesthesia.

Dr. Morton lived at Etherton Cottage with his wife and five children when Wellesley was still part of Needham.  The property had extensive grounds with barns and outbuildings.  Morton farmed the land and raised Jersey cows, geese, hens and ducks. When William Morton died in 1868 the property passed to his wife and children.  His family sold the property to H.H. Hunnewell in 1878.  Shortly after Wellesley was incorporated in 1881, Mr. Hunnewell gifted the land to the town to build a town hall and library.  H.H. Hunnewell had Etherton Cottage moved to a nearby flat section of land, aptly named Morton Field, where it stood for about 40 years before it was torn down.  

Wellesley Town Hall still stands on the property formerly occupied by Etherton Cottage.  If you are ever up for a game of hide and seek, see if you can find the stone marker pictured below.  It is located at Town Hall and reads, “Here lived Dr. W.T.G. Morton, He gave to the world the use of ether in surgery A.D. 1846.”

For more information on Morton and his role in the discovery of anesthesia, please click on this PBS article: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/the-painful-story-behind-modern-anesthesia/

Ellen Murphy, Volunteer Research Assistant




5 Things You Need to Know about Esther Oldham

By Amanda Demma

1. Esther Oldham, the Wellesley Collector

Esther Oldham (1900-1984) was a Wellesley native and a collector of lace and fans. She was considered an expert among collectors throughout the world due to her vast knowledge about the art of fans and lace. 

2. Esther Loved Lace

The Wellesley Historical Society is home to the Esther Oldham Lace Collection.  Donating her entire lace collection to the Society, the number of pieces is well within the thousands. Inspired by her love of fans, Esther wanted to learn every detail there was about the fan industry including the lace that some fan leafs are made from. Immersing herself in the same way she learned about fans, Esther the insatiable collector, started a collection of lace and lace pillows! The collection also includes books and scrapbooks made by Esther Oldham that are filled with lace samples, photos and clippings about lace.  See image above.

3. Esther Oldham Was First and Foremost the “Fan Lady”

Nicknamed the “Fan Lady,” Esther was well known for her vast and valuable fan collection which included over one thousand fans. Her fan collection was considered one of the finest in the world, second only to the Victoria and Albert Collection in Great Britain.  She donated the majority of her collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in 1976, though many came to The Wellesley Historical Society too.

4. The Oldham’s Were a Collecting Family

Esther Oldham’s desire to start collecting was encouraged by her family as each member had their own personal collection. Her mother Anne had a fine collection of early American tin ware, her father Arthur had a collection of miniature carvings, and her sister Anne had a collection of pewter, making it only natural for Esther to start her own collection.

5. Esther Oldham Was a Teacher

Known for her passionate attitude towards the education of the art of fans and lace, Esther would often give lectures on the topic.  Esther was also a prominent member of The International Organization of Lace, better known in her time as International Old Lacers, an organization dedicated to the lace community and the education of the history of lace. 

This month's blog post is brought to you by Amanda Demma, Wellesley High School graduate, class of 2015, and Wellesley Historical Society summer assistant.  

History Mystery will return in September!

Summer Interns Install New Data Loggers

Wellesley Historical Society was fortunate to have the help of two volunteers this summer, Tycho McManus and Rachel Woodring.  Tycho is a Wellesley resident and senior at Binghamton University majoring in History and Rachel is a student at Simmons College in the Masters of Library Science program with a concentration in Archives.  Both interns assisted Kathleen Fahey, WHS Curator, with a variety of projects.
Our interns are shown above installing our new Onset data loggers which help monitor our museum environment.  Data loggers in storage areas will take hourly temperature and relative humidity readings while data loggers in exhibit areas will take hourly temperature, relative humidity and light level readings.  Readings are downloaded to our computer and provide graphs and charts to help us understand how temperature, relative humidity and light levels change from day to day and season to season.  Maintaining an optimal, stable environment is vital to the long term preservation of any museum or archival collection and the data loggers will help us to understand how our heating and cooling decisions affect the collection.

A data logger in our archives storage area.

Denton Butterflies in Bloom!

Denton Butterflies in Bloom!

Spring brings our annual collaboration with the Hills Garden Club of Wellesley, when garden club members create floral arrangements inspired by the Wellesley Historical Society's collection.  This year, six specimens from the Denton Butterfly Collection were selected to inspire these elegant arrangements. 

The Denton Brothers was a successful local business started by Wellesley residents William D. and R. Winsford Denton in 1895.  The brothers, better known as Willie and Winsey, sold their patented butterfly mounts at exhibitions throughout America and also locally from their shop on Denton Road.  The Wellesley Historical Society is fortunate to have both the Denton Brothers business papers and a collection of over 2,400 Denton entomology specimens from the turn of the twentieth century.  

Each arrangement was created by a group of Hills Garden Club members and revealed at their annual meeting and luncheon on May 13th at the Wellesley Country Club.  Floral interpretations were exhibited alongside each Denton butterfly and truly captured the essence of each delicate specimen

Pictured above is a Prioneric Clemanthe specimen from the WHS Denton Brothers Butterfly Collection along with its floral accompaniment. This group arrangement was led by Hills Garden Club President Cynthia Ballantyne and former President Lucy Lynch.

Ice Sculpture - History Mystery, March 2014

March 14, 2014 Question

As we slog our way through these closing weeks of winter, here's a fun reminder of the joyful side of snow. Do you recognize this Wellesley resident and her magnificent sculpture?  Look for the answer on March 26th.

March 26, 2014 Answer

This 1978 photograph shows artist Isabella Livingston (1919-1993) and her towering T. Rex ice sculpture in front of her Benvenue Street home.  Livingston, born in Wellesley and a resident much of her life, was famous for her spectacular annual ice sculptures, which included a dragon, a walrus and a unicorn.  Each 10 to 12 foot sculpture was modeled from scale drawings and required months of planning.

Linden Street Delicatessen - History Mystery, January 2014

Welcome to the Wellesley Historical Society's first History Mystery. This will be an ongoing series in which we pose an open-ended question related to our community's storied past. How does your local knowledge measure up?  For those who are stumped, answers will be revealed in two weeks.

Let the mysteries begin!

January 9, 2014  Question

Do you remember this man and the famous fare he served? Do you know which current local hotspot is this locale's successor? Look for the answer in two weeks!

January 23, 2014  Answer

If this picture brought to mind mozzarella and prosciutto and hot italian subs, then you were RIGHT!  This circa 1963 photograph shows Nino DiPirro, owner of the Linden Street Delicatessen, fondly known at the time as "Nino's."  The deli, just ten stools large, was as much of a town fixture then as it is now.  Originally opened in 1933 by the DiPirro family, the deli was taken over in 1979 by the LeBrun family, which still stands at the helm and keeps Wellesley residents well fed today.

Photo of the Linden Street Delicatessen, c. 1963 by Ulrike Welsch, from the archives of the Wellesley Historical Society