The Westborough Players’ Club officially started in 1937 and was active on the stage for eighty years, up until its last staged production in 2017. The Westborough Public Library owns the club’s records from 1937 to 1981, which are compiled into three scrapbooks and includes playbills, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, and photographs.
This short exhibit highlights three significant productions staged by the Westborough Players’ Club during the first half of its existence: The Late Christopher Bean, The Crucible, and Hello Dolly!.
The First Production: The Late Christopher Bean
The very first play presented by the Westborough Players’ Club was The Late Christopher Bean, a three-act comedy by Sidney Howard, on Monday, October 18, 1937 at Town Hall.
The action of the play takes place in a small town outside of Boston and centers on the Haggett family after they learn that several canvases they own by the late, acclaimed artist Christopher Bean have greatly increased in value. Only Abby, the family servant who owns the most valuable work, is able to resist the corrupting effect of this new knowledge about the artworks, and the play ends when she is revealed to have secretly been Bean’s wife.
Anniversary Production: The Crucible
As part of the 250th anniversary celebration of the founding of Westborough and to mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of their club, the Westborough Players’ Club staged The Crucible by Arthur Miller on May 26 and 27, 1967 at the High School Auditorium.
The play chronicles the Salem Witch Trials and was an appropriate choice for the occasion, given that one of the characters in the play is Rebecca Nurse, whose family in real life moved to Westborough after her execution in Salem for supposedly practicing witchcraft.
Blockbuster Production: Hello Dolly!
On April 22, 23, and 24, 1971, the Westborough Players’ Club presented Hello Dolly! at the Junior High School on Fisher St. The production was a mammoth undertaking and involved 18 speaking roles, a song-and-dance chorus of 35, a large production staff, and a live nine-piece orchestra.
The musical takes place in Yonkers, NY and is about a matchmaker who lands her own husband after successfully uniting a small group of younger couples who at first seemed hopeless in their ability to find love. After staging this production, the club subsequently presented a string of musicals throughout the early 1970s, including South Pacific, Oklahoma, and Brigadoon.
Women won the right to vote in elections across the United States in 1920, but the fight for women’s suffrage was drawn out over many years before then.
The issue of women’s suffrage first appeared in a Westborough newspaper on November 16, 1867, and arguments both for and against women’s suffrage were published off and on in the Westborough Chronotype up until women finally won the right to vote.
When it came to women’s suffrage, Massachusetts and other Eastern states lagged far behind Western states, where women earned full voting rights in local and state elections years before those in the East did. When women in Massachusetts finally earned the right to vote in 1892, they could do so only for candidates running for school committee.
Three women became the first to vote in a Westborough election after winning that right in 1892:
Abbie M. Fay of Ruggles St.
A. B. Harvey of South St.
Esther M. Howell of Cross St. (Source: a handwritten “true copy” note by E. E. Dunlap, Clerk Assessors added to the library’s copy of the 1892 Westborough Assessors report, p. 40).
Given the limited voting power that they received, few women exercised their right to vote in Massachusetts during this interim period, so the fight for women’s suffrage continued.
Debates in the Westborough Chronicle
Proposed Meeting Warrant
Beginning in 1880, the women’s movement in Massachusetts lobbied for the right to vote in municipal elections by seeking to include petitions in town meetings that encouraged the Massachusetts Legislature to grant women the right to hold town offices and vote in town affairs. Most of these petitions were rejected by voters.
One such attempt seems to have occurred in Westborough.
Note: No article regarding Women’s Suffrage appears in the Westborough Town Records for the March town meeting in 1883.
Woman Suffrage Convention in Westborough
The Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Association was founded in 1870 by suffrage activists Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone, and Henry Browne Blackwell, among others, and was active up until 1919. In 1884, Westborough held a convention as part of a series of programs across the state that were sponsored by the association.
Phoebe Couzins, the featured speaker, was one of the first female lawyers in the United States, and at the time she was engaged in traveling across the country lecturing on women’s suffrage. Later that same year, she testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on the legal status of women.
The Chronotype covered the activities of the convention in detail.
One Westborough suffragist objected to the coverage of the convention in the Chronotype.
On November 2, 1915, men living in Massachusetts voted by referendum whether to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to give women the right to vote. Debate across the state was intense, but the amendment was soundly defeated. Tewksbury was the only town in the state that voted to pass the referendum (with a vote of 149 for and 148 against), and only 35.5% voted in favor. Three other states voted on similar referendums at the time—New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York—and all three joined Massachusetts in defeating the measure.
Leading up to voting on the referendum, Charles L. Underhill spoke against women’s suffrage in Westborough. Hill served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and later went on to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
One writer took issue with at least one of Underhill’s points about Kansas and prohibition.
Frances Kellogg Curtis was the Chief Marshall of the first Massachusetts Suffrage Parade and was on the Executive Board of the Massachusetts Equal Suffrage Association. She lectured on women’s suffrage–at times on a soap box set up on the street–and as a member of the Americanization Committee of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association, she taught English to Italian immigrant women in Boston’s North End.
A follow-up report appeared in the Chronotype a week after Curtis’s talk.
Debates in and around Westborough
At Town Hall
In People’s Homes
The Chronotype regularly reported meetings of the Westborough chapter of the Women’s Suffrage League, which took place in various people’s homes, between 1866 and 1888.
House-to-House (and at Fenway Park)
At the Library
Massachusetts finally became the eighth state to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 25, 1919, and women across the United States officially gained full suffrage after Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920.
Note: This exhibit was on display in the Westborough Center for History and Culture in November, 2018.
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Welcome Home Celebration, WWI
Westborough, May 14, 1919
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Every year, we celebrate Veteran’s Day on November 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I. This year’s commemoration is special, because it marks the 100th anniversary of the end of The Great War, as it was commonly known back then. World War I started on July 28, 1914, and given the war’s monumental impact on western society, I am surprised how few anniversary observances have taken place over the past several years.
Many historians look to World War I as the moment when western society broke from a naïve Victorianism and moved into Modernity. The advancements in military technology and the tactics used on the battlefields led to a scale of death that was unprecedented, with over 17 million people dying during the war. The horrific reports that came from the trenches created an existential crisis that impacted all levels of society and culture. Politics, international relations, economics, gender dynamics, even artistic and cultural production all went through radical changes as they were forced to reevaluate their relationship to a new world order that could lead to and carry out such destruction. These fears were not unfounded: in many ways, World War II was a continuation of the conflict that emerged in World War I.
The following photographs of Westborough soldiers who served in World War I are from a newly acquired collection of records from the American Legion Stowell-Parker Post 163. They present a unique opportunity to connect a few of the names listed on the monuments dedicated to those who served in the armed services during times of war that sit in front of the Forbes Municipal Building with their faces.
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Oliver Lloyd Cooper, 16 Myrtle St., Leather Worker
Cooper joined the Medical Reserve Corps on June 30, 1917 at the age of 22 and was stationed at Ft. Ethan Allen, VT. He was discharged by reason of flat feet on October 25, 1917.
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Curtis Forbush Banks, Lyman St., Mechanic
Banks served in the 102nd Ambulance Company in the American Expeditionary Force of the U.S. Army. He enlisted in Hartford on May 23, 1917 at the age of 19 and was slightly wounded on April 20, 1918. He was cited for bravery for his part in the second battle of the Marne on July 18-25, 1918.
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Harry Hubbard Metcalf, 9 Charles St.
Metcalf was a graduate of Harvard University and enlisted in the Army on April 3, 1917 at the age of 23. At the time was married to Helen Williams Metcalf. He served in the Aviation unit of the Signal Corps and reached the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, R.M.A. (Reserve Military Aviator). He died on October 13, 1918 in Memphis, TN.
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Leon Cantor, Hopkinton Road
Cantor was inducted into the U.S. Service on October 5, 1918 at the age of 18 and died in Westborough on October 14, 1918.
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Timothy M. Downey, Milk St.
Downey enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 23 on May 12, 1917. He died on October 25, 1918 from wounds he received during action on October 23.
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Errol D. Marsh, West Main St.
Marsh joined the U.S. Army on August 29, 1917 at the age of 28 and at the time was married to Jane Marsh. He served as a Second Lieutenant and was killed in action in France on November 2, 1918, nine days before the armistice was signed to end the war.
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Clarence Leland, Milk St., Publisher
Leland joined the army on June 3, 1918 at the age of 26 and served as a musician by playing clarinet in the 63rd Infantry Band. His father, Dexter Leland, was the Business Manager of the Westborough Chronotype, and the two of them eventually took over ownership of the newspaper.
Note: This exhibit is currently on display in the Westborough Center for History and Culture through the months of September and October, 2018.
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Dr. Charles H. Reed was a Westborough veterinarian and devotee of local history. His collection of papers consists of correspondence, deeds, diaries, letters, maps, wills and other government documents pertaining to the early history of the Town of Westborough. Reed began gathering information on the Town’s history, land and people as a hobby, starting with the Town’s first 27 founding families. The collection grew to contain several hundred original documents, and a portion of journals and lists that were transcribed by Dr. Reed. All items contained in this collection describe the early culture, history and life of folks living and doing business in Westborough.
After Reed died, his daughter Rachel Deering carried on his work of collecting items relating to Westborough history. In 1985, she donated the collection to the Westborough Public Library for preservation and safekeeping.
Receipt from William Brinsmead to Thomas Beman [Beeman], December 18, 1690
This receipt is the oldest known document in the library’s archives.
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Appointment of Nathan Fisher, Esq, as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Second Regiment, signed by Governor John Hancock, 1787
Nathan Fisher eventually became Westborough’s first postmaster on March 6, 1811 and was the original owner of the “Nathan Fisher House,” which is now occupied by the Release Well-Being Center. The document is signed by John Hancock with the same flourish he used to sign the Declaration of Independence.
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A love letter from Joseph Woods to his wife while serving in the French and Indian War, 1757
Kenterhook May ye 14th 1757
Loving wife these Lines are to Inform you that I am got to Kenterhook and am In good helth and I Can give No account when or where I Shall march Next there is a [T reant[?] story that we are to go to the Lake But nothing sartain and I would acquaint you that all that Came from Westborough are in helth give my love to the children No more at present So I Remain Effectionate Husband hopeing that we Shall Live So whilst apart that if we Never meet here on Earth that at Last we Shall meet In heaven
Brother Tuller these may give you account of my Afairs So I give my Love to you and my Sister and Remain your Loving friend
Note: Joseph was killed in action shortly after writing this letter during the Battle of Lake George in the French and Indian War.
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Letter to Mrs. Mary Aldrich, December 26, 1861
Thank you letter to members of the Ladies Benevolent Society for sending sleeping caps to men during the American Civil War.
Camp Jackson, Md. Dec. 26/61
Mrs. Mary M. Aldrich
Sec. Ladies Benevolent Society of the
Unitarian Parish, Westboro. Mass.
The package directed to my care for the distribution of its contents among our company arrived here last evening, and the Sleeping Caps contributed by the ladies of your Society formed a large and most useful part of it. A portion of this fore-noon has been devoted to fitting the various heads with caps of a proper size, and could you have seen the smiling faces that passed out from my tent under your gifts, you would not have doubted they were fully appreciated.
Your request regarding the disposal of any caps not needed by the Company, I shall take pleasure in fulfilling.
Captain Hovey & Lieut. Bacon desire to join with the company and [back of letter not shown:] myself in expressing our thanks for the continued interest taken in us by the ladies of Westboro’ and in conveying to them through you, this sincere regards and the best wishes of the New Year.
Trusting that the confidences now reposed in our company and the officers may never be disappointed I remain Respectfully