Two Valley women, Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles, were included in a recent Autostraddle.com post: “16 Lesbian Power Couples From History Who Got Shit Done, Together.”
Sophie Packard and Hattie Giles never called themselves “lesbians,” a term that had yet to be popularized in the late 19th century. They may well have been horrified to have – or be thought to have had – a sexual relationship. I include them as two of our own, as Autostraddle.com has done, because they stepped outside of the strictures of patriarchal marriage to embrace a committed union with each other.
Miss Packard said in an 1888 reunion address to alumni at New Salem Academy that she had found her “life companion” there at the school. She was referring to Miss Giles, with whom she lived and often worked for the thirty-six years from 1855 to 1891.
Both were born and raised in New Salem, Massachusetts, the small hilltown on State Route 202, east of and above what is now Quabbin Reservoir. It was perhaps because of their four year age difference that they had not been close before the Academy. Miss Packard was born in 1824 and Miss Giles in 1828. Sophie Packard began her career as a school teacher at the age of sixteen in Shutesbury, but continued her education at New Salem Academy. At New Salem, she was a preceptor, which was a student role roughly like a teaching assistant. There she met Hattie, who attended the Academy from 1843 through 1848.
The two may have begun living and working together after Hattie’s graduation. Academy alumnae accounts merely note that they were both assistant teachers at the Academy in 1853 and 1854. They taught together in various private and public schools in Fitchburg, Dana, Orange, Greenfield, Petersham, and other places.
Sophie Packard also graduated from Charlestown Female Seminary in 1850 and subsequently became principal of several institutions where Hattie Giles taught as well. After she became an active leader in the Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society, Miss Packard sought more fulfilling work. She became a pastor’s assistant in Worcester for eight years, serving young women who came to the city to work in the factories.
In 1881, the two, now in their fifties, took a trip South to see where they might start a school to offer an education to African American women in the first generation after the Civil War. They thought Louisiana might be a likely place, but on their way there, they stopped in Atlanta, Georgia. There, they met Reverend Frank Quarles. Rev. Quarles was the minister of Friendship Baptist Church and, as a leader in the Atlanta Black community, had been seeking ways to build an education system. Rev. Quarles offered Miss Packard and Miss Giles the use of the Church basement as the beginning of a collaboration.
Several weeks later, on April 11, 1881, the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary opened in the “dink-damp” basement of the church. There were eleven girls as students. Miss Packard and Miss Giles were teaching, but had little yet in the way of equipment or materials. Rev. Quarles and the Yankee schoolmarms soon made trips North to secure funding, not only for supplies, but also additional teachers and larger, permanent facilities. Rev. Quarles fell ill on such a trip. He died, but not before seeing his own daughter Frankie begin school in the first class.
Two years later, the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary moved with sixty students to a converted military barracks purchased by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Sophia Packard was the Seminary’s first president. Over the years, the Seminary added vocational training in nursing and teaching training, as well as a high school diploma program, and later a college curriculum. John D. Rockefeller gave substantial amounts of money to fund the buildings. In 1884, the institution changed its name to Spelman Seminary in order to honor the anti-slavery activist parents of Rockefeller’s wife Laura Spelman Rockefeller.
Miss Sophie Packard died in 1891. Miss Hattie Giles took over the role of Seminary President until her own death in 1910. But that time, Spellman had become the largest Black women’s seminary in the world. Today it is known as Spelman College. Miss Packard and Miss Giles are buried next to each other in the Packard family plot in the Silver Lake Cemetery in Athol, Massachusetts.
__Riese. ”16 Lesbian Power Couples From History Who Got Shit Done, Together.” Autostraddle. March 31, 2017. https://www.autostraddle.com/16-lesbian-power-couples-from-history-who-changed-the-world-together-372223/
__Bullard, Eugene. History of New Salem Academy. New Salem, Massachusetts; 1913.
__Mitchell, Deborah. “Father Quarles and Aunt Ruth: Leaders for Spelman and All of Georgia. Accessed 4/21/17. NOTE this is the source for the photo of the two women used by Autostraddle.com, which apparently got it from Spelman College Archives. The names however are mislabeled, the opposite of what was included in the identical photos printed in the Reunion Banner. http://kcac.kennesaw.edu/thematic_content/educating_for_citizenship/leaders.html
__Reunion Banner. New Salem Academy. New Salem, Massachusetts: 1881, 1888, 1895, 1910. Sophie Packard and Hattie Giles reported their news to their former classmates here over the years, including the photographs of them and Spelman Seminary. Available locally at Amherst MA Jones Library Special Collections.
__Young, Allen. North of Quabbin Revisited. Athol, Massachusetts: Haley’s; 2003. A thank you to Allen who first informed me of the local ladies.
a wonderful piece of preservation work!
I first met Pat Jones and Donna Eddins in 1990 at the Gulf Coast Women’s Music Festival in Mississippi. They were videotaping the event and would I give them permission to record my set? This was before everyone and their sister had phones with video or even home camcorders, so of course I said yes. Over that long weekend I got to know them better and when they offered me a place to stay my next time through their hometown of Memphis, I didn’t hesitate. I loved their warm and direct manner. Neither suffered fools gladly and they worked tirelessly as LGBT activists — my kind of people. They taped festivals and other events with professional grade equipment, produced concerts, and did an LGBT radio show, all in the deep south. Here’s Pat talking about bringing comic Robin Tyler to Memphis in 1980. She also mentions Meristem, the women’s bookstore…
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In 1970, I had just started my sophomore year at UMass when I broke up with my partner Susan and needed a cheap place to live on the bus route to Amherst. Since I was in a non-functioning emotional state, it was only due to the one friend we had made in Northampton, Madeline Littlefield, that I got moved into a rooming house in town.
The old three-story house at 66 Green Street, with its maze of hallways leading out from a central staircase on the top two floors, looked as though it had been designed to be a rooming house. What had probably been a deep, covered front porch with a little yard and an adjacent alley, however, had been converted to cinderblock storefronts built right up to the sidewalk, though the two old apartments still existed behind them. One had to step back from the pink, painted, stucco front to get a glimpse of the original shingled edifice, which had steeply slanted roofs and a turret hiding a whole other world from that of the Smith College campus right across the street.
“Elmhurst Apartments” was painted on the glass transom over the entry door located between the shops. The door led into a small, narrow foyer with flat, black, metal mailboxes affixed to the right hand wall and a carpeted staircase with wooden banister leading upward on the other. Dimly lit, creaking steps, slightly slanted into the void and crowded by a wall with painted over wallpaper, led to the fourteen rooms and two apartments above. There were shared bathrooms and hallway sinks on the second and third floors as well as a kitchen on the third which had originally been room #5.
Mrs. Snowden was the housekeeper, a term new to me. She was a combination manager and maid, sending the bed linens out to a laundry service but washing the towels in the basement machine. A furnished room for single occupant came with a weekly change of linen (one of the sheets, pillowcase and towel) for eight dollars a week. The top floor rooms had slanted ceilings, and those in the corners of the building claustrophobically fit only a single twin-size bed, dresser, and straight backed chair.
A few of the tenants were longtime residents, older single or widowed, retired or employed by nearby Smith College. They set a clean, quiet, mind-your-own tone. The majority, though, were transients, mostly men, who saw the ad in the Gazette, placed there whenever there was a vacancy. I recall people just discharged from the State Hospital up the hill and migrant workers between crops passing through.
Busy with school and multiple activities, I didn’t initially engage much with the other tenants, except for hellos and a worry that they might smell the pot smoke leaking into the hall through the blanket covered door and transom. Or notice increased noise and the occasional presence of a woman lover, as over the next couple years friends from Student Homophile League and then the Gay Women’s Caucus and Valley Women’s Center began increasingly to visit.
Over time, I got to know a bit about the regulars. The housekeeper Ada Snowden was friends with another widow on the third floor named Eva Crovo. The two of them could be heard clattering in the kitchen together every evening before and after they ate in Ada’s room. On the second floor, the retired widower Abner Solon went out somewhere for the day, including, it appeared, all his meals. Living next to Abner at the top of the stairs to the second floor was Sophie Szarek, a retired old maid who was to become somewhat of a legend in those early years at Green Street.
After I had been living there a few months, I noticed that sometimes when I came home, just as I was reaching the top of the stairs to the second floor, I would hear a door slam shut. Sophie, that elusive tenant, would peek out of her room to see who was coming up the stairs and then hide before she was seen in return. When I started taking a psychology class and learned of operant conditioning, I decided to try it on Sophie. Now when I came in, I called hello to her, and gradually was able to engage her in neighborly conversation.
Sophie had come from Poland to the Valley as a twelve year-old. A cousin had found her work as a maid in a “Yankee” household, which she did for her entire working life. Even with her heavily accented English, it was possible to understand her scornful contempt for all things “Yankee,” which seemed to extend to the few other women in the house, who never befriended her. I was able to introduce her to more congenial and increasingly bemused neighbors as friends of mine moved into the house.
I was somewhat surprised when Mrs. Snowden asked me to substitute for her as the housekeeper over a summer. She worked as a cook at one of the Smith houses during the school year, but returned to her home in Nova Scotia when she could during the summer school break. The job at 66 Green Street broadly entailed renting the rooms and collecting the rent, cleaning the common areas and vacant rooms, checking the boiler, handling the laundry, and reporting to the landlord. In exchange, the room was rent-free and a phone paid for by the landlord was installed. Mrs. Snowden was pleased enough with me that when she retired from her cook’s job in the summer of 1972 and wanted to return permanently to Canada, she recommended that I be her replacement.
For the next three years, as Green Street’s housekeeper, I filled every new vacancy that I could by word of mouth, with known or recommended women, most of them lesbian. In the remainder of 1972, eight women, five of them lesbian, filled vacancies. With the addition of another lesbian at the start of 1973, five of us collectively rented a room in the name of Kaethe Kollwitz that served as a common room. We also offered it as emergency housing through the Valley Women’s Center in Northampton and Everywoman’s Center at UMass. Over the two years we maintained the room, it temporarily housed a few famous and infamous women.
By Fall of 1975, I was ready to quit the job. Lesbians now lived in the majority of the rooms and one of the apartments at “Green Street,” as it was increasingly referred to in the women’s community. As the town built elder housing, all but one of the senior tenants had moved to those better accommodations. They took their moderating influence with them. As well as a 100% turnover in tenants, usual for a rooming house, the change brought increased noise, traffic, and mess in the common areas, which increasingly frustrated me as housekeeper. I had to draw a large poster for the bathroom illustrating how to replace a used-up roll of toilet paper. I’ve been reminded by a former tenant of the time I went in the kitchen and threw every unwashed dish, glass, skillet, pot, utensil (piles of them) out the third floor window. I kept living at Green Street even after I was no longer the housekeeper.
Peggy C., old UMass friend and resident down the hall from Sophie and Abner, agreed to take over the job with the landlord’s blessing. However, the ever-increasing cleaning chores and wrangles as the “authority” figure discouraged her, too, and within only a couple weeks she was ready to quit.
Faced with the possibility of losing this now largely women’s, space, the tenants agreed to experimentally form a sub rosa cooperative that would share the work of maintaining the house and making decisions, including who would live there, greatly reducing the responsibilities of the landlord’s hired housekeeper, now the secret tenants’ co-op’s front person as well.
Kate A. became the first housekeeper under this new arrangement toward the end of 1975. A notebook was set up on a dresser in the second floor hall as a house communications log, with the weekly job rosters, house rules, and meeting notices. Over time, messages about happenings in the community as well as individuals’ lives accumulated in the log. [The log has been preserved at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College with appropriate use restrictions.]
By the time I left in 1978, to be with my dying mother, at least seventy different women, mostly lesbians, had lived at Green Street over that five year period, some multiple times. A few stayed for only a week or two, others rented for years, with 6-8 months being the average stay. Though many were college educated, initially most lived there because it was the cheapest housing available and near the bus route. Being able to be open with each other and have like-minded neighbors became a desirable bonus.
The drawback was that it was often like living in a soap opera, witnessing fights between lovers or class clashes in the hallways. Because so many of us were to be involved in creating the new Lesbian community, community conflicts carried over into our living space as well. Green Street’s story as a Lesbian cultural institution continues well into the next decade and beyond. That, as well as little tales from the seventies as they are relevant, will be included in future blog posts.
Northampton isn’t included in the index of Lilian Faderman’s highly anticipated history the Gay Revolution , but (behold !), in her very first chapter, “Lawbreakers and Loonies,” she describes the state of affairs for homosexuals just before the revolution, using the case of a Smith College student as an example of how the “loonies” were controlled.
Faderman interviewed former Smith student Sally Taft Duplaix shortly before Sally’s death in 2012. A sophomore at Smith College in 1956, Sally was seen by another student in flagrante delicto with her roommate. She was reported to the dean, then sent to the college doctor. The doctor informed Sally’s parents that they had to take her out of school and put her under psychiatric care.
In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association included homosexuality as a “pathological behavior” in its first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Defects. Duplaix’s parents paid for daily sessions with a psychiatrist to “cure” their daughter, then mortgaged their home to pay for her to be treated in a residential facility with private and group therapy. When Sally continued to be uncooperative she was sent to another psychiatric facility where she was heavily medicated and given both insulin and electric shock therapy. She was threatened with being transferred to a state institution where she might be lobotomized. After five months, she was released to her parents. Still a lesbian at age seventy-six in 2012, she called those psychiatrists the “malevolent monsters of the ‘mental health’ establishment.”
Of the half dozen Smithie lesbians I met in the early 1970s, at least one had also been forced to take a semester off to get “reformed,” i.e. learn to hide her love of women. Another Smith undergraduate lesbian I met had parents who were initially supportive of her when she came out in 1970. This parental support may have been crucial to allowing undergraduate Maggie Putnam to start the first lesbian group at Smith College.
According to Stacy Braverman, student archivist for the SC LGBTQ group Spectrum, “The catalyst for organized queer life at Smith came in 1973, when the first Women’s Weekend was held at Smith. This event would continue, in various forms, until the early 1990s, but the initial one was especially important to the large number of women who came out as lesbian or bisexual during the weekend.” Braverman found articles in the Sophian student newspaper describing this, as well as the fact that it occurred at the first and sole lesbian workshop. Braverman continues, “Some of these women formed the Sophia Sisters group,” which was described by Anne Lozier, another student archivist, as “an underground organization.”
The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology, which I edited with Jacqueline Letalien, identifies that first Women’s Weekend as April 6-8, 1973. It included a musical appearance by the Deadly Nightshade. April 10 is recorded as “First Sophia Sisters meeting. Smith College.” I remember that Maggie Putnam was one of the lesbians who tried to quietly start this group, which was also sometimes referred to as Sophiasisters. She inadvertently outed herself to her residential house when one of the residents saw her stuffing Sophia Sisters flyers in everyone’s mailboxes.
“Notices of meetings and events were ripped down, and members reported increased hostility from fellow students,” Braverman wrote. “The following year, the Women’s Resource Center opened at Smith, and became a gathering place for feminists, lesbians, and bisexuals. By 1975, however, most of the Sophia Sisters’ founding members had graduated and there was a lapse in structured activities. “
The 1980s would see a very active connection between Smith student and town lesbians in Northampton. In the first half of the 1970s, however, there were only a handful of Smith students who were out of the closet enough to connect with other area groups, such as at UMass SHL/GLF and Gay Women’s Caucus; at the Valley Women’s Center in downtown Northampton; or at the Green Street lesbian rooming house.
There is an oft repeated idea that Northampton’s reputation as “Lesbianville, USA” is a product of the presence of Smith College. I believe, however, that Smith has been the most conservative of the Five Colleges in the area (the others are Mt. Holyoke, Amherst, and Hampshire and the University of Massachusetts), making it the most difficult to come out at and to change. Elsewhere in this blog I have included the ending of Freshman Frolics, the banning students from the Rose Tree Inn, and the silence as gay male faculty were prosecuted. All are examples of Smith’s reactionary defense as an institution already under siege for daring to educate women. In this climate in 1973, the Sophia Sisters forged a path that increasing numbers of students would join over the decades, forcing the College to begin to change.
__Faderman, Lillian. The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle pages 11-12. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2015.
__Babize, Molly. “The homosexual community: five people speak with candor about issues, ideas and choices.” Hampshire Life, July 7-13, 1979, Daily Hampshire Gazette, page 5. Northampton, MA. Includes an interview with Maggie Putnam.
__Braverman, Stacy. “Crushes at Smith.” Unpublished paper submitted to KMR for use in the chapbook. 2003.
__[Raymond], Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton MA. 1979. http://vwhc.org/timeline.html
__Lozier, Anne. “Records of the Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Alliance, 1976-2003.” Finding Aid, College Archives, Smith College. Northampton. 2003