Life in Florence's Utopian Community, 1843-1846:

The Stetson Family Letters

Thursday, April 27, 2023 at 7 pm

A Zoom Presentation by Dr. Christopher Clark

with readings from the Stetson Family Letters by

Mary Beth Brooker, Tahmie Der & Tom Goldscheider

Join us as the Stetson family comes to life through their letters.

Historian Christopher Clark will discuss the Stetson family letters (now at Historic Northampton) written while they were members of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry.

Selected excerpts from the letters will be read by Mary Beth Brooker as Dolly (the mother), Tahmie Der as Almira (the teenaged daughter), and Tom Goldscheider as James (the father).

The Stetson family came to Florence in 1843 -- 180 years ago -- to join the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. They wanted to live and work with people who shared their values of immediate emancipation of slavery and equal rights for all "without distinction of sex, color or condition, sect or religion.” The letters provide a close look at a single family before, during, and after their membership in an abolitionist, utopian community. Glimpses of Sojourner Truth, David Ruggles, and other leading figures of the community appear throughout the correspondence.

Performer and writer Mary Beth Brooker will read from letters written by Dolly Witter Stetson (1807-1899), the wife and mother remembered for her superior intelligence.

"I think I can look back to my past life and see where I may have been saved from what might have been far worse by a game of whist – and I had much rather my daughters should be dancing or playing cards (as wicked as that sounds, in a mixed company of boys and girls than in the language of Sojourner [Truth] to be lolling on each other squeezing each others hands or sitting in each others laps …"

Dolly W. Stetson to James A. Stetson,

October 6, 1844

Actor Tahmie Der will read from letters written by Almira Stetson (born May 22, 1828), the eldest child who worked in the cocoonery and attended school.

“Now Dear Father I intended to have written by this box a good long letter to you .... But I cannot, for last night Dr. [Sylvester] Graham lectured in town against 'Odd Fellowship' ... so I thought I would go ... Graham out did himself.”

Almira Stetson to James A. Stetson,

[June 27, 1845]

Historian Tom Goldscheider will read from letters written by James Stetson (1801-1893), the husband and father who served as the community's silk agent on the road and in Boston.

"... the welfare of our children will always be uppermost in our minds & I am greatly mistaken if here is not the best place for them that we can ... expect to get, if they can but carry out the plan they propose in their different Schools..."

James A. Stetson to Dolly W. Stetson,

[February 20, 1843]

Register for the Zoom link

Sliding scale admission: $5 to $25

Students: Free of charge

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46 Bridge Street
Northampton, MA 01060

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Header image: Williston's Cotton Mill, from the Bridge. Stereoscopic Views of Florence, Knowlton Brothers Photographers. Historic Northampton object id number: 1982.7.187.

Built by the Northampton Silk Company in Broughton's Meadow (renamed Florence in 1852), this building was the factory and boarding house of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry from 1842 to 1846. It was located across the street from what is now the David Ruggles Center on Nonotuck Street.