Portsmouth Female Asylum, 1808-1950 – MS057

Source: Gift of The Portsmouth Female Asylum in November 1992

Citation: Portsmouth Female Asylum Papers, MS057, Portsmouth Athenaeum

Size: 1/2 Hollinger Box (.25 linear foot)

Access: No restrictions

Processed by: Susan Kindstedt in September 2005

Related Materials: Additional materials related to the Portsmouth Female Asylum can be found in North Church.

Scope and Content

The collection consists primarily of the organizational and financial records of the Portsmouth Female Asylum. Through financial records and the incorporation materials lists of supporters and teachers can be found. Additional information concerning the activities of the organization can also be found in the financial records. The organization’s period of economic hardship during the 1830s and 1840s can be seen in the correspondence.

Historical Note

The Portsmouth Female Asylum was founded in 1804. In 1817 an appeal was made to the “gentleman of Portsmouth” to obtain subscriptions for the support of the Asylum. The Asylum appears to have been struggling financially just prior to this and sought out Augustus Lord to help with the campaign. The 1820s saw continued financial struggle with additional appeals to the community. In 1831 only one child was in the care of the Asylum and that child was placed under the care of Mrs. Davenport. During the 1830s there was a great deal of discussion about the Asylum acting as a day school or as boarding school for underprivileged girls. At the annual meeting of May 2, 1836 the following was recorded: “…from fifteen to twenty-five poor female children are instructed in spelling, reading, knitting and plain sewing…The children are thus fitted for the situation of domestics, or for supporting themselves in any other situation, in a far better manner in all respects, than they can be at the town schools, where so great attention cannot be paid to them individually, and where no instruction in needlework is even given.” This school appears to have been operated by Miss Jackson on State Street.

In 1844 it was decided that an additional sewing school would be started on Wednesday and Saturdays for the poor young women attending Portsmouth’s public schools. Beginning in 1849 this sewing school was operated in the Infant schoolroom at the Franklin School at Christian Shore, under the care of Miss Caroline Fernald. Later schools also operated at the Old South Church (Miss Catherine Wise) and at the Cabot Street Schoolhouse (Miss Olive Hill). In 1856 the Asylum proposed to the city that a sewing teacher be placed in the public schools at the expense of the Asylum. After some reluctance on the part of the public schools, the plan was accepted. This program remained in the public schools through the 1880s when one teacher, Miss Harriet M. Remick was hired to teach sewing at all four of Portsmouth’s public school districts. In the twentieth century, the Asylum took on a role of offering scholarships to graduates of Portsmouth High School and to aiding other local organizations such as the Spaulding Youth Center in Tilton, Great Bay School, Portsmouth District Nursing Association, Family Service Association, and the Odyssey House.

The original incorporators of the society were Sarah Sargent, Ann Shapley, Isabel Tappan, Deborah Sparhawk, Sarah Davenport, Susan Penhallow, Elizabeth Adams, Margaret Manning, Mary Sherburne, Ann W. Penhallow, and Lucy M. Buckminster.

Folder List

Folder 1 Printed pamphlet “The Rules, Regulations, & c of the Portsmouth Female Asylum, with the Act of Incorporation” printed in Portsmouth by Beck & Foster, 1815 [2 copies]

Folder 2 Mary A. Foster, treasurer, Cash books A and B, 1835-1862

Folder 3 Printed list of officers, 1922-1947 (20 copies)

Folder 4 Original copy of Incorporation, 1808

Folder 5 Miscellaneous Bills and Receipts, 1846-1911 (5 pieces)

Folder 6 Notes on the history of the Female Asylum, ca. 1884 (2 pieces)

Folder 7 Correspondence, 1836-1900 (7 pieces). Includes letters expressing opinions on how to proceed with the Asylum (1836-1842) when interested flagged.

Folder 8 2 Portsmouth Savings Bank bankbooks, 1933-1950

Folder 9 May S. Laighton’s treasurer’s report, 1915, listing material received from previous treasurer, primarily stocks & bonds

Folder 10 Mary E. Mason, treasurer’s report, 1831-1835, during period when Asylum was closed. With treasurer’s accounts. (2 pieces)

Folder 11 1 page from printed book (title unknown, date ca. 1890, pg. 95-96) that describes the history and present state of the Female Asylum