The Ladies Circle
The Ladies Circle, or Ladies Society, of the Unitarian Society of Danvers (later, the Community Church of Danvers, later the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Danvers, and, finally, the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church), was formed on October 5, 1865, at Danvers Town Hall. This building is where the fledgling Unitarian Society first met, starting in the summer of 1865, before they could build their own church. Within five years, the Society was able to purchase land at the corner of Porter and High Streets and break ground on their new home, Unity Chapel. The building was dedicated on March 16, 1871.
On the 50th anniversary of Unity Chapel, in 1921, an unidentified church member gave the following account of the Ladies Circle’s activities. It was most likely delivered at their annual meeting that year, which would have been held on the first Thursday in October.
50th Anniversary of Unity Chapel
In the summer of 1865 the Unitarian Movement was started in Danvers. On the first Thursday of October 1865 [the 5th,] the Ladies Circle was formed in Town Hall. And for fifty years the Annual Meeting of the Ladies Circle has been held on the first Thursday in October.
The Circle was held regularly once a fortnight at the houses of the different members. Sometimes there were as many as forty-five to supper.
The first work the Ladies undertook was to raise money to buy the land for the church to be built upon. The first winter they had a Christmas Entertainment and also a Fair in Town Hall.
Every one of the early workers let nothing hinder if there was any work to do for the church, and they worked untiringly. They held many two and three day fairs, and at some have cleared as much as $600.
After the land was purchased and the Chapel built and dedicated in 1871, the Ladies Circle became and still is the housekeeper of the church, you all know what that means, the housekeeping expenses must always be paid by the housekeeper. Therefore she must have a full pocket-book. These are some of the expenses to be taken care of by her. Gas Bills, Water Bills, Electric Light Bills, and Insurance Policies.
Of course the Circle is a thrifty housekeeper and tries to keep money enough ahead for emergencies, so when the church needs a new carpet it can have it, or if the window shades need replacing it can be done.
Here I will also mention some of the work done by the Circle aside for things for the church. When any family needed help with sewing the Ladies were ready to help them. At the time of the Spanish War our parlors were opened for making garments and bandages. One of our family lost their home by fire, we bought material and made sheets etc.
At the time of the Salem Fire [June 25, 1914] the Ladies purchased cloth and made it into Clothing for Babies. Every year $5 is given to the House for the Aged.
It was the understanding in the beginning that the Ladies take care of the inside of the house, and everything is in perfect order today.
They helped financially when the Sunday School redecorated the Hall, also when the old carpet was made into rugs for this room after the new floor was layed.
For the last 30 years they have averaged $120. a year for the small remaining expenses of the church.
Let us keep in loving memory the dear Circle members who have finished their duties on earth. I know that the following names will bring to mind faithful workers who some of us have almost forgotten. First was the beloved founder Mrs Wentworth who served for years as president, she moved away from Danvers in 1888 but kept in touch with the church for many years.
Mrs Corning, Mrs Wright, Mrs Stone, Mrs Putnam, Mrs Knight, Mrs Guilford, Mrs Gould, Mrs Perry, Mrs Townsend, Mrs Clough, Mrs Verry, Mrs Hyde, Mrs Johnson, Miss Annie Knight, Mrs Welch, Mrs Lummus, Miss Betsy Warren, Mrs Stickney, Mrs Carter, Mrs Warren Legno, Mrs Stow, Mrs Goss, Mrs Shute, Mrs Foye, Mrs Glover, Mrs DeNormandie, Mrs Newhall, Mrs Jones, Mrs Turner.
The Ladies Circle has completed fifty useful and successful years. May it for many years to come continue to be the housekeeper of the church.
Let us hope that the younger people here tonight will feel it a sacred duty to affiliate with the Circle, and be ready to keep on the good work begun by their mothers and grandmothers.
The Peabody Press gave this account of the Ladies Society on March 15, 1871, the day before the dedication of the chapel:
At the bottom of every good thing … were the women, who determined that they should have nice church. Accordingly, the Ladies’ Society of the congregation, of which Mrs. Wentworth was President, entered heart and soul into the project of building a church.
The first thing to be done was to get a piece of land, and the ladies, by means of fairs and subscriptions, themselves raised $1550, of which $1050 was paid for about an acre of land … lying south of Putnam Avenue on High Street, which was bought at public auction in October, 1868.
In 1869, the Society voted to build when subscriptions should have amounted to $5,000, which was raised by liberal subscriptions almost entirely among the members of the Society, who have pulled together in this matter, shoulder to shoulder, and show[ed] an energy that was bound to bring success. They commenced work by laying out the cellar on the 18th of May 1870, and on the 9th of August began on the framework of the chapel and house attached. These being completed, the Ladies’ Society again went to work and held a fair on the 18th, 19th and 20th of January to pay for the furnishing. The fair was a great success, realizing about $650.
The furnishings the Ladies raised money for filled a two-story house with parlors, a kitchen, and a lecture room.
Today, the Ladies Circle would recognize their “housekeeping work” in the work of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, the Investments and Finance Committee, the minister, church staff and volunteers who pitch in as needed and who plan programs, events, fundraising activities.
The Ladies would see their efforts to care for church members and their community in The Caring Associates and Social Action Committee, as well as in events like the annual Christmas Dinner when the church opens its doors to everyone.
The Community Church, Danvers, Massachusetts (Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society, Vol. 36, 1948).
“The New Unitarian Chapel at Danvers,” The Peabody Press, Wednesday, 15 March 1871.