Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Recent Acquisition: Vermont Historical Gazetteer

Guest post by Sarah Fitzgerald, Book Division volunteer

The library has recently acquired the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, compiled by Abby Maria Hemenway. This five-volume set is a remarkable accomplishment for a 19th century woman. Hemenway's goal was to create a record of Vermont's unwritten past. Those interested in Vermont history will find rich details on all counties except her own, Windsor County, because unfortunately she died before she could complete it.

Portrait of Abby Maria Hemenway, Vermont Historical Society.
Abby Hemenway was born in Ludow, Vermont in 1828 and taught school in Vermont and Michigan for many years. Beginning in 1859, she worked for more than 30 years to recruit authors to write about early Vermont history, edit their work, and publish it in the Gazetteer. She persevered in her effort despite objections from the Addison County Historical Society, which complained that it was an improper role for a woman. 

Hemenway funded the Gazetteer by getting women to sell subscriptions, but few people were willing to pay 25 cents per issue, so she struggled to publish issues each quarter. She moved to Chicago, but continued to face problems in meeting her publishing costs. She died in 1890, and her sister Carrie Page published Volume Five after her death. The editing of Volume Six was taken over by Hemenway's friend William Portus Baxter, but he died in 1911 and the notes burned in a house fire the same year, leaving the last piece of Hemenway's ambitious endeavor incomplete.

The pages of the index volume are warped and water-stained. That is because the State of Vermont printed them up and stored the unsold copies in a Montpelier basement when the catastrophic 1927 flood put eight feet of water on Montpelier's State Street. It is rare to find an index for the set that doesn't exhibit signs of having been submerged.

Further Reading:

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