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Hemenway, Abby Maria (1828–1890) - Local History

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Abby Maria Hemenway was born in 1828 at Ludlow, Vermont, to Abigail (Barton) and Daniel Sheffield Ludlow, a farmer. She taught at a district school when she was fourteen and in 1847 enrolled in the Black River Academy in Ludlow. In 1852 she taught school and was involved in a local Ladies’ Association for Mental and Other Improvement. After three years in Michigan, she returned to Ludlow and began a history of Vermont that would become her life obsession.

Hemenway began a series of treatises on all the towns of the state, each written by a leading citizen. It was to be published in fourteen quarterlies, one for every county. She began with Addison County, the only county in Vermont with a historical society. The faculty of Middlebury College, located in Addison County, declared the plan impractical and especially not suited for a woman. They asked how one woman could accomplish what forty men had been trying to do for sixteen years. Hemenway continued her work, touring the county by stagecoach and wagon and selling copies of Poets and Poetry of Vermont , an anthology she had written, to support her research. Back home, she worked in one room of her family’s house, refusing to socialize. Six issues of the Vermont Quarterly Gazetteer appeared after the first issue on July 4, 1860, until the war interrupted Hemenway’s work. In 1867 she published the town histories of five counties in The Vermont Historical Gazetteer: A Magazine Embracing a History of Each Town, Civil, Ecclesiastical, Biographical, and Military . A second volume, featuring four counties, appeared in 1871, and a third in 1877. In 1878 the Vermont State Legislature agreed to buy copies of Volumes 1, 4, and 5 if the price did not exceed four dollars a volume and set aside $1,500 for subscriptions for town libraries. In 1882 the fourth volume was published, but the proceeds from the book were attached by the printer, Joseph Poland, as surety for unpaid bills. Hemenway had no credit and was ruined financially. In 1884 she returned to Ludlow to work on the fifth volume but had to leave to escape judgment on the unpaid debt. Hemenway fled to Chicago with her manuscripts and a few pieces of furniture. She installed type cases in her room to try to set the fifth volume by herself. She was run over by a sleigh and suffered a broken collarbone, and in May 1886 three-quarters of her work was destroyed by a fire. She began Volume 5 again and started on Windsor, which would be Volume 6. She became known as an eccentric, living in poverty to work on her histories. When Abby Hemenway died of apoplexy in Chicago on February 24, 1890, she was alone and insolvent, but 6,000 pages had been published. The fifth volume was eventually finished by her sister, Carrie E.H. Page. The sixth volume was acquired by a private collector in 1911 and destroyed by another Chicago fire.

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