Tag Archives: Sarah K Black

Putting Public History Into Practice: The Industrial School for Girls

By: Sarah K. Black

When I entered the public history graduate program at UMass Boston, my experience in the field of history was strictly academic. One can only imagine how anxious I felt when I received the syllabus for HST 625, Interpreting History in Public: Approaches to Public History Practice. Under the instruction of Professor Jane Becker and in partnership with Joe Bagley at the Boston City Archaeology Program, my colleagues and I were tasked with uncovering the history of those who lived and worked at the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls (ISFG) during the 1860s and delivering those stories to the public in a way that was both appealing and accessible.

ISFG map
Map depicting the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls, 1889.

The ISFG was established in 1853 by several women who sought to educate and train destitute young girls in the field of domestic service. Once deemed ready by the staff, the girls would be placed in homes to work as servants. Our class was required to connect our biographical sketches with artifacts retrieved during Bagley’s excavation of the site in Summer 2015, and construct a website to ensure our interpretations could reach the widest possible audience. I was extremely intimidated by the project because, unlike writing a paper, we were working with a client (Bagley) and producing a tangible product. Who knew that the ISFG project would become the most exciting, informative, and meaningful experience of my entire academic career.

There were two main phases of the project—the first of which required each of us to conduct extensive biographical research on one staff member and one student. But how do we construct narratives for women who spent much of their lives on the fringes of society? And what does the middle ground of meticulous research and writing for a popular audience look like? These were just a few of the many questions we had to grapple with when we began producing these histories. We had to learn how to effectively weave facts and relevant context into a story that was both informative and accurate, as well as include elements that readers could connect with.

Hasson card
Record of Margaret Hasson, an ISFG student  who later became “inmate #13430” at Bridgewater Almshouse. Courtesy of the Massachusetts State Archives. Photograph by author.

Like several of my classmates, the beginning of my research was defined by countless hours working with genealogy sites and other online resources. Once we made it through the initial frustration of uncovering subjects so elusive in the historical record, we found that each had a unique and captivating story to tell. Some narratives featured immersive details of mischief, international travel, and death, while others concluded with more questions than they started with.

While conducting my research, I was fortunate enough to travel to the American Baptist Historical Society, located at Mercer University in Atlanta. There I found a collection of letters written by the ISFG matron, Mary S. Daüble, while she served as a missionary in India. Whether working as a missionary in India or a matron at multiple institutions, Mary devoted her life to education and religious teachings. After some intensive genealogical investigation, I was able to shed light on Daüble’s life and experiences. I even located a blueprint of her home and added her to my own family tree on ancestry.com.

Blueprint of Mary Daüble's house.
Blueprint of Mary Daüble and her husband’s house. Courtesy of the American Baptist Historical Society.  Photograph by author.

The story of Margaret (Maggie) Hasson was quite different. An Irish orphan who entered the institution at just 8 years old, Maggie found herself placed as a domestic servant in 10 different homes between 1860 and 1864. Mischievous to say the least, she ran away several times and even eloped with an African American Civil War soldier. After a police officer located and returned Hasson to the Industrial School for Girls, the school sent her to the Bridgewater Almshouse.

The second phase of the project was centered on group work. Our class was divided into three groups: website design and introduction, social media and marketing, and annotated transcription the ISFG’s 1860 annual report. As a member of the introduction group, I was responsible for contributing to the overall design of the website and drafting the text for the site’s landing pages.

Screen shot of ISFG website.

Once again, we were met with challenges: How do we create an interface that is both informative yet engaging? How can we stand out against the plethora of webpages that characterize the digital age in which we live? Just as it was difficult to condense hours of biographical research into 1000-word narratives, our team struggled with determining what information was essential for each of the site’s main pages. These sections had to be brief enough to capture and maintain the reader’s interest, but also paint the fullest possible picture of the school, the archaeological dig, and the project.

This experience gave my peers and me the opportunity to develop and improve skills in biographical research and historical interpretation in a digital age. We also learned the value of collaboration—not only with one another, but also with our professor, our client, and other cultural institutions. And finally, the project prompted us to retrieve voices that may have otherwise remained silent, gave us the chance to tell history from the bottom-up, and helped us to see the extraordinary value in uncovering the “ordinary.” The ISFG project proved to be the perfect introduction to turning public history theory into practice.

Sarah K. Black is earning her M.A. in History with a specialization in Public History. She currently also works as an editorial assistant for The New England Quarterly.

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Women & Witchcraft in Colonial Dorchester: The Tragic & Mysterious Story of Alice Lake

by: Sarah K. Black

Around the year 1650, nearly forty years before the infamous Salem witch trials occurred, Alice Lake was accused of practicing witchcraft. A native of Dorchester, MA, Lake stunned the community by claiming that she saw an apparition in the form of her recently deceased infant. As word of Lake’s claim spread, she was officially charged with being a witch and a trial ensued. The court delivered a guilty verdict and she was sent to the gallows.

Woodcut of witches being hanged at gallows originally printed in Sir George Mackenzie, The laws and customes of Scotland (1678).
Woodcut of witches being hanged at gallows originally printed in Sir George Mackenzie, The laws and customes of Scotland (1678). Retrieved from “Bristol Radical History Group.”

Rev. John Hale included some details of Alice’s final moments in his Modest Inquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft (1702). She refused to confess to witchcraft but accepted her conviction as God’s punishment for her sinful nature. She admitted to partaking in fornication and attempted to abort the resulting fetus to “conceal her sin and shame.”[1]

Rev. John Hale’s describes the moments before Alice’s execution in his MODEST INQUIRY (1702). Hale is best known for his support of the Salem witch trials.
Cover of Rev. John Hale’s treatise that described the moments before Alice’s execution in his MODEST INQUIRY (1702). Hale is best known for his support of the Salem witch trials.

Hale’s commentary on the incident led me to my research questions: May there have been a connection between Lake’s witchcraft charges and her promiscuity? More importantly, what societal conditions would prompt such a neurotic degree of shame and guilt in a woman years after her fornication incident?

With a very limited source base, only parts of Alice’s story could be reconstructed but through these fragments and reflections I found a broader story to tell. I argue that Alice accepted her impending death as punishment for her crimes because she lived in a society where sexuality was extremely restrictive. Her final moments also reveal a theme in colonial New England witchcraft that scholars may have overlooked or disregarded: sexuality. The erotic component of witchcraft was instrumental in blurring the barrier between “woman” and “witch.” By examining the relationship between sexuality and witchcraft, we can better understand the components of sorcery in Puritan ideology, sexuality in New England society, and why women such as Alice may have solidified their identities as “Handmaidens of the Devil.”[2]

Sarah K. Black speaking to a crowd of 70 at Dorchester Historical Society.
Sarah K. Black sharing her research about Alice Lake–a woman accused of witchcraft in Dorchester, ca. 1650–to a spellbound crowd at Dorchester Historical Society.

On February 19, I had the privilege of sharing my research on Alice Lake at the Dorchester Historical Society. The research was an experience in itself but the opportunity to present at the public forum proved to be the most fruitful. It was my first public presentation in almost a year and by far the largest crowd that I had ever spoken in front of. My professors and peers were extremely supportive and the audience members were very receptive. To move beyond creating history and into actually doing history was an exhilarating moment. Overall, the experience pushed me to step outside my comfort zone, rejuvenated my enthusiasm for the public history program, and reminded me why I chose this career path in the first place.

I knew that calling attention to Dorchester’s only documented witch might generate some interest in our Dorchester history initiative but I was not expecting an audience of about seventy!

Audience at Dorchester Historical Society, Feb. 19, 2017. Many were Dorchester residents eager to hear about their local history.
Audience at Dorchester Historical Society, Feb. 19, 2017. Many were Dorchester residents eager to hear about their local history.

Although I was extremely nervous about giving the talk, the support of my peers and professors—along with the warm reception from the audience—washed away any anxiety I had. I remain very grateful for the chance to share my research with so many intrigued individuals, especially since the event opened up several more opportunities for me to tell Alice’s story. I was invited by UMass professor Maryann Brink to talk with her freshmen students about my research process and how I applied historical thinking and analysis. I was also contacted by a representative of the Boston Public Library; I will be giving the presentation again on April 24th at the Adams Street Branch.

This experience has given me so much more than I could have hoped for in my first semester at UMass. I strengthened my skillset, met many new and wonderful people, and built up my network—all while researching a topic that I love and learning the importance of local heritage in the process!


     [1] John Hale, “A Modest Inquiry the Nature of Witchcraft,” Enquiry, in Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706, ed. Charles Lincoln Burr (New York: Barnes & Noble Inc., 1946), 408-409, (hereafter cited as Hale, “A Modest Enquiry”).

     [2] Cotton Mather, Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion (Cambridge, MA: S.G. & B.G., 1692), quoted in Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1987), xix.


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