Four Lowell women set out on a 17-day excursion on Great Brewster Island in July 1891. They referred to themselves as the Scribe, the Aristocrat, the Acrobat, and the Autocrat; and documented their self-discoveries in a hand- written diary that was later discovered in a Cape Ann used bookstore.
“Women at the time did not go to college, or have opportunities to go off and study as they would like to,” explained Carol Fithian, retired national park ranger, and coordinator of volunteers for the Friends of the Boston Harbor Islands, now called Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park. “These women had some money, but were still under restriction. Women would form groups and clubs. They’d read and study together.”
Fithian is the co-author of “A Boston Harbor Islands Adventure: The Great Brewster Journal of 1891,” by Stephanie Schorow and the Friends of the Boston Harbor Islands. Published in 2023, the book is a transcription of the ladies’ diary, which chronicles their activities and observations, and includes poetry and photographs.
“They reflected on seeing the fog lift, looking across to Boston at the dome of the State House, and watching the waves hit the shore,” Fithian expounded. “They would paint watercolors of these things to preserve their harbor experience.”
Fithian presented the collaborative project during the Winthrop Improvement & Historical Association’s (WIHA) Thanksgiving dinner meeting in the Deane Winthrop House barn on November 7.
“These women supported each other,” Fithian emphasized. “We got to know them through this experience, and started to tell their story.”
The ladies detailed their meals, and diagramed the cottage that they used as living quarters, with photographs of each room.
“It’s interesting how they made it a home away from home,” said Fithian.
The Friends of the Boston Harbor Islands team comprised of fashion, photography, history, and handwriting experts. Fithian researched the women’s backgrounds and provided historical information about Boston Harbor Islands. Eventually, the identities of these adventurers were determined.
The “voracious scribe” was discovered to be Helen Augusta Whittier, who ran a cotton mill in Lowell.
Fithian believes that Boston Harbor’s unique, bustling environment offered the women freedom. Great Brewster Island was a safe place for the ladies to express themselves and record their experiences.
“If you read the book, discover through them what is possible out there,” encouraged Fithian, with her soon-to-be retired seeing eye dog, Georgette, beside her.
Fithian is an Ipswich resident and mother of two children. She has been a guidance counselor and a literature teacher. For Halloween, Fithian appeared as a giraffe during a Department of Conservation and Recreation celebration on Georges Island. Fithian is presently studying French and fencing.