written by Ralmon Black, Williamsburg Historical Society
Another wondrous woman of Williamsburg, a sustaining figure over half a century — an enduring example to all who would spring to community responsibility or civic duty — an educator, a social reformer, a farm wife, Frances Jeanette Guilford. She took the name of Clary when she married, but went around Town and down the Valley as Fannie Clary.
Fannie came to light as Frances Jeannette Guilford, 9th generation this side the sea, born in 1857 in Ashfield to Louisa (Amsden) & Manly Guilford, a successful farmer, who taught school in Ashfield, served on the School Committee and, as a Republican, represented Ashfield in the state legislature for several years. He held that office when he died in 1858. Fannie was only a yearling when she lost her father and although she had two older brothers, they soon went off to the Civil War. The family had very difficult times.
Fannie learned at a very early age the mysteries of house keeping and participated in the strenuous husbandry chores of their diversified agrarian life. They had a few cows, a team of oxen, some light horses, pigs and chickens, besides a garden, cropland and pasture, all demanding long hours — from dawn to dusk, burning the candle at both ends. She loved sports, rode bareback, played baseball, and was generally active in games, then supposed to be only for boys.
Fannie graduated from Sanderson Academy in Ashfield at the young age of fourteen. She proved herself bright enough to come to the attention of the School Committee. She was invited to teach in the little white schoolhouse on Briar Hill where she had in her classroom boys and girls, bigger and older than she, but she held sway over them. She received room and board and two dollars a week. She got along very well and proved herself a satisfactory disciplinarian.
She was very ambitious as a teen and saw the personal value of higher education. She had the dream of going to Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary. After all, Mary Lyon received her first educational impressions and impulses in Ashfield, attending Sanderson and then teaching there herself before founding Mount Holyoke. This had a profound effect on the development of Fannie’s thinking and she began to fathom the possibility of extending her life and influence beyond the precincts of home and hometown.
Marriage was soon proposed by the young miller, Dwight Clary, whom she thought to have “all those estimable and endearing qualities.” They made their first home in Cummington where Dwight was employed in the gristmill. Those few years there were happy, interesting times with William Cullen Bryant, taking up summer residence there and drawing a following of intellectuals. They frequently attended dinners and cultural events where there were many great thinkers of those times, now forgotten. In order to understand the development of her thinking, one should travel off on a tangent to identify the speakers Fannie was in the presence and influence of: George William Curtis, political editor of Harper’s Weekly and civil service reformer; Charles Eliot Norton, leading American author, social critic, and professor of art; John W. Chadwick, author and poet; Julia Ward Howe, pacifist and suffragist; and other notables, not to mention Bryant, himself.
They moved to Williamsburg Village in 1881 where Dwight was to run the gristmill, newly built after the disastrous flood. Fanny became very active in the village, establishing herself prominently in many organizational pursuits — the Sons of Temperance, Amateur Dramatics Society, Village Improvement, and Ladies’ Benevolent and Aid Societies. She was a driving force in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), when, in 1891, they acquired the Hampshire House (now the Florence Savings Bank).
She taught school for ten years, and was the first female elected to any town office when she was chosen to serve on the three-man School Committee, a position she would hold nine years. In those days, the School Committee had full prerogative over the activities and budget of all schools — the two village central schools, and six or seven one-room district schools. Fannie, in her advanced thinking, advocated closing the district schools and bringing all the children to the village.
In their home, Fanny and Dwight entertained lecturers with stereopticon views to pass around, and soloists, quartettes, a whistler, a harpist and those who read their own or other’s work. These artists traveled from Boston and other distant places — hired to raise money for the town’s many worthwhile projects. Many families extended their hospitality to accommodate these guests in their homes for the night.
In 1894 Dwight and Fanny exchanged their home in the village for the Hyde Farm in Searsville, now the Snow Farm Craft School. Fannie was very enthusiastic about the farm; work out-of-doors and with milch cows, laying hens, orchards of fruit, pastures teeming with berries, and the maple sugar season, all very much appealed to her. She believed in work — hard work — for body and soul and she loved it. Fannie tried everything with the dairy: sold cream to the Williamsburg creamery, butter to private customers and jugs of milk down to the distant town as a gift to the middleman. She looked forward to slaughter time, salted and hung beef to dry, or corned beef, chunks of pork in brine, cuts of pork were smoked, lard rendered out. One year she salted down a crock full of dandelions — only one crock — and only one year. Fannie was a seamstress, making dresses from her own contrived patterns; stitches were even and fine and her three grandsons had no store-bought suits until after their 10th birthdays.
1898 brought the first summer boarders to the Clary Farm. Thereafter came many — Smith College girls and faculty. The boarding business continued, more prosperously than the farm, and was continued, by the family well into the forties, after Fannie was gone. Many distinguished people in those days could be found at the Clary Farm — editors, educators, socialist leaders, authors, merchants and philanthropists, Grace Coolidge came often, and the White House physician. At one time, seated at Mrs. Clary’s table, were the daughter of Henry Van Dyke, the granddaughters of Henry Ward Beecher, William Lloyd Garrison, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the grandniece of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Fannie never lost interest in the village. She threw her leadership into chartering the Williamsburg Grange in 1900. She spoke publicly, often extemporaneously, on a wide variety of subjects. She presided at meetings and debates in the years when women did not take part forensically, with a special interest against capital punishment and for The League of Nations. Her literacy endeavors were considerable. She wrote numerous articles or papers for church, schools, Grange, Home-coming celebrations, Labor, Temperance and Suffrage Organizations, and she even officiated at an occasional funeral.
As a woman suffragist in 1902, she was encouraged to run for a seat in state legislature. The question was: could a woman, with no franchise to vote, run for office? The legal opinion was that she could run and, if elected, could serve. That year in her candidacy, she spoke at Faneuil Hall in Boston where she learned, to her disappointment, that all suffragists were by no means Prohibitionists, nor were those throwing tomatoes, gentlemen.
Again in 1904, she was nominated on the Prohibition ticket for Secretary of State — the first woman in Massachusetts to receive a statewide nomination for a state office. Of course, she was too far ahead of her time to be elected. She rejoiced in national prohibition and died before its repeal — with a prophesy of evil days ahead for the young people of America should repeal ever come.
In this period of her life, her genius for extemporaneous speech, convincing argument, and emotional appeal was at its height. Today it seems perfectly natural for women to be platform speakers, but a century or more ago when Fannie began to preside at meetings, speak in public, and interest herself in affairs of government, she was so much the pioneer that many of her contemporaries, satisfied to sit at home or visit with their neighbors, thought her strange. But, so confident and eager was she for the cause, that neither foe nor loving friend could hurt her.
The above biographical information was adapted from Town Records, remembrances and various other sources with heaviest reliance on the biography of Fannie (Guilford) Clary written by Estella Damon Warner and included in A History of Williamsburg in Massachusetts, collected by Phyllis Baker Deming, 1946.