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Helen Storrow

Virtual Exhibit by ESE Archivist & Historian Natalie Richards and Storrowton Staff

Helen Storrow (1864-1944) is an integral figure in the rich history of Eastern States Exposition. As the Chair of the Home Department, Storrow oversaw and funded an ambitious project that entailed moving nine historic buildings from different New England towns to the Fairgrounds, creating what is now known as Storrowton Village. Completed in 1930, Storrowton Village is used for educational purposes, providing visitors a glimpse into early New England life. The Village continues to do so today through various school programs and at The Big E. While Storrow is widely regarded for this contribution, she supported and funded numerous philanthropic efforts and projects throughout her life, including the Girl Scouts of the United States of America and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the Saturday Evening Girls and the Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts. This exhibit seeks to highlight these exceptional contributions to society.


EARLY BEGINNINGS

In the late summer of 1864, the United States Civil War left many looking for a spark of hope that would return peace to the country. In the city of Auburn, New York, one family joyfully welcomed the birth of a newest member, a little daughter named Helen on September 22.

Helen Osborne was born into a prosperous manufacturer’s home. Her mother Eliza was a socially conscious Quaker and her great aunt was Lucretia Mott, an outspoken abolitionist, social reformer and organizer of the famous Seneca Falls Convention that focused on women’s rights. Helen was surrounded by family that valued the path of altruism and concern others.


Helen was first introduced to the city of Springfield when she attended Catherine L. Howard’s Boarding School in the 1880s. In the late 19th century, she met James Storrow while hiking the Zermatt mountains in Switzerland. Eight years later the couple married and settled in the Beacon Hill section of Boston.

THE HOME DEPARTMENT YEARS

In the 1920s, Helen became the chairwoman of Eastern States Exposition Home Department. She used her lifelong interest in handicrafts to organize exhibits that represented tradition and innovation in homemaking. One exhibit of note was dedicated to voting, when women finally received the right to vote in the United States. Helen wanted women to enter voting booths and feel comfortable to cast a ballot.

Storrow dreamed up the idea for a permanent structure for exhibits. She was introduced to Arthur Gilbert, Commissioner of Agriculture for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and purchased his family's 18th century farmhouse for $200. She moved it from West Brookfield, Massachusetts, in 1927, then purchased additional antique buildings that would be dismantled, and reconstructed to create Storrowton Village. Helen was ahead of her time, preserving architecture years before Old Sturbridge Village, Colonial Williamsburg and The Henry Ford Museum.

When the project was complete, Storrow used $350,000 of her own money to build our New England village, or nearly $6 million dollars if built today.

PAUL REVERE POTTERY & SATURDAY EVENING GIRLS’ CLUB

The Saturday Evening Girls’ Club was a Boston-based social club founded in 1899 that sought to educate young immigrant women, as well as help them assimilate to American life and culture. Helen Storrow was an influential, longtime supporter of the organization. The club introduced members to art, literature and history. Through its affiliation with Paul Revere Pottery, these young women learned how to make and decorate ceramic pottery, and honed their craft and business skills. This is an example of the pieces produced by young women active in the club.

In addition to financing the Saturday Evening Girls’ Club’s operations and activities, like pottery making and decorating, Storrow also provided a Gloucester residence for members to use for vacations in the summer, allowing them a temporary escape from the city.

Photo courtesy of Historic New England

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GIRL SCOUTS & OUR CHALET

Helen Storrow first heard about the Girls Scouts in Boston, Massachusetts, and was taken by their commitment to outdoor activities and national service. She started her own troop of high school-aged girls in 1915, and organized and led the first National USA Girl Scout Training School for Girl Scout Leaders. She later developed her own summer camp on the site of the National Training School. In 1921, Storrow arranged for the acquisition of a 76-acre farm for the Girl Scouts of Massachusetts’ camp and program center. Storrow continued to support the Girl Scouts and made significant contributions to the organization.

Helen’s support for the Girl Scouts never wavered. In 1929, she attended the World Committee Meeting at the Hague as a substitute member and offered to “give the house,” or finance a World Centre in Switzerland. She was elected Chair of the World Committee for Girl Scouts and Girl Guides, and made good on her promise. On July 31, 1932, Our Chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland was dedicated and still functions as a Girl Guides/Girl Scouts center today.


Aunt Helen’s Herb Garden was given to Helen Storrow for her birthday in 1935 by the New England Girl Scouts. It was a gift of appreciation and affection – and the first of its kind in the world. Five thousand Girl Scouts contributed to the garden.

Photo courtesy of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts


THE GROPIUS HOUSE, WALTER GROPIUS, 1938, LINCOLN, Massachusetts

Helen Storrow provided the six-acre plot of land and funds to build the Gropius House at the influence of prominent Boston architect, Henry Shepley. Gropius used the home as a residence for his family, as well as for educational purposes, often visiting with his architecture students from Harvard University. Storrow also provided a neighboring plot of land and funds to build a residence for Marcel Breuer, one of Gropius’ contemporaries, upon his arrival in the United States shortly after.

Walter Gropius (1883-1969) was a German architect and founder of the Bauhaus, a highly influential art school renowned for its approach to design. Gropius and his family left Germany following the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. Gropius eventually settled in Massachusetts. He taught at Harvard University and built his family’s famous residence in Lincoln, where he remained until his death in 1969. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, he is regarded as one of the masters of modernist architecture.

Photos courtesy of Mid-Century Modern Architecture Travel Guide and Louis Held

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