Dr. Dorothy E. King is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Penn State Harrisburg. She is hoping that she can locate and interview the descendants of the Saturday Evening Girls for her research. If you have a grandmother, great aunt, or cousin who might have been a member of the group, please email Dr. Dorothy King at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Saturday Evening Girls began as a library club for Jewish and Italian immigrants in Boston’s North End. They went on to publish a scholarly newsletter, host cultural performances, and found Paul Revere Pottery, which created American art pottery pieces that are highly collectable today. To tell their story, we must start at the beginning.
Around 1870, Eastern European Jews fleeing anti-Jewish sentiment in their native countries began to settle in the North End. They did not escape anti-Semitism by coming to America, but they accepted the resistance they encountered as a detour and not a deterrent. When they could not get assistance from mainstream lending institutions, they set up their own banking system and created a free loan society. Those skilled in tailoring went to work in the clothing industries. Those with retail savvy opened merchandise and food shops. They carved out a way of being that was both reflective of their old lives and open to the possibilities that America had to offer.
By the early 1900s, Jewish residents made up about one third of the North End’s inhabitants. Three large synagogues and two smaller ones were located in the community. Salem Street was a hubbub of activity. Greenie Store, a grocery shop, was at number 134. H. Wiess Boot and Shoes was at number 115. Two Hebrew schools were located in alleyways off of Salem Street.
Also located on Salem Street was the North Bennet Street Industrial School. While their mothers and fathers may have been shopping and carrying out business, and their brothers may have been studying, some daughters of the North End may have been attending a reading club at the School.
The school was founded to provide vocational, educational, and recreational programs for the neighborhood immigrants and their children. Founding Director Pauline Agassiz Shaw saw it as a way to furnish North End residents with skills necessary for employment, and to provide opportunities for an introduction to American life. Reading clubs for boys and girls were intended to spark an interest in learning.
About 1898, Edith Guerrier was employed to oversee five clubs and two afternoon reading rooms for girls. To connect with the girls, Ms. Guerrier created a storytelling hour at the library on Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. The girls enjoyed the social aspect of the program and began attending regularly. Wanting an “official” club structure with officers, they named themselves the Saturday Evening Girls.
About this time, Edith Guerrier met Edith Brown, who later became the artistic director of Paul Revere Pottery, and Helen Storrow, who was the patroness of the organization. The triad saw the girls’ potential, and each woman committed herself to fostering the development of the Saturday Evening Girls (SEG.)
Edith Guerrier and Edith Brown wanted the girls to learn skills, self-esteem, and leadership ability. They conceived of the idea of a pottery. Helen Storrow purchased a house at 18 Hull Street (a block away from the North Bennet Street Industrial School) from which the pottery could operate.
In 1908, the Saturday Evening Girls shifted operation to the Hull Street building, which they called the Library Club House. Because the new location was within sight of the Old North Church, the girls named their venture Paul Revere Pottery.
The house served as a meeting place for the clubs and a base of operation for the business. The basement held the kiln. The Bowl Shop, which sold the pottery, was on the first floor. Clubs met on floors one, two, and three.
According to SEG documents, the group was committed to “making it possible for many children (girls) to become acquainted with good literature, to learn to sing and dance, and to belong to clubs which endeavor to spread the spirit of good comradeship.” In addition, the clubs explored topics such as Sociology, Civics, and Economics.
As the population of the North End continued to burgeon, it seemed unsafe to continue the pottery there, and in 1914 the clubs were resettled back in the library.
The founding girls, now women, took over supervision of the clubs, which now widened their focus to include educating not only themselves but the community as well. To that end they began publishing the SEG News. The little bulletin, published a few times a year, addressed societal issues like immigration, religion, and education.
Some girls were also involved in productions of ethnic interpretations. A notice in the March 1916 SEG News reads, “On Thursday evening, March 23d at 8 p.m., Miss Frances Rocchi’s Normal class will give an exhibition of Folk-dancing, in costume, in the Hall of the North Bennet Street Industrial School.”
A new location for the Paul Revere Pottery was secured in 1915 and the operation moved to 80 Nottinghill Road, Brighton. Best known for creating “nursery sets” for youngsters featuring depictions of cute barnyard animals, the pottery also made utilitarian dinnerware and decorative vases. Edith Brown continued in her capacity as artistic director of the pottery while Edith Guerrier served as the business director.
Today, Paul Revere Pottery is recognized for producing some of the most beautiful and collectable American art pottery. Items can command thousands of dollars. In 2008, two tiles from the pottery, painted by Sara Galner, were appraised on TV’s “Antiques Roadshow” and valued at between $7,500 and $10,000.
When America entered World War I in 1917, Edith Guerrier joined the war efforts. Many of the original Saturday Evening Girls, now in their late 20s and 30s, also volunteered to help. This marked the end of the library clubs and the SEG News.
The women, still referring to themselves as the Saturday Evening Girls, continued to gather as friends until 1969, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the organization. The pottery remained in existence until 1942.
By the beginning of the 1920s most of the Jewish residents had left their beloved adopted community. Fifty years of hard work had given them the means and drive to move on, and they settled in areas like Brookline, Newton, and Roxbury.
The Daughters of the North End moved on too. They became wives and mothers, teachers and librarians, secretaries and entrepreneurs. But they never forgot the lessons they learned in their first home in America. They never forgot the teachings of civic duty, compassion, and comradery of the Saturday Evening Girls. They never forgot the pride of work done well that became the motto of the Paul Revere Pottery. And they never forgot the friendships forged in girlhood and carried throughout life.