by David Moffat, Senior Tour Guide and Lead Researcher
There are numerous examples of strong women in the history of The House of the Seven Gables, including Mary Kitchen Turner, Susanna Ingersoll, and Caroline Emmerton. Their lives provide rich and rewarding stories for those visitors and researchers looking for the experience of women in relation to the property. One woman with an impressive life who does not often get mentioned on tours was Henrietta Farrington Upton, the daughter of Henry and Elizabeth Upton.
Henrietta was born in Salem in 1874. When she was 9, her mother purchased the old Turner House on Turner Street. Their home was to soon be known worldwide as The House of the Seven Gables, thanks in part to the efforts of her parents, who opened up the house to visitors beginning around 1890.
Henrietta attended Salem High School. When she was 16, Henry Upton took ill for three months and Henrietta took over teaching his dancing students. In 1892, she entered the Emerson College of Oratory. Emerson College (as it is known today) was founded as an oratory school in 1880 in response to the shuttering of Boston University’s oratory department. At the time that Henrietta attended, it was headquartered at the Wesleyan Building on Bromfield Street in Boston. Her application survives in Emerson’s archives, listing her address as 34 Turner Street and marking her intention to keep living in Salem while attending college.
Her transcript shows that it was a three-year course of study and that Henrietta was a bright student. She excelled at gesture, physical culture, English literature,
and literary analysis. She also did quite well in anatomy, voice, psychology, and voice physiology. The college was coeducational, though the majority of the attendees were women. Most students came from Massachusetts, but some came from as far away as Michigan, Ohio, and Colorado.
Henrietta graduated with honors on May 4th,1895. Her diploma was given out by Charles Wesley Emerson, the college’s president and founder. The same year as her graduation she began giving private oratory classes in Salem. Henrietta also continued to assist with her father’s dancing lessons and, as he grew older, she took over the family’s Upton School of Dancing.
Henrietta Upton used her physiology training to assist her dancing pupils’ physicality. She understood French and used her knowledge to translate the dance instructions from the International Association of Dancing in Paris. She trained hundreds of students over a period of 50 years and retired in the spring of 1938.
Akin to Caroline Emmerton’s philanthropic efforts, Henrietta Upton opened a girl’s camp in 1910 in Middleton. According to The Salem News, “Her camp preceded the Girl Scouts organization and was for many local women the only girhood experience at camping.” Later, she opened a second camp for boys.
The 1897 Illustrated History of Salem and Environs by C.B. Gillespie sang her praises saying she “is most favorably known in Salem, having spent her entire life here, and coming of a gifted family.” Seemingly not content with the expectations of young women in her day, Henrietta became a pillar of the community for the majority of her life.
This post was written by Julie Arrison-Bishop