Whaling Museum welcomes Atkinson Sisters to the Bourne Society

What will your legacy be?

Getting to know Hope and Ruth Atkinson  |  Growing up in New Bedford and spending summers in Dartmouth, the Atkinson sisters spent their lives making the South Coast a better place to live. They were encouraged by their mother to become active members in their community and this early guidance drove the sisters’ life-long dedication to community, hard-work, and public service. Their bequest will help us engage with thousands of visitors and members of the South Coast community while honoring the sisters’ legacy and goodwill.

Driven by her zeal for public service, Hope (1927-2015) worked as a librarian in Wareham for 25 years. She was elected a Dartmouth Library Trustee and a Town Meeting Member, two positions she held for some 25 years. She was honored to serve for 10 years as President of the Association for the Relief of Aged Women of New Bedford. 

Ruth (1920-2013) attended the Swain School of Design in New Bedford. After working in her field for several years she started her own business, offering art supplies and full interior decorating services at her shop on Elm Street in South Dartmouth. She was well known for her innate sense of color and her excellent taste. On her various travels, she painted charming watercolors – later exhibiting them at the French Library in Boston and Alliance Francaise in Washington, D.C.

Both sisters were fond of the natural and historic beauty of the South Coast, including the water surrounding their local community. Ruth and Hope became skilled sailors who learned to sail as young women through the Girl Scouts Mariner Program. Racing weekly at the New Bedford Yacht Club, Hope won her share of races for the glory of the Mariners. Those were the years that Hope “lived in a Beetle Cat.”

As Mariners the sisters were privileged to voyage several times with world-renowned sailor Irving Johnson aboard his famous Brigantine Yankee. These cruises were the start of a life-long friendship with the Johnsons. After their Mariner years, the Atkinsons joined Irving and Exy on Yankee cruises in France and the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Adventuring abroad on their own, the sisters chartered a small cruiser and explored the French Canals for nearly 20 years. Friends joined them as working guests. Hope was the captain and Ruth served as first mate and cook. When they returned they presented their travels to libraries and schools via slide shows and a collection of Ruth’s watercolors.

In honor of the Atkinsons sisters’ devotion to sailing and to public service, the Museum is proud to honor them by naming the Sailors’ Series in their memory.

By Katrina Beneker



The Museum recently received a generous bequest from Hope and Ruth Atkinson of Dartmouth, Mass. The Atkinsons’ bequest will primarily help grow the Museum’s endowment.  It will also support the Panorama project and the preservation, repair, and new acquisitions for the Museum’s German Christmas village (shown above). The sisters’ father, Walter Atkinson, collected the figurines, which were made c.1920 in the Erzgebirge region of Germany. Over the years the village grew and was displayed under the family Christmas tree, until 1993 when it was donated to the Whaling Museum. The Atkinsons so loved this village, that they would be honored to know that it will continue to be shared with the community.


For more information, contact Amanda D. McMullen, President and Chief Executive Officer at (508) 997-0046 or AMcMullen@whalingmuseum.org