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Lighting the Way: Historic Women of the South Coast

Walking trail, website, app and school curriculum

Historic Women Profiles:
Dr. Mary T. Vermette  |  Martha Baily Briggs

Lighting the Way image of 5 women


A newly formed alliance of organizations and individuals has come together to explore the impact of women from the area on its history. Lighting the Way – Historic Women of the South Coast will tell the stories of commitment, determination, and perseverance of women from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Organizers plan to create a walking trail, a website, an app and school curriculum by fall 2018.

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Lighting the Way – Historic Women of the South Coast tells the stories of commitment, determination and perseverance of women from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. “Women’s contributions have often been heard as whispers in history,” said Christina Bascom, the project’s designer. Spurred on by tales of a Petticoat Society, a group of women from throughout the community are bringing these stories to life on the South Coast. “We are unearthing remarkable stories of women’s personal callings that required grit, tenacity and enduring commitment to their families, community and country. These stories will inspire, motivate and inform generations to come.”

Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Fellow at the Whaling Museum, will conduct the research for the project, supported by students from UMASS Dartmouth. The fellowship is named for Emily Howland Bourne. Her gift to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1915 funded construction of the world’s largest ship model, the Lagoda, and the building that houses it at the Whaling Museum, the Bourne Building. O’Leary is the library media specialist at Bishop Stang High School. For over 30 years, she was a librarian for New Bedford Public Schools and at the New Bedford Free Public Library. She holds a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from Simmons College and a B.A. in Philosophy from Stonehill College. Born and raised in New Bedford, O’Leary has been inspired by strong women every step of the way. O’Leary is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with other women and bring the stories of these remarkable Women of Greater New Bedford to the forefront.

A website currently under construction will house these fascinating stories of educators and philanthropists, abolitionists and crusaders for social justice, investors and confectioners, and more. In the summer of 2018, a walking trail through New Bedford will guide participants from landmark to landmark that will highlight the most compelling stories of brave and determined women. Trail guide maps will be available at local museums and the National Park Visitor’s Center. An online application for use with smart phones is also being developed to guide visitors on the trail walk. The Lighting the Way – Historic Women of the South Coast Committee also plans to create a companion curriculum to support women’s studies in local junior and senior high schools.

In 2017, a daytime lecture series titled Influential Women of the South Coast was presented in partnership with The Second Half: Lifelong Learning Institute.

BELOW: Gail Fortes and guests Sarah Rose, Chrissie Bascom and Ann O’ Leary discuss Lighting the Way – Historic Women of the South Coast during an episode of Voices of Women Show on February 13, 2018, presented by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. View below or on YouTube here.


The Lighting the Way – Historic Women of the South Coast committee members are:

Christina Bascom, Project Designer
Valerie Bassett, Women’s Fund
Jo-Ann Beaulieu, Association For The Relief Of Aged Women
Jewelle Bickford
Lee Blake, New Bedford Historical Society
Mary Jean Blasdale, Historian
Nancy Braitmayer
Kate Corkum, Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum
Nancy Crosby
Jan DaSilva, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park
Priscilla Ditchfield
Kate Fentress
Gail Fortes, YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts
Sarah Herman, Our Sisters’ School
Meghan Kish, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park
Ann Marie Lopes, New Bedford Cable Access
Ivy MacMahon, Researcher/Genealogist
Cyndi Marland, Dartmouth Cable Access
Roseanne O’Connell, Association For The Relief Of Aged Women
Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Fellow, New Bedford Whaling Museum
Molly O’Leary, Researcher
Denise Porche, Island Foundation
Sarah Rose, New Bedford Whaling Museum – Project Organizer
Susan Rothschild, Association For The Relief Of Aged Women
Mary Smoyer, Boston Women’s Heritage Trail
Kim Wilson, University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth