Recap: Open Archives Night

Open Archives Night

Our first ever Open Archives Night was held on Monday, March 25th to celebrate Women’s History Month.

The goal of Open Archives Night is to give all members of our community the opportunity to interact with archives directly – to allow patrons to view, touch, and interpret records and artifacts related to Fairhaven history. Patrons are encouraged to turn pages and view objects close-up. Nothing is behind glass; everything is laid out on tables for examination. These nights are a reminder that our historical collections exist for our patrons to access and to learn from.

At the event for Women’s History Month, we put out a wide variety of materials giving insight into the history of women in Fairhaven, including historical clothing, diaries, scrapbooks, organizational records, books, photographs, and newspaper articles. The stories of individual women like Martha Simon White (whose portrait hangs in the Library’s reading room) and Dorothea Paull (a longtime Library volunteer who served as a Red Cross secretary during World War II) were highlighted. Also showcased were records that focused on a theme, such as the fight over suffrage in Fairhaven and the experiences of the wives of whalers and sailors in the nineteenth century. We were also fortunate to have members of the Fairhaven Mothers’ Club at the event to share records related to their more than 100 years of service to the community.  

Barbara Mitchell
Barbara Mitchell, of the Fairhaven Mother's Club, poses with the organization's records.

Some of the more recent items that were on display brought back memories for those who came to the event. Many had fond memories of Dorothea Paull, who was active in many town organizations until her death at the age of 96 in 2005. Others shared stories of Elizabeth I. Hastings, for whom Fairhaven’s Middle School is named, remembering her as a strict but devoted educator.  

It was wonderful to see our patrons engage with the material and make observations about their content. “Look at this!” they said to one another when they made a discovery, “Did you see this?”

Particularly popular was a scrapbook made by Ruth Fitzsimmons, compiled when she was a student at Fairhaven High School from 1907-1911. Ruth filled her scrapbook with all kinds of surprising and delightful tidbits that brought her life into vibrant focus: a lock of her hair, a poem about a fight with a friend, a clipping of a “suffrage song,” and even a sad account of her friend’s cat being run over by the street car.   

Some of those gathered also took a few moments to reflect upon the diary of Almira Hathaway Read of Fairhaven, who wrote about her experiences visiting her family in the South while her husband, a captain, was away on a whaling voyage. Read’s brother and sister had moved from Fairhaven to Georgia with their spouses in the early 1820s and were enslavers during their time in the South. In her diary, Read laments the living conditions of the enslaved people she encountered during her trip to Georgia and writes about reading Scripture to them. Patrons discussed the tension that is evident in Read’s diary as she worries over the living conditions of the enslaved people, while taking no action to improve their lives or appeal to her family for their freedom.

We are grateful for everyone who made our first Open Archives Night a success! If you have thoughts on the event or ideas for future Open Archives Nights, please e-mail Violet Hurst, Archivist/Assistant Director at