We are starting a new series called “First Lady Friday.” We will share the stories of women in Peabody’s history who were firsts or pioneers in their own way. This series will be interspersed with our other “postcard” topics throughout the year.
We hope you enjoy! Feel free to send us any ideas for future “First Lady Fridays.”
Sarah Kittredge (1836-1920)
Sarah Frances Kittredge was born on October 24, 1836 in Harvard, Massachusetts to Dr. Floyer Kittredge and Sarah Puffer Kittredge. Sarah F. Kittredge graduated from Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts in 1854. By the 1870 census, the Kittredge family resided in Peabody.
Sarah Frances was active in the Peabody Women’s Relief Corps, the women’s branch of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was the first woman to serve on the Peabody School Committee. She served from 1892 to 1906. In a sad footnote to this event, Sarah’s mother died a month after she was elected, on April 8, 1892.
You may be wondering how Sarah could serve, if women didn’t gain suffrage until 1920. Glad you asked! In April 1879, the Massachusetts Legislature allowed women to serve and vote for school committee. In June 1892, Massachusetts also did away with the voting poll tax for women. This meant if you were a citizen, could read and write, you could register to vote for school committee as a woman.
In 1898, Kittredge was president of the Peabody Volunteer Aid Association. The organization raised $497 for those serving in the Spanish-American War. She died in 1920 and was buried in Harvard, Massachusetts.
Mary Leary (1931-2023)
Mary (McMahon) Leary was born in Lynn on August 14, 1931 to John J. McMahon and Mary (Doyle) McMahon. She graduated from St. Mary’s High School and the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She married James Dennis Leary. They had six children: John, Josef, Joanne, John, Jane, and Janet.
In 1966, Leary was voted the first female Library Trustee. She served as a trustee from 1966 to 1971. She was active in the Peabody Historical Society and Peabody Historical Commission. She died on July 5, 2023, and is remembered as an important voice in her community. Our condolences go out to her family.
Mary (Murtagh) Waselchuk was born in 1933. She graduated from Peabody High School in 1949 and married John Waselchuk, Jr. in 1955. They have two daughters, Janet and Ellen. Mary Waselchuk was a successful real estate agent and politician.
In 1978, Waselchuk ran for Ward 3 Councillor. Her daughters proudly recalled their mother’s first campaign and her political career:
“We stood out in a torrential rain holding signs but had to go home 3-4 times to change our clothes. She won by a narrow margin and later was Councillor at Large, and the first woman to be elected president of the City Council.”
“The South Danvers Observer,” Nancy Barthelemy, Volume 4, Number 3 Spring 2010.
Peabody Correspondence, The Salem News, March 1892.
John Wells, The Peabody Story, Essex Institute, Page 370.
The Salem News, Obituary of Mary Leary, 2023, Obituary of John Waselchuk, Jr., 2022.
DePlacido, Jean. “Rembrance: Waselchuk was a legendary baseball figure in Peabody” The Salem News, January 13, 2023.
Birth, Marriage and Death Records, Ancestry.com
Miscellaneous Archives of the Peabody Historical Society and Museum