Hunter on Winnie Perkins

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(HOST) VPR is celebrating Women’s History Month with the remarkable stories of Vermont women who made significant contributions to our history and culture – told by Vermont women notable in their own right. Today, commentator Edith Hunter has the story of local historian Winnie Perkins – whose meticulous notebooks contain a wealth of detail about early Vermont families and community life.

(HUNTER) In every small town there is someone who is “the town rememberer.” Very often it is a woman, and two generations ago Winifred Eliza Perkins was such a person. She not only remembered, but she wrote down her rememberings, and took good care of family treasures.

Among the most precious artifacts in the Weathersfield Historical Society archives are the notebooks that Winnie, as everyone called her, composed in the beautiful “orthography” learned at the District School. The notebooks include: Perkins family stories; researched genealogy of the Perkins and related families; facts about earlier Weathersfield people and places, and community life.

Winnie was born August 15, 1890, a fifth generation Weathersfielder. Her great-great-grandfather, Russell Perkins appears on the 1798 town tax list followed by his son Zaavan, his son Paul Russell, and his son James Carter Perkins, Winnie’s father. James lived to be ninety-nine and a half, and Winnie to be ninety-five.

After a fire burned grandfather Paul Perkins’s home off Goulden Ridge Road in 1855, he moved his family to the house on what is now Perkins Hill Road. Paul’s son James was seven at the time, and years later had the vivid story to tell – faithfully recorded by daughter Winnie.

The Perkins men were subsistence farmers. They raised sheep, cows, pigs, poultry, and apples which they sold commercially. James’s diaries are another treasure in the Weathersfield Historical Society collection.

Neither Winnie nor her brother Ralph ever married. They spent their entire lives as an integral part of the Weathersfield Center community. Daily, they traveled up the road to the District Six School. Winnie’s school slate, “gussied up” as she described it, in a velvet case, is in our museum’s schoolroom.

The road also led to the old brick Weathersfield Meeting House which was both church and town hall. Generations of Perkins men were the official bell ringers. The buggy, in which members of the Perkins family traveled to church until 1953, is in our museum barn.

Winnie and Ralph participated in dramatic events put on at the Meeting House. Thanks to Winnie, we have the program for one of these events. As an adult, Winnie was a member of the Ladies Aid whose fund-raising events kept the Center Church going when membership was slim and the treasury nearly empty. Aprons made for that organization are also in our collection.

Two things make Winnie Perkins special – she saved these family treasures, and she recorded so much of this twentieth century rural life.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center. Our music is by Vermonter Margaret MacArthur.

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