Out & About: Bethel women honored on belated 19th Amendment celebration

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2021 8:59:14 PM
Modified: 8/7/2021 9:52:45 PM

The women who helped build Bethel were teachers. They were telephone operators. They were the women who tended family gardens and helped raise neighborhoods of children.

“To me they were there,” said Cathy Day, librarian at the Bethel Public Library. “They were my girlfriends’ moms, my grandmas. We’re digging deep and we’re finding out a lot about them.”

Day is one of at least a dozen people researching women in Bethel history who will be honored during a 101st celebration of the 19th Amendment and exhibit at Bethel Town Hall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Saturday and Sunday. The project was originally planned for the centennial of the 19th Amendment before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Participants will be on hand to display and discuss their research. The event, which is being co-hosted by the Bethel Historical Society and Bethel Public Library, also includes a sale featuring Bethel memorabilia and books about women from Mary Floyd’s collection. Proceeds will benefit Bethel Community Forward Festival, which is scheduled to take place in October.

“Every time I talk to someone it gets a little deeper,” Floyd said. “They are just bringing attention to various Bethel women, and I think it’s the tip of the iceberg actually. We’re going to see if we can start a project, gather even more info on Bethel women and put the results in the historical society.”

Among the women being honored is Margaret Putney, who was a nurse in occupied Europe during World War II before becoming the owner of Spaulding Press. There’s also Mary Branliere, who donated the Brainliere Town Forest to the town in the 1960s and was the library’s benefactor.

Day has been researching Rose Fumagalli, who was born in Bethel after her parents emigrated from Italy. After graduating from Normal School in Castleton, Vt., (now Castleton University) in 1930, Fumagalli taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Bethel for the next decade before taking a job as a second-grade teacher in South Royalton, then returning to teach in Bethel.

Fumagalli and her husband had no children of their own “but she said she had thousands of children that she taught,” said Day, who is a cousin of Fumagalli’s. “She said she always felt like she adopted thousands of children.”

It was also through Fumagalli that Day learned about her grandmother, Mariantonio, who died when Day was 2 years old. Fumagalli’s father arranged the marriage of his sister, Mariantonio, to Day’s maternal grandfather. The couple, who married in 1907, had eight children, one of whom died young and five of whom served in World War II.

“She might not know how to read or write, but she knew how to sacrifice,” Day said.

She kept a huge garden where she raised chickens and pigs. She rarely left Bethel, except for the occasional trip by train to see her grown children in New York and Connecticut. Her prized possession was her radio — “the only time my grandma would take time for herself,” according to Day.

“She would sit down and listen to the soap opera Search for Tomorrow,” she said.

Floyd has taken particular interest in researching the women who worked at what became known as the Bethel Telephone Co. It was started in 1894.

“For a small town, Bethel had a very early and quite a large telephone exchange, and it lasted here until the ’50s when technology changed,” Floyd said.

Research has allowed participants to connect with Bethel history and learn more about the town many families have called home for generations.

“You don’t know this when you’re growing up. You kind of just go along and your life goes along,” Day said. “And then you do some digging and realize there were really special people here who didn’t realize they were special people.”

Editor’s note: Those interested in participating can contact Floyd at maryryanfloyd@gmail.com.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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