Dora Stockwell

Author: Nina Rodwin

Eudora (Dora) Theresa Stockwell exemplified the background of the typical girl admitted to the ISFG, as her as early childhood was defined by instability. Dora was born in New Hampshire to her parents Elizabeth and Alvin Stockwell; although her exact birthday is unknown, as conflicting records indicate she was born either on March 6th 1847, or March 12th 1846. By the time Dora was four, her family had moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she lived with her maternal grandmother, mother, and brother – and notably without her father. By October 1852, Dora was placed at the Children’s Friend Home (CFH) in Boston, as her “widowed” mother could not afford to take care of her. However, records indicate her father was actually alive and living in California.

It is unknown if Dora’s mother knew of her husband’s whereabouts. Had Alvin, like many men during the gold rush era, traveled to California to raise money for his family? Had Elizabeth lost contact with her husband and assumed he had died? And finally, is it possible that Alvin simply abandoned his family?  His background suggests the latter is likely. Alvin’s marriage to Elizabeth was not his first; he had married another woman – Lucy J. Cornell – in 1830. There is no record of their divorce, so Alvin may have married Elizabeth while still legally married to Lucy. Alvin worked as a hatter in California until 1860, and then disappeared from the record for over a decade, before his death in Massachusetts in 1878. There is no evidence he ever reconnected with his family.

Nevertheless, by the young age of five, Dora was no longer living with her family; she was taken in by the CFH, a home for destitute children. According to the 1858 By-Laws, children in the Home were expected to “observe cleanliness and order in their persons and chambers,” “assist in the domestic duties,” and “attend morning and evening devotions.” Perhaps Dora looked forward to the day when she was old enough to qualify as a “monitor,” so she would be allowed to “carry a lighted lamp or candle to any part of the house” without supervision from teachers. The CFH indentured every child to a “suitable Christian” family by their 12th birthday. Although Dora departed the CFH at age 12, to serve Mrs. Welch in Brooklyn, New York, she appears in the ISFG records just one year later.

Dora’s brief stay with Mrs. Welch was indicative of a pattern that Dora repeated numerous times as a teenager. Dora was 13 years old when she entered the ISFG, and admission records reveal that in just four years, Dora worked for eight different families, often transferred from one to another in a matter of months. She was returned to the school at times for not being “capable enough,” and sometimes for “bad behavior.” It is unclear what exactly the families and school considered “bad behavior.” The problems reported in the ISFG Secretary Records are general rather than specific, noting that Dora was returned to the school by families multiple times for impudence, bad behavior and running away. By August, the ISFG managers wondered if Dora should go to the “Reform School,” no doubt referencing the State Industrial School for Girls, which was a state-run reform school in Lancaster, Massachusetts that opened in 1856.


While the ISFG managers considered Dora a “great trial,” she may have become more challenging when she was hospitalized. In December 1862 Dora was sent to the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston to be treated for an unknown illness; she remained there for 8 weeks. Dora returned to the school in February 1863, but just four months later, Mrs. May, a manager at the ISFG  “reported that Dora was giving her trouble again.” However, at 16 years old, Dora was not eligible for the reform school, and the managers were resigned to return Dora to her mother, as they felt it was “almost impossible to find a place for her.”

Dora’s reunion with her mother was likely a tense occasion given their past relationship. When Dora had run away from one indentured family, she visited her mother, who then returned her to the school. In 1862, the school described Dora as feeling “very anxious to go & live with her mother;” however, Elizabeth, “though able, was unwilling to take her.” Elizabeth may have been reluctant to reunite with her daughter, due to her recent marriage to George Lay. To make matters worse, the managers noted that since Dora had been transferred from the CFH, Elizabeth had never “signed any paper” that forced her to regain custody of her daughter. By 1863, the school had run out of patience; because Dora “had given us so much trouble,” and since her mother was “perfectly able to support her,” it was insisted Elizabeth “must take care of Dora as we could do nothing more for her.” However, there is no evidence that Dora ever returned to live with her mother and George in their home in Boston.

Even though Dora was clearly a challenging student at the ISFG, her future outside the school was exactly what the managers hoped their training would accomplish – namely, that Dora could find work as a domestic servant.  Perhaps this independence helped Dora mature, as her visit to the ISFG at 20 years old in 1867 recorded her as “appear[ing] well.” Dora’s 25th birthday was likely an exciting and hopeful time, as she married her husband Charles H. Barker, a jeweler, a few days later in 1871. The couple moved to Newton, where they remained for the rest of their lives.

Dora's House

This 2001 photo shows Dora’s home on 55 Aspen Ave. The house was built in 1872 and was first owned by Dora’s father-in-law, Sewall Barker. Dora lived here between 1879 and 1907 with her husband and her three children. The photo illustrates some of the 20th century alterations to the house, including the garage on the right. (Courtesy of Massachusetts Historical Commission)

This marked the beginning of what would be the most stable time in Dora’s life. She and Charles had three children: Elizabeth T. Barker in 1873, Gladys Eudora Barker in 1875 and Ellwood Barker in 1884. Dora became a grandmother when Elizabeth gave birth in 1896 to Marion Eudora, an illegitimate child, whom Dora began raising in 1900. Charles’s success as a jeweler allowed Dora to retire from wage labor, allowing her to raise Ellwood and Marion attentively.

Dora was widowed after 35 years of marriage, when Charles died in 1907. The last seven years of Dora’s life were sadly marked again by instability: after moving from her Newton home of twenty years, she moved repeatedly within Newton, from Centre St. to Boyd St., and Washington St., finally settling at 367 Linwood Ave in 1917. Dora died later that year, on December 23rd, from pneumonia at 71 years; she was buried in Newton Cemetery.


Dora’s gravestone in Newton Cemetery. Her son and his wife were later buried here too. (Courtesy of Author)

Sources Consulted (Click Here)

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