Anne Jane “Jennie” Sherwood

Author: Taylor Finch

HFLW Journal 3_1853_entry54_#5

Anne Jane Sherwood’s official admission record to the ISFG. The record details her sad circumstances before coming to the school.
(Courtesy of Home for Little Wanderers)

Anne Jane Sherwood – affectionately known as Jennie – was born to Irish immigrants Rosanna and Robert Sherwood in Watertown, Mass., in February of 1850. Tragedy struck the family in the late 1850s, when Robert, the sole breadwinner, was killed. Left destitute and alone to raise her seven children, Rose Sherwood placed her daughters Catherine and Jennie in the care of the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls in 1859. Jennie was admitted on July 1, 1859, at the young age of ten.

Frozen Charlotte doll, privy, 8:12:15

Jennie Sherwood would have played with dolls like this one, recovered on the Boston City Archaeolgist’s dig of the site. Jennie probably practiced care-taking and nursing on dolls as a young girl.
(Courtesy of Boston City Archaeology Program)

The admission records of the Industrial School for Girls record both Jennie and Catherine as pleasant girls with “excellent character”. Unfortunately, Jennie was a frail child who suffered from chronic illness. In October of 1863, the children spent the day in Boston on a field trip, but Jennie “was considered too delicate to bear the experience.” The staff at the school discussed removing Jennie to other care on and off until January of 1864, when a place was found for her at “Miss Robbins’ hospital”.

Miss Anne Smith Robbins, who worked frequently with the ISFG to find placement for sick children whom she nursed, founded the House of the Good Samaritan in 1860. According to Edwin Locke, the hospital was founded for two types of patients: those with cancer who required special care, and women and children with chronic rheumatic fever. The ISFG admission records show that Jennie helped with work in the hospital while she was there, and it is most likely that the experience fostered Jennie’s later affinity for nursing. She returned to the school later that year.

Jennie disappears from the Industrial School for Girls’ records (most likely only because of her proper and therefore unremarkable behavior) until 1866. In April, as many of the girls were placed in positions in the community, the board decided that Jennie was much too ill to leave, and could instead be “usefully employed in different departments” at the school. One of the school’s benefactors gave one dollar to be appropriated as her wages.

Screenshot 2017-03-22 at 12.12.55 PM

In the 1870’s, Jennie’s mother Rosanna rented this house at 58 Bacon Street, Waltham.  Jennie and a few of her siblings lived here, though the house has undergone many renovations over the last century.
(Courtesy of Google Earth)

In the following years, Jennie’s health continued to dictate ups and downs. According to secretary records, she worked as a nurse and caretaker in several households and returned to the school whenever she was in poor health. It is unclear when Jennie left the ISFG for the final time. However, in 1882, Jennie is definitively listed in her mother’s household at 58 Bacon Street in Waltham.

In the early 1880s, Rosanna, Catherine, and Jennie Sherwood worked at the Waltham Watch Company either as unskilled laborers or servants in the Adams Boarding House on the premises. The work was more than likely time consuming, but provided a way for Jennie to be united with her family and other women of the community.

Waltham Watch Works

Waltham Watch Works factory in the 1880’s.
(A Model Factory in a Model City by Joseph Swinton, 1887)


This graphic from 1875 depicts labor at Waltham Watch Works. The bottom left corner shows a female laborer engaged in work, similar to the kind Jennie would have done for the factory.
(A Model Factory in a Model City by Joseph Swinton, 1887)

By the late 1880s, the definite path of Jennie Sherwood becomes unclear. In 1888 an “Annie J. Sherwood” is listed in the Waltham city directory as a household nurse, still boarding at Mrs. Rose Sherwood’s residence. Jennie may have bounced from household to household as a servant or nurse, much like she did in her youth at Dorchester’s Industrial School for Girls.

It is equally plausible that the Mrs. Jennie Sherwood identified as “Matron” at the Adams-Nervine Asylum in Jamaica Plain is the same Anne Jane Sherwood who grew up in Dorchester’s Industrial School for Girls. From 1885 to 1894, Mrs. Jennie Sherwood worked as a supervisor, nurse, and matron at the asylum in Jamaica Plain. The Adams-Nervine Asylum was set up upon the death of sugar refinery owner Sam Adams. He bequeathed $600,000 for “the establishment of a curative institution for the benefit of indigent, disabled, nervous people and inhabitants of the state who are not insane “ The asylum was small, and never grew to more than 250 patients, the vast majority of whom were women.

Adams Nervine Asylum, 1970-1980

Adams Nervine Asylum, where Jennie Sherwood may have worked as a matron in the final years of her life, still stands today as a National Historic Landmark.
(Courtesy of Boston City Archives)

Here, Jennie would have employed her experience as a nurse and household worker to run the daily operations of the hospital. An 1887 Boston Daily Globe article reads, “The feeling of kindly sympathy and fellowship that is everywhere so apparent is doubtless also largely due to [Mrs. Sherwood’s] gentle, womanly influence. ” Though it is indisputable that Ann Jane Sherwood never married, the asylum lists her as “Mrs.” It is possible that the title was bequeathed to show respect for her station at the asylum.

Whether Jennie Sherwood lived out her days in Waltham as a private nurse or in Jamaica Plain as an asylum matron remains to be proven. Hers may be a past made confusing by lack of documentation of the poor, marginalized, and female, as is the unfortunate case throughout history. Regardless, Miss Anne Jane Sherwood died of “cerebral apoplexy and vascular disease of the heart” on January 21, 1901. She was buried by her family in Waltham later that week. She left behind her widowed mother, surviving siblings, and many clues to a full and complete life.

Adams Nervine Nurses, 1918

Nurses stand outside the Adams Nervine Asylum in 1918. Though Jennie died in 1901, it is likely she wore the same uniform and shared many of the same experiences as these women.
(Courtesy of Historic New England General Photographic Collection)

Sources Consulted (Click Here)

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