Author: Sarah Black
“The children—each of them—feel her influence, and are helped towards a truly child-like spirit, which is often to be developed in them for the first time.”
Mary Daüble served as Matron at the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls from May 1860 through October 1861. Throughout her life she assumed the roles of missionary, teacher, and matron—devoting her life to education and the Christian message. She pursued her commitments during an era of social and judicial inequality for women, making her travels to India, her position at one of the first women’s colleges, and her work with underprivileged children at the Dorchester school all the more extraordinary. Mary was truly a woman ahead of her time.
Mary Sophia Shaw was born to Enoch and Mary (Upham) Shaw in Belchertown, Massachusetts on April 21, 1826. She was the eldest daughter of three children, followed by Daniel Frederick (1833-1903) and Martha (1837- ?). The Shaw family and their ancestors had resided in the Northeast for generations. Mary’s great-grandfather, Samuel Shaw Jr., fought and died as a member of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. She was also a direct descendant of John Alden—passenger and crewmember of the 1620 Mayflower voyage and signer of the “Mayflower Compact.”
Mary’s time in India as a member of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society was a truly defining period of her life. At the age of 24, Mary joined the mission as an educator and left Boston Harbor in July 1850. She probably gained teaching experience in Connecticut or Massachusetts, which were both witnessing a dramatic feminization of the profession during that time.
Mary and her fellow missionaries arrived at the Port of Calcutta in February 1851 and made their way northeast to Nowgong, a village in Central Assam. She met her first husband, Rev. Gottlieb Daüble, while working in the Nowgong Orphan Institute—an institution that became the center of her missionary career. They married on July 23, 1851. The Daübles were part of a six-person team that produced tremendous success: “The Missionary force then was the strongest that has been in Nowgong in all its history.” Unfortunately for Mary and the rest of the Nowgong team, Gottlieb died of cholera in the spring of 1853. Recalling the tragedy, his widow wrote:
Just one year and eight months was I permitted to be the happy, though unworthy sharer of his joys & his sorrows here. As a Christian, friend, and husband, I have a most sweet remembrance of him, few ever shared more largely in a husband’s affections then was my privilege to share in his, few ever received a brighter, holier, purer light to guide them onward through this dark world. . .
When Mary’s own life was threatened by illness in September 1855, she left the Missionary Union and returned to the United States. Although she never returned to India, Mary would carry her experiences from Nowgong with her for the rest of her life. “I close my eyes and a throng [of reminisciences] come crowding before my memory; for in no period of my life are recollections so vivid as those during the few years spent in Assam.” –October 1886
Less than a year before Mary’s death, she sent a letter to one of the current leaders of the Assam mission. It is a tale of excitement and adventure, illness and death, and above all a devotion to the Christian cause.
— Click the left image above to start reading Mary’s story —
Continuing her work in education, Mary assumed the position of Matron at the Oread Institute of Worcester, Massachusetts in 1858. Founded in 1849, Oread offered young women a four-year, “classical” college-level curriculum. After just two years, she left Oread and transitioned to her final institution, the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls. Mary’s pupils at Oread held her in “grateful memory” as a “beautiful Christian woman.”
Perhaps Mary left the Oread Castle and sought out the Industrial School because she longed for the opportunity to once again help underprivileged children, this time by way of domestic reform. The school’s board members and staff were happy to have “secured [her] services.” They admired her considerable experience as a teacher and missionary and noted that her presence alone had created a “gentle and loving atmosphere.” (Annual Report 1860)
Mary maintained a rather busy schedule as Matron. Aside from her daily duties of overseeing the work and studies of the girls, she made frequent trips to Boston and other neighboring communities to do routine checkups on student placements, bring children to the infirmary, and gather supplies. She was also tasked with maintaining order which sometimes required disciplinary action. One particular instance was discussed during the managers’ meeting of August 1, 1861: “Mrs. Daüble had been obliged to punish by whipping & also to keep in their rooms several days both Dora Hicks & Josephine Wentworth.” Of course Mary could not complete this long list of tasks on her own—she had frequent help from Harriet Kittridge (assistant matron) and Sophia French (teacher), as well as several managers.
After a rather short career at the Industrial School, Mary left in October 1861 to join her soon-to-be husband in Waterville, Maine. However, she did not break all ties with the school. In June of the following year, she became the appointed guardian for Fannie Barrett who had been placed in a Waterville home.
On November 26, 1861, she married John White Philbrick and through this union, became stepmother to John’s five children. Although a fellow Baptist, her second husband was not a missionary or public servant. John was a “master machinist,” who began his work on steamboat engines and then continued as an engineer for the A&K Railroad. During the final decades of her life, Mary assumed a matronly and domestic position in the Philbrick family—always recorded as “keeping house” in the federal censuses. However, she also maintained an active role in the Baptist church and “was most influential, useful and beloved in church and the community, being one of the pioneers in establishing the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Circle in Maine.”
When Mary Daüble left the Dorchester Industrial School, the Board of Managers considered her resignation a “great loss” and professed their regret in the Annual Report of 1861: “She succeeded so eminently in maintaining about herself a moral atmosphere, fit only for ‘the pure in heart,’ that no child could come in contact with her without improvement; while her humility and loving-kindness were as unconsciously as actively displayed.” Mary died on May 19, 1887. Her life was defined by her courage, devotion to God, and passion for education.