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Thomas Thompson Trust records

Identifier: SSC-MS-00358

Scope and Contents

The Thomas Thompson Trust Records (TTT), 51.5 linear feet, cover the period from the 1890s to the 1960s; the bulk of material is from the early years of the twentieth century.

The bulk of the records date from 1900 to 1960 and consist largely of charity case records of poor women from Brattleboro and some from Rhinebeck, New York. The case files contain correspondence from clients as well as case notes by the local agent that together provide a rich source of working-class women's history in Brattleboro during the early decades of the twentieth century. Because client names can be found throughout the Records, researchers must first sign the Records Access Agreement Form (see p. 9). A significant portion of the collection contains the correspondence and papers of Richards M. Bradley, a trustee who oversaw the trust from 1901 to 1943. Bradley was particularly interested in the professionalization of public health services. His efforts, as documented here, are a fine example of Progressive era reforms in practice, as are the records of the Brattleboro Mutual Aid Association, organized in 1907 as a sort of umbrella agency to oversee local programs. The BMAA records include annual reports, unpublished reports, and correspondence related to specific programs. The programs documented include the practical nursing school and public health programs concerning maternal and infant health care. Material about the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital includes blueprints as well as correspondence regarding its design and opening and the creation of a graduate (registered) nursing school. There is also extensive material documenting the development of health insurance in the 1920s.

For related materials, see the Associated Charities of Brattleboro Records and the Florence H. Wells Papers.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1844 - 2002


Conditions Governing Access

Unprocessed accessions are closed. Processed portion open but Researchers must sign "Access Agreement Form" agreeing not to identify clients by name.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that they own copyright, the Thomas Thompson Trust has assigned the copyright in their works to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by the Thomas Thompson Trust, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

The 1869 will of wealthy businessman Thomas Thompson established a trust fund "for or towards the relief and support of poor seamstresses, needle-women and shop girls, who may be in the temporary need from want of employment, sickness, or misfortune, in the towns of Brattleboro, Vermont and Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, New York, the amount being equally divided between the two towns." Thompson's will also required that surplus funds be distributed to other charities in the same towns. Finally, the will declared that the Trust itself would not go into effect until the death of his wife, Elizabeth Rowell Thompson, who died in 1899.

In 1901 the Thomas Thompson Trust (TTT) began to carry out its duties, directed throughout the twentieth century by several Boston-based businessmen and a series of local agents. One businessman in particular, Richards M. Bradley, a native of Brattleboro, was the guiding force of TTT for its first four decades. The first local agent, Augusta Wells, administered the Trust for most of its first twenty years. Florence Hemenway Wells succeeded her adoptive mother, serving as the Trust's local agent from 1921 until the early-1960s. By then, most of the work of the Trust had been taken over by government agencies.

By 1901, when TTT was ready to begin dispensing funds to the "needlewomen" of Rhinebeck and Brattleboro, the very nature of women's work had changed drastically in the three decades since Thompson's will was first written. In Brattleboro, in particular, there had been significant demographic change. Instead of working from their homes or in small shops employing only a handful of people, an increasing number of the town's working women labored within one of several factories. Furthermore, a significant portion of these women were immigrants from the rural countryside or from other countries, especially Ireland. These demographic changes, unanticipated by Thompson in 1869, shaped the decision making of the lawyers appointed to organize TTT. The organizers were also influenced by Progressive era ideas, and since Thompson's will did not specify a plan for disbursement of funds, they were free to devise a plan within the context of those ideas.

Soon after the creation of the Trust was announced in the local papers, the working women of Rhinebeck and Brattleboro formed local committees in an effort to make the best use of the funds available to them. At the same time, the first trustees appointed to oversee TTT, Richards M. Bradley and Boston-based lawyer, Laurence Minot, had their own vision of just how, and to whom, the Trust should dispense its funds in Brattleboro and Rhinebeck. Guided initially by a traditional sense of noblesse oblige, Bradley, in particular, increasingly sought to shape TTT as a model of Progressive era reform, especially in Brattleboro. Thus, from the beginning, TTT sought to prevent illness among working women and their families through public health programs that stressed education in diet and infant care, and by promoting affordable health care. At the same time, small amounts of money were dispensed outright to women in need, sometimes in the form of a loan.

One of TTT's first major contributions to the town of Brattleboro was the funding of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. The hospital, opened in 1904, provided hospital care at a reduced rate for those women covered by the Trust. In 1907, the Brattleboro Mutual Aid Association (BMAA) was created and funded by TTT as a way to oversee direct aid to the working women of Brattleboro. Under the aegis of the BMAA, a district (or public) nursing program to oversee education and treatment was established. The BMAA also oversaw a service providing attendant (or practical) nursing service for working women confined to their homes during a serious illness. For those women simply needing a rest, the BMAA ran a vacation house in Niantic, on the Connecticut shore, from 1910 to 1936. In 1917, responding in part to a nation-wide nursing shortage precipitated by World War I, the BMAA created an attendant nursing school while the hospital maintained a training school for graduate (today known as registered) nurses. In this way, TTT sought to address a potential crisis of care and at the same time provide the opportunity for Brattleboro working women to leave factory work for a more professional (and presumably more lucrative) career. The Influenza epidemic of 1918-19 further emphasized the need for trained health care professionals. The nursing schools remained an important function of TTT throughout the twentieth century.

In 1919, the Town of Brattleboro brought another lawsuit against TTT. The Board claimed that TTT continued to not meet the intent of Thompson's will because they were administering the dispensation of funds inadequately. The working women of Brattleboro, through their organization, the Society of Seamstresses, filed their own complaint but did not join the suit which dragged on for several months before a Massachusetts court ruled in favor of TTT in early-1921. Although technically the victor in the case, Richards M. Bradley was chastened by the legal ordeal and sought to expand the activities of TTT. The Trust increased outright aid and began an ambitious insurance program in the mid-1920s, open to all Brattleboro residents regardless of gender, occupation, or need. The Thompson Benefit Association for Nursing Service (1926) and the Thompson Benefit Association for Hospital Service (1927), each for a small yearly premium, provided coverage for home nursing care as well as the costs associated with a hospital stay. These programs, too, were administered by Florence Wells as TTT's local agent. They would eventually be replaced in the 1950s by commercial health insurance offered in the workplace by Vermont Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

The New Deal profoundly altered the work of the Trust as, for example, the Social Security Act became law. By the early 1960s, Florence Wells herself was a patient at Thompson House, TTT's nursing home in Brattleboro. Her care was funded both by the Trust and the Great Society program, Medicare. The Trust continues to exist in both Brattleboro and Rhinebeck and in 2001, celebrated its centennial in both communities.


62.981 linear feet (117 containers)

Language of Materials



Charitable organization. Records consist largely of charity case records of poor women from Brattleboro and some from Rhinebeck, New York. Files contain correspondence from clients as well as case notes by the local agent. Collection contains the correspondence and papers of Richards M. Bradley, a trustee who oversaw the trust from 1901 to 1943. Also included are the records of the Brattleboro Mutual Aid Association and the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital (includes blueprints and design). BMAA records include annual reports, unpublished reports, and correspondence related to specific programs.


This collection is organized into nine series:

  1. I. History
  2. II. Administration
  3. III. Financial Records
  4. IV. Legal Records
  5. V. Agencies/ Service Programs
  6. VI. Insurance Programs
  7. VII. Client Records
  8. VIII. Photographs/Scrapbooks
  9. IX. Oversize Materials


Note: every effort was made to honor the original filing system, when discernible, of the TTT Records. Because both originals and multiple copies were created by the Trustees in Boston and the local agents in Brattleboro and Rhinebeck, there is some duplication of materials throughout the series. For the most part, these records have been arranged in chronological order except where noted.


This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Thomas Thompson Trust in 1995, 1997, and 2003.

Additions to the Collection

Periodic additions to collection are expected.

Related Material


See also:
Blackwell, Marilyn Schultz. "The Deserving Sick: Poor Women and the Medicalization of Poverty in Brattleboro, Vermont." Journal of Women's History Vol. II, No. 1 (Spring 1999): 53-74.
_______. "Entitled to Relief: Women, Charity, and Medicine, 1900-1920." PhD diss., University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1996.
_______. "Keeping the 'Household Machine' Running: Attendant Nursing and Social Reform in the Progressive Era." Bulletin of the History of Medicine Vol. 74 (Summer 2000): 241-264.
_______. "The Politics of Public Health: Medical Inspection and School Nursing in Vermont, 1910-1923." Vermont History Vol. 68 (Winter/Spring 2000): 58-84.
Eaves, Lucile. A Legacy to Wage-Earning Women. Boston: Women's Educational and Industrial Union, 1925.

Processing Information

Processed by Kathleen Banks Nutter, 2002.

Processing Information

Between September 2022 and February 2023, Smith College Special Collections renumbered many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. The following changes were made in this collection: Accession 2003-S-0036, Boxes 1-7 renumbered as Boxes 106-112

Thomas Thompson Trust records
Finding Aid
Kathleen Banks Nutter
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss116 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:10-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2021-07-14: Content description added from accession inventory

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063