Upstairs Gallery

An Extraordinary Look Into Ordinary Lives

What can the materials we leave behind say about our lives?
Ingrained in objects and documents are the rich, unique stories of individual experience.

Imagine the lives of the destitute girls and the upper and middle-class women who cared for them at the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls (ISFG). Here, the girls found material sustenance and education, in exchange for submission and service. They received training in moral virtue and domestic skills to prepare them for wage-earning work. The School’s managers and benefactors saw this as the foundation for social improvement, both for the girls and the community.

These stories, taken from the School’s first decades, are intimate and personal—tales of generosity and persistence, of loss and abandonment. Yet they are part of the broader world of Victorian Boston, and shed light on the relationships between social classes, gender roles, the emerging responses to poverty, and other areas of social reform in the second half of the 19th century.