Benajil Rai / Multimedia Director

On Monday, March 2, Keene State College students and community members came together to learn about a local historical figure: Jennie B. Powers. Powers was a deputy sheriff and Humane Society agent during the Progressive Era. 

The presentation was done by Director of Education at the Historical Society of Cheshire County Jennifer Carroll. Carroll said she first started looking into Powers by chance. 

“I wasn’t looking for anything about her or about humane societies, but looking for something else in our archives. When you see a bunch of gray boxes and everything is highlighted in yellow, that draws your attention because you know there is something up with that collection,” Carroll said. 

The event was introduced by KSC women and gender studies professor Dr. Patricia Pedroza Gonzalez.

The presentation followed Powers through her life as an agent of change in the Progressive Era. According to Carroll, Powers lived through a time where more and more women were becoming teachers and nurses. There was also a belief at the time that women were morally superior to men.

Carroll described Powers as “healthy, confident, capable, strong and not to be trifled with.” Powers worked for the Humane Society for much of her life; however, back then humane societies had a much broader scope. Not only did they deal with animal abuse but they also covered child and spousal abuse. Pedroza Gonzalez said this distinction makes evident the sexism of the time, as women and children were put in the same category as animals.

Carroll emphasized Powers’ love of hunting and etymology at an early age. Things changed as she grew older and she would eventually shrug off hunting as she began to see it as unethical. What stuck with her was her skills with firearms. Carroll said this annoyed some people at the time. 

“People took issue with her ability to shoot,” Carroll said. This would come in handy, as her work with the Humane Society often involved taking children and pets away from those who either could not or would not take proper care of them.

In 1903 she was appointed Deputy Sheriff of the Cheshire County. Carroll said at the time female deputy sheriffs were becoming more common. This led to many reforms in prison and child labor. 

One of her jobs as a Humane Society agent was to work with abused and overworked horses. “It was more profitable to simply work their horses to death,” Carroll said. One of her most effective tools was to document these abuses with photography. “Photos spoke for her when no one else would listen to her as a woman,” Carroll said.

One criticism Carroll offered of Powers was that her role in rescuing children from bad circumstances was many times a subjective decision made with little oversight. These bad circumstances could also simply be a family living in poverty.

Pedroza Gonzalez said one of the reasons for the event was to showcase the Historical Society, as many students are unaware of its existence. “With these kinds of archives, if you don’t know that they exist then how will you know?” Pedroza Gonzalez asked.

About 35 people attended the event, including Keene State College students and staff.

Administrative Assistant at Keene State College Caroll Lothrop said she was attracted to the event because she had seen the mural of Powers in Keene. 

“I only became aware of Jennie Powers because of the mural and I thought this was a great opportunity to learn more about her work,” Lothrop said.

You can learn more about Jennie Powers and other local historical figures by visiting the Historical Society of Cheshire County’s website or by visiting them in person at 246 Main Street in Keene.

Teddy Tauscher can be contacted at                                                      

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