Originally published in the Historic Nantucket, Volume 39, Number 4 (Winter 1991)
The Thrift Shop's role in funding our much-needed hospital makes it one of the first island businesses organized for the sole purpose of helping the community.
A Friend in Deeds: The Hospital Thrift Shop, By Trisha Murphy
Nantucket is fortunate to have such a longtime friend as the Hospital Thrift Shop. For its part in funding our much-needed hospital, the Thrift Shop may well be one of the first island businesses organized for the sole purpose of helping the community.
Clues to the Thrift Shop's beginnings and its history are very sparse. A search through past issues of the Inquirer and Mirror will find reference only to a couple of checks that were given to the Nantucket Cottage Hospital. Surprisingly there was no report on the Thrift Shop's founding. This lack of data has made searching for information like going on a treasure hunt. No records have been kept on the events surrounding the operations of the shop. Therefore, most of the facts contained in this article have been gathered by talking with dedicated women volunteers of quiet purpose who devoted years to the Hospital's benefit.
Nantucket Cottage Hospital got its start on April 11, 1911, at the Easton Street home of Dr. John S. Grouard, who said: "If we value our own lives and we would take no hazard with them, we shall be content no longer to see Nantucket without a hospital." Immediately funds were needed to support the island's only institutional source of health care. For a number of years the hospital, which comprised three connected former dwellings on West Chester Street, depended upon private donations and summer fund-raising events. There was no permanent organization with the goal to raise supplemental hospital income. Out of this basic need for continued funding, the Hospital Thrift Shop was born.
In 1929 a group of determined women founded the Thrift Shop. The original organizers were Annie Ayers, Alice Baldwin, Anne Congdon, Margaret Crosby, Edna May, Phoebe Pancoast, and Mrs. Hugh Sanford. They built up a lucrative business selling secondhand furniture, clothes, books, other items and even home-cooked food. New articles were recycled from donated materials.
It wasn't until 1945 that the Hospital Thrift Shop acquired a permanent home. Its first location was the Macy House at 12 Liberty Street (now owned and maintained as a historic house by the Nantucket Historical Association). Next, the shop moved to another Macy house on Federal Street (now the site of the Post Office) and then to Annie Alden Folger's antique shop on Union Street. Subsequently the Thrift Shop was moved to 24 Broad Street and later to the Sanford house on Federal Street (now the site of the Town and County Building). Finally, the Thrift Shop purchased 17 India Street where you can find it today.
Remarkable is the role of women in the sixty-three-year history of the Thrift Shop. Today we tend to take it for granted that women are an active part of the work force. However, in 1929 females were not as likely to be in business. The Thrift Shop's feminine founders not only had valuable business skills, but they would raise amazing amounts of money for a very important cause in difficult times. Since then, the majority of the Thrift Shop board members, all of its presidents, its managers, and most of its volunteers have been women.
The shop was administered by a board of directors with Mrs. Pancoast as the first chairperson. In its first year of operation the Thrift Shop cleared $603.00 for the hospital. Not only did this venture continue to be of great financial assistance to its recipient, but also provided reasonably priced merchandise to a public facing realities of the Great Depression.
Incorporated in 1945 as a nonprofit organization, its bylaws are written with the assumption that all of the officers shall be women, and all of the positions are described in the feminine gender. A complete record of the earlier chairpersons cannot be found. The chairpersons title was changed to that of president in 1938. The president's position began with Mrs. Everett Jerome, and has since included the following: Mrs. Theodore Hailes, Mrs. Paul Thebaud, Mrs. Stokely Morgan, Mrs. Richard Porter, Mary Mahoney, Wilma Oldham, Mary Voorhees, and the current President Sylvia Maltby. Managers, who are responsible for the daily operations of the shop, have included: Ethel Austin, Mae Rogers, May Porter, Maxine Shaw, Wilma Oldham, Mary Zappis, Donna Powers, and the present manager Ann Murphy.
One should not underestimate the role that the Thrift Shop has played in maintaining a fully accredited hospital on our "far-away island," a reality of extreme importance to every member of the community. Some can still recall the early hospital years before transportation to Boston was a quick helicopter trip for any islander or visitor who was seriously ill. Funds raised by the Thrift Shop have enabled the hospital to continuously upgrade the quality of its patient care by purchasing necessary, state-of-the-art medical equipment such as a steam sterilizer, anesthesia unit, and a cardiograph machine.
Since 1929 the Thrift Shop has not only donated to Nantucket Cottage Hospital a grand total of $1,016,601.82, but has purchased and maintained a permanent home. To meet its yearly goal of giving the hospital as much money as possible, the shop pays merely its overhead and provides only the most necessary repairs on its India Street structure.
Today the shop comprises eight departments: Gift, Thrift, Clothing, Book, Childrens, Linens, Antiques/Collectibles, and Furniture/ Household. Although closed during the winter months, the Thrift Shop's work does not end. Groups of volunteer women create attractive handmade articles to be sold between May and October, and volunteers continue to fill virtually all of the required positions. Donations are always accepted.
The Hospital Thrift Shop is still a good place on Nantucket to find a bargain, to furnish on apartment or summer cottage, and to recycle secondhand household items while helping a worthy cause.
Trisha Murphy was the Finance Manager for the Historical Association and wrote poetry for over fifteen years.