Derry New Hampshire’s Premier Woman Poultry Farmer: Celia (Gardner) Whitney (1895-1974)

Celia Gardner from the NH College (now UNH) year book of 1919.

History is composed of time or location-related people, events and artifacts. Usually the ones we hear or read about are touted as being famous or important from someone’s viewpoint. Yet the majority of our collective history was created by individuals who flew under the history radar, so to speak. Celia Gardner was one of these people.  My thanks to Karen Blandford-Anderson and the Derry (NH) Historical Museum for their help in locating Celia’s home.

My quest to learn about Celia Gardner began when I came across a story in the Carroll County Independent newspaper of Friday, November 26, 1926. The headline of “RAISES 6000 CHICKENS YEARLY” practically screamed, or should I say squawked that I needed to investigate this lady.  Today we might think that raising that many chickens is an interesting feat, but for 1926 it was quite amazing.

Celia was running a large poultry farm alone only 6 years after women had won the right to vote. Business women were still a rarity. I also noted that Celia had wanted to serve as an ambulance driver during WWI. That last bit of news was the clincher for me, and I just had to write about this independent-minded woman.

I will start with the newspaper article that spurred my imagination from the Carroll County Independent-Carroll County Pioneer. “A young woman Miss Celia Gardner, is one of the best known and successful poultry raisers in Rockingham County. Practically unaided she carries on a good sized farm in Derry. She raises 6000 chickens each year, milks the family cow, prunes apple trees, grows a patch of vegetables, and in the eight years which have passed since she trained as an ambulance driver in the war, has lived a man’s life and done a man’s work for the most part.

[She was called “Tubby” while a student at Colby Academy, then probably to her relief “Seelie” by the time she was a student at the University of New Hampshire.] When the United States entered the World War Miss Gardner left college and learned how to drive a truck and care for wounded soldiers. She had finished a long period of training and with uniform and passport was about to sail for France when the Armistice was signed. Returning to the University, she finished working her way through the institution, graduating in 1926, when she decided to buy a farm and raise chickens.

“The trouble was,” says Miss Gardner, “I had no money and I didn’t know much about chickens. I decided that the first thing to do was to learn all I could about the chicken business. So I took some graduate work in the agricultural college, paying expenses by working as a cook in a Durham household. After a few months of this I wanted more practical experience, so I went to one of the best poultry men of the stated and hired out.”

“I worked there a year and a half and it was work, too, but I learned a lot about chickens. I think that whoever plans to go into the chicken business should get just such practical experience before he invests very heavily. It will pay him in the long run.” Miss Gardner worked on a poultry farm a year and a half before negotiating the purchase of a fine old homestead in Derry. She moved there three years ago and began raising chickens and selling eggs for hatching purposes. Her troubles began when an epidemic of chicken stealing broke out in the neighborhood.

The first summer on the farm Miss Gardner slept out on a hill overlooking the chicken range, with a shotgun beside her and two watchdogs for company. “Because I was a woman,” she says “I suppose that I was taken for an easy mark by chicken thieves, but I never lost many chickens. I had a carpenter build a tower room on the roof of the house from which I could get a good view of the range. Several times prowlers came around on dark nights. The chickens would begin to cackle, the dogs would bark, and I would pour a fusillade of buck shot and bullets from my window which always discouraged any robbers. Anyway I haven’t been bothered for many weeks.”

Miss Gardner is man of all work about the farm. In addition to caring for her chickens and going to market, she cultivates a flower garden, makes repairs on her buildings, finds time to read books and magazines, and even to sew. Her house, which is more than 150 years old, has ancient fireplaces, a mammoth brick oven, wooden shutters and colonial furniture. Its owner is an enthusiastic collector of antiques. “I have learned something about the chicken business,” says Miss Gardner, “since I have been here. Last year I raised 6000 chickens and sold them at fancy prices. This year I shall raise more. I keep several hundred laying hens and sell the eggs. Of course there is a good deal of work in raising chickens, but it is an outdoor life that I like. I am my own boss and I don’t mind saying that I am making an excellent income.”

The Derry (NH) History Museum staff kindly helped locate Celia’s farm at 1

From Houses of The Double Range and East Derry N.H., An Informal Story by Harriett Chase Newell 1954, page 41

Humphrey Road at the intersection of S. Main Street in Derry, New Hampshire.  I try to picture the dainty girl in the photograph, perched in the cupola with a shotgun readying to blast a poacher or a conniving fox into kingdom come.

Two years later on 3 Sep 1928 in Springfield NH Celia H. Gardner, daughter of Guy H. & Cora (Cutler) Gardner married Parker Odell Whitney. He was the son of James O. & Harriet (Ingham) Whitney of Derry New Hampshire.  The 1930 U.S. Census shows them living on the farm, Parker with the occupation of poultry farmer and no occupation listed next to Celia’s name.  Is this how she wanted it, or did the census taker just presume that a woman couldn’t be in charge of such a large project?  At any rate you can see how census records can just tell you so much. There is always a greater story behind the record.

It seems that Celia and Parker Odell were married almost 50 years and still living on the same Humphrey Road farm when she became ill.  She died in November of 1974 at the Alexander Eastman Hospital.  Her obituary stated that she had been a resident of Derry for the past 52 years. She was a member of the Derry Garden Club and the Thalian Club of Derry. She was survived by her husband P. O’Dell Whitney of Derry, and one brother, Walter C. Gardner of Gilford.  The Rev. Irving S. Jones pastor of the United Methodist Church of Londonderry officiated at her funeral. Honorary bearers were Grant Benson Sr., Ira Moore, Peter Schindler, Julian Hayes, Richard Tewksbury and William Blunt. She was buried in Londonderry New Hampshire.  Her husband. P. Odell Whitney survived her by almost 2 decades, dying on 7 December 1993 in Derry NH.   [If you have more questions about the farm or the Town of Derry, please contact the History Museum Staff, even better drop in and take the tour].

I really wanted to close this story with a poem about a chicken by Robert Frost.  He too was a poultry farmer in Derry, New Hampshire.  Unfortunately I’ve read that some of his poems are tightly held, like hard-boiled eggs and I like to avoid violating anyone’s copyright.  So instead I’ll just post a little poem of my own creation, albeit brief and a bit homely.

 

“Chicken Luck”  by J.W.B.

Cluck Cluck
Pluck Pluck
Stove Chuck
Pot Luck

 

—PARTIAL GARDNER GENEALOGY–

Daniel Gardner was born abt 1770 Hartford, Windsor Co. VT. He m. 15 Oct 1800 in Hartland VT to Sarah “Sallie” Shattuck, daughter of Silas & Sarah (Jackson) Shattuck. She was b. 16 Apr 1774 in Hartland VT and d. 1842 in Hartford VT. In 1810 U.S. Census living in Hartford, Windsor Co VT: 3 male under 10, 1 male 26-44, 1 female under 10, 1 female 26-44.  [Shattuck Genealogy]
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Children of Daniel & Sarah (Shattuck) Gardner:
1. +Joel Gardner 13 Sep 1804 VT
2. Enos Gardner, b abt 1806 Hartland VT, d. 14 May 1880 Royalton VT; m. Sylvia –. Children: Maria, John.
3. Asahel “Asel” Gardner, b abt 1807 VT; d. –. He m. 27 Jan 1833 at Hartland VT to Mary Rogers. Children: Jerusha, Caroline, Charles, George Henry, Susan Ann, Martha Jane. In 1850 living in Thetford VT.
4. Louisa Gardner b bef 1810 VT
5. Susan “Sally” Gardner b after 1810 VT ; possibly the Sally Gardner who m. Joseph Potter, son of Zara Potter of Pownal, Vermont.

Joel Gardner born 13 Sep 1804 VT, died 3 Nov 1874 VT. He was of Hartford VT when he m 12 Nov 1826 in Pomfret VT to Betsey K. Spear of Pomfret VT, daughter of Joseph & Mary (?) Speare, a descendant of George Speere of England and Boston MA (freeman 1644). She was b 28 Nov 1793 and d. 10 Jan 1872. Both buried in Hewittville Cemetery, Pomfret VT.  [Speare genealogy, internet archive, borrowed]
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1850 US Census > VT > Windsor > Pomfret
Joel Gardner 45
Betsey Gardner 57
Emily Gardner 19
Jane Gardner 15
———————————–
Children of Joel & Betsey K. (Spear) Gardner:
1. +George Warren Gardner, b. 8 Oct 1828 Pomfret VT
2. Emily P. Gardner, b. abt 1831 VT; m. 6 April 1851 in Pomfret VT to Silas H. Doubleday. They lived in Royalton VT. Had daughter Etta M. Doubleday b. abt 1868 in Randolph VT who m. 1896 to Henry Walcott.
3. Celestia C. Gardner, b 16 Feb 1835 Pomfret, Vermont, died 9 April 1913 Springfield MA. In 1850 living with the King Family in Pomfret Vermont. She married 27 Feb 1853 in Norwich VT to George Chadwick. Children: George, Walter, Ellsworth, Della, Anna, William “Willie”, Charles.
3. Mary Jane Gardner, b abt 1836 Pomfret, Vermont; m. 1 March 1855 in Pomfret VT to Alva Clifford. She died 10 April 1909 in Sharon VT.

George Warren Gardner born 8 Oct 1828 Pomfret VT, d 27 April 1895 New London NH; m. Celia Lull Hubbard. She b. abt 1830 Cavendish VT, prob daughter of Asahel & Cinthia (Smith) Hubbard of Windsor VT. She d 21 Nov 1901 New London NH
They are buried in Old Main Street Cemetery, New London NH. Clergyman. In March of 1870 he applied for a passport noting his personal description: 41 years, 6 ft tall, high forehead, hazel eyes, regular nose, small mouth, short chin, dark brown hair, medium complexion and broad face. He also stated at that time that he was born in the town of Pompfret VT 8 October 1828.
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Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography 1600-1889 page 597
GARDNER, George Warren, clergyman, b. in Pomfret Vt., 8 Oct., 1828. He was graduated at Dartmouth in 1852, and in 1853 became principal of the New London NH institution, continuing in that relation until 1861. He was ordained as a minister of the gospel in 1858, and in November 1861 installed pastor of the 1st Baptist church in Charlestown, Mass. He left this place in 1872 to become corresponding secretary of the American Baptist missionary union. From 1876 till 1878 he was pastor of the 1st Baptist church in Cleveland Ohio, and from 1881 until 1885 president of the Central University of Iowa. During 1870 he visited Europe extending his travels to Egypt, Palestine, and Greece. He has performed editorial service in connection with the “Missionary Magazine” and the “Watchman” newspaper, besides writing tracts and review articles. He received the degree of D.D. from Dartmouth in 1867.
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The Granite Monthly Magazine: Vol 18 [Excerpts only]
….Died at New London, April 28. In 1876-78 he was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Cleveland Ohio. When President Dunn retired from the Central University of Iowa, Dr. Gardner was called to fill the vacancy, and from 1881 to 1884 was its head. He was then pastor of the Beth Eden Baptist Church, Waltham MA fro 1888 to 1890 when failing health compelled him to return to New London. He has ever since been connected with Colby academy as trustee, and instructor in Biblical literature and Christian evidence. He also had editorial connection with the Baptist Missionary Magazine and the Watchman, besides writing extensively for magazines and newspapers. He is survived by a widow, a daughter, and two sons.
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1880 US Census > MA > Essex > Marblehead
George W. Gardner 51
Celia H. Gardner 49
Clarence Gardner 21
Ada G. Gardner 20
George F. Gardner 4
Louisa E. Aiken 52
————————
Children of George W. & Celia L. (Hubbard) Gardner.
1. +Guy Hubbard Gardner, b 7 March 1856 New London NH
2. Clarence Gardner, b 12 Dec 1858 New London NH NH, died 8 June 1893 New London NH, aged 34. Buried Old Main Street Cemetery, New London NH.
3. Ada Grant Gardner, b. 1860 New London NH, d. 21 March 1908 Winchendon MA; m. Joseph F. Fielden. She d. 21 March 1908 Winchendon MA. Buried Riverside Cemetery.
4. George Frank Gardner, b. 29 August 1875 Winchester MA [George W. Gardner on birth record], died 25 June 1941. Buried Oak Grove Cemetery, Medford MA

Guy Hubbard Gardner was b 7 March 1856 in New London NH, son of George W. & Celia (Hubbard) Gardner. He married 16 August 1881 to Cora Cutler, daughter of George & Ann Marie (Smith) Cutler. She was b. 4 July 1858 in Charlestown, Suffolk Co. [Cohasset] MA. Her father was a druggist. In 1900 living in New London NH. Physician. 1874 Freshman class of Brown University, Rhode Island. He is buried in Old Main Street Cemetery, New London NH.
——————————–
His birth. Birth Certificate of male boy Gardner son of George W. and Celia. Location not named but H. S. Adams was Herman S. Adams, town clerk of New London NH.
——————————–
1900 US Census > NH > Merrimack > New London
H Gardner 44
Cora Gardner 41
Frederick W Gardner 15
Walter C Gardner 12
Margaret Gardner 10
Robert L Gardner 8
Guy H Gardner 6
Celia H Gardner 5
———————————
Children of Guy H. & Cora (Cutler) Gardner:
1. Frederick W. Gardner born 25 January 1885 in Somersworth NH. He married 31 August 1912 in Melrose MA to Alice M. (Mayman) Downs, daughter of William & Emily Jane (?) Mayman, as her 2nd husband (divorced). Occupation machinist.
2. Walter Cutler Gardner born 5 March 1888 Cohasset MA. He m. 9 April 1934 in New London NH to Edith (Bumpus) Philbrick, daughter of Bradford A. & Alice S. (Holt) Bumpus. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Springfield NH.
3. Margaret Gardner was born 18 Oct 1889 in Cohasset MA. She m. 28 Oct 1912 in Springfield, Windsor VT to Maure P. Sheiman, son of Theodor & Bertha Sheiman. She died 16 Nov 1933 in Manhattan NY.
4. Robert Leland Gardner, born 15 November 1891 in New London NH, died 1 Aug 1970, buried Long Island National Cemetery. Served in WWI.
5. Guy Hubbard Gardner, b. 27 Aug 1893 New London NH. Registered for WWI Draft. He died 18 June 1932 Concord NH. In 1910 a laborer in Concord NH. By 1920 he was a patient in the Concord State Hospital.
6. +Celia H. Gardner, b. 31 May 1895 in New London NH, and died November 1974 in Derry NH. This story is about her. See photograph and biography at top of page.

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9 Responses to Derry New Hampshire’s Premier Woman Poultry Farmer: Celia (Gardner) Whitney (1895-1974)

  1. What an absolute gem of a story! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. Amy says:

    She really sounds so exceptional—going to school to learn about chickens! Most people would have just stumbled in. She is fascinating!

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, thank you for reading her story and commenting. Her story captured my imagination. There are other things I would like to know too, but probably never will. Did she and her future husband meet at a farmer’s meeting, or at a seminar about chickens? Did he take over the vigil in the cupola with the shotgun? 🙂

  3. I enjoyed reading about her; it was interesting…wish we could know more.

  4. Delightful poem. Also love the way you let the light shine on Celia.

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