Berenice R. Tuttle: A force to be reckoned with

Berenice TuttleOne of my favorite buildings in Rutland, one I was thrilled to see renovated, is the Tuttle Building on Center Street. The wide central staircase is gorgeous. That it disappears into a false ceiling adds an air of mystery, prompting me to turn in my imagination to a time when slick-haired, ink-smudged men were hurrying up and down, stacks of paper in arm. And apparently there was also at least one long- (or maybe a not so long-) skirted woman.

In 1898, the New York World published a story about the Rainy Day Club, a group of rebellious Rutland High School girls. Tired of heavy, wet skirts contributing, as they claimed, to colds and pneumonia, the daughters of some of the finest Rutland families began abbreviating their hemlines.

The story titled, “Short Skirts Awake Civil Strife in Staid City of Rutland,” told of the 60 “depraved” and “immodest,” ankle-showing “Priscillas” who were scandalizing the town and infuriating their parents. It is unclear whether Berenice R. Tuttle, who was in her last years of high school at the time the club began in 1896, was in fact a member, but she had taken the time to clip and paste the story into her diary. And according to a Rutland Historical Society document, she included the intriguing note that, “truth was hard to find in the article.”

Tuttle is a name long associated with Rutland. The Tuttle Company, which was considered one of the largest publishers of genealogies in the country by 1935, had published the Rutland Herald during the Civil War. Now known as Tuttle Publishing, it is still in business in North Clarendon.

In the late 1890s, the company’s then-proprietor, Egbert Tuttle, was a member of the association which built the first Rutland Hospital. The Tuttle Building, name still clearly emblazoned on the gray-green façade, now houses Book King and upstairs apartments.

Berenice Tuttle, Egbert’s daughter, was born on March 24, 1880. As a high school student, she would spend hours at the offices of her father’s publishing business, sometimes helping out by holding copy for the proofreaders. By the time she was in college, she was reading copy herself. Spending her summer months in the editorial department, she made it her full-time job after graduating from Smith College in 1902.

After taking two years to work in the editorial offices of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in New York City, Tuttle returned to Rutland. Once here, she was a force to be reckoned with.

Tuttle was very involved in such women’s groups as Daughters of the American Revolution and the Vermont Society of Colonial Dames. As an active Republican during World War I, she was a member of both state and national convention committees as well as the League of Women Voters.

She also cofounded the Rutland Woman’s Club, a branch of the Vermont Federation of Woman’s Clubs. At different times throughout her life she served as president of both the local and state divisions and eventually became a director at the national level.

As a strong proponent of child welfare, Tuttle served on various committees including that of the Children’s Year of 1917. This event was established by the Council of National Defense to heighten awareness of the plight of many children following the influenza epidemic of World War I. Tuttle cofounded the Vermont Children’s Aid Society as a result of her work in this area. She was the first lay person to serve as president of the Vermont Conference of Social Works.

Her concern for children gained her a seat as the first commissioner of the Girl Scouts in Rutland and continued with her 16-year membership on the Rutland School Board. In this role, she was influential in laying plans for the new high school on Library Avenue, which opened in 1929. While involved with the Rutland Playground Association, she helped create four playgrounds in town, paving the way for what we now know as the Rutland Recreation and Parks Department.

In the midst of all this, Tuttle somehow found time to write articles for journals and magazines, becoming an active member of the League of Vermont Writers. At 55, she continued the legacy of her grandfather, father and brother to become president of the family business. Finally, four years before her death in 1973, as president of the Rutland Woman’s Club, Tuttle helped finalize plans for the creation of the Rutland Historical Society.

Phew! That was one busy woman. (I’m exhausted just writing it all down.)

But what astounds me most is the ability of this woman to champion so many ideas that transformed the community — changes that we are still benefiting from today, some 40, 60, 80 years later. From less-restrictive skirts to placing orphaned children, change is how we move forward — and must continue to move — one step at a time toward a better, more caring, more connected, more creative society. So let’s take a page from Berenice Tuttle’s book and get involved.

Source material for this column was provided by “Those Intriguing Indomitable Vermont Women,” a publication of the Vermont State Division of the American Association of University Women (1980).

Originally published March, 2013 in the Rutland Reader | (C) Joanna Tebbs Young

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