Julia (Ball) Thayer

1835 - 1905
Julia Ball Thayer
Julia Ball Thayer from collection of Historical Society of Cheshire County


A Suffragist, local philanthropist, and music teacher.

Local philanthropist, Julia Ball Thayer was a Progressive Era reform leader at the turn of the 20th century.  Her contributions to the creation of a better community can still be felt today.  She was born Julia Beatrice Ball on January 19th, 1835, in Winchester, NH, the third child of Fannie Capron and David Ball’s four children. Ball’s father was a merchant manufacturer in various industries and was known as the most prominent businessman in Ashuelot, NH (a village within the town of Winchester). While her father was at work, the children attended the public schools in Ashuelot.  Ball also attended seminaries in West Brattleboro, Vermont; Rutland, Vermont; and Springfield, Massachusetts.

By 1860, at the age of 25 years, Ball had become a music teacher and the superintendent of Sabbath School in Winchester. Her classes were widely attended by both children and adults, which was a true testament to her teaching abilities. “She was known in Ashuelot as the kind, generous, and loveable woman who took upon herself the task of bringing light and sunshine to all.” 

courtesy Google Maps

Ball continued teaching until she got married on July 22nd, 1873 to Edward Carrington Thayer, a wealthy mill owner from Keene.  After getting married, she moved to Keene but continued to give back to the Winchester community. Perhaps her greatest contribution to the community was Thayer Public Library, completed around 1903. Ball Thayer remodeled her grandparent’s old home on Main Street, furnished it with books, and turned it into a library, which still serves the community of Winchester today.

By the 1880s, Ball Thayer had become very involved in women’s clubs and Progressive Era reforms. At the reorganization of the New Hampshire Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1887, Julia Ball Thayer was elected as one of the Vice Presidents and an Executive Committee member for the state. At the time of her suffrage work, the goal of suffragists around the state was “to remove all barriers which now prevent women from exercising the right of suffrage in New Hampshire and to cause the statutes of the State to be so amended that there shall be no distinction in the laws relating to personal liberty, the custody of children, education or property; on the count of sex.” 

Women’s Christian Temperance Union 1888 in Keene- courtesy Historical Society of Cheshire County

Ball Thayer also served as the Vice President of the Keene Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) in 1887. The W.C.T.U. sponsored reading rooms, amusement rooms, and a choir class to encourage boys to become gentlemen. One member explained, “We have become greatly interested in many of these young men and boys, and we believe that we are helping them by awakening a new feeling of self respect and a desire to improve in conduct and character.” The organization also worked with adults, hosting numerous alcohol-free parties and making water readily available downtown. Julia donated a water fountain on Court Street in 1901 and another to the Ladies Wildwood Park, which she helped establish in 1893.

On May 25th, 1905, Julia Beatrice Ball Thayer died at her home in Keene. Predeceased by her husband and all other relatives, she was left with a large estate. Before her death, she paid to establish the Ball Memorial Hospital in Piqua, Ohio, to honor her brother, Delos, who lived and worked there. In her will, Ball Thayer donated over half a million dollars to charities, schools, and towns. Taking inflation into account, half a million dollars in 1905 would be equivalent to over 14 million dollars today. $32,000 was donated to organizations in Keene and $25,000 to organizations in Winchester. Below is a list of some of her bequests:

To establish a summer home for children and their mothers and for working girls in her sister Jane “Jennie” Ball’s memory — $100,000

Brown University — $80,000

Town of Uxbridge, MA  for books, pictures, and apparatus for High School — $20,000

Worcester City Hospital — $20,000

Three churches in Winchester — $5,000 each

Thayer Library (Keene) — $10,000

Invalid’s Home (Keene) — $10,000

Winchester for books, pictures, apparatus, and appliances for the High School — $10,000

Trustees, Worcester Nurses’ Home — $10,000

New England Hospital for Women and Children (Boston) — $10,000

American Unitarian Society — $10,000

Hospital cottages for children of Baldwinsville, NY — $10,000

Trustees, Kurn Hattin Home (Westminster, VT) — $10,000

Working Girls Vacation trust fund — $10,000

Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (Boston) — $10,000

Wellesley College for a scholarship in her name — $6,000

Smith College for a scholarship in her name — $6,000

Elliot Community Hospital (Keene) —$5,000

Y.M.C.A. (Keene) — $5,000

Uxbridge Library  — $5,000

Cushing Academy (Ashburnham) — $5,000

Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MA) — $5,000

Rural Improvement Society (Keene) — $1,000

Ladies’ Wildwood Park trust (Keene) —$1,000

Unitarian Society of Warwick — $1,000

Orphan’s home (Franklin, NH) — $500


It is clear from the long list of charities that Julia Ball Thayer supported, she was a strong female voice in the Monadnock region, supporting Progressive Era movements such as women’s suffrage, education reform, land conservation, healthcare reform, prevention of cruelty to animals, the protection of young women and children and others.

Points of Interest

  • Childhood home, 251 Main Street (today's President's House at Keene State College)
  • Thayer Public Library, 3 Ashuelot Main Street, Winchester, New Hampshire
  • Keene Public Library, 60 Winter Street, Keene, New Hampshire
  • Former "Invalid's Home", 361 Court Street, Keene, New Hampshire

Important Links