The Donovans of Mansfield

Historical Article Series March 30, 2020 > The Donovans of Mansfield

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 37, No. 1, January 2001

There was a great deal of interest in last summer’s exhibit on Irish families in Mansfield.  Most of Mansfield’s Irish population settled in the Eagleville and Storrs sections of town. The exhibit has now come down but we still continue to find interesting information on local families of Irish descent. 

In 1973, Ruth Munsell conducted an interview with Elizabeth Donovan who was 90 years old at the time.  She was one of the first home economics graduates of the Storrs Agricultural College (class of 1905) and was also a member of its first women’s basketball team.  Following her graduation she taught home economics at the college and then for many years was on the staff at Bridgeport High School.

Her father came from Ireland in 1872 as a young man.  He settled in Mansfield and married a Miss Sullivan who was sister of James and Annie Sullivan of Spring Hill.  She died when the children were young and for a few years they had Katie O’Brien, who lived in the Timothy Costello house, as a housekeeper.  There were four children – Mary (Mame), Josephine, Elizabeth (Bessie) and Michael (Mike) – who were all born in the old house on Bone Mill Road.  The house was owned by Dennis Costello and is now gone.  When Elizabeth was about two, her father bought the old Dunham farm near Dunham Pond.  When they moved there, there was a building where the driveway used to turn, that was a shoemaker’s shop, and in the back part of the building was a courthouse.  The previous owner, John Dunham, was a shoemaker and a judge.  The town stocks were on the farm and she remembers playing with them as a child.  There was a fairly large building opposite the front door of the house.  One end was a carriage house and the other was formerly a silk house and still contained racks for the silkworms.

Mame took over the management of the household when she was about fifteen or sixteen.  Josephine went to Boston to train as a nurse.  When their father died, Mame took over the management of the farm and Josephine gave up her work in Boston and came home to help.

When Elizabeth Donovan attended the Storrs Agricultural College shortly after 1900 she sometimes walked there from her home near Dunham Pond.  However for two years, she and Ethel Walker (later Mrs. John Fitts) rented the small house behind the Valentine House that was later used as a home management house.  Some of the time Daisy Mason lived with them as well.  Miss Donovan’s father brought them wood to burn in their stoves.  In the winter, they used to borrow a long toboggan and coast from the dairy barn, then on the hill, all the way down to the bridge in Gurleyville.  What a ride!

In November 1980, the University of Connecticut School of Home Economics and Family Studies presented Elizabeth Donovan with a special Distinguished Alumni Award as part of the School’s first Centennial Recognition Day.

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