Bernard A. Drew | Our Berkshires: Mary Bristol took everyone at their word

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Mary Bristol (1868-1947) was a professional listener. She wrote down everything she heard. She made everyone's words her own. She was a court stenographer for three decades.

The Pittsfield native was the daughter of Jonathan Putnam Bristol and Lovina Powers Bristol. She was class salutatorian at Pittsfield High School in 1887. She spent a year at the Teacher Training School and became assistant to E. King Maining and Mary E. G. Miller at the Union Street building until it was succeeded by the new Tucker School. She taught in several grades and was interim principal at the Elisabeth Street school.

She went back to class herself to learn shorthand and typing at the Childs Business College in Springfield. In 1893 she rented a desk at George Blatchford's Book Store on North Street, from which she took on typewriter copying and shorthand dictation assignments, according to a Berkshire Eagle notice in 1892. She taught typing.

She moved her office to the Berkshire County Savings Bank building, then took a room at the Warner & Barker law practice. Clients such as Berkshire Life, Stanley Electric and A.A. Mills Co. regularly required transcripts.

H.T. Oatman suggested Bristol apply to become official Superior Court stenographer. She did and in 1910 succeeded Mrs. E.T. Shaw. Her appointment was made by a committee on stenographers supervised by Superior Court Judge James C. Donnelly of Worcester.


Jumping into her new job, she immediately recorded testimony at the July criminal sitting in Pittsfield.

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When stenographer Mary Swift retired as stenographer for Franklin and Hampshire counties in 1926, Bristol temporarily took on those duties, receiving full assignment in 1929. She covered three counties and by contract could be called anywhere in the commonwealth (as in 1916, when she took notation in a case tried in Boston but involving the Farnham reservoir in Pittsfield). She was paid by Berkshire County. She received $15 a day.

"Not all, but much of the shorthand record taken in the courtroom had to be transcribed," The Berkshire Eagle said in 1947. "All murder trials used to be written out, the services of several stenographers being required to keep up with the progress of the trial."

Bristol did manage a break in 1927 when she traveled to London to meet a friend.

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At the Maplewood Avenue resident's retirement in 1939, the Berkshire Bar presented her with a Victrola and the Deputy Sheriffs Association gave her a gold fountain pen and pencil set. Bar Association President Frederick M. Myers said everyone in the courthouse appreciated Bristol's efficiency and fidelity to her duties. He confided that Bristol was personally helpful "when he was examining witnesses when she had interrupted him to say that she couldn't hear what he said, for he realized that if she could not hear, neither, probably, could the judge and jury, and he had accordingly raised his voice."

"During these 28 years," The Berkshire Eagle said in 1939, "the work, though strenuous and exacting, has been most interesting. The first murder trial she reported was that of Matteo Neapolitano and Vicenzo Patrello who were convicted (in the second degree) of the murder of Vincenzo Cresci on Washington Mountain

"The hearing for Gladys Dunn, in which the death of her baby boy was involved, wrung the heartstrings more than any other case in her experience. The trial of Joseph Pulero for shooting his wife, Lucy, was a later case, resulting in conviction and life imprisonment. In more recent year have come the so-called water damage cases in Hampshire and Hampden Counties requiring daily copy as it is called."

"Love for the work has grown with the years until now," Bristol told this paper, "when it seems wise perhaps to toil less arduously, it is hard to give it up. The association which it has brought with the various law firms and individual lawyers of the county has been very pleasant.

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Bristol kept her office and continued other professional activities, cherishing memories of the friendships she had established with court clerks, district attorneys, defense counsels, sheriffs and deputies and court messengers — David L. Evans and Robert T. Parker among the latter.

"In fact the court, the Court House, is like a second home to me and I count all the officials and workers in all the departments as my friends," she said at the time of her retirement.

She didn't exactly retire. Within a month of departing the Pittsfield Court House she was in District Court in Adams, transcribing testimony for the defense in the case of truck driver Valmore Desrochers on charges of negligent driving in the death of Adams roofing contractor David H. Daniels.

Bristol had several side activities. She did secretarial duties for the Wednesday Morning Club and for Judge John Crosby, writing out his dictated opinions. She arranged programs for the Community Concert Association. She managed visiting choirs for the Methodist Episcopal Church. She was active with the Epworth Circle of the King's Daughters. And she assisted Elisabeth Sprague with her musical endeavors.

She led a well-documented life.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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