This Week @ MHS
It's all about Tuesday this week at the Society. First up that day, 21 October, is an author talk taking place at noon. Join local historian and author Barbara Berenson for "Civil War Boston" as she narrates a thrilling and memorable journey through the Hub in the Civil War. Black and white abolitionists dedicated to ending slavery, the Fugitive Slave Act and its repurcussions, soldiers marching to war, and women fighting to end slavery and realize their own desire to be full citizens of the Union are all included in the story. Berenson is the author of Walking Tours of Civil War Boston: Hub of Abolitionism (2011, 2nd ed. 2014) and co-editor of Breaking Barriers: The Unfinished Story of Women Lawyers and Judges in Massachusetts (2012). A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Barbara works as a senior attorney at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. This event is free and open to the public.
Later that evening, beginning at 5:15PM, is "Popular U.S. Enthusiasm for Latin American Independence, 1810-1825," the latest installment in our Early American History seminar series. Presented by Caitlin A. Fitz of Northwestern University, this paper explores the reactions of those in the United States to the independence movements of Latin American nations in the 1800s. In general, U.S. observers were overjoyed by these movements; however, Massachusetts citizens were less thrilled. This presentation will analyze the national trend and the commonwealth’s deviation from it. Comment provided by John Bezis-Selfa of Wheaton College. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.
Finally, on Saturday, 25 October, come by the Society at 10:00AM for "The History and Collections of the MHS," a 90-minute docent-led tour of the MHS building which touches on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the MHS. While here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I." Both the tour and the exhibition are free and open to the public. Parties of 8 or more, please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
| Published: Sunday, 19 October, 2014, 8:00 AM
“I can do nothing without you”: The 250th Anniversary of John and Abigail Adams
By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers
This month we celebrate the 250th wedding anniversary of John and Abigail Adams. Their marriage endured through separations, long in distance and time, war, partisan politics, and family hardships. Their distance and struggle became our treasure, because it is through their incredible correspondence that we obtain such an intimate look inside their lives—lives that in so many ways, are not so alien to our own.
About a month before their 25 October 1764, wedding, John Adams wrote to Abigail Smith movingly describing how important she was to him:
Oh my dear Girl, I thank Heaven that another Fortnight will restore you to me—after so long a separation. My soul and Body have both been thrown into Disorder, by your Absence, and a Month of two more would make me the most insufferable Cynick, in the World. I see nothing but Faults, Follies, Frailties and Defects in any Body, lately. People have lost all their good Properties or I my Justice, or Discernment.
But you who have always softened and warmed my Heart, shall restore my Benevolence as well as my Health and Tranquility of mind. You shall polish and refine my sentiments of Life and Manners, banish all the unsocial and ill natured Particles in my Composition, and form me to that happy Temper, that can reconcile a quick Discernment with a perfect Candour.
Abigail was that and more for John. His counselor and confidant, the one that even at the age of 61 and President of the United States, he could “do nothing without,” Abigail, while managing his beloved farm and caring for family, provided him with local news and gossip, advice, and a sympathetic ear. Likewise, for Abigail, when faced with trials of her own, she looked forward to a reunion with her dearest friend, where “I come to place my head upon your Bosom and to receive and give that consolation which sympathetick hearts alone know how to communicate.”
When Abigail died on October 28, 1818, just days after their fifty-fourth wedding anniversary, a heartbroken John wrote to his son John Quincy Adams, “My consolations are more than I can number. The Separation cannot be So long as twenty Separations heretofore. The Pangs and the Anguish have not been So great as when you and I embarked for France in 1778. . . . Love to your Wife. May you never experience her Loss.”
If you would like to learn more about this great American love story, the Abigail Adams Historical Society in Weymouth, MA, is holding a multi-day celebration and conference including remarks from Sara Martin, the Series Editor of the Adams Family Correspondence series, on October 24–26, 2014. Click here for more information.
Images: Abigail Adams. Pastel on paper by Benjamin Blyth, circa 1766. Artwork 01.026; John Adams. Pastel on paper by Benjamin Blyth, circa 1766. Artwork 01.027
| Published: Wednesday, 15 October, 2014, 1:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
We have another busy week ahead here at the Society, starting with a holiday event. Please note that the library of the MHS is closed on Monday, 13 October, in observance of Columbus Day. However, the building will remain open as part of Opening Our Doors, Boston's largest single day of free arts and cultural events. The galleries are open 10:00AM-3:00PM. Stop by to view Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War. This event is free and open to the public.
On Tuesday, 14 October, drop by the MHS at 5:15PM for an Environmental History seminar. In "Finding Meaning and Debating Value in a Historical Landscape," David Benac of Western Michigan University looks at the competing interpretations of landscape as a resource or as a haven. Adding nuance to the debate, Benac employs a third category: historical significance. Victoria Cain, Northeastern University, provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
There are two events on Wednesday, 15 October, that are open to the public. First, beginning at noon, stop by with a lunch to hear Rachael Abbiss of the University of Chester present "The Role of the Military within Imerpial Security Policy, 1685-1689." This Brown Bag talk highlights a project which examines the army and military policy in the Dominion of New England between 1686 and 1689. This event is free and open to the public. Then, beginning at 6:00PM, join us for a talk given by J. Kevin Graffagnino of the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. "Rebels in Vermont!: The St. Albans Raid" details the events of the 1864 attack on St. Alban's, VT by a band of 22 Confederate soldiers. There is apre-talk reception that begins at 5:30PM. This event is open to the public with a fee of $10 (no charge for Fellows and Members). RSVP required. Please call 617-646-0560 or click here to register.
Beginning on Friday, 17 October, is a two-day teacher workshop titled "Massachusetts Women and the First World War." The workshop explores the activities of Massachusetts women involved in the Great War, beginning before the official involvement of the U.S. in 1917. The events feature material from collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Fort Devens Museum. There is a registration fee of $75 and includes lunch both days, materials, and admission to the Fort Devens Museum. Day one (17 October) takes place in Devens and day two (18 October) at the MHS. This workshop is open to all K-12 educators as well as history enthusiasts. To register complete this Registration Form and send it with your payment to: Kathleen Barker, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215. Contact email@example.com for more information.
Finally, on Saturday, 18 October, there is a public tour at the Society. Beginning at 10:00AM, "The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society" is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org. While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I."
| Published: Sunday, 12 October, 2014, 8:00 AM
“The Moonlight Is Wasted”: Not So Quiet on the Western Front
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
The stacks of the MHS are filled with innumerable letters written by soldiers serving in U.S. wars to their families back home. This year marks both the sesquicentennial of the penultimate year of the Civil War and the centennial of the first year of World War I. It’s a disheartening fact that we rarely lack for war-related anniversaries to commemorate, but these letters are an invaluable resource for a true understanding of U.S. wars.
Some of them were written to anxious parents by very young soldiers, barely out of high school and full of bravado. Others come from older, battle-hardened men who write wistfully to their children while shells fall around them. Sometimes a soldier breezily anticipates the upcoming battle in which we know he will be killed, or has an eerie premonition of his own death. While it’s impossible for most of us to comprehend the realities of war as experienced by those in the thick of it, little details speak volumes. I always find it interesting how the ordinary things we take for granted are perceived in radically different ways by a soldier on the front lines.
Take moonlight, for example. Lovers serenade in it, poets write about it, dreamers gaze up at it. Moonlight is one of the universally acknowledged beauties of life, right? Well, not if you’re digging trenches in northern France in 1918. William F. Wolohan, serving with the American Expeditionary Forces, 103rd Engineers, Co. E, explained in a letter to his mother on 30 Nov. 1918 that he and his fellow soldiers had a different perspective:
Night work was the hardest as this country over here is positively the blackest place I have ever been in at night. Our night work consisted mostly of barbed wire work. A funny thing, still we over here can not realize the jokers regarding Beautiful-moon light nights. One mother wrote to her son who is sleeping in here with us, said that outside a beautiful moon was shining down, how much she enjoyed these moon light nights and she could always think that this same old moon was shining down on him. Yes Henry said the same moon shines but I wish the moon would die or never come out. You see on moonlight nights these big bombing planes come over and drop everything from pins to rail road engines, including boocoo bombs….So on moon l[ight n]ights we are always careful and we figure th[at] the moonlight is wasted. I wish I could remember some of the funny expressions I have heard when we did not know but the next minute we would be blown to atoms.
Henry had good reason to dislike the moon, it turns out. He had nearly been killed in a German bombing raid while working on a trench near the French town of Fismes on the Vesle River. Wolohan illustrated Henry’s story with this diagram of trenchworks. The sketch is in pencil, so it’s hard to make out some of the details in this reproduction here, but Henry and the “Bomb Hole” are marked by asterisks at the top. Below that, you can see the “Barb wire,” “no mans land,” and the “German wire.”
Wolohan wrote this letter to his mother shortly after the end of the war but before he was shipped home. In it, he proposed this theory for the Allies’ success:
As one of our fellows said the other night It was the American Smile that won this war, and I agree with him. Even in the darkest minutes you can always get a smile out of these A.E.F. wargoing Americans. I have seen men come back all shot up an[d] smiling to beat the band. One night when on a long march we were held up by our divisional train for four hours. So we gave a show right in the middle of the road.
The William F. Wolohan papers is one of our smaller collections at the MHS. It contains only three letters and three postcards, but the terrific content more than makes up for its small size. I particularly like this poignant throwaway line on the back of a postcard dated 6 Oct. 1918:
This is a French soldiers postal card. It was taken by the Germans off a captured French Soldier. We took it off a dead German soldier. Such is the fortune of war in both the big and little things.
| Published: Wednesday, 8 October, 2014, 1:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
First up this week on the list of events here at the MHS is "Katherine, Grace, and Mary: Archaeological Revelations of 17th and 18th Century Women from Boston's Big Dig." Beginning at 6:00PM on Monday, 6 October, join us as Joe Bagley, Boston City Archaeologist, discusses the uncovering of mountains of historical data during the archaeological surveys conducted prior to the start of the Big Dig. The talk focuses primarily on three sites where evidence of the lives of three women - the late 17th century site of Katherine Nanny Naylor, the early 18th century site of Mary Long, and the mid-18th century site of Grace Parker - came to light. There is a $10 fee (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617- 646-0560 or click here to register. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM.
On Tuesday, 7 October, come by at 5:15PM for an Early American History seminar given by David Konig of Washington University in St. Louis. "Thomas Jefferson, Lawyer: Property and Personhood in the Law of Slavery" examines the complex relationship between Thomas Jefferson's legal career and his ownership of slaves. Comment provided by Malick Ghachem of MIT. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
Then, on Wednesday, 8 October, there is a special member event at the Society starting at 6:00PM. Members and Fellows are invited to hear John W. Tyler, editor of The Correspondence of Thomas Hutchinson: 1740-1766 (2014), as he presents "History Revealed: Thomas Hutchinson and the Stamp Act Riots." The evening will feature a reception at 6:00PM and remarks by Mr. Tyler at 6:30PM followed by a presentation of items from the Society's collections. Registration is required at no cost. THIS EVENT IS SOLD OUT. If you would like to be placed on the waiting list, please call 617-646-0518.
And on Thursday, 9 October, please join us for an author talk featuring Adam Hochschild of the University of California, Berkeley. "1914-1918: The War Within the War," Hochschild describes the battle between people who regarded the war as a noble and necessary crusade, and a brave minority who felt it was tragic madness and who refused to fight. In an illustrated talk, he focuses on the country where that tension was sharpest, Great Britain. Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. The talk is open to the public but registration is required. Please RSVP.
| Published: Sunday, 5 October, 2014, 12:00 PM