The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, March 1917

Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:

Introduction | January | February

All but the last page of March 1917 is sliced out of the diary; a practice of selective record-keeping that seems to have been somewhat routine for Carter (or her descendents).  On the page for March 29 - 31, we are left a few brief notes about a charity auction, Palm Sunday, and a pencil sketch of son John refusing his medicine -- “see preceding page,” reads the note, below, referring to an entry no longer available to us.

 

 

In search of any additional information the  MHS library might hold related to Carter’s life during this time, I called up a box from the Marian Lawrence Peabody papers in which can be found four folders of letters from Marian’s friend Gertrude. Carter was apparently out of the habit of dating her letters, but did charmingly illustrate her missives much as she does her diary. In the absence of March 1917 diary entries, I instead share with you two of Carter’s undated letters with their accompanying illustrations, that survive within the Peabody papers. Both seem to post-date the period of the diary which we are reading, since the first recounts the adventures of an adolescent John and the second suggests that John was an independent adult who might drop by “to pass the time” with his mother.

The first letter I selected was written in late September (of an unknown year, perhaps in the 1920s) while traveling on board the R.M.S. Mauretania.

* * *

Sunday
29th Sept

Dear Marian,

This is a fine ship but the writing desks are arranged for hippopotomi. I can’t get near this one and I am, as you know, no sylph. Still, nothing shall prevent me from returning our correspondence, especially when I remember what a nice welcome you gave me in Bar Harbour.

 

 

All of America was splendid but we did look back on Bar Harbour as the best of all. Those pines and mountains, the glorious air & all the various dinner picnics, etc. The frescoes impress me more than words can say. I’d give anything if you’d come down & paint the grand canal of venice on my staircase. I believe we could amuse you for a fortnight -- I have to remember that you said Gertrude’s holidays didn’t work out properly. In that case you’ll have to dash down without her. They are certainly very safe at her age, schools & relations have them in care & as they have to do what they are told, you can rest in safety. I realise this especially at this juncture -- Eton takes such enveloping care. A “dame” lives there with a complete pharmacy in [case of] accidents & a battery of pills & powders -- when I realize that John next week will be [illegible] on his own at Cambridge & no one noticing whether he is ill or not or cold or not, I tremble. -- We went to Boston from Bar Harbour & proceeded to inspect Codman roots at Lincoln, Parker roots at [illegible], the rum-running industries at Cohasset. Only we saw nothing of it except the fog. Cousin Susy took us to a lovely Carillon of Bells, & John was handed over to some of the young people in the neighborhood. Charlie Cobb took us afterward to the Bank & John was enchanted with the amusement of Checking the Securities & learning the difference between a share & a bond.  Then we went out to Dover in the last of the time. Tony Parker was always a friend of John & gave him motor lessons in the truck. I saw plenty of Forbes & [illegible] & Potters, etc. I missed Terry Morse’s entertainments, he was always so full of amusements. Miss Forbes was awfully nice in giving John, [illegible] flat at the [illegible] house to keep his things & sleep as we flitted from place to place, while I was at the Club. Washington was a joy. Perfect weather sunshine & fall moon & the Admiralty came to see the [illegible] in, a nice Captain [illegible] was most kind and useful. The [illegible] New York was thrilling. John in love with these [illegible] of engineering and with the same [illegible] with which he climbed the Mts. of Mt. Deseret, ascended everything & dived into the subway. Gerry C. materialized & took us to dine at the St. Regis [illegible] & to a play. We saw the “Little Show” which had some good times. I am [illegible] with the idea of turning the Churches into apartment houses who rent will pay all the expenses of running a chapel on top or a crypt. I haven’t discovered which! Now do write to me & tell me everything from the moment of my departure. Address c/o [illegible] 43 Charing X, London. As I shall not go to Barbadoes much before Dec. Lots of love, Gertrude.

* * *

The second letter, likely post-dating the first, was written while in Boston and struggling with what appears to have been chronic knee pain.

* * *

56 Commonwealth
Friday Eve

My dear Marian, I was hoping for a word from you, especially today, as I finally called upon Dr. Wheeler -- the old reliable of a 20-year arrangement -- and he sent me around to a Dr. Morrison to be x-rayed -- isn’t it a painful process? -- I never can understand the medical mind. The last time I hurt my knee, Dr. Moore concentrated on my ankle & to-day all the interested was centered on my back, none of the photographs (five) appeared to be aimed at my knee at all! -- I have given the matter profound thought & have decided there’s a dash of Christian Science in the treatment & the idea is produce a happy state of mind in the patient -- I can see that the beautiful time you are having in that wonderful house & with your charming hostess is being very beneficial. Wheeler is a merry Andrew. His prescription (which I opened in the taxi on the way to the x-ray place) read: “If you don’t want to go back to the nurse & formetations [sic], instead - soak in a hot bath 1/2 hour three times a day, take lots of aspirin -- 6 or 8 tablets a day, (signed), love & kisses Roy Wheeler (!!). On the whole your programme of gay [illegible] sounds much nicer but the idea is the same -- build up the ego! -- But the prescription is certainly difficult.

 

 

Suppose the telephone rings. Or the laundry arrives. Or dear little Miss Forbes arrives with some strawberries or John Codman drops in to pass the time of day? So I have arranged to take two of the baths per day at the Club. I hope it will work out all right. It seems a waste of time. But after all town is empty and time is what I have got a lot of.

Your affectionate,

Gertrude

* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary or letters yourself, in our library, or have other questions about the collection please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 24 March, 2017, 12:00 AM

Women and Organized Labor in Early 20th-Century Boston

According to Tom Juravich, William F. Hartford, and James R. Green, authors of Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and their Unions (University of Massachusetts Press, 1996), the years around the turn of the 20th century were a time of growth for unions in Boston, both in terms of membership and political influence, with groups such as the American Federation of Labor and the Boston Central Labor Union gaining significant power. Unlike the earlier Knights of Labor and the later Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the AFL, which was primarily focused on craft unionism, largely excluded women, people of color, and unskilled workers. However, workers outside of the AFL’s focus did organize during this period, and women began working within the AFL itself in the second decade of the 20th century. These differing visions and practices within organized labor, and their connections to race, gender, and skill levels of workers, raise a variety of considerations for the analysis of this union’s activities and place within dynamic organized labor movements of the period.

The Boston Central Labor Union (Mass.) records at the MHS includes one volume of Cigar Factory Tobacco Strippers’ Union records, 1899-1904. The records of this Boston union of tobacco strippers, which was comprised entirely of women, offer an opportunity to investigate both the conditions for women working in manufacturing in Boston around the turn of the 20th century, as well as the actions taken by working women in order to exercise their collective strength.

Photograph of a page from 15 January 1900 Executive Board Meeting minutes, including an accepted "Motion made for a seal for the union bearing the words, Cigar Factory Tobacco Strippers Union No. 1 of Boston. Organized Dec. 1899.”

 

The Cigar Factory Tobacco Strippers’ Union formed in December 1899, and was affiliated with both the American Federation of Labor and the Central Labor Union. The records consist of meeting minutes for regular meetings, executive board meetings, and various special meetings. The minutes document the activities of the group over a period of several years. General union business included the distribution of funds for a variety of purposes, such as compensation for union officers, sick benefits for members, and support for strikers and labor unions around the country. The union also initiated organizing activities in order to bring in new members, called for boycotts of certain businesses, heard grievances from members relating to working conditions in their respective factories, and tasked committees with the investigations of these grievances.

One example of the union’s activities relates to a series of grievances involving the H. Traiser factory. In the 1901 Boston Register and Business Directory (Boston: Sampson & Murdock), Henry Traiser & Co. is listed as a Boston cigar business. Workers expressed various concerns relating to the dryness of stock, poor wages, and unjust firing of workers at various points in the C.F.T.S.U. meeting minutes. A committee, appointed at a 27 March Special Executive Board Meeting, met with Traiser about the grievances. In a 28 March 1901 Regular Meeting, the committee reported that Traiser claimed not to know of issues with the stock, but that he would address that issue. However, grievances were noted again in the minutes of a 6 May 1901 Executive Board Meeting. At 13 May 1901 Executive Board Meeting, another committee was organized to meet with Traiser, and a report on the meeting was given at a Special Executive Board Meeting two days later. The Traiser situation was further noted in the minutes of meetings on 20 May, 23 May, 27 May, and 28 May 1901.

Photograph of meeting minutes for a 31 May 1901 Special Meeting.

 

In a 31 May 1901 Special Meeting, grievances were again read relating to conditions at Traiser’s, resulting in a motion for the creation of a “committee of five . . . to use all possible means to settle all trouble in Traiser’s shop, failing in that they be empowered to order a strike,” which passed by vote of 104-20, with four additional ballots left blank. They listed the following demands of Traiser:

            Reinstatement of girls who were laid off.

            Obnoxious rules dispensed with.

            Stock in better condition.

At the 13 June 1901 regular meeting, the standing committee reported a willingness by Traiser to work them on all of the demands, including reinstating three workers who had been discharged. While similar grievances came up again in the minutes regarding Traiser’s and other plants, I did not see documentation in the volume of a strike at the factory, suggesting that, for the time being, the union was able to exert enough pressure in order to avoid a strike and obtain some concessions.

This volume of Cigar Factory Tobacco Strippers’ Union records is available here in the MHS library for research, along with the entire collection of Boston Central Labor Union (Mass.) records.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 4:05 PM

This Week @ MHS

Here is the round-up of events in the week ahead:

- Monday, 20 March, 6:00PM : "Republic of Taste" is the first installment in a new series of author talks called Politics of Taste, and it takes its name from Catherine E. Kelly's new book, Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everday Life in Early America. Kelly, of Oklahoma University, demonstrates how American thinkers acknowledged the similarities between aesthetics and politics in order to wrestle with questions about power and authority. This talk is open to the public, registration required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows. A pre-talk reception takes place at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

- Wednesday, 22 March, 12:00PM : Pack a lunch in come on in for a Brown Bag talk with Marie Burks of MIT. "Love in the Time of Mutual Assured Destruction: Rethinking Cold War Rationality" highlights the work of intellectuals who deployed alternative rationalities to challenge the assumptions underlying not only nuclear strategy but also U.S. Cold War policy more boradly. These thinkers argued that, alongside familiar tools of Cold War rationality such as game theory, love and empathy were just as critical to a full understanding of social conflict. This talks is free and open to the public. 

- Thursday, 23 March, 6:00PM : The second program in the Politics of Taste series features Zara Anishanslin of the University of Delaware. "Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World" explores and refines debates about the cultural history of the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world. This talk is open to the public, registration required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows. A pre-talk reception takes place at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM.

- Saturday, 25 March, 1:00PM : "Slavery in Early Boston" is the first of three Partnership of Historic Bostons discussions this spring about slavery and servitude in early Massachusetts. Led by Prof. Kerri Greenidge of Tufts and UMass-Boston, this open group discussion will be about our responses to readings of primary texts about slavery in early Boston (17th and 18th centuries), including A Narrative of Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, and Samuel Sewall's The Selling of JosephPlease note that this is a reading discussion group, not a lecture. All participants are expected to have read the following two primary texts for this discussion. This talk is open to the public free of charge, though registration is required

Remember that our current exhbition, The Irish Atlantic, is open to the public free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 19 March, 2017, 12:00 AM

From Hero to Barbarian: The Adamses on Andrew Jackson

As March 15 marks Andrew Jackson’s 250th birthday it will come as no surprise that this incredibly influential and controversial figure in American history provoked strong and memorable reactions from the Adams family as he entered their circle in the 1820s, eventually clashing with John Quincy for the presidency in 1824 and 1828.

The relationship between the Adamses and Jackson did not begin with hostility however. Louisa Catherine Adams recorded her first impressions of Jackson in her Diary in February 1819: “He is tall and very thin and when he smiles his countenance is very agreeable his manners are those of a Gentleman neither confidant or timid and on the whole he produced the most favourable impression— I heard much astonishment expressed by some persons not friendly to him at his being so polite as they expected to have seen him at least half Savage.” John Adams declared him a “Hero and a Conqueror” and even as the election of 1824 was underway, John asked his grandson John Adams 2d to “give my compliments to General Jackson and tell him, if I had strength enough in my old fabric I would take a “Journey to Washington” and pay my homage to the “deliver[er] of his country.” He also thought that “if General Jackson should be chosen,” that John Quincy should continue as Secretary of State for Jackson “untill he has time to look about him and choose a successor, and for what I care, throughout his whole administration.”

The controversial conclusion to the election of 1824 which saw John Quincy’s elevation to the presidency through the House of Representatives, and even more so, the bitterness and rancor that surrounded the election of 1828, which had included deeply personal attacks, ended forever any positive feelings by the Adams family for the newly elected Andrew Jackson.

This change in attitude and the depth of their animosity toward the man was fully revealed in 1833 in the reaction to Harvard University’s decision to award Jackson an honorary doctorate of laws. Louisa Catherine Adams mocked the idea in rhyme:

            Discerning old Harvard presents the Degree

            Old Hickory asks pray what means LLD?

            The Corporate Sages afraid of excess

            Reserve for themselves that of A.S.S.

John Quincy meanwhile recorded his conversation with the president of the university, Josiah Quincy III, on the matter in his Diary, declaring that as “an affectionate child of our alma Mater, I would not be present to witness her disgrace in conferring her highest Literary honours upon a barbarian, who could not write a sentence of Grammar, and hardly could spell his own name.” To Charles Francis Adams the event marked “the climax of absurdity in General Jackson’s elevation.”

A political feud too personal to overcome, even forgiveness was difficult and the Adamses and Jackson would have “no intercourse of a friendly character” ever again.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 15 March, 2017, 8:37 AM

This Week @ MHS

The icy grip of winter is clinging on for life as we head into this new week. But to balance it out, we also have a new exhibit up for viewing! Stop by any time Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, to view The Irish Atlantic. Co-sponsored by the Forbes House Museum, this exhibit explores 175 years of the Irish in Boston. As always, our exhibitions are open to the public free of charge. 

While we do have a few programs on the calendar, please be sure to check the MHS website for closures and cancellations before venturing out into the cold and snow. Here is what is on tap for the week to come. 

- Tuesday, 14 March, 5:15PM : Appropriately enough, the first item on the calendar this week is titled "The Winter Workscape: Weather and the Meaning of Industrial Capitalism in the Northern Forest, 1850-1950." For this Environmental History seminar, Jason L. Newton of Syracuse University draws on methods from environmental and labor history and the history of slaver and capitalism to characterize industrial capitalism as a force that will sustain seemingly anachronistic modes of production as long as they remain profitable. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 15 March, 6:00PM : Join us for "Cooking Boston: Refined to Rustic." Moderator Barbara Wheaton leads this discussion with Keith Stavely, who explores the role Boston has played from being the home of early European refinement to the rise of the Colonial Revival rustic dishes, and Kelly Erby, who looks at the role of restaurants and the rise of commercial dining in 19th century Boston. This event is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM with the program starting at 6:00PM.

This program is the first installment of the new series Cooking Boston: How the Hub Shaped the American Diet. Future events in this series take place on 27 April, 3 May, and 18 May.

- Saturday, 18 March, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour 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 abentley@masshist.org.

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 12:00 AM

older posts