Recent MHS Grant Announcements

By Jeremy Dibbell

Among the stories in the September/October MHS e-newsletter is a short piece highlighting some recent and very exciting grants we’ve received. They include:

– $15,000 from the Library of Congress for its “The End of Slavery: Documents and Dilemmas” program. MHS staff will take 20 documents from the LOC From Slavery to Freedom digitized collections and 20 documents from the MHS African Americans and the End of Slavery and Images of the Antislavery Movement in Massachusetts digitized collections to develop educational materials for teachers based on both institutions’ resources.

– a $22,100 matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which will help the Society create and promote exceptional public programs and exhibitions to the community. As an investment in the MHS, the grant signifies that the Society provides a high level of quality in its programs, services, and administrative ability.  The staff of the MHS would especially like to recognize MHS Fellow Gov. Deval Patrick and the state legislators who supported the MCC, and in turn the MHS, particularly Sen. Steven A. Tolman and MHS Fellow Rep. Byron Rushing.

– a grant from the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation to replace a traditional microfilm reader with a microfilm scanner. The new equipment produces high resolution digital scans of microfilmed manuscripts, allowing researchers and staff to print, e-mail, or save the relevant pages to a CD, USB drive, or hard drive. We library folks are very excited about this one; we’re getting a demo of a possible scanner today, and please stay tuned for more information.

You can read more about each of these grants here, and sign up to receive the e-newsletter here.

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

The MHS seminar series kicks off on Thursday, 1 October. Join us at 5:15 p.m. for a talk by MIT’s Pauline Maier, “What Did It Take To Get the Constitution Ratified? A New Look at the Massachusetts Convention, January 9-February 6, 1788.” Richard Brown of the University of Connecticut will give a comment after the paper.

Please read the Seminars @ MHS blog post for more information on attending seminars.

MHS Mourns Member Merrill Peterson

By Jeremy Dibbell

Noted historian and Thomas Jefferson scholar Merrill Peterson died on Wednesday, 23 September in Charlottesville, VA. Peterson was 88. The author or editor of some 37 books (including Jefferson in the American Mind, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, Lincoln in American Memory, Starving Armenians: America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930, and the Library of America compilation of the writings of Thomas Jefferson), Peterson also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia at the age of 76. He taught history at the University of Virginia from 1963 until 1987.

Peterson was elected the 717th corresponding member of the MHS on 24 May 1984.

The Charlottesville Daily Progress has a full obituary.

MHS Proceedings as Genealogical Resource

By Jeremy Dibbell

As with many things on the Internet, it’s difficult to tell if this is new or recycled, but an interesting post came through my Google Reader this afternoon. Ancestry magazine features a “More Hidden Treasures” column, and this one notes the potential value of published historical society proceedings for genealogical research. Author Curt Witcher mentions the MHS Proceedings by name, noting “While the actual business activities of the society provide, at best, scant clues regarding other sources of information, the biographical sketches of deceased society members, often called notices or memoirs, are golden! Frequently with more than a page of text and occasionally a likeness of the individual, these notices provide tremendous genealogical data regarding parents, spouses, and children. Schools that were attended, military adventures, educational accomplishments, and political activities as well as church affiliations and vocational activities are typically included in great detail.”

Witcher also notes the importance of the Collections (particularly their indexes) to the genealogically-inclined.

The entire column is well worth a read, and is a useful reminder (to us and hopefully to researchers as well) of the wide range of uses that can be made of the MHS’ publications. It’s also a convenient time to reiterate that the Proceedings are now available via the scholarly database JSTOR.

Keeping Up With the Adamses

By Jeremy Dibbell

Just in case you haven’t been checking in regularly with John Quincy Adams’ Twitter feed ( I thought I’d provide a brief update on their progress after about a month and a half at sea (they departed from Charlestown, MA, you’ll remember, on 5 August 1809).

As of today, 18 September, the European mainland has come into view; the coast of Norway was sighted at around 5 a.m., and the ship’s position at noon is recorded as 57 43′ latitude, 7 15′ longitude (you can see that on the JQA tracking map here).

Adams continues to read at a prodigious pace; he’s now completed five volumes of Plutarch’s Lives, as well as a good portion of Massillon’s sermons. Two hundred years ago today he began reading Voyage d’Anacharsis. You can follow along with JQA’s reading (and many of his Twitter follows are doing so) with the monthly blog posts for August and September. Perhaps a JQA reading club is in order?

This is also a useful time to offer a reminder that JQA’s long diary provides many more details about each day’s events. You can view manuscript images of the diary via the MHS website (today’s is here), as well as a partial transcription of the long diary via Charles Francis Adams’ edition of his father’s works (today’s entry is here).

Hard as it is to believe, they’re still more than a month away from their ultimate destination, and the worst part of the trip is still to come. Stay tuned!

Seminars @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

The Massachusetts Historical Society sponsors four seminar series, each addressing a diverse range of topics including: Early American History, Environmental History, Immigration & Urban History, and the History of Women & Gender.  Seminars are open to everyone.

Seminar meetings usually revolve around the discussion of a pre-circulated paper. Sessions open with remarks from the essayist and an assigned commentator, after which the discussion is opened to the floor. After each session, the Society serves a light buffet supper. We request that those wishing to stay for supper make reservations in advance by calling 617-646-0540.

We are now offering seminar papers in PDF format at a password-protected web page. Subscribers will receive instructions for accessing the essays when we receive their payment. Annual fees for seminar subscriptions are as follows:

Boston Early American History Seminar: $25 (online)   
Environmental History Seminar: $15 (online)    
Immigration & Urban History Seminar: $15 (online)

Visit our website to purchase an on-line subscription:

(Visit the Schlesinger Library to subscribe to the History of Women & Gender seminar:

For questions or registration assistance, contact the Research Department: or 617-646-0557.

The fall seminar season begins on 1 October, and all seminars appear in the MHS Events Calendar as well as in each week’s This Week @ MHS blog post.

“Riotous Flesh” Lunch Talk Recap

By Anna Cook

Last Wednesday (9 September), long-term NEH-MHS fellow, April Haynes, gave a brown bag lunch presentation here at the MHS titled “Riotous Flesh: Gender, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice, 1830-1860.” April described for us the way in which nineteenth-century female reformers embraced physiology the “glamour science” of the 1800s as a way of speaking about human sexuality and establishing their right to act, as embodied individuals, in the public sphere. Specifically, she focused on the lectures given by nineteenth-century radical Sylvester Graham during the 1830s on “the science of human life.” In these lectures, Graham spoke about the virtue of sexual self-restraint and particularly about the dangers of “solitary vice” (masturbation) which, he argued, could adversely affect the nervous system of both men and women. 

When Graham offered these lectures to women-only audiences as a “lecture to mothers” in cities up and down the Northeast from 1833-1837 riots broke out, with male protesters alleging that Graham was a “mass seducer” of his female audience, and that the content of the lectures were inappropriate for women’s ears. In response, Women, many of whom were active in other reform movements such as the anti-slavery movement, resisted the protesters and asserted their right to attend the lectures – at times even bringing adolescent daughters in tow. In 1840 a group of women founded the Ladies Physiological Society, a sister-society to the American Physiological Society, for the promotion of physiological science.  Women’s societies across the East and Midwest enthusiastically sought out lecturers and literature on physiology, bringing Grahams ideas from metropolitan centers into “into the hinterlands.” Eventually, the language of physiology and its moral framework for thinking about human sexuality made its way from the margins into established spaces such as schools and hospitals. During her stay here at the MHS, April has been using the records of the New England Female Medical College, records from girls’ schools, and the correspondence of women’s organizations with missionaries and missionary societies in order to track the ways in which women may have carried the language of physiology from reform movements into these institutional settings. 

In the conversation that followed April’s presentation, attendees posed questions about the link between Graham’s movement and temperance activism (Graham’s roots as a reformer were in the temperance crusade), the religious dimension of his physiological theories (Graham himself was Presbyterian, but his ideas had wide appeal across religious lines), and the ways in which Graham’s concept of “solitary vice” re-framed the question of masturbation as concern for women as well was men (since the problem was no longer non-procreative sex, but rather a broader lack of self-restraint).  April suggests that Graham’s new framework provided women with a way of “reworking embodiment,” affirming the reality women’s bodies and sexuality while simultaneously offering them a path to bodily respectability: self-restraint. By “abjecting one particular behavior” (masturbation) possibilities were opened up for women to imagine themselves as sexual beings who would remain pure as long as they stayed within the boundaries virtuous sexual activity. We also spoke about the striking lack of dissenting voices, even from the free-thinking radicals who, as April put it, “could think their way out of marriage!” yet did not question the danger of the solitary vice. 

Many thanks to April for sharing some of the fruits of her research with us. I, for one, look forward to reading the project in published form.  Best wishes to her as she moves on to a fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society.

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

It’s a busy week at 1154 Boylston as we officially kick off our fall events lineup. Here’s what’s happening:

Today, Monday 14 September, join us at 12 noon for a brown-bag lunch with research fellow Deborah McNally of the University of Washington. She’ll discuss her project, “Within Patriarchy: Puritan Women in Massachusetts’s Congregational Churches, 1630-1715.”

On Wednesday, 16 September, another brown-bag lunch (also at 12 noon), with research fellow Elizabeth Kelly Gray of Towson University. Elizabeth will speak on “Worlds of Pain: Opium and Early America.”

And also on Wednesday 16 September, we’ll host author Ray Raphael at 6 p.m. for a lecture and booksigning related to his new book, Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m. More info here.

Teacher Workshop Opportunity: Slavery & Abolition

By Kathleen Barker

The Massachusetts Historical Society is partnering with the Paul Revere House, Old South Meeting House, and the Boston African American National Historical Site to deliver an engaging and informative teacher workshop this fall. “Struggle towards Freedom: Slavery and Abolition in Massachusetts” will explore the development of slavery in the colony/commonwealth and the lives of individual slaves in Boston and nearby communities. We will also examine the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts and the consequences of abolition for our state and the nation.

Participants will have the opportunity to visit all four sites (the Revere House and Old South on the 26th; MHS and the National Park on the 3rd). The cost of the workshop is $50. Participating teachers can earn 12  Professional Development Points after attending both days’ events and completing a lesson plan. (Graduate credit is also available for an additional fee and some additional lesson planning.) Please visit our web calendar ( or contact the Education Department for more information: or 617-646-0557.

For more on the event and for registration directions, please see the PDF flyer.


This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Please join us on Wednesday, 9 September at noon for a brown-bag lunch with the MHS’ current NEH long-term research fellow, April Haynes. April’s discussion is titled “Riotous Flesh: Gender, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice, 1830-1860.”