This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

As the spring rolls on and we enter a new month it will be a busier week here at the MHS with plenty of public programs to take part in. First on the list is a rare Sunday program happening on 28 April 2013. Join Jayne Gordon, MHS Director of Education and Public Programs, for an afternoon walking tour in Concord, MA. “Authors & Abolitionists” is a leisurely two-mile walk that explores the involvement of authors and Concord-residents like Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts and their neighbors in antislavery efforts in Concord, hotbed of 19th-century abolitionist sentiment, and beyond. The walk, starting at 2:00pm, begins and ends at the Concord train depot and is coordinated with the Sunday train schedule. Walk leader Jayne Gordon is a resident of Concord who has worked at many of the town’s historic site and teaches the Concord history course required of all town guides. Registration Required. Fee $25/$15 (F/M); Free for MHS Fund Giving Circle members. Light refreshments included. For more information contact the education department at 508-577-4599 /

Next up, stop by the MHS on Tuesday, 30 April, for the next installment in the Immigration and Urban History Seminar series. This panel discussion, “19th-century Immigration, Nativism, and Politics” will focus on two papers. Mimi Cowan of Boston College highlights the ways in which participation in volunteer military groups sometimes helped immigrants combat nativism and, at other times, fueled nativists’ concerns about foreigners in her paper “Honorable Citizens: Ethnic Militias in Chicago, 1855-1879.” “African American and Irish Political Coalitions in Boston, Massachusetts, 1881-1890,” by Millington Bergeson-Lockwood, George Mason University, identifies three areas where African Americans and Irish immigrants established coalitions and laid claim to participation in the founding events of the United States as well as a histori resistance to oppression. Comment in this discussion provided by Evelyn Stern, University of Rhode Island. This program is free and open to the public, though RSVP is required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. Discussion begins at 5:15pm.

Two events will happen on May Day this week. First, on Wednesday, pack a lunch and hit the MHS at noon for one of our Brown Bag Lunch talks. This week, Katelyn Crawford of the University of Virginia will present “Transient Painters, Traveling Canvases: Portraiture and mobility in the British Atlantic, 1750-1780.” Ms. Crawford’s project examines the paintings and portraitists working within the 18th-century British Atlantic world to demonstrate the impact of mobility on artistic practice and portraiture on identiy construction. She considers a network of about ten portraitists, the canvases they produce, and the travel of both individiuals and images throughout the British Atlantic and identifies a shift in the construction of artistic communities ans artists took to the sea. Her project reveals visual convergences and divergences that illustrate the development of regional identities within imperial conventions. This event is free and open to the public.

And on Wednesday evening, 1 May, head over to the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St. in Brookline at 6:00pm for an MHS-sponsored author talk with Nathaniel Philbrick. The bestselling author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea turns his attention toward the story of the first major battle of the American Revolution in his new book “Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution.” This book explores this, the bloodiest battle of the coming Revolution and the point of no return for the colonists in rebellion. Mr. Philbrick is a New York Times bestselling author, recipient of the National Book Award, and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This event is co-sponsored with Brookline Booksmith and will take place at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline. For directions, please visit Tickets are available from the Brookline Booksmith and are $5 per person.Please visit or call 617-566-6660 to reserve your space. When you purchase the book, you receive one free ticket and the option to purchase a second ticket for $5.

Finally, on Friday, 3 May 2013, MHS Librarian Peter Drummey will present an exhibition spotlight, “The Three Lives of Anthony Burns.” This program will explore the heroic, and tragic, life of Anthony Burns through documents on display at the Society. Who was Anthony Burns? How was his rendition – his return from Boston to slavery in 1854 – a turning point in the Abolitionist stuggle? What happened to him after he was free and his celebrity faded? Come by the MHS at 2:00pm to hear the answers to these questions. And while you are here, be sure to check out the three complementary exhibitions currently on display until May 24.

Fenway Garden Society: From Victory Gardens to Historic Landmark

By Emilie Haertsch, Publications


When the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the nation’s food resources were already stretched thin. Once operating at a surplus, U.S. farmers were sending a large portion of their crops overseas to aid the Allies and alleviate the growing food shortage in Europe. With U.S. troops heading to war, there was an ever greater demand for food as only well-fed soldiers could serve at full strength.

In response to the increasing need for food, the U.S. government implemented the Food Rationing Program in 1942, which called on U.S. citizens to conserve their food consumption and avoid waste. In conjunction with rationing, the government also asked civilians to plant “Victory Gardens” and consume the produce they grew. The slogan “Food For Freedom,” originally coined during World War I, was repurposed to great effect.

There is evidence of this very garden movement in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood today. Among the 49 areas obtained for gardens by the Boston Victory Garden Committee, one large plot was established in what is now known as the Back Bay Fens. Area community members could apply for their own plots to aid the war effort, and receive instruction if they were novice gardeners. In order to encourage better gardening and crop yield, Victory Gardeners also held contests and exhibitions.

The gardens remained in this form until the war was drawing to a close and the need for food rationing in the U.S. lessened. In 1944, a group of plot-holding gardeners who feared losing usage of the land assembled with the goal of continuing their urban gardening beyond the war. They established the Fenway Garden Society, and the MHS has their papers in its collections.

The Fenway Garden Society held its first meeting on 15 October 1944, with 23 members in attendance. According to the meeting notes, the society’s object was to “promote the planting and growing of vegetables for home usage.” The society continued to be part of the war effort into 1945, when Chester Bowes of the War Food Administration in Washington, D.C., “wrote stating more food would be necessary.” However, by 1946 the National Victory Garden Commission had dissolved and the society shifted its focus to the general benefits of gardening.

They continued to hold contests to encourage good gardening, giving out small cash prizes and the coveted gold star to winners. They also wrote open letters to gardeners to encourage them to become involved in the society’s work and promote knowledge of gardening.

The Fenway Garden Society often faced an uphill battle in maintaining the piece of land used for the garden plots in what continues to be a highly desirable part of Boston. In one of their first open letters in 1946 they referenced “a petition asking for the gardens for this year, and expressing appreciation for them in the past” and encouraged prospective and current gardeners to sign. There would be many more occasions when the society’s members would have to advocate to maintain their land. Throughout the years, attempts have been made to build hospitals, schools, and parking lots on that land, and it has only been through the Fenway Garden Society’s efforts, and media and legislative support, that the community gardens have remained.

Today the Fenway Victory Gardens are a Boston Historic Landmark. The Fenway Garden Society still exists today and tends the same land in the Fens, which now consists of 500 individual plots cultivated by a diverse group of gardeners.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

After a very strange week here in Boston last week it appears that things are returning to normal. The Society was forced to cancel a couple of public programs last week. Stay tuned for information about rescheduling of last Tuesday’s Immigration and Urban History Seminar, “Dynamic Tensions: Charles Atlas, Immigrant Bodybuilders, and Eugenics, 1920-45.”

Perhaps appropriately, this week is also light on the public programs at the MHS as Boston returns to a regular schedule.On Friday, 26 April, the Society will sponsor a Bus Trip to the Museum of World War II, a special event for Members of the MHS Fund Paine through Adams Circles, part of the MHS Local Travel Series. Participants will enjoy a special lunch and behind-the-scenes tour of the the Museum of World War II with founder and director Kenneth Rendell. The museum houses the most comprehensive collection of World War II artifacts on display anywhere in the world. A bus will leave from the MHS at 11am and return by 5pm. Space is limited and RSVP is required, with a fee of $50.  For more information or to register, contact Katy Capó at or 617-656-0518.

And as usual, the three current exhibitions on display at the Society are available for public viewing, free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00am-4:00pm. Be sure to stop by and check them out.

“Our Splendid Misery”: Louisa Catherine Adams in the White House

By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers

Many Americans have strong opinions about the White House. It is simultaneously a government building housing the executive branch and a private dwelling for the president and his family. As its care and maintenance falls to the public, both public access to and perception of this building, and its inhabitants, has long been a sensitive subject.

In April 1825, Louisa Catherine Adams wrote a colorful letter to her son, Charles Francis, on her impressions upon moving into the White House:

It is and has been ever since I first saw the House a matter of wonder to me how a Lady of so much delicacy as Mrs. Monroe could endure to live in a house in which I declare from what I saw she had not the comforts of any private mechanic’s family and I believe it would be difficult to find such an assortment of rags and rubbish even in an Alms House as was exhibited to the Publick after their departure—

The State of things was such that knowing the impression on the publick mind concerning the general splendour of the Mansion I thought it best to throw open the House and by admitting the people to see it in the real state correct the absurd and preposterous notions which had gone abroad by giving them the opportunity to judge for themselves— Some people pretend I have done wrong but as we are pretty much in the situation of the Man and his Ass in the Fable I do not care at all who likes or who dislikes. I respect my Masters the Sovereign People with great sincerity but I am not so much alarmed at the idea of going out at the end of four yeas as to desire to make any sacrifice of actual comfort for the sake of prolonging my sojourn in this would be magnificent habitation which after all like every thing else in this desolate City is but an half finished Barn— . . . I am obliged to close my Letter with a wish that you had seen our splendid misery which on the subject of Internal improvement certainly would have inspired you to do it ample justice—

Louisa’s lively wit, jabbing at her new residence, the public’s misimpressions, along with a controversial political topic of the day, internal improvements, reveals a political climate not so far removed from our own.


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

After celebrating Patriot’s Day and the running of the Boston Marathon, we return for a shortened week at the MHS, with these events on tap.

On Tuesday, 16 April 2013, drop by the MHS for the latest Immigration and Urban History Seminar, “Dynamic Tensions: Charles Atlas, Immigrant Bodybuilders, and Eugenics, 1920-1945.” Dominique Padurano, Scarsdale High School, presents a paper which highlights the paradox of bodybuilders like Charles Atlas who marketed diet and exercise regimens by emphasizing their own innate weaknesses while, at the same time, espousing eugenics techniques of the day. Ms. Padurano also argues that, in a time when the nation was not a hospitable place for foreigners, both techniques served as sorts of assimilation strategies within immigrant and ethnic bodybuilding communities. Martin Summers, Boston College will provide comment. The seminar will begin at 5:15pm and is free and open to the public. RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar paper. This event has been canceled.

And on Thursday, 18 April, as part of the History of Women and Gender series, the MHS will present a panel discussion, “The Big Tent of U.S. Women’s and Gender History: A State of the Field.” Beginning at 5:30, join the group discussion to see what is going on today in the field of Women’s and Gender History in the United States. Essayists are Cornelia H. Dayton from the University of Connecticut, and Lisa Levenstein, University of North Carolina at Greensoboro. Joining them will be the panelists, Crystal Feimster of Yale University, Carol F. Karlsen of the University of Michigan, and Betsy More of Harvard University. This panel discussion is free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Closing out the week, on Saturday, 20 April, come in at 10:00am for the MHS Tour: The History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led tour takes guests through the public space of the Society’s home at 1154 Boylston St. and touches on the history and collections of the Society, as well as some of the art and architecture on view. No reservation required for individuals and small groups but parties of 8 or more are requested to contact the MHS prior to attending. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

After a successful multi-day conference on the Civil War the Society is back to normal programming this week. Still, it is shaping up to be a busy one!

First on the bill is the next installment of the Environmental History Seminar series. On Tuesday, 9 April, join us at 5:15pm for “Good Meat & Good Skins: Winter game and political ecology on the maritime peninsual, 1620-1727.” Thomas Wickman of Trinity College will examine how a mixed-menu of game animals allowed northeaster Indians a flexible pattern of winter mobility. At least until 1704, that is, after which English soldiers patrolled these winter hunting grounds and interfered with the natives’ reliance on wild game. Mr. Wickman will argue that political ecology, the effects of power on access to routes and resources, mattered more than environmental degradation to the fate of the winter hunt on the Maritime Peninsula. Comment provided by Neal Salisbury, Smith COllege. Seminars are free and open to the public though RSVP is required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar paper.

On Wednesday, 10 April, there are multiple events happening, starting with a Brown Bag Lunch at noon. Pack a snack and come in to hear Frances Clarke, University of Sydney, as she presents “Child Soldiers in America.” Did you know that, until recently, children aged seven to seventeen constituted a significant portion of the American military? In this project, co-authored with Rebecca Jo Plant of University of California, San Diego, Ms. Clarke aims to study the relationship between childhood militarism in American history and to trace the debate over enlistment of minors from the Revolution to the modern era, analyzing the shifting representations and experiences of child soldiers. This event is free and open to the public.

Then, at 6:00pm on Wednesday, award-winning author Nancy Rubin Stuart will give a talk entitled “Defiant Brides of the Revolution,” part of the New Books/New Looks: Revisiting the Past series. This author talk examines how the lives and personal developments of Peggy Shippen and Lucy Knox were changed by their marriages to Benedict Arnold and Henry Know, respectively. Ms. Stuart will reveal the contradictory paths the two young women followed subsequent ot their passionate marriages to patriotic men during the American Revolution and early Federal era. Through correspondence, historical drawings, and portraits, Ms. Stuart will expose how these defiant brides affected the course of the Revolution. Registration is required at no cost for this event. Please RSVP. There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30pm. Contact the education department for more information at

Following the author talk the Society will hold its second Historical Happy Hour to continue the conversation over cocktails at the Back Bay Social Club. This is a special member event for MHS Associate Members and their guests, who will receive priority admission to the program as well as complimentary appetizers and a drink at the Happy Hour. Cash bar will also be available. While the author talk is open to the public, the Historical Happy Hour is only for associate members and their guests and begins at 7:30pm. Registration is required at no cost. Please contact Katy Capó for more information at The Back Bay Social Club is located at 867 Boylston St.

And on Friday, 12 April, be here at 2:00pm as Elaine Grublin, Head of Reader Services, shines a spotlight on our current exhibition. “‘You Know I Dislike Slavery’: Lincoln before the Presidency” focuses on the text of an August 1855 letter from Lincoln to his friend, Joshua Fry Speed. Elaine will discuss Lincoln’s early thoughts on slavery in American and his reaction to the rise of the American (“Know-Nothing”) Party. Show up early or stay after to browse our three current exhibitions, all revolving around the question of slavery in the United States. “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land: Boston Abolitionists, 1831-1865,” “Lincoln in Manuscript & Artifact,” and “Forever Free: Lincoln & the Emancipation Proclamation” will all be on view until 24 May, 10:00am-6:00pm, Mon-Sat.

Rounding out the week, come in on Saturday, 13 April, at 10:00am for the MHS Tour: The History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led tour takes guests through the public space of the Society’s home at 1154 Boylston St. and touches on the history and collections of the Society, as well as some of the art and architecture on view. No reservation required for individuals and small groups but parties of 8 or more are requested to contact the MHS prior to attending. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

Finally, please note that the Historical Society will be closed on Monday, 15 April 2013, in observance of the Patriot’s Day holiday and will resume normal hours on 16 April.

Congratulations! 2012-2013 Graduates Using MHS Materials

By Anna J. Cook, Reader Services

Since July 2012, the Massachusetts Historical Society has granted use permission to a number of scholars utilizing MHS collections in their theses and dissertations. Below are a list of the scholars and their projects.

Many of these projects should be available in the ProQuest database of theses and dissertations.  We encourage you to explore the fine work done by our researchers!

“Lost [or Gained] in Translation: The Art of the Handwritten Letter in the Digital Age”
Dallie Clark, University of Texas

“Plain as Primitive: The Figure of the Native in Early America”
Steffi Dippold, Stanford University

“ ‘Rage and Fury Which Only Hell Could Inspire’: The Rhetoric and Ritual of Gunpowder Treason in Early America”
Kevin Q. Doyle, Brandeis University

“Bodies at Odds: The Experience and Disappearance of the Maternal Body in America, 1750-1850”
Nora Doyle, University of North Carolina

“ ‘Deep investigations of science and exquisite refinements of taste’: The Objects and Communities of Early Libraries in Eastern Massachusetts, 1790-1850”
Caryne A. Eskridge, University of Delaware

“Female Voices, Female Action: A Small Town Story that Mirrors the State Struggle to Protect Massachusetts Womanhood, 1882-1920”
Sarah Fuller, Salem State University

“Engendering Inequality: Masculinity and the Construction of Racial Brotherhood in Cuba, 1895-1902”
Bonnie A. Lucero, University of North Carolina

“Trading in Liberty: The Politics of the American China Trade, c. 1784-1862”
Dael A. Norwood, Princeton University

“Het present van Staat: De gouden ketens, kettingen en medailles verleend door de Staten-Generaal, 1588-1795”
George Sanders, University of Leiden

“International Tourism and the Image of Japan in 1930 through Articles and a Travel Journal Written by Ellery Sedgwick”
Katsura Yamamoto, University of Tokyo

Did you, or anyone else you know, author a thesis or dissertation using materials held in the MHS collections in the past year? Please leave a comment on this post sharing the title, author, and the name of the institution to which the work was submitted.

Thank you all for your excellent work!

Maple Sugaring: Thomas Jefferson’s Sugar Maples

By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services

“The Sugar maple, it appears, is the most delicate of the whole number, for all of them are totally lost,” reported son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph to Thomas Jefferson in a letter dated 27 March 1792. While Jefferson spent most of that year in Philadelphia, Randolph managed the Monticello estate and garden including the planting of 60 sugar maples. Jefferson and Randolph must have delighted in this type of letter for they shared an avid interest in horticulture. Thomas Jefferson considered horticulture a refuge from politics. Thomas Mann Randolph would later become a founder and president of the Albemarle Agricultural Society in Virginia. The loss of the sugar maples in 1792 was undoubtedly disappointing for both horticulturalists. Why had Jefferson cultivated such an interest in sugar maples?

Thomas Jefferson’s interest in these trees can be traced to fellow founding father and physician of Philadelphia, Dr. Benjamin Rush. Rush extolled the political advantages of maple sugar over West Indies cane sugar in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1791. According to Rush, domestically produced maple sugar would not require the slave labor force used to produce cane sugar, but maple sugar could also be cultivated to supply the domestic demand, lessen dependence on imported cane sugar, and be exported for profit. Resolute in this reasoning despite being a slave owner himself, Jefferson purchased 60 sugar maples in July 1791 from nurseryman William Prince of Flushing, New York, and began his experiment in homegrown maple sugaring. His large order of fruit trees and roses including the sugar maples was completed in November 1791 upon which Randolph began supervising the planting of these specimens.

However, it was not a fruitful year for Monticello according to Randolph. “It gives some consolation however to know with certainty that [the Sugar maple] is abundant about Calf-pasture, & that the hemlock-spruce-fir is a native of [Monticello],” Randolph continued in the letter to Jefferson. “Another unproductive year in y.r orchards of the low country increases the value of the mountains by giving reason to think that their summits in a short time will be the only region of Virginia habitable by fruit trees.” Randolph’s frustration with the meager survival of the trees was evident. Within two years, Jefferson indicates in his garden book that there are only eight sugar maples alive.

Despite Jefferson’s disappointing planting in Virginia, the maple sugaring tradition remains alive and well in New England today. In the Northeast, maple sugaring season starts in February and continues through April. The tapping process collects sap from the trees to be made into maple sugar or maple syrup through boiling. While the neighboring state of Vermont is best known for its quality maple syrup, Massachusetts also produces the sticky pancake accoutrement. Approximately 40-50 gallons of sap are needed to produce one gallon of syrup. Shocking, isn’t it?

If you are not too busy daydreaming about pancakes now, you can find out more about the sugar maples and other fruit trees at Monticello in Jefferson’s garden book and correspondence in the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson manuscripts.   

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

On Tuesday, 2 April 2013, Davis Hsiung of Juniata College presents “Making Saltpetre for the Continental Army: How Americans Understood the Environment During the War of Indpendence.” This Early American History Seminar is a case study which examines Americans’ understanding of the workings of the natural world during the Revolutionary era, using the imperfect manufacture of gunpowder for the Continental Army as a backdrop. Mr. Hsiung contends that paying attention to the interatctions between humans and the natural environment leads to a richer understanding of the war, and that our current understanding of, and attitude toward, the environment have their roots in the Revolutionary period. Mr. Rob Martello, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, will provide comment for the seminar. The talk will begin at 5:15pm and is free and open to the public. RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar paper.

Then, on Wednesday, 3 April, visit the Society for a midday dose of Lincoln as long-term research fellow Martha Hodes of New York University shares updates about her ongoing research for an upcoming book with “Mourning Lincoln: Shock, Sorrow, Anger, and Glee in the Archives.” In this Brown Bag Lunch talk, Ms. Hodes will discuss delving into private letters and journals in order to get a sense of personal responses to Lincoln’s assassination. Her research spans a wide demographic spectrum including men and women, rich and poor, white and black, prominent and anonymous. The book explores the questions of what these responses to such a convulsive event can tell us about the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and what we can learn by understanding personal reactions to a transformative event. Brown Bag talks are free and open to the public, and begin at 12:00pm.

And on Thursday, 4 April, the MHS hosts a public program as John Stauffer of Harvard University presents “Massachusetts and the Civil War in Black and White: The Commonwealth’s Role in Secession, Emancipation, and Reconstruction.” Mr. Stauffer’s discussion will focus on the contributions made by abolitionists and political leaders in Massachusetts to secession, freedom, and equality under the law. The talk will also look briefly at the state’s response to the “counter-Revolution” that stripped these rights following Reconstruction. The discussion will be followed by a reception, both of which are free and open to the public though registration is required. Mr. Stauffer’s talk will begin at 6:00pm.

The program serves as the keynote address and commencement of the MHS conference Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disunion.This two-day conference will examine Massachusetts’ participation in the war from almost every major aspect: reform activities and the origins of the war; military life; the war, politics, and the economy; slavery and emancipation; and how the citizens of Massachusetts came to terms with the consequences of the conflict. Established scholars and historians on the rise alike will include new areas of emphasis in their discussions, including health and the environment, memory of the war, and the radical intellectual tradition in the state. The event will be broken into six sessions in which panelists and commentators will offer brief remarkss followed by discussion with the audience. Conference papers will be made available in advance for those who preregister. Click here to view the conference program. Registration, with a fee, is required to attend the session. For more information, contact Kate Viens at

Due to the conference on Friday and Saturday, there will not be a public tour on Saturday, 6 April.