Anti-Suffrage Activists Gossip about Emily Balch

By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

In 1917 Margaret C. Robinson picked up her pen and wrote a note to her friend and fellow anti-suffrage activist Mary Bowditch Forbes. In addition to passing along a pro-suffrage newspaper column a friend had forwarded from Utica, New York, and apprising Mary Forbes about her high hopes for the latest issue of her Anti-Suffrage Notes newsletter, Margaret Robinson gleefully offered up a juicy piece of political gossip:

Emily Balch asked [Henry] Ford to pay her expenses for a year in Christianin [,Egypt] to work for peace. She got leave from Wellesley for last year and had her plans all made to go. He not only refused but told her he wanted nothing more to do with women! Emily Balch told this to the person who told me! She ^(Miss Balch) and other pupils of Rosika [Schwimmer] have started the People’s Council which is openly demanding the overthrow of our government! Isn’t that great anti-suffrage material?

What is the truth behind this second-hand hearsay? A bit of research using the MHS reference resources fills out this story in more detail. Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961) was a professor of sociology and economics at Wellesley from 1896 to 1918. She was a politically active pacifist and a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). In 1915 she stood as a delegate to the International Congress of Women at The Hague, at which female peace activists from North America and Europe attempted to broker an end to the First World War. The following year, while on sabbatical from Wellesley, she took part in the International Committee on Mediation in Stockholm, Sweden, with financial support from industrialist Henry Ford. Ford had supported other women peace activists, including Rosika Schwimmer, in their work before — so Emily Balch may have had good reason to believe he would be interested in supporting further ventures.

As the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, Balch took an additional year of unpaid leave from Wellesley to pursue anti-war activism. During this year she helped organize the People’s Council of America for Democracy and the Terms of Peace, a group opposed to the U.S. involvement in the war. The pacifist position during wartime was almost universally seen as unpatriotic (as Robinson notes, tantamount to “openly demanding the overthrow of our government!”) and Wellesley was one among many institutions of higher learning to curtail their faculty’s academic freedom by demanding they not speak out against the war. Emily Balch’s resolute anti-war stance led the Trustees of Wellesley to decide not to renew her contract for the 1918-1919 academic year. Margaret Robinson and Mary Forbes likely would have approved their decision. In 1946, Emily Balch was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work — a recognition that would surely have been a bee in the bonnet of these two fellow New Englanders.

Robinson’s original letter can be found in the Mary Bowditch Forbes Papers here at the MHS; we also hold a small collection of materials related to the Massachusetts Public Interests League, one of Margaret Robinson’s anti-communist organizations. A letter from the MPIL collections was featured as our February 2011 object of the month. Both collections are available for research here in the library.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

As the fall chill takes grip and the leaves begin to lose theirs, there are still plenty of reasons to step out and visit the MHS this week. As always, our current exhibition is on view six days per week, 10:00AM-4:00PM, and open to the public. “The Cabinetmaker & the Carver: Boston Furniture from Private Collections” is just one of many events taking place across the commonwealth this autumn to celebrate four centuries of furniture-making in Massachusetts. After you visit the Society to see this exhibition, visit to find out about all of the other institutions participating in the collaborative project.

Come in on Tuesday evening, 29 October, for a long-overdue seminar from the Immigration and Urban History series. Rescheduled from April 2013 and beginning at 5:15PM, “Dynamic Tensions: Charles Atlas, Immigrant Bodybuilders, and Eugenics, 1920-45” explores the paradox of bodybuilders such as Atlas espousing eugenics principles while highlighting their own allegedly innate weaknesses as a marketing strategy for their diet and exercise regimens. Presented by Dominique Padurano of Scarsdale High School, the paper argues that both techniques functioned as assimilation strategies for the immigrant and ethnic bodybuilding community at a time when the U.S. was less than hospitable to foreigners. Comment provided by E. Anthony Rotundo of Phillips Academy, Andover. Be sure to RSVP for this program by emailing or phoning 617-646-0568.

The following evening, Wednesday, 30 October, the Society hosts Joyce Chaplin of Harvard University for an author talk: “Around the World in 500 Years.” Chaplin, the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History at Harvard University, asks if people today are more “global” than those in the past, better able to span and understand the entire planet. The project asserts that our awareness of living on a globe with finite resources began with the now-500-year-old tradition of going around the world. Around-the-world travelers’ long and self-aware tradition of engagement with the planet questions our sense of uniqueness and may teach us something worth knowing about why we think of the Earth the way we do. There is a pre-talk reception for this event beginning at 5:30PM and the talk commences at 6:00PM. Registration is required for this event. Tickets are $10 per person (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617-646-0560 or register online by clicking here.

And on Saturday, 2 November, the Society will host another free tour. Beginning at 10:00AM, The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led tour which exposes visitors to all of the public space in the building at 1154 Boylston St., touching on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

MHS Hosts Wiki-edit-a-thon

By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services

On Tuesday, 22 October, the MHS held a Wikipedia edit-a-thon as part of the Open Access Week 2013. The goal of the MHS edit-a-thon was to create and/or improve Wikipedia articles related to philanthropy and philanthropists in Massachusetts in the 19th century. The MHS’s first foray into the edit-a-thon world attracted a small but very enthusiastic crowd of aspiring Wikipedia editors.  

Adam Hyland, a developer with Bocoup in Boston, presented an introduction to Wikipedia. He explained the Five Pillars of Wikipedia to the newest Wikipedians, emphasizing that anyone can edit Wikipedia! He also encouraged the group to start with small edits to familiarize themselves with the Wiki markup language. Adam’s passion, wit, and knowledge clearly energized the session and gave the new editors confidence. 


During the MHS session, the Wikipedians made minor text edits and added links to several articles, including Timeline of Boston history, Forbes family, Massachusetts Humane Society, and Charitable Irish Society of Boston. A new page was created for the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture. You can view the results from our event page. By the end of the session, the group had successfully edited several pages pertaining to Massachusetts philanthropic history during the 19th century and the MHS staff and volunteer editors had an excellent adventure in Wikipedia editing. 

Interested?  The MHS hopes to hold future Wikipedia events to encourage the use of our collections and the sharing of information! Stay tuned for more information.


Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 26

By Elaine Grublin

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Sunday Oct. 4th, 1863

“Of public news, the battle near Chattanooga, & in which my relative Major Sidney Coolidge, and my friend S. Hall’s son Henry were wounded, – The favorable news from England, – and the arrival of a Russian fleet at New York, where it is warmly welcomed, are the chief items. The first is unfavorable, but on the whole, our country’s cause seems advancing, thanks be to God!”

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

This week at the Society we have three events for public consumption, consisting of a tour, a seminar, and plenty of furniture.

Starting on Wednesday, 23 October, the MHS plays host to another public program that is part of the Massachusetts Furniture Series. Beginning at 6:00PM, “‘Newest Fashion’ Furniture in Boston, 1690-1730: A Transatlantic View,” is a program that explores how the influx of English cabinetmakers an chairmakers and the fashionable desires of a new Boston elite combined to transform the furniture trade in Boston in the period after the establishment of the new Charter in 1691. The talk is presented by Edward S. Cooke, Jr., the Charles F. Montgomery Professor of American Decorative Arts in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University, who has published extensively on both historical and contemporary furniture and was a former curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and taught at Boston University. There is a pre-talk reception at 5:30PM. Registration is required for this event and tickets are $10 per person (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617-646-0560 or register online by clicking here.

And on Thursday, 24 October, join us for the next in the Biography Seminar series. “Telling Lives: Megan Marshall Interviews George E. Vaillant about the Harvard Graduate Study” will begin at 5:30PM and is free and open to the public. For more than three years, Vaillant, of the Harvard Medical School, directed the longitudinal study known as the Harvard Grant Study. His recent book, Triumphs of Experience, traces the men’s lives into their nineties. Marshall’s interview will look at the art of writing case studies and the implications for biographers of his finding on human development through the life course. RSVP required for this seminar. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Finally, on Saturday, 26 October, stop by at 10:00AM for The History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led tour exposes visitors to all of the public space in the building at 1154 Boylston St., touching on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

And do not forget that we currently have a major exhibition on display, “The Cabinetmaker & the Carver:Boston Furniture from Private Collections.” The exhibit is open to the public six days per week, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. Visit to see more information about the major collaboration of which this exhibition is a part.

Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the MHS

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook

Have you ever wondered who adds the references to Wikipedia articles? The answer is YOU!

Join us on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 from 2:00 PM to 6:30 PM for a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon! The MHS is hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to edit Wikipedia articles using our materials on philanthropy and philanthropists in 19th-century Boston. This event is part of the week-long Open Access to Massachusetts History 2013.

1154 Boylston Street

The event will include a short how-to on Wikipedia basics, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Society and refreshments. If you are new to Wikipedia editing or an experienced Wikipedian, all are welcome! Just bring your laptop, power cord, a government-issued ID, and a ready mind. Learn more about the event and RSVP

Helen Keller in Boston

By Susan Martin, Collection Services

Those of us who process manuscript collections are always stumbling on interesting and unexpected finds. I was recently working with the MHS’s George E. Ellis papers to improve the arrangement and description of the collection, and one letter immediately caught my eye. It was written by 10-year-old Helen Keller.

Between 1888 and 1892, Keller was a student at Perkins School for the Blind in South Boston. (The school moved to Watertown, Mass. in 1912.) She found a happy home at Perkins, which she described in her 1902 autobiography The Story of My Life: “Until then I had been like a foreigner speaking through an interpreter. In the school where Laura Bridgman was taught I was in my own country.”

The subject of this letter, written to Dr. Ellis on 27 April 1891, is four-year-old Tommy Stringer, another Perkins student who was both blind and deaf. Stringer’s family was unable to support him, so he had been brought up from an almshouse in Pennsylvania to the Perkins kindergarten. Keller became his energetic advocate and wrote to friends and strangers alike, as well as newspapers, to solicit donations for his education. Ellis was one of the many who contributed. Keller wrote to him gratefully:

Mr [Phillips] Brooks once told me that love was the most beautiful thing in the world, and now I am sure it is, for nothing but love could brighten Tommy’s whole life. I think we ought to love those who are weak and helpless even more tenderly than we do others who are strong and beautiful….I have read that there are lonesome and dismal places in this great world, but I cannot imagine anything so sad and lonely as a little child’s heart who has no loving mother to caress and care for him. But we shall all be so good and gentle with little Tommy that he will think the world is full [of] loving mothers and patient fathers.

It just so happens that Ellis was the president of our very own MHS at the time, an historian, and a former minister of the Harvard Church in Charlestown, Mass. He corresponded with many notable people, but this letter, written in large, neat, blocky handwriting, stands out from the rest. It’s amazing to realize that it was written just four years after Keller met Annie Sullivan, at which time Keller could barely communicate at all, let alone read and write. (About a year later, she explained to the readers of the children’s magazine St. Nicholas how she wrote by placing a “grooved board” between the pages, probably some version of a noctograph.)

George E. Ellis died in 1894. In his will, he bequeathed $30,000, as well as his home and all its contents, to the MHS. Funds from the sale of his property were used to help build and relocate to our current home at 1154 Boylston Street. Our very own research room, Ellis Hall, is named after him. We hope to see you there sometime!

Thomas Stringer graduated from Perkins in 1913 and became a woodworker in Pennsylvania, dying in 1945.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

Even with a shortened week there is a plethora of public programs going on at the MHS. The Society is closed for business on Monday, 14 October, in observance of the Columbus Day holiday, however, the building will be open to visitors as part of the Fenway Cultural District’s Opening Our Doors event. This is the largest single day of free arts and cultural events in Boston and the MHS will have an open house from 10:00AM to 3:00PM.

On Wednesday, 16 October, the Society will host Charlene Mires of Rutgers University for an author talk. “Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations” tells the story of an ambitious dream shared and pursued by Bostonians in 1945-1946: to serve as headquarters for the new United Nations and to become not only “the Hub” but also the Capital of the World. This illustrated talk will draw from Mires’ book to talk about the dramatic, surprising, and often comic story of civic boosterism awakened by the UN’s search for a home. Registration is required for this talk and tickets are $10 per person (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617-646-0560 or register online by clicking here. There is a pre-talk reception beginning at 5:30PM and the talk will commence at 6:00PM.

That author talk is followed up by another the next day, Thursday 17 October. “Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin” is presented by Jill Lepore of Harvard University. Taking place at Boston Public Library, Copley Square, this talk will center on Lepore’s new book about the constant presence and influence that Jane Franklin had in the life of her brother, Benjamin Franklin. The author provides a revelatory portrait of the youngest Franklin daughter, herself a passionate reader, gifted writer, and shrewd political commentator, through the use of little-studied documents, objects, and recently-discovered portraits. The is event is free and open to the public. To reserve a spot, visit the Boston Public Library’s website for additional information and directions. Talk begins at 6:00PM.

On Friday, 18 October, at 2:00PM, stop by the Society for a free public program centered around the current exhibition: “The Call of Classicism: Boston Furniture from the Early 19th Century.” This exhibition spotlight by Irfan Ali, a collector of American furniture, examines Boston’s answer to the call of classicism in the early 19th century, a time of prosperity for the city, by looking at furniture made by craftsmen such as Thomas Seymour, Isaac Vose, and Archibald and Emmons. This program is free and open to the public.

As a reminder, our current exhibition, “The Cabinetmaker & the Carver: Boston Furniture from Private Collections,” is on view to the public six days per week, Monday – Saturday, 10:00AM – 4:00PM. Visit to learn about other similar exhibits done in conjunction with our own.

There is no tour this Saturday, 19 October.




Considering Collation: Decoding the Formula

By Dan Hinchen, Reader Services

In my last post I shared some of the lessons that I learned in July at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Now, as promised, I can explain what some of it means. If you remember, I provided a collation formula of a book from the print collection here at the MHS. Specifically, I gave a description of a book called “Pansebeia.” Published in the mid-17th century, this book purported to be a view of “all the world’s religions.” The formula that I gave read like this:

8°: A8 a8 B-I8 L-R8 T-2M8 2N4 3A8 3a4 3B-3F8 (K8 S8  3F8 missing; 2D6 missing, removed); [$4 (-3A2, 3a4) signed; missigning V4 as U4]; 345 leaves; [32] 1-544 [545-552]; 2[24] 1-78 [79] [misnumbering 68 as 63, 78 as 73, 206 as 106, 479 as 463, and 266 as 96].

So, what does this mean? Well, it might take a while to explain all of this, so let us start simply.

This opening piece of the formula designates the format of the book. This lets us know the relationship between sheets of paper on which the text is printed and the number of individual leaves created when the sheets are folded into gatherings.

In determining the format of a book it is not sufficient to simply count the number of leaves in a gathering. There must be some other physical evidence to base it on. This is where watermarks and chainlines come in handy. A watermark is a symbol created by the papermaker to show that the hand-made product is his. The marks always appear on the same part of the sheet since it was actually a part of the frame used to create the paper. So, when folding a sheet of paper a certain number of times, the watermark will always appear in the same orientation, whether it is in the center of the page in a folio, in the center of the gutter of a quarto, or in the top of the gutter for an octavo. The chainlines in the paper are created by wires used in the paper-making frame that are slightly thinner than the rest of the sheet and are clearly visible when backlit. These lines will either appear vertically or horizontally in a book depending on the folds of the paper. So, using these identifying marks and seeing how they are aligned, we can establish the format of the book.

Specifically, this symbol refers to an octavo format; it can also be written 8vo. This means that the printer, when impressing sheets of paper with the text for the work, laid eight pages of text on each side of a sheet of paper in a designated pattern. The sheet is then folded three times, each time it is folded on the long edge of the sheet. What results is a gathering of eight leaves and sixteen pages.

Stay tuned for my next blog when I provide a little bit of information relating to signatures.

And since we are nearing Halloween, I leave you with a bibliographic description of “The doctrine of devils,” another title from the MHS print collection. Can you decipher any of the formula?

8°: A4 B-O8; [$4 (-A3,4) signed; missigning I4 as I3]; 108 leaves; pp. [8] 1-205 [3].


A “Painless” Day at the MHS

By Kathleen Barker, Education Department

On Saturday, 5 October, the MHS hosted a fun-filled, hands-on workshop for teachers, students, librarians, and history enthusiasts. Nearly 20 participants braved the beautiful weather (and the Red Sox home game) to spend a day working with documents from the Society’s collections. Participants travelled far and wide to visit the MHS, and our guest list included students from Arlington; teachers from Bedford, Sharon, Rutland, Revere, and Fitchburg; and librarians and archivists in Boston, Methuen, and Wayland. Who could resist a workshop with a cheeky title like “Painless: A Survival Guide to the Dreaded History Project?”

Our goals for this one-day event included introducing visitors to the resources of the MHS, and encouraging those participants to think more creatively about the ways in which they present history to various audiences. To begin, we examined a range of historical documents from the era of the American Revolution through the Civil War, looking for connections to the theme of “rights and responsibilities.” As they perused letters, diaries, songs, petitions, and government records, participants were asked to collect evidence and draw conclusions about the past based on their understanding of the materials.  Our clever participants identified several themes and essential questions that could be used to anchor a history project. We discussed ideas such as natural rights; the role of government in creating and protecting rights; and the various ways that people fought to protect or change their rights in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Once our intrepid investigators had collected their evidence, it was time for them to decide how to present their findings. Robert Jones, co-coordinator of Massachusetts History Day discussed how the program works, and how History Day methods can be used to encourage the creation of imaginative and engaging history projects. Students in grades 6-12 can participate in History Day, and Bob explained the different sorts of projects that student can create. The group discussed the pros and cons of the traditional history paper, websites, exhibitions, documentaries, and performances. It was then up to all of our participants to create their own project – in 15 minutes or less! One group of participants decided to create a website in order to make use of the great visuals on the site, as well as the multimedia capabilities of the web. (We’d love to see a site featuring songs from the collections of the MHS!) Another very brave group decided to create a 10-minute performance depicting abolitionist activities in the 1840s and 1850s.

It’s safe to say that by the end of the afternoon, our participants had several new methods for tackling the “dreaded” history project, whether it’s an exhibit for the local historical society, or a paper for a high school history class. If you’d like to join us for an upcoming workshop, visit our web calendar or the Education page. For more information about Massachusetts History Day, or to learn about serving as a judge at a 2014 History Day competition, visit the MHD website for news and contact information.