Postcards from Japan, 1916

By Andrea Cronin

During a peace mission in Japan in 1916, American physician Morton Prince sent many postcards to his wife who remained at their home on Beacon Street in Boston. While exploring the cities of Yokohama and Tokyo, the doctor wrote short explanatory notes about the scenes on the postcards. Here are two of the many cards in the Morton Prince papers which illustrate the natural beauty of Japan’s landscape in stark contrast to the urban development of the Kanto metropolitan area in the early 20th century.

On 21 May 1916, an unidentified member of the peace mission entourage wrote to Mrs. Morton Prince with an update about her husband.

All goes
well. The
Dr. is very
well indeed.

The front image is a beautiful view of Mount Fuji, or as the Japanese call the mountain, Fuji-san, 富士山. Mount Fuji is located approximately 60 miles south-west of Tokyo and 75 miles west of Yokohama. Interestingly, this postcard bears the postal stamp of Yokohama rather than any of the surrounding towns near Mount Fuji.

Mt. Fuji

The delegation continued north-east toward Tokyo. This postcard bears the postal stamp of “Tokio” despite the scenery of Yokohama on the front. Recognized as Tokyo today, “Tokio” was the romanization of the Japanese city at the time.


On 24 May 1916, Morton Prince wrote to his wife about the view of Yokohama, 横浜市:

This is the way
the homes are
crowded in.
The outside of the
natives’ homes are
rather squalid or
down at the heel
but inside clean
& neat

The peace mission was successful in engendering diplomacy and friendship. In 1918, Dr. Morton Prince received the Order of the Rising Sun medal for his efforts in Japanese-United States relations. The Order of the Rising Sun was a Japanese Imperial decoration bestowed upon individuals who had rendered distinguished service to the nation and people of Japan. While the MHS does not have Morton Prince’s medal in its collections, it does have the medal awarded to William Sturgis Bigelow in 1928.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

This week begins with a rare Sunday event. On 23 February, visit the Lawrence Library in Pepperell, Mass., for an author talk with Gary Shattuck, retired federal prosecutor. This talk is called Crossed Swords: Job Shattuck’s Blood at the Courthouse Door and is presented in collaboration with Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area. The talk begins at 2:00PM and registration is required at no cost. To register, call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560 or click here to register online.

On Tuesday, 25 February, join us at the Society for a new Immigration and Urban History Seminar. In this edition, Catherine Gudis of University of California – Riverside presents Curating the City: The Framing of Los Angeles. This talk looks at the ways in which Los Angeles has been framed, first in the discourse around architecture, planning, and preservation in the post-World War II period, and then through artistic practices from the late 1960s to the present that engage diverse publics in re-contextualizing urban space and acknowledging the power dynamics that have structured its development. Comment provided by Carlo Rotella, Boston College. Seminar begins at 5:15PM. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to received advance copies of the seminar papers.

And on Wednesday, 26 February, the Society hosts a special musical performance, Handel & Haydn Society: Bringing Music to Life for 200 Years. Since 1815, the Handel and Haydn Society has shared the inspirational and transformational power of Baroque and Classical music with people throughout Boston and the country. Join H&H for an instrumental and vocal chamber performance that will share the history of the institution, considered America’s oldest continuously performing arts organization. The performance begins at  6:00PM with a pre-performance reception at 5:30PM. To reserve: There is a $30 fee ($20 fee for Fellows and Members). Click here to register online or call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560.

Thursday, 27 February, visit the Boston Public Library for an author talk co-sponsored by the MHS and the BPL, George Washington: Gentleman Warrior. Award-winning independent historian and journalist Dr. Stephen Brumwell’s new book focuses on George Washington, examining his long and checquered military career, tracing his evolution as a soldier, and his changing attitude to the waging of war. This event is free and open to the public.

Finally, on Saturday, 29 February, stop by the Society for a free tour. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute tour of the Society’s public rooms, led by a docent or MHS staff member and touching on the history of the Society, and the art and architecture of building at 1154 Boylston Street. 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


Censorship During Wartime

By Susan Martin

The MHS recently acquired a small collection of Norma A. Krtil papers that includes nine World War II letters from Krtil’s boyfriend, 23-year-old Donald K. Kibbe of Westfield, Mass. Sgt. Kibbe was an American volunteer with the Royal Canadian Air Force serving in England. Unfortunately, some of his letters arrived in Westfield looking like this:

Kibbe letter 1 Kibbe letter 2

Now, I’ve seen a number of wartime letters with censorship marks or redacted passages, but this is definitely the most zealous censorship I’ve come across. Obviously these particular passages were (literally!) excised because they revealed Kibbe’s location and information about specific equipment and missions. In fact, the R.A.F. censor enclosed this helpful note in one of the envelopes:

Kibbe letter - envelope note

The content of Kibbe’s correspondence—what’s left of it—is also interesting. For example, in his first letter after shipping out, he wrote to his girlfriend with disappointment:

Norma, I lost your pin. I ransacked the house for it the morning before leaving but it was such a small thing & the house is so big. They’re going to send it to me if they find it. I feel terribly bad about it. I wanted something you wore and held in your hands and gave to me with your hands and I had it & then I lost it. But if I’ve lost the pin I’ll never lose the memory of you nor the memory of the words you said the night you gave it to me. Norma, just love me half as much as I love you.

Happily this wonderful passage remains intact. (By the way, Kibbe later found the pin and wore it “inside [his] pocket beneath the wings.”) But Kibbe’s story, like so many others, ended tragically. He was killed on 30 Sep. 1941 in a plane crash on the Yorkshire moors. He had been serving as second pilot on a bombing raid to Stettin, and the plane went down on its return flight. It was his first mission.

Of course, censorship of wartime letters was nothing new. Letters written by soldiers during World War I also had to be approved by censors, and it’s not uncommon to see marks or stamps on them, like these on the letters of Alton A. Lawrence and William F. Wolohan, both from 1918:

Lawrence letter  Wolohan letter

But young men, far away from home, placed in frightening situations, and desperate to reach out to their families and friends, often balked at the restrictions. When he arrived in Europe with the American Expeditionary Forces, Wolohan complained:

All the fellows are asking each other what to write as this is about the first time their mail has been censored, and they are having a great time trying to send a decent letter. They have so much to say or would like to say and yet dont know just what they are allowed to write.

Pfc. Brooks Wright, a World War II cryptographer from Cambridge, Mass. serving in India in August 1943, told his family the story of a fellow serviceman’s frustration with the censorship.

You will be amused to hear of a letter which Calahan sent home. In it he complained of censorship in no complimentary terms. Between the lines was written “He’s not far from wrong –Censor.”

Wright himself didn’t suffer much at the hands of the censors, though he did have the occasional phrase or passage cut from his letters à la Kibbe, usually when he was describing something specific about his location. Even a printed program for a concert he attended, enclosed with a letter, was redacted: “The […] Symphony Orchestra.”

But Wright was fond of drawing and illustrated many of his letters with scenes from his environment, local architecture, etc. And while he was a careful letter-writer, his sketches revealed more. His botanical sketches were so detailed, in fact, that when his mother took them to Harvard’s Gray Herbarium, the experts there were able to identify the species and pinpoint precisely where her son had been posted.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

The MHS is closed on Monday, 17 February, in observance of President’s Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 18 February

On Wednesday, 19 February, come by at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk.This week, independent scholar Mary Fuhrer discusses her research project “Consumed by Poverty: The Experience of Tuberculosis in the Boston Almshouse, 1800-1850.” Tuberculosis caused up to a third of all deaths in antebellum New England. Attempting to make sense of this devastation, sufferers—and society—created “illness narratives” to interpret their experience and provide meaning, consolation, or blame. This study examines poor consumptives in the Boston Almshouse, seeking to “open out” their lives and better understand how they—and others—made sense of their affliction. This talk is free and open to the public.

Please be aware that on Thursday, 20 February, the library of the MHS will close at 3:00PM as we prepare for that evenings special event. Tell It With Pride Preview Reception is a special event specifically for MHS Fellows and Members. The preview is a sneak-peek at our upcoming exhibit Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial. This exhibit, organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., brings together photographs of members of the regiment and of the men and women who recruited, nursed, taught, and guided them. Reception begins at 6:00PM. Registration is required at no cost for MHS Fellows and Members, click here to RSVP.  Please note that the 5:30PM pre-reception talk is sold out.

The Tell It With Pride exhibition opens to the public on Friday, 21 February. Throughout the run of the exhibition special programs are planned in cooperation with the Museum of African American History, the Boston African American National Historic Site, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment Company A, and the Friends of the Public Garden. Please check our events calendar for full listings. This exhibition is available Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM – 4:00PM and will remain open until 23 May 2014.

And on Saturday, 22 February, we resume our weekly tours of the MHS. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute tour of the Society’s public rooms, led by a docent or MHS staff member and touching on the history of the Society, and the art and architecture of building at 1154 Boylston Street. 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

Finally, please also be aware that the MHS will sponsor an author talk taking place on Sunday, 23 February, at the Lawrence Library in Pepperell, Mass., and presented in collaboration with Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area. This talk is given by Gary Shattuck, a retired federal prosecutor who enjoys researching and writing about new-found discoveries lying deep within little-used legal documents. Crossed Swords: Job Shattuck’s Blood at the Courthouse Door examines the many changes forced on Massachusetts society by the Revolution, including the relationships and expectations of those living in the countryside. Shocking new evidence found in court records allows us to reassess the role and reputation of Capt. Job Shattuck. Capt. Shattuck was an early leader of protestors who began taking over courthouses in the summer of 1786 when officials failed to address the petitions for relief from taxes and judgements rendered against farmers by debt-enforcing courts, and he paid dearly for his effort. This event is free and open to the public, though registration is required at no cost. To register, please call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560 or click here to register online. The talk begins at 2:00PM




Our Monuments Man

By Peter Drummey

The release of the new George Clooney film, The Monuments Men, recalls a fascinating talk given at the Historical Society in December 1980, and published as “Remembrance of Things Past: The Protection and Preservation of Monuments, Works of Art, Libraries, and Archives during and after World War II” (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 92, p.84-99). Our speaker was Mason Hammond, the Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature Emeritus at Harvard University. Professor Hammond, by then well into his seventies, was an enthusiastic member of the MHS (the man that the Adams Papers editors and other staff members turned to when a difficult Greek or Latin passage appeared in a manuscript), but until that day his fellow members probably saw him as a stereotypically tweedy academic historian. While his lecture was an overview of the quietly heroic effort of American and British curators, conservators, and art historians to save cultural treasures in wartime Europe, just enough of former Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Hammond’s own experiences enlivened his narrative to give his audience an inkling of the great adventure that he had participated in almost forty years before, and the remarkable role that he played as the first—and for a time the only—”Monuments Man.” 

In his MHS talk, Mason Hammond described his path to a key role in the Allied preservation effort first in Sicily and Italy, and later in Northern Europe as almost accidental. In 1943, the director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York was appointed the first Fine Arts and Monuments Officer of the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, but he was too fat to pass his physical, so Hammond, an intelligence officer at the Pentagon though not an art historian, was sent to North Africa in his place. Here Hammond was too diffident about his qualifications. He already had a lustrous career as a student and teacher at Harvard; had continued his studies of ancient art and archaeology at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar; and spent three years teaching at the American Academy in Rome.  In Sicily and then on the Italian mainland, he developed the pattern for the rescue work that followed. Inadvertently, he also may have given the “Monuments Men” their name. His Boston accent proved so challenging for his British colleagues (who heard him say “fine arts and monuments” as “finance and monuments”) that for the sake of clarity, they reversed the order of words in the title of his section to “Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives”—and hence the “Monuments” rather than the “Fine Arts” (or “Finance”) Men.

Mason Hammond’s role in the Second World War is not unknown. He appears in recent popular histories by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (2009), and Saving Italy; The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis (2013). If his own narrative is more measured than the breathless treasure hunt described in both books and the new film, it places the work of the Monuments Men in a larger context.

What would Mason Hammond have made of the new Monuments Men movie? We cannot really say, but in his talk he described the work of the monuments officers mostly in terms of architectural preservation and the restoration of museum and archival collections within their countries of origin, rather than the focus of the film—the hunt for art treasures looted from private collections in countries occupied by the Nazis. In fact, Hammond was extraordinarily fair minded in assigning responsibility for the accidental or deliberate destruction of architectural monuments and buildings, as well as the contents of museums and libraries. He thought that what he believed to be the worst cultural loss of the war, the destruction of the bulk of the collections of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, probably had been an accident rather than the result of Nazi malevolence or Russian revenge. 

As a student of ancient history, Hammond probably was about the only person who could find a silver lining in the controversial Allied bombing of the Monastery of Monte Casino in Italy early in 1944 (this event is shown as leading to the creation of the Monuments Men in the new film, although Hammond had been in the field for almost nine months when the attack took place). As he noted, the Germans had removed the library of the Monastery to the Vatican before it was attacked. He thought the bombardment that followed had stripped away modern accretions to St. Benedict’s original structure, allowing its restoration in “a more suitable Romanesque style.”

Ironically, at the war’s end, Hammond found himself caught up in what appeared to be American-sponsored looting. He was serving in Berlin, the custodian of a bank vault filled with boxes labeled “Rembrandt” and “Rubens” that had been rescued from a phosphate mine in Thuringia. All the Monuments Men in Germany, regardless of rank (and by then Hammond was a senior officer in the detachment), signed a “most unmilitary” protest of a plan to remove works of art from Germany to the United Sates—a plan that the Monuments Men found too closely resembled the looting of cultural treasures by the Germans. While art works came to the United States and were stored at the National Gallery, in due course they were returned to Germany.

There is some presumption in claiming one of Harvard’s most faithful alumni and faculty members as the Society’s own “Monuments Man,” but Mason Hammond was an active member of the MHS for forty-four years, regularly attending MHS events until not long before his death in 2002, at the age of ninety-nine.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

On Tuesday, 11 February, join us at 5:15PM for an Environmental History seminar as Brian McCammack of Williams College presents “‘A tacit proclamation of achievement by the Race’: Landscapes Built With African American Civilian Conservation Corps Labor in the Rural Midwest.” This paper seeks to show not only how the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps changed rural landscapes, but how those landscapes often changed them as well. McCammack explores the understudied implications of tens of thousands of young African American men in unexpected places during the Depression years: the forests and fields of the rural North. Neil Maher, NJIT –Rutgers University Newark Federated History Department, provides the comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.

The next day, Wednesday, 12 February, come by at 5:30PM for Created Equal: The Loving Story, a special film screening and discussion. Mildred and Richard Loving knew it was technically illegal for them to live as a married couple in Virginia because she was of African American and Native American descent and he was white. The Loving Story, nominated for an Emmy in 2013, brings to life the Lovings’ marriage and the legal battle that followed. Discussion will be facilitated by Joanne Pope Melish, University of Kentucky. Registration is required at no cost for this event. To Reserve: Click here to register online or call  the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560.

And on Thursday, 13 February, is the next installment of the History of Women and Gender seminar series. Gloria Whiting of Harvard University and commenter Barbara Krauthamer of UMass-Amherst present “‘How can the wife submit?’ African Families Negotiate Gender and Slavery in New England.” This paper discusses various ways in which the everyday realities of slavery shaped gender relations in Afro-New England families. While the structure of slave families in the region was unusually matriarchal, these families nonetheless exhibited a number of patriarchal tendencies. Enslaved African families in New England therefore complicate the assumption of much scholarship that the structure of slave families defined their normative values. This seminar is free and open to the public; RSVP required. Talk begins at 5:30PM. Please note that this seminar is held at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University.

Please note that the Society is closed on Monday, 17 February, in observance of President’s Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 18 February.

The McKay Stitcher: The Machine That Revolutionized Footwear Production

By Andrea Cronin

On 7 February 1870, Henry H. Warden, of the Russell & Company trade firm in Shanghai, wrote to colleague John Cunningham. Cunningham served as an agent in Boston for the Walsh, Hall & Company of Nagasaki in the tea trade. In this particular letter, Warden replied to an inquiry  Cunningham had made concerning a potential shoe business in China.

“Thanks for yours of Nov 30 –
As to the McKay Machine. If it
is capable of turning out 4 @ 5000
shoes a day (those are your figures)
I should say it might be run
here to advantage for a week,
the Leather coming with it, and
supply China and the regions
round about for a year, I
fancy it is only adapted to making
foreign shoes. E. C. will be able
to give you a better opinion
than I can – He will be able
also to say whether you are
likely to find anything here
worth your while. I did not
forget to speak to him about

What is the McKay machine that Henry Warden references in this letter from John Cunningham papers?

The McKay stitcher was a sewing machine created by inventor Lyman Reed Blake and improved by businessman and self-educated engineer Gordon McKay. Prior to the introduction of this stitcher, shoes were hand stitched in a time-consuming and piecemeal manner. The machine revolutionized the speed of footwear production by machine sewing the uppers to the soles. 

In 1858, Lyman Reed Blake initially invented an interesting, but not entirely functional, sewing machine. Foreseeing a future in shoe machinery, Gordon McKay bought the patent from Lyman Reed Blake in 1858 for an immediate $8,000. An agreement was reached that Lyman Reed Blake would receive a $72,000 share of future profits. The entrepreneurial engineer for whom the machine is named then improved upon the design until submitting an enhanced patent in 1862. The McKay machine produced finished shoes far faster than hand stitching; it is often credited with giving the North a material edge during the Civil War while the Confederates went without proper footwear.

After the war, having found his market in shoe machinery, Gordon McKay made all moves to retain his profits. In 1866, he designed a leasing system for the McKay machinery which demanded royalties for each pair of shoes made. The low cost of leasing the machines allowed manufacturers to engage in the production of shoes. This production in turn furthered Gordon McKay’s business as he secured a profit for each pair made by his machines.

In his letter, Warden refers Cunningham to the expertise of his brother, Edward Cunningham (“E. C.”), a senior partner of the Russell & Company trade firm in Hong Kong. The John Cunningham papers at the Society do not contain information about further footwear business plans in China or correspondence between the brothers about the McKay stitcher. However, it is still a true mark of global prowess that Henry H. Warden and John Cunningham discussed the introduction of the McKay machine to Asian markets less than a decade after its invention.

“His intrepidity had well nigh been fatal to him”: Dr. John Jeffries

By Amanda A. Mathews

This past Sunday we may have celebrated the day of our national weather-groundhog with Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of another six weeks of winter, but today we celebrate National Weatherperson’s Day as recognized by the National Weather Service. This date, 5 February, was chosen for to celebrate the anniversary of the 1745 birth of Dr. John Jeffries, a Bostonian who is credited as one of the nation’s first weathermen, flying a hot air balloon above the city of London to take scientific weather measurements.

This fascinating individual has an equally intriguing connection with the Adams family. A Boston physician, Dr. Jeffries first crossed paths with John Adams during the Boston Massacre Trials of 1770 as a witness testifying for the defense. As the surgeon attending to Patrick Carr, one of the townspeople shot by the soldiers, Jeffries had asked Carr questions about what had happened, and Jeffries relayed to the jury what he had learned. Carr, who died of his wounds ten days later, supported the defense account that the mob pelted the soldiers with more than just snowballs and helped instigate the confrontation. Jeffries became a loyalist as the Revolution broke out and eventually left Boston, becoming a doctor in the British Army first in Nova Scotia and later set up his practice in London.

It was in Europe that that Dr. Jeffries and the Adamses crossed paths once again. While dining with Benjamin Franklin in Paris on February 14, 1785, John Quincy Adams met Dr. Jeffries who described to the guests his voyage by balloon from Dover, England, to Calais, France, the first to cross the English Channel by air. John Quincy recorded in his diary, “Dined at Dr. Franklin’s with a great deal of Company, among the rest Dr. Jeffries who lately cross’d with Mr. Blanchard, from Dover to Calais. He is a small man: has not an agreeable address, but seems to be very sensible: he related his voyage: in which his intrepidity had well nigh been fatal to him: the balloon descended he says, 3/4 of a mile in 2. minutes: he and Mr. Blanchard were both of them obliged to throw almost all their cloaths in the water. At one time they were not more than 20 yards above the surface.”

Several months later when John Adams became the first American Minister to Great Britain and moved to London, Dr. Jeffries became the family physician. Abigail said of him in a letter to her sister, “Dr Jeffries is our family Physician, and is really an amiable benevolent Man tho formerly he took a different side in politicks.” In addition to treating the regular ailments of the family, Dr. Jeffries was present for the birth of John and Abigail’s first grandchild when their daughter Nabby gave birth to William Steuben Smith in April 1787.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. John Jeffries, his family papers are available at the MHS.

Remembering the Ladies with Cokie Roberts

By Kathleen Barker

Founding MothersOn 29 January, the Society hosted a special author talk for a very lucky group of middle-school students. The star of the show was none other than Cokie Roberts: MHS Fellow, journalist, political commentator, and author of the new children’s book Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies. The book, which is based on her 2004 bestseller Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, chronicles the lives of the women who helped to found and nurture the United States. Abigail Adams is duly represented, as are Martha Washington, Phillis Wheatley, and Mercy Otis Warren. The book also introduces young readers to characters who might be less familiar: women like Deborah Sampson, the Massachusetts native who disguised herself as a man and fought in the Revolution, or Esther DeBerdt Reed, who raised more than $300,000 to purchase supplies for the underfunded Continental Army.

As the noon hour approached, nearly 120 pre-teen history enthusiasts from Lexington, Mendon, and Upton, Mass., filled the MHS Reading Room to learn more about Ms. Roberts, her book, and the documents that made it possible. After a brief overview of the book, Ms. Roberts opened the floor to questions from the audience. The students asked nearly every question imaginable (and several that no one could have seen coming) over the next 45 minutes. For example, which revolutionary lady would Ms. Roberts most like to hang out with? Sarah Livingston Jay, of course! Jay, the smart, funny, feisty wife of patriot John Jay, raised her family and managed her household with good humor while supporting her husband’s busy political career. Several students asked Ms. Roberts to connect women of the past to the ladies of the present. One clever young lady from Lexington asked if there were any current situations in which Americans needed to “remember the ladies.” As Ms. Roberts explained, several groups of Americans are still fighting for equality in our society today. Women in particular must still advocate for equal pay, and for more flexible working conditions that recognize women’s essential role as caregivers. (Keep fighting, ladies!)

The afternoon’s presentation was perhaps best summed up with a question asked by a young lady from Mendon: why didn’t women have rights from the very beginnings of colonial America? Well, it could have taken hours to debate that issue, but unfortunately, the students had to return to school. The program ended with Ms. Roberts signing autographs (and even a few hands!) while the students perused a small exhibit of MHS documents featured in Ms. Roberts’s works. The students had the opportunity to read Abigail Adams’s “remember the ladies” letter and Phillis Wheatley’s poems, along with a fascinating letter written by Paul Revere in support of Deborah Sampson’s request for a military pension.

Contact the Society’s education department if you are interested in bringing your students or colleagues to the MHS for a program or workshop. While we can’t promise that Cokie Roberts will make an appearance, we can guarantee that your students will have a great time learning about the past through MHS collections!