Bread Pudding: an experiment with Mary Channing Eustis’ recipe book

By Alex Bush, Reader Services

The Pemberton collection, a compilation of materials from several New England families connected by marriage, includes a few artifacts from Mary Channing Eustis of Milton, Massachusetts. A dedicated recorder of recipes and what we now lovingly refer to as “life hacks,” Eustis filled two commonplace books with directions for the making of everything from plum cakes to stomachache cures. After recently rediscovering Emilie Haertsch’s 2012 blog post on Ben Franklin’s milk punch (, I figured another experiment with a vintage recipe was long overdue. Should this post instill you with further curiosity about Massachusetts’ cooking-related past, consider attending the MHS public program series “Cooking Boston.” The next installment (2 of 6) is scheduled for the 27th of April.

With that, let us explore Mary Channing Eustis’ recipe for bread pudding. Since I’d been planning to attempt a bread pudding anyway, I was quite excited to find this recipe. To my untrained eye it looked like the perfect choice—easy, simple, and delicious.

 “Boil 3 pints of milk sweeten it with half a pound of sugar put in half a pound of Butter – when tis melted pour it over Eleven ounces of [of] Bread – when cold put in 10 eggs well Beat – glass of wine – glass of Brandy little salt – spice to your taste & Currants or raisins as you Choose—”


The photo and transcript above represent the recipe in its entirety. It is vague at best, with some decidedly odd proportions. In order to accommodate my lack of a kitchen scale as well as my unwillingness to sacrifice 10 eggs, I halved the recipe and converted each measurement into its approximate equivalent in cups. Pictured below is the full array of ingredients as well as a bag of flour, which I was almost positive the recipe included despite having read it multiple times. Milk was also included in the recipe, but is not pictured here. Obviously the baking nerves were already setting in.


First, Eustis indicates that the milk should be boiled and sweetened with sugar. However, due to her disinclination toward comma usage, I was unsure whether she meant that the sugar should be added right away or after the milk was boiled. I was also unsure as to whether boiling milk is ever a good thing to do. Instead, I put the milk in a pot over medium heat and brought it to just before boiling, adding sugar gradually until it dissolved. As the milk heated, I chopped the bread into cubes (despite the recipe not specifying that I should do so) and put it into a bowl. After this, the recipe calls for an off-putting amount of butter to be melted into the milk before the whole mixture is poured over the bread.

 “Speak softly and melt a big stick of butter.” -Theodore Roosevelt, (Historical note: Theodore Roosevelt did not, in fact, say this.)

Honestly, this was the recipe at its best. You might as well stop reading right here. Even so, at this point my sweetened bread and dairy concoction was likely pretty far from what Mary Channing Eustis would have had. I used skim milk, while Eustis almost certainly would have used whole milk or even cream, considering the fact that skim milk was not sold in U.S. stores until around World War II. The same goes for the overall differences in quality between my Stop n’ Shop rolls and whatever delicious, probably homemade bread Eustis had on hand. I am also fairly certain that Eustis had never heard of Craisins, which I added later on.

A festival of health.


Eustis’ recipe instructs that the above mixture should chill before the next steps can be taken. While chilling, my bread absorbed most of the milk mixture and became incredibly soggy. This made the next step in the recipe especially painful. To the bread and milk, the (halved) recipe instructs that five well-beaten eggs must be added. This made the eggs to milk ratio almost equal, creating what can only be described as a sweet, uncooked bread omelet.

There are no words.


The recipe then calls for one glass each of wine and brandy. Nowhere is it specified how much a “glass” is supposed to be, so I estimated by adding half a standard-sized wine glass of each. At this point, I figured, adding a little alcohol would only make things easier for everyone. I also added a few handfuls of Craisins to substitute for currants, and spiced the pudding “to my taste” with vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. All in all, the uncooked pudding did not look half bad. It looked fairly similar to other bread puddings I’d seen previously, and the spices and wine made it smell quite lovely! With nothing in the recipe indicating how long or at what temperature the pudding should be baked, I was forced to guess. I cross-referenced a few other bread pudding recipes and came up with 350 degrees for 40 minutes. With an inflated sense of optimism, I placed the pudding into the oven to bake.





Admittedly, the pudding looked very handsome at the end of its bake. My apartment was filled with the fragrant scents of cinnamon and butter, the top of the pudding was beautifully brown, and it appeared that most of the liquid had been absorbed. However, the sheen of butter grease coating the surface did not inspire confidence, nor did the fact that my first spoonful of the pudding revealed a pale and wobbly interior beneath the crust. The sad result of this experiment was a bread pudding that resembled a sweet frittata more closely than anything else. The spices, sugar content, and baking time were spot on. Had the proportions been slightly more even, this probably would have turned out well. However, the sheer amount of butter and eggs in this recipe coupled with the comparably small amount of bread made for a greasy, breakfasty mess.

There are many reasons why this could have turned out as badly as it did. First of all, Mary Channing Eustis likely compiled this book of recipes for herself, her family, or her peers. All of those people undoubtedly had some background in the cooking techniques needed for these recipes, including knowledge of typical oven temperatures or a sense of how many eggs is too many eggs. Second, as I mentioned before, it was impossible to recreate the dish with complete accuracy given the supplies, skills, and hardware I had on hand. Finally, it may just be the case that eggy puddings were in vogue back in the 1840s and 50s, and that this egg purgatory was inescapable. While I personally cannot see the appeal, Eustis obviously could, given the fact that this book is absolutely full of similar recipes. Any avid egg-eater is welcome and encouraged to attempt this recipe and share the outcome.

Despite the eggy result, this was a fascinating experiment and a great look into an older take on a still-popular dish. I certainly look forward to revisiting Eustis’ recipe book for more questionable recipes in the future. Perhaps I’ll look into her home cure for an upset stomach first.

They’re Comin’ Out, They Want the World to Know: Boston’s Depression Debutantes

By Susan Martin, Collections Services

Elizabeth Elliot Mixter was born in Boston on 24 January 1913. She was the oldest child and only daughter of renowned neurosurgeon William Jason Mixter and his wife Dorothy (Fay) Mixter. Like other young women hailing from the elite Brahmin families of Boston, coming of age meant a “debut” into society at around the age of 18. Elizabeth’s debut took place in the fall of 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression.

The MHS collection of Fay-Mixter family papers contains a large scrapbook of newspaper clippings, programs, invitations, photographs, and other papers documenting Elizabeth’s ”Coming Out Year 1932-1933.”


Elizabeth made her official debut on 9 November 1932 at a tea held in her honor by her grandmother, Elizabeth Elliot (Spooner) Fay, at 330 Beacon Street. Pourers at the tea included other young ladies from the so-called “smart set.” Many of their names are recognizable—for example, Polly Binney, whose family’s papers are located right here at the MHS, just a few shelves away from Elizabeth’s. Another pourer was Abigail Aldrich, none other than the niece of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Elizabeth’s cousin Anne Mixter, also one of that year’s debs, couldn’t make it to the tea because of an emergency appendectomy. Neither could “plucky” 17-year-old Frances Proctor, who’d been mugged just two days before and apparently punched in the mouth when she refused to surrender her car keys. Frances’ story is told in a newspaper clipping entitled “Society Girl Is Beaten by Holdup Man.”


According to the Boston Evening Transcript of 4 June 1932, more than 150 debutantes were formally presented in the 1932-33 season in Boston, an “unusually large” number. After coming out, a deb’s life became a whirlwind of parties, dinners, concerts, costume balls, charity events, etc. Elizabeth was invited to join exclusive clubs like the Junior League of Boston and the Vincent Club. She took part in theatrical performances and studied cooking and home economics.

A deb was photographed, or “snapped,” around town, and the society pages detailed her clothing and appearance. For example, on their way to a luncheon, two young ladies were “nicely turned out in their new fall costumes, so modishly trimmed with fur.” Polly Cunningham was described as “the luscious, rounded type with golden curls and merry blue eyes, beautifully poised and magnetic.” And here’s what one article had to say about a roller skating party: “One of the prettiest of the skaters was Miss Elizabeth E. Mixter of Brookline. Like many others, she took dainty falls but enjoyed the frolic.” Another writer used the word “pulchritudinous.”

Amidst the high-society gossip and fashion tips are a few hints of the tough economic times then plaguing the country. One page of the scrapbook contains a re-written version of Psalm 23 that begins: “The politician is my shepherd – I am in want / He maketh me to lie down on park benches.” Also included is an article entitled “Depression Debutantes,” from the 12 November 1932 Saturday Evening Post, which makes the argument that “coming out” prepares a young woman not just for marriage, but also for work. Perhaps most revealing, Elizabeth filled out an elaborate budget sheet, probably as part of her home economics coursework, detailing how to save money on clothing purchases over three years.


As for the uncomfortable premise of the whole debutante phenomenon—the marketing of young women of a certain social standing as eligible marriage prospects—Elizabeth’s scrapbook has that covered, too. It includes a column from the gossip magazine Tatler and American Sketch by an anonymous author, aptly named “Audacious.” In the column, Boston debs are sorted into “grades” based on, well, the blueness of their blood.

Grade A includes Abigail Aldrich and Polly Cunningham, as well as Misses Appleton, Coolidge, Hallowell, Holmes, Jackson, Lawrence, Loring, Peabody, Perkins, Saltonstall, Shaw, Winthrop, and others. Elizabeth, her cousin Anne, and Polly Binney are all listed in Grade B. “Plucky” Frances Proctor rates Grade C, though I would argue she deserves much higher!

The mercenary nature of these rankings shocked some contemporary journalists. When the Tatler and American Sketch went out of business in January 1933, editor John C. Schemm, outed as the author of the column, said: “I meant that department to be a constructive force, but it can’t be done. No matter how intelligently you strive to do the job, or how constructively, you cannot avoid creating hard feelings.”

Elizabeth E. Mixter married Dr. Henry Thomas Ballantine, Jr. in 1938, and the couple had two children. She died in 1998.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

Even though March is on its way out, it seems bent on imposing its will. Escape the late-winter bluster in the week ahead with some history:

– Monday, 27 March, 6:00PM : First up this week is a public program centered on our current exhibit, The Irish Atlantic, and is the first in a series. In The Mission of the Jamestown, William Fowler, Jr., guest curator of the exhibit, leads a discussion on the relief efforts of the Jamestown on the eve of the 170th anniversary of its voyage. Joining him are Catherine Shannon, Professor Emerita of History at Westfield State University, and Christine Kinealy, Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University. This talk is free and open to the public though registration is required. A pre-talk reception takes place at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. 

–  Tuesday, 28 March, 5:15PM : This week’s Modern American Society and Culture Seminar continues the Irish theme. In “Moving News, Affecting Relief: The Irish Famine’s Trans-Atlantic Circulations,” Anelise H. Strout of California State University – Fullerton demonstrates that ships which carried Irish famine victims to America also brought tragic stories of those left behind; in response, North Americans sent millions of dollars to help relieve rural suffering. The paper argues that exploring the interactions between these various circulations reveals a tension between aiding strangers overseas and welcoming them in American cities. Kevin Kenny of Boston College provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

– Wednesday, 29 March, 12:00PM : This week’s midday Brown Bag lunch talk is with Amy Hughes of Brooklyn College, CUNY. Join us as she presents “An Actor’s Tale: Theater, Culture, and Everyday Life in Nineteenth-Century U.S. America,” her monograph-in-progress inspired by the diary of U.S. actor Harry Watkins (1825-1894). This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Wednesday, 29 March, 6:00PM : Tea Sets and Tyranny: The Politics of Politeness in Early America is a recent book from Steven C. Bullock, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and is also the final program in the Politics of Taste series. The politics of politeness, he argues, helped make opposition to overbearing power central to early American thought and practice. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). A pre-talk reception takes place at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM.

– Saturday, 1 April, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

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

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, March 1917

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

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

Introduction | January | February

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



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

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

* * *

29th Sept

Dear Marian,

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



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

* * *

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

* * *

56 Commonwealth
Friday Eve

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



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

Your affectionate,


* * *

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


Women and Organized Labor in Early 20th-Century Boston

By Brendan Kieran, Reader Services

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

            Reinstatement of girls who were laid off.

            Obnoxious rules dispensed with.

            Stock in better condition.

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

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


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Hero to Barbarian: The Adamses on Andrew Jackson

By Amanda M. Norton, The Adams Papers

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

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

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

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

            Discerning old Harvard presents the Degree

            Old Hickory asks pray what means LLD?

            The Corporate Sages afraid of excess

            Reserve for themselves that of A.S.S.

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

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

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

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

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

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

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

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

– Saturday, 18 March, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

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

Archivist as Detective: Francis Parkman’s Spurs

By Susan Martin, Collections Services

The MHS recently acquired this letter by Mary Ware Hall about spurs belonging to famed historian Francis Parkman, possibly worn during his expedition on the Oregon Trail in 1846. To catalog the letter, I had to identify its writer, recipient, date, and subject. But not only is the letter undated, it didn’t come to us as part of a larger collection, so I had no context to help me. Fortunately, researching the people and the stories behind our manuscripts is all part of the fun.



The letter itself is fairly mundane. It reads:

Dear Mr. Coolidge

Among my cousin, Mr. Hall’s books we found this which it seemed to me should go back to the Parkman family and I thought it might be of some value to you.

The spurs I found among Mr. Hall’s army outfit, labelled “F.P.[”] as you see, and we wondered if by any chance they could have been worn by Mr. Parkman on his “Oregon Trail” journey. It is of course only a guess, but certainly F.P. could only mean Mr. Parkman and Miss Lizzie might have given them to Mr. Hall as a keep-sake. If they were his, possibly your son Jack would like them. If not, you can of course do as you please with them.

Hoping that all goes well with your scattered children and grand-children, believe me,

Very sincerely yrs.

Mary Lee Ware


Mary Lee Ware (1858-1937) was a noted philanthropist who lived at 41 Brimmer Street, Boston. She was easy enough to find. And Francis Parkman (1823-1893) is definitely a known quantity here at the MHS—not only do we hold books by and about Parkman, we also have collections of his papers (here, here, and here) and photographs.

Our cast of characters also includes Mr. Coolidge (the recipient), Mr. Hall (Ware’s cousin), Miss Lizzie, and Jack. My first step was to put together a family tree to trace the connections between the Wares, Halls, Parkmans, and Coolidges. The spurs had somehow made their way from Francis Parkman to Mr. Hall to Mary Lee Ware. Who was this mysterious Mr. Hall that connected Parkman and Ware? Ware’s aunt Harriet had married a Hall and had several sons, but most of them died as children. Francis Parkman’s mother Caroline had also been a Hall.

I found a clue in Parkman’s 1865 book Pioneers of France in the New World. He dedicated that book to the memory of three relatives “slain in battle”: Theodore Parkman, Robert Gould Shaw, and Henry Ware Hall. Henry Ware Hall (1839-1864), Parkman’s cousin, had served in the 51st Illinois Infantry Regiment and was killed in action at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Ga. This military connection would explain Hall’s “army outfit,” where the spurs had been found.

Henry Ware Hall and Francis Parkman shared an uncle, Edward Brooks Hall—the same Hall who had married Mary Lee Ware’s aunt Harriet. So Henry, Francis, and Mary were all first cousins. Still with me?

So who was Mr. Coolidge, the Parkman family member to whom Ware sent the letter and the spurs? That question was a lot easier to answer. John Templeton Coolidge (1856-1945) was Parkman’s son-in-law. (Coolidge had a son with the same name, but he was undoubtedly the “Jack” mentioned in the letter.)

Identifying the letter’s recipient also helped me to assign an approximate date. Not only did the reference to Coolidge’s grandchildren confirm it was written later in his life, but if Ware was sending the spurs to him, I could probably make the assumption that he was the last (or oldest) surviving relative of that generation. Parkman had had two daughters who lived to adulthood—Coolidge’s wife Catherine and her older sister Grace. Most likely they had both already died, as well as Grace’s husband Charles P. Coffin, or else Ware might have sent the spurs to one of them.

Catherine died in 1900, Charles in 1927, and Grace in 1928. Mary Lee Ware herself died in 1937. So the letter was apparently written sometime between 1928 and 1937. The style of stationery and writing seem to correspond to that time.

I can only guess at the story behind the spurs. If I’m right that Mr. Hall is Henry Ware Hall, they may have been found among his things long after his death in the Civil War. Ware speculates that “Miss Lizzie” gave them to Hall. She is probably Francis Parkman’s unmarried sister Eliza Willard Shaw Parkman (1832-1905)—“Lizzie” to her brother—who lived with him at 50 Chestnut Street for the last twenty years of his life, just a few blocks away from Mary Lee Ware.


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

The coming week will see the opening of a new exhibit as well as a few public programs to take in. Here is what’s on the calendar:

– Tuesday, 7 March, 5:15PM : Come in for the next installment from the Early American History seminar series, “A History of Violence: The Harpe Murders and the Legacies of the American Revolution.” Kate Grandjean of Wellesley College shares information about this project which looks at a series of murders in Appalachia in the 1790s committed by former Loyalists. By following the lives of the Harpe borthers, who left a trail of blood through early Tennessee and Kentucky, it explroes the violent legacies of the American Revolution – especially in the southern borderlands. Eliga Gould of the University of New Hampshire provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

– Wednesday, 8 March, 12:00PM : “Inventing Citizens: Patents, Investors, and Civil Rights” is a Brown Bag lunch talk with Kara Swanson of Northeastern University. Swanson’s project examines the foundational relationship between the growing republic and its accessible patent system by demonstrating how the patent system became a resource for marginalized groups making claims to full civil rights, particularly women and African Americans. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Thursday, 9 March, 6:00PM : SOLD OUT – “The Irish Atlantic” Fellows & Members Preview Reception. MHS Fellows and Members are invited to a special program, reception, and chance to preview The Irish Atlantic. The exhibition explores 175 years of the Irish in Boston. Guest curator William Fowler will give an overview, beginning with a look at the Irish community in Massachusetts stretching back into the 18th century, through famine relief efforts led by Capt. Robert Bennet Forbes at the helm of the Jamestown, to a mass migration movement, decades of community and institutional building, and a rise in political power.

– Friday, 10 March, 10:00AM : The Irish Atlantic begins. This exhibit is open to the public free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, through 22 September 2017.

– Friday, 10 March, 12:00PM : Stop by for the second Brown Bag lunch talk of the week, this time with Stephen A. West of the The Catholic University of America. “A Constitutional Lost Cause: The Fifteenth Amendment in American Memory and Political Culture, 1870-1920” examines how Americans – across lines of race, region, and party – placed the voting rights amendment at the center of their memores of Reconstruction, and how those memories shaped their debates about citizenship and the very nature of the Constitution. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Saturday, 11 March, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led walk through the public spaces of the Society at 1154 Boylston St., providing information about the historic building, collections, artwork, and architecture of the MHS. This event is free and open to the public with no need for reservations for individuals or small groups. Larger parties (8 or more) should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or While you’re here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.