This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

Things are pretty quiet here at the Society as we enter August, at least as far as the calendar is concerned. Here is what’s happening in the week ahead:

– Wednesday, 2 August – Friday, 4 August : “Teaching LGBTQ History” is a three-day teacher workshop that explores ideas about sexual orientation and gender identity through the lives of New Englanders. Investigations will take participants from the Puritan era through the twenty-first century, as well as to local repositories and historical sites, working with primary sources and curricular materials that will help contextualize current debates over LGBTQ rights. This program is open to all K-12 educators. For more information, or to register, contact the Center for the Teaching of History at the MHS: or 617-646-0557.  

– Wednesday, 2 August, 12:00PM : Stop by for a Brown Bag lunch talk with Paul Gilje, University of Oklahoma. “The Year 1800: The Union of the Personal and the Political” focuses on the elections of 1800 to reveal the extensive intrigues of a year that historians have often reduced to a single political contest. The personal and the political were inseparable among women and men in New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, where power, prejudice, servitude, insiders, and foreigners converged in illicit unions that rocked individuals and families and altered electoral outcomes. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Saturday, 5 August, 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.

From Fenways Past

By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

Tomorrow, the Massachusetts Historical Society — in collaboration with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy — is offering a walking tour of our neighborhood, the Fenway. In celebration of this unique neighborhood, I have selected a few postcards from our collection that illustrate the Fenway’s gardens, streets, and buildings as they once appeared. The next time you visit the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Museum of Fine Arts, Fenway Park, or the Back Bay Fens, take a moment to look around for signs of our neighborhood as it has grown and changed for the century and more that the MHS has occupied the corner of Boylston and The Fenway.


Since 1912, Fenway Park has been home to the Boston Red Sox and parts of its original brick facade are still visible to visitors and passersby. This postcard dates from 1914 and suggests that the ritual of lining up before the gates open has a long history!


The Back Bay Fens, part of the chain of city green spaces known as the Emerald Necklace, were designed and constructed in the 1890s by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted. The broad avenues of The Fenway and Park Drive that encircle the gardens, playing fields, and marshlands, were purposefully designed for leisure driving, cycling, and walking.


The two columns at Hemenway St. and Westland Ave. still stand as a gateway to the Fens for pedestrians and drivers alike. If you walk through this intersection today, many of the young trees depicted on this postcard now tower above the street, providing shade to pedestrians and cyclists as they pause for a break in automobile traffic.


Open to the public in June 1876 on Copley Square, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston relocated to the Fenway in 1909. The Evans Wing for Paintings, depicted here in a fine black and white print, opened to the public in 1915. Today, one of three entrances to the museum opens out onto the Fenway, memorably flanked by the bronze sculptures Night and Day by Spanish artist Antonio Lopez Garcia.


 Across the waters of the Fens from the MFA stands the Kelleher Rose Garden, opened in 1931 and designed by landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, whose papers are held in the MHS collections.


Beyond the Museum of Fine Arts, along The Fenway, stand “Mrs. Jack Gardner’s Palace” —  the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum — and Simmons College, founded in 1899 and opened to its first class of 142 students in the fall of 1902. They offered young women degrees in Home Economics, Library Studies, Secretarial Studies, Nursing, Teaching, and General Science.


At the opposite end of the Back Bay Fens from Simmons College stands the Somerset Hotel. Designed by Arthur Bowditch in the 1890s — the same period during which the Massachusetts Historical Society’s 1154 Boylston St. building was under construction — Somerset Hotel still stands today along what remains of Charlesgate Park, the link between the Back Bay Fens and the Charles River Esplanade.


The Esplanade parkland was severed from the Emerald Necklace in the 1950s when Storrow Drive was constructed to ease the traffic congestion to and from downtown Boston. Our final postcard today shows the newly-minted roadway as it snakes passed the now-iconic Hatch Memorial Band Shell, from which the Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcasts its Boston Pops concert every 4th of July.

While the postcard collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society is uncataloged, it is available for research use in the Society’s reading room. The postcards are arranged by geographic location and subject matter, covering Massachusetts, national, and foreign scenes. If you would be interested in accessing this collection please contact the library to arrange a visit.


Winslow Homer’s Civil War reporting for Harper’s Weekly

By Alex Bush, Reader Services

While searching through the MHS’ library catalog, ABIGAIL, for records relating to Mr. Sidney Homer, an 1860s inventor, I stumbled upon a trove of graphics created by Winslow Homer. As a fan of Homer, I admonished myself for not being aware that we had any of his artworks here at the MHS. I did not, however, find any of Homer’s famous paintings in our stacks. Instead, I found evidence of an oft-overlooked part of Homer’s artistic career.

Known for his dramatic depictions of the ocean and idyllic images of country life, Homer’s career as a painter began to take off after his late-twenties. However, he showed artistic talent much earlier in his life in the form of sketches, prints, and other black-and-white media. This includes the MHS’ holdings, a selection of some of Homer’s lesser known work from this earlier period of his life, consisting in-part of prints he created for Harper’s Weekly as an artist-reporter during the Civil War.

Following an arduous apprenticeship at the Boston lithographer J.H. Bufford, 21 year-old Winslow Homer was eager to begin his career as an artist free from the shackles of any sort of contracted work. He became a freelance illustrator, submitting pieces to magazines such as Harper’s or Ballou’s Pictorial. When he was offered a contract as a staff artist for Harper’s in 1860, he turned it down. “The slavery at Bufford’s was too fresh in my recollection to let me care to bind myself again,” he later stated. “From the time I took my nose off that lithographic stone, I have had no master; and never shall have any.” However, after completing a commission from Harper’s to cover the presidential inauguration of Abraham Lincoln at the dawn of the Civil War, Homer began a stint with Harper’s that would end up becoming a formative part of his early career as an artist.


 “Presidents Buchanan and Lincoln entering the senate chamber before the inauguration. – (From a sketch by our Special Artist.)” Harper’s Weekly, March 16, 1861, p. 165


With photography still in its developmental period, some of the public’s best sources for images of current events were publications such as Harper’s Weekly. Based in New York City, Harper’s was a political magazine featuring news, stories, illustrations, and more. It was especially active during the Civil War, during which it had nearly 200,000 subscribers, and it worked to provide the public with images, news, and accounts from the front. Part of this endeavor included the hiring of around 30 artist-reporters, tasked with shadowing troops to the warfront and attempting to depict what they saw there. In a short but vivid description from their June 3, 1865 issue, Harper’s explained the project as follows:

They have made the weary marches and dangerous voyages. They have shared the soldiers’ fare; they have ridden and waded, climbed and floundered… The pictorial history of the war which they have written with their pencils in the field, upon their knees, upon a knapsack, upon a bulwark, upon a drum-head, upon a block, upon a canteen, upon a wet deck, in the grey dawn, in the dusk twilight, with freezing or fevered fingers…–this is a history quivering with life, faithful, terrible, romantic.

Winslow Homer was one such artist, although he was not assigned to a particular unit as were most of his colleagues. He made several trips to the front over the course of the war, but completed most of the actual depictions of what he saw there back at his studio in New York. His first trip to the front was likely around October of 1861, during which he focused on the Army of the Potomac. He did not witness any fighting as the army had recently returned from its defeat at Bull Run and was undergoing reorganization. The majority of Homer’s depictions of the war featured army life rather than actual fighting—soldiers setting up camp, eating, receiving medical care, or generally palling around. His images of camp are jovial and often humorous, highlighting the solders’ camaraderie and rowdiness. When compared with other artists’ depictions of soldiers from that time, Homer’s soldiers are distinctive in their quality of expressivity in contrast to other square-jawed, conventionally patriotic representations of “heroic” troops.  Though Homer did have a few pieces of a more patriotic nature, such as “Songs of the War” and “Our Women of the War.”


 Detail from “A Bivouac Fire on the Potomac,” Harper’s Weekly, Dec. 21, 1861, p. 808-809


Detail from “Our Women and the War,” Harper’s Weekly, Sept. 6, 1862, p. 568


In the spring of 1862 Homer visited the front again, and this time witnessed actual fighting. He was present in Washington to watch McClellan’s Army of the Potomac embark, and accompanied them on a transport ship to the York Peninsula in preparation for an advance on the Confederate capitol. Homer watched the month-long siege against Yorktown, but left not long after the siege ended. He completed most of his depictions of what he saw there after he returned to New York, and thus ended his stint as a “special artist” for Harper’s. He later complained to his friend John W. Beatty that Harper’s greatly reduced the size of his sketches upon printing them, sometimes squeezing 4 onto a single page and paying him only $25 for the entire page instead of $25 per artwork as was originally negotiated.

“The Army of the Potomac: a sharp-shooter on picket duty,” Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 15, 1862, p. 724


“Rebels outside their works at Yorktown reconnoitering with dark lanterns,” Harper’s Weekly, May 10, 1862, p. 305


Homer’s more famous images of the Civil War, “A Cavalry Charge” and “A Bayonet Charge,” were done after he returned to his home in New York and ended his work with Harper’s. Later drawings of army life suggest that he did make subsequent visits to the front later on in the war, but they were not part of Homer’s official work as a reporter. From here he shifted his focus to painting, although Harper’s did offer him another steady job at the end of his time at the front. Feeling intimidated by his obscurity as a painter, Homer heavily considered taking the job and vowed to his brother that he would accept the offer if his next two paintings did not sell. Unbeknownst to Homer, his brother purchased the paintings himself. Homer did not find out until years later, at which point he “swore roundly and refused to speak to his brother for weeks.” Still, this small encouragement helped to propel Homer into his career as a painter. In subsequent work he depicted scenes from war and soldiers, no doubt inspired by these early sketches.


All prints pictured in this post and more can be seen in their original forms in Harper’s Weekly at the MHS.

  1. Donald H. Karshan and Lloyd Goodrich, The Graphic Art of Winslow Homer, organized by the Museum of Graphic Art, New York, 1968
  2. Lloyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer, New York: Published for the Whitney Museum of American Art by Macmillan, 1944
  3. “Biography of Winslow Homer,” Winslow Homer, 2017,
  4. Amy Athey McDonald, “As embedded artist with the Union army, Winslow Homer captured life at the front,” Yale News, 20 April, 2015,




This Week @ MHS


– Tuesday, 25 July, 9:00AM : America in World War I is a two-day teacher workshop put on by the Center for the Teaching of History at the MHS. Participants will immerse themselves in the letters, diaries, and photographs created by soldiers, Red Cross volunteers, and relief workers, among others. In addition, the workshop examines the role of government propaganda campaigns in recruiting volunteers, financing war efforts, and promoting national unity and nativism. This program is open to all K-12 educators with a registration fee of $35 per person. For more information, or to register, contact the Center for the Teaching of History at the MHS by e-mailing or calling 617-646-0557. [N.B. – This workshop takes place on non-consecutive days, with the second session on Thursday, 27 July.]

– Thursday, 27 July, 6:00PM : Come in for a public author talk with Mark Robert Schneider, whose recent book is titled Gerry Studds: America’s First Openly Gay Congressman. Studds fought in Congress to allow gays to serve in the military, fund AIDS research, and enact marriage equality. He was also a champion of coastal and ocean environmental issues and helped to protect the American fishing industry. In composing the first biography of this important leader, Schneider consulted a vivid unpublished memoir and other items from the collection of the MHS (see an earlier post on the Beehive about the Gerry Studds papers to learn more). This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). A reception, beginning at 5:30PM, precedes the talk, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM.

– Saturday, 29 July, 3:00PM :  Join us on Saturday for a special walking tour, “Fabricated Fenway: The Mixed Legacy of our Invasive Urban Environment.” Co-sponsored by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, this tour provides an overiew of urban invasion by every species of good intentions. From the early 19th-century Mill Dam to landmarks like Kenmore Square, Boston’s made environments have been riddles with surprising and sometimes perplexing consequences, for both physical and social spaces. This tour is open to the public at no cost, though registration is required. 


Gerry E. Studds Papers Available

By Susan Martin, Collection Services

The MHS is pleased to announce that the papers of Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) have been processed and are available for research. This very interesting collection contains material on subjects as wide-ranging as environmental and wildlife conservation, foreign policy (particularly in Central America), and gay rights and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Gerry Eastman Studds (1937-2006) was the first openly gay Congressman in the United States. He served in the U.S. House for 24 years, from 1973 to 1997, representing first the 12th district of Massachusetts, then the 10th after redistricting in 1983. Studds’ district included Cape Cod, the islands, and parts of the South Shore, and his papers are a great resource for information on fishing, fisheries, and the Coast Guard. He also served on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee and the Foreign Services Committee.

The collection consists primarily of legislative papers, campaign papers, and scrapbooks. Included are speeches, statements, press releases, newsletters, correspondence, subject files, clippings, briefing books, surveys, and commendations. Here are a few highlights:

  • – Two biographical scrapbooks compiled by Studds’ mother, Beatrice (Murphy) Studds, including material from his childhood, education, and early career;
  • – Papers related to the 1968 New Hampshire primary campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy, which Studds coordinated; 
  • – Sixteen detailed surveys of voters in Studds’ district  reflecting the attitudes of his constituency on a variety of issues over his 24-year tenure; 
  • – Papers documenting Studds’ work to protect Massachusetts Bay’s Stellwagen Bank and to designate the Boston Harbor Islands as a national park; 
  • – And heartfelt letters from anonymous gay servicemen and women thanking Studds for his support of policies that would allow them to serve openly in the military.

We hope this collection will get a lot of use. The bulk of the papers are stored offsite, so use the online guide to submit your request at least two business days in advance.


“A stain of depravity”: John Quincy Adams on Lord Chesterfield

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

When Louisa Catherine Johnson wrote to her then-fiancé John Quincy Adams on March 20, 1797, she desired to impress him with her reading of Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son. The reaction she received was not the reaction she expected.

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

(National Portrait Gallery, London)

Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son is a compilation of 448 letters from Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773), to his son, also named Philip (1732–1768), from the time the boy was five until his death. The letters contain lessons on subjects such as history and mythology in the boy’s youth, but the older he gets, the more the lessons relate to what Stanhope constantly refers to as, “the useful and necessary art of pleasing.” When the boy was eleven, Stanhope wrote that he desired he should be “as near perfection as possible” as “never were such pains taken for anybody’s education” and as his opportunities for knowledge and improvement were unparalleled. “The smallest inattention, or error in manners, the minutest inelegancy of diction, the least awkwardness in your dress and carriage, will not escape my observation,” Chesterfield wrote to his son. Understandably, Philip felt the need to keep secrets from his father. Upon his death from edema in 1768, Chesterfield discovered that Philip had been secretly married for ten years and had two sons. While Chesterfield provided for Philip’s two sons during what remained of his life and in his will, he neglected to leave Philip’s wife Eugenia anything, prompting her to publish over thirty years of his letters to his son. The collection of letters, published in 1774, attracted a great deal of notice in Britain and across the Atlantic.

Over twenty years after their original publication, Louisa wrote to her fiancé that she thought the letters “very good” but asked for John Quincy’s opinion on the book. John Quincy responded that he was never permitted to read the letters in his youth and harbored “too much contempt” for the principles within to have dedicated time to its perusal in his adulthood. Furthermore, he told her Chesterfield had a “stain of depravity which pervades all his ideas of morality” and that could only generate an “accomplished knave.” He advised her to read Samuel Johnson instead and leave Chesterfield’s “fraud” and “baseness” alone. (There is a 1779 copy of Stanhope’s work in the Stone Library at Peacefield with John Quincy’s bookplate attached.)

Undoubtedly, John Quincy’s fervent ideas about the book he claimed not to have read came, in part, from his parents. When his mother Abigail requested a copy in 1776, his father dissuaded her, telling her she wouldn’t want it as the letters were, “stained with libertine Morals and base Principles.” Abigail accepted her husband’s advice but got her hands on a copy four years later. After perusing the letters, she agreed that Chesterfield was filling his son’s mind with “the most immoral, pernicious and Libertine principals.”

Though John Quincy was no stranger to a father’s care, attention, and critiques, his relationship with his father little reflected the relationship of the Stanhopes. While John Adams urged his son to study the history of revolutions, Chesterfield outlined the proper way to bid farewell to mistresses. Chesterfield was, and urged his son to be, a chameleon in the world, a far cry from John Adams, the possibly uprooted but never swayed oak. In fact, Chesterfield’s instruction was so opposed to John Quincy’s lifestyle that he admitted to Louisa he felt as though Chesterfield were “personally satyrising” him.

John Quincy’s reaction to the text perhaps realizes his father’s April 15, 1776 wish that his children should “wear mean Cloaths, and work hard, with Chearfull Hearts and free Spirits” and that they would “scorn Injustice, Ingratitude, Cowardice, and Falshood. Let them revere nothing but Religion, Morality, and Liberty.” Nowhere did John Adams mention the useful and necessary art of pleasing.

A Treasure Rediscovered: The Civil War Sword of Robert Gould Shaw, 54th Regiment

By Daniel Tobias Hinchen, Reader Services

Today, the MHS is happy to unveil a recent acquisition to the collection. On 12 July the Society announced the acquisition of a significant collection of Shaw and Minturn family papers, photographs, art, and artifacts. The most remarkable item in the collection is the officer’s sword carried by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment – the first Northern regiment composed of free black volunteers. One hundred fifty-four years ago, Shaw carried the weapon during the failed assault on Fort Wagner, Morris Island, South Carolina. With sword in-hand, Shaw was shot in the chest while mounting the parapet and was killed. The sword and other personal effects were stolen from his body during the night and presumed lost.

However, the sword survives. Following acquisition of the sword from descendants of the Shaw family, the collections staff here at the MHS had the daunting task of tracing the provenance of this sword in order to ensure that it is the genuine article.

What follows is a brief chronology of Robert Gould Shaw and his sword, as laid out by Curator of Art & Artifacts Anne Bentley, and Senior Cataloger Mary Yacovone, who combed through various sources published, primary, and otherwise. [N.B. – These events are arranged chronologically but, as with much historical research, the pieces fell together in anything but clear order.]


Nov. 1860 – Robert Gould Shaw (RGS) enlists in the 7th NY Militia.

28 May 1861 – RGS commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, Company H, 2nd Massachusetts Infantry.

8 July 1861 – RGS commissioned 1st Lt. in same.

10 Aug 1861 – RGS commissioned Capt. in same.

31 Mar 1863 – RGS commissioned Major, newly-formed 54th Massachusetts Regiment.

17 Apr 1863 – RGS commissioned Colonel, 54th Mass. Regt.

[mid-late April 1863?] – RGS’ uncle, George R. Russell, orders an officer’s sword for Shaw from master English swordsmith Henry Wilkinson.

11 May 1863 – Wilkinson sword no. 12506 proofed on this date, per Henry Wilkinson records.

23 May 1863 – Wilkinson sword no. 12506 etched and mounted on this date. Sold to C. F. Dennett, Esq., per Henry Wilkinson records.

28 June 1863 – RGS wrote to his mother: “Uncle George has sent me an English sword, & a flask, knife, fork, spoon &c. They have not yet come.”1

29 June [1863] – “June 29 – Monday. “Arago” in and mail from the North.”2

1 July 1863 – RGS wrote to his father that “A box of Uncle George’s containing a beautiful English sword came all right.”1

4 July 1863 – RGS wrote to his father that “All the troops, excepting the coloured Regiments, are ordered to Folly Island. … P.S. I sent you a box with some clothes & my old sword. Enclosed is receipt.”1

16 July 1863 – Mass. 54th participated in the Battle of Grimball’s Landing, James Island. RGS probably used his new Wilkinson sword in this action. First experience under fire for the 54th, which stood strong and proved its mettle covering the retreating Union forces.

18 July 1863 – Assault on Fort Wagner. RGS shot in the chest as he stood on the parapet of Ft. Wagner, sword in hand. Overnight his body was robbed of personal effects and arms and stripped to underwear. Sources differ as to the culprits.

19 July 1863 – RGS buried. According to Brig. Gen. George P. Harrison, C.S.A. writing to Luis F. Emilio much later, RGS was placed in the rifle pits below the parapet and 20 of his dead soldiers placed on top of him. Sources here differ also.

Friday 24 [July 1863] – John Ritchie diary: “Packed up Col. Shaw’s effects & expressed them North.” Ritchie later noted that he also sold the colonel’s horse.

3 June 1865 – Letter from Brigadier General Charles Jackson Paine, district commander at New Berne, N. C., to family:

Goldsboro June 3, 1865. I heard the other day of the sword of the late Robt. G. Shaw killed at Fort Wagner, in the possession of a rebel officer about sixty miles from here. I sent out and got it; the scabbard was not with it. I am going to send it on as soon as I have an opportunity.3

28 Jan 1876 – Letter from Lydia Maria Child to John Greenleaf Whittier:

I spent last winter with the parents of Colonel Shaw…The flag of the 54th Regiment was in their hall, and the sword of Colonel Shaw. There is a history about that sword. It is very handsome, being richly damascened with the United States coat-of-arms, and the letters R. G. S. beneath. It was a present from a wealthy uncle in England, and he received it a few days before the attack on Fort Wagner […] When his mother showed me the weapon she said: “This is the sword that Robert waved over his followers, as he urged them to the attack. I am so glad it was never used in battle! Not a drop of blood was ever on it. He had received it but a few days before he died.”4

Detail of the sword, showing United States Coat-of-Arms and initials R.G.S.

(Photograph by Stuart E. Mowbray)


1900 – At a meeting of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Commandery of Massachusetts, Brev. Lt. Solon A. Carter, U.S.V., presented a paper titled “Fourteen Months’ Service with Colored Troops,” in which he stated:

In July [1865], upon leaving the service, the late Assistant Adjutant General* was charged by General Paine with the duty of restoring the sword to Colonel Shaw’s father, and upon arrival at this home, opened a correspondence with Mr. Francis George Shaw informing him of its recovery.

The sword in question proved to be the one carried by the gallant colonel and was identified by the initials R.G.S. delicately etched upon the blade. In a postscript to one of his letters, Mr. Shaw wrote, “The sword was a present to my son from his uncle, Mr. George R. Russell, who purchased it in England and caused the etchings to be made there.”

In a subsequent letter acknowledging its receipt he says “I thank you most heartily for all the care and trouble you have taken. So far as such words may be applied to an inanimate thing it is the weapon which has done most for our colored people in this war, and it is to me likewise as well as to you a source of great satisfaction that is was recovered and restored by officers of colored troops.”

*Captain Solon A. Carter, of Leominster, Mass., served as C.J. Paine’s Assistant Adjutant General. Appointed 15 July 1864 and resigned 3 July 1865.

Mar 2017 – The sword was found in the attic of the home of Mary (McCawley) Minturn Haskins.

6 Apr 2017 – In an e-mail to MHS Curator of Art & Artifacts Anne Bentley, one of the donors stated:

Susanna Shaw Minturn is my great-grandmother and apparently was very close to her brother, RGS. Her oldest son, Robert Shaw Minturn, had no children; there were four girls and my grandfather, Hugh Minturn (who died in 1915, before his mother). I can only guess, but presumably my great-grandmother passed the sword on to my father, Robert Bowne Minturn, not her oldest grandson, but the senior by male primogeniture. My father was 15 when his grandmother died in 1926. The sword may have hung on his childhood bedroom wall.

17 Apr 2017 – Shaw sword is given to the Massachusetts Historical Society as part of a larger gift including papers and portraits.


1. Shaw, Robert Gould, Blue-eyed child of fortune: the Civil War letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw / edited by Russell Duncan, (Athens : University of Georgia Press, c1992.)

2. Lt. John Ritchie’s diary, Quartermaster of the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, whose diary was used by Luis F. Emilio in A Brave Black Regiment.

3. Paine, Sarah Cushing, Paine ancestry : the family of Robert Treat Paine, signer of the Declaration of Independence, including maternal lines / compiled by Sarah Cushing Paine ; edited by Charles Henry Page, )Boston : Printed for the family [Press of D. Clapp & Son], 1912.

4. Child, Lydia Maria Francis, Letters of Lydia Maria Child / with a biogrpahical introduction by John G. Whittier and an appendix by Wendell Phillips, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1883).

This Week @ MHS


Here we are again with a round-up of events in the week ahead:

– This weeks teacher workshop, “The American Revolution in Art & Artifacts” is SOLD OUT.

– Wednesday, 19 July, 12:00PM : Join us for a Brown Bag lunch talk with Judith Harford of University College Dublin. “Women’s Education Networks” explores the role of the Central Association of Irish Schoolmistresses and the Woman’s Education Association of Boston in advancing the cause of women’s admission to Trinity College Dublin and Harvard University. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Wednesday, 19 July, 6:00PM : There is no “Boston Historical Society,” but the metro area does have a wealth of history organizations. Boston and surrounding towns are steeped in local history and the inhabitants are proud of their local identity. The MHS is pleased to hold a reception for history buffs and representatives of local organizations to mingle, share recent accomplishments, and talk about the great projects on which they are working. Registration is required at no cost for this Boston Historical Reception. Reception begins at 5:30PM and the formal conversation begins at 6:00PM. 

– Saturday, 22 July, 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.


“Honest and Faithful” Emerson P. Dibble

By Susan Martin, Collections Services

That word Southwick brings a lot of happy memories to my mind. Can almost see the place now. The old mountain is just beginning to turn color. Chestnut burrs are about half formed and [I] can plainly see the tobacco field with the seed plants standing out like guards. 

This passage is from a letter written by Private Emerson Phelps Dibble on 25 August 1918, about one month after his enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps. The MHS recently acquired a fascinating collection of Emerson’s papers, primarily letters written during his service in World War I.


Emerson Dibble was born on 24 March 1898, the son of Albert C. and Winifred E. (Phelps) Dibble. As far as I can determine, he was their only child. Emerson’s mother died when he was just three years old, and his father remarried a woman named Millie Holcomb. The Dibbles lived on a farm in Southwick, Mass., where they grew tobacco.

Emerson enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on 23 July 1918. Most of the letters in the collection were written to his stepmother Millie, his father Albert, and his girlfriend (later wife) Olive Madeline Jordan. Emerson’s letters are detailed, affectionate, funny, and often very moving. For example, when he wrote the words above, he was in training at Parris Island, S.C., and the pangs of homesickness had set in. Being away made him appreciate his home and family more. Millie wrote that she cared for him as if her were her own son, and he replied, “You can never know how my heart jumped when I read that.” He wrote to his father in the same vein:

When I saw and recognised your hand writing Gee, there was that same big lump came up in my throat and then when I read on and saw your feelings [I] couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes. They were tears of gladness tho’ and [I] can tell you this dad that when this big fight is over and I come back up in a decent country and back to Home there is going to be a closer, dearer feeling between us. I’ve made mistakes in the past that [I] never realized until now. You told me hundreds of times that [I] would see them some day but I in a foolish, boyish passion and anger could not see things the way you did. But [I] can assure you that I see them now, and, oh, so plainly, Dad. When I get back you and I are going to be father and son and not strangers as we have almost been.

Emerson seemed to flourish under the rigorous military discipline. He grew fitter and stronger every day, and even qualified as a sharpshooter. He was proud of the toughness of the Marines: “I wouldn’t want to be a Common Soldier. The U.S. Marine is the only real soldier of [the] United States and is good as any other in the world.” Emerson was also full of interesting anecdotes. He described meeting, in South Carolina, “one old fellow who said he was 92. Don’t know whether he was or not. He looked it tho’. He was a slave when the Civil War broke out and he told us he had seen the battle of Cold Springs and also the evacuation and capture of Richmond by the Yankees.”

In September 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic hit Parris Island, and the camp was temporarily quarantined. Emerson had “a slight attack” and recovered, but he was worried about the folks back home. The following month, he shipped out to Europe.

Letters took longer to reach him across the Atlantic, and when he didn’t hear from Millie, Albert, or Olive for three months, he worried even more. He wanted “to have everyone all O.K. when I come home.” But it was Emerson who would get the worst of it. After another bout with the flu and a fever of 103, he was hospitalized with sub-acute bronchitis. He complained of headaches, weakness in his legs, and a cough, but didn’t feel that bad, he said. It was the monotony he hated.

On 1 May 1919, an ecstatic Emerson wrote to Olive and Millie from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’d been transferred back to the states and still hoped for a full recovery before leaving the service. One letter revealed a new detail: it was tuberculosis that had killed his mother Winifred eighteen years before, and the family was afraid Emerson would contract it, too. He reassured them that he’d had four sputum tests, and all four had come back negative.

Olive and Emerson were now engaged to be married. Olive was a schoolteacher in Springfield, Mass., and Emerson wrote to tell her how much he missed her:

Oh, Olive dear, if you had only known how I longed for you. Just to see you, to kiss you, to feel you cuddle up close to me as you used to. Gee, dearest girl, I lived over a hundred of those fine times we used to have to-gether. […] You understand, don’t you? Guess I have changed some since a year ago. Maybe in some ways for the worse but principally for the good. […] Oh, dearest girl, if you could only feel my feelings now, Olive, I love you, love you – God help me if I ever stop loving you. […] Hoping and praying to be with you and kiss you (again & again) sometime in the near future.

Emerson was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps on 29 July 1919 with marks of “excellent” for character, obedience, and sobriety. His service was described as “honest and faithful.” In the fall of 1919, before their marriage, Emerson worked at the General Electric plant in Pittsfield, Mass., and wrote often to Olive in Springfield. They were probably married in 1920.

The next letter, the final letter by Emerson in the collection, is heartbreaking. It’s dated 3 February 1921 and was written on stationery from a ladies’ clothing shop in Holyoke, Mass.—Emerson was apparently boarding there after receiving treatment at a sanatorium. His despair is palpable. At the same time, we learn that Emerson and Olive had become parents.

Today I started to “streak” again so I suppose may expect a hemorrhage any time. Hope this one finishes the bell for [I] am sick and tired of this separation and this recurrence of the trouble. Am afraid that I am going to be a misfit and a dependent for life and thats too much for me. […] Have thought of you often and pray for you and the little girl every night. Can’t go to sleep for hours sometimes just thinking of you dear. […] Maybe I am cowardly and all that but am ready to die tonight and would go happy knowing that [I] had taken a load from the world in general.

Emerson died in July 1922 and is buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, Mass. According to his application for a driver’s license, filled out earlier that year, he had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis after all.

I’d love to know what happened to his daughter, Peggy Dibble. She was still alive in 1924, but I can’t find any record of her after that. The collection came to us with a small photograph album, but unfortunately the people in the photographs are unidentified. Another unsolved mystery is the  location of Emerson’s diary, which ended up in the hands of his friend Mike Cronin and was probably returned to Olive after Emerson’s death.

Amazingly, Olive lived to the age of 94 and died in October 1990. She never re-married and is buried in the Lynn cemetery plot with Emerson.


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

This week we have just two events on the calendar, featuring JQA and Old Ironsides. Here are the details:

– Wednesday, 12 July, 6:00PM : “The USS Consitution & the Massachusetts Historical Society” is a talk with Margherita Desy, Historian of the USS Constitution, which describes some of the hidden trasures uncovered in the recent restoration of the ship and highlights resources at MHS that help tell the story of the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat. This talk is open to the public, registration required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). A reception precedes the talk at 5:30PM followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

– Saturday, 15 July, 10:00AM : Join the Massachusetts Historical Society’s first transcribe-athon! Held in celebration of JQA’s 250th birthday, the purpose of the JQA250 Transcribe-a-thon is to help the Adams Papers editorial project make more of the 15,000-page JQA Diary available online. While the ability to read handwriting is necessary, no transcription experience is required. Bring your laptop or use one of ours. Come for the day or pop in for a little while. All are welcome! Lunch and light refreshments will be provided. Registration is free and open to the public. For more information, or to register, contact Gwen Fries:; 617-646-0556. 

And as always our current exhibition, the Irish Atlantic, is open to the public free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM.