Mysterious, Gruesome, and Spooky Aspects of History

By Rakashi Chand, Reader Services

This time of year often sparks an interest in the mysterious, gruesome, and spooky aspects of history. New Englanders often flock to Salem and other “haunted” spots with a keen interest in connecting with the people and the events that had transpired long ago. Within the walls of the MHS, you will find a few intriguing items that might even be considered “spooky.” But for those of us who spend our days delighting in the words, thoughts, and mementos of our forefathers and foremothers, these are fascinating pieces of history. Alas, as it is All Hollow’s Eve, I thought I might share a few of the more spooky items with you!

First up is the Salem Witch Bureau.

This rather unassuming bureau greets you on the way into our reading room. In actuality, it has a dark past. Supposedly, the bureau was evidence used in the Salem Witch Trails in 1692! In his will, Gen. William H. Sumner described this chest of drawers as “the Witch Bureau, from the middle drawer of which one of the Witches jumped out who was hung on Gallows Hill, in Salem.” So the next time you walk into the reading room, take a moment to ponder from which drawer the specter had jumped forth. 

While on the topic of the Salem Witch Trials, the MHS houses the papers of Judge Samuel Sewall, one of the Judges who presided over the trials. Sewall kept a diary from 1673 until a few months before his death in 1730.

Perhaps most notable is his diary entry for 19 September 1692. He records:

“Monday; Sept-19th 1692. Abt noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was pressed to death for standing mute Much pains was used with him two days one after another by ye court & Capt. Gardner of Nantucket who had been his acquaintance: but all in vain. 20 Now I hear from Salem that abt 18 years agoe, he was suspected to have stamped and pressed a man to Death. But was cleared. twas not remembered till Ann Putnam was told of it by G Corey’s Specter ye Sabbath-Day night before ye Execution.”

Sewall later repented for his involvement and gained notoriety for his firm antislavery stance when he published The Selling of Joseph in 1700.

The MHS also has an item described as a “Piece of wood from a tree, place unidentified, reported to have been used for hanging witches in the 17th century.” 

And here is a fascinating, yet eerie tidbit: not only do we have the letters, diaries and artifacts of those long departed, we also have pieces of them! (Oh, but yes indeed!) We have a surprisingly large collection of human hair, mostly given as pieces of mourning Jewelry and keepsakes to remember loved ones. Locks of hair would be cut from the deceased and kept, often intricately incorporated into a piece of jewelry, such as a ring or a broach. To learn more about pieces in our collection that contain human hair, visit our “Jewelry Containing Hair” page that is part of our Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, 17th to 19th Centuries online display.

We currently have hair from both Alexander Hamilton and George Washington on display as a part of our Hamilton at the MHS display. Be sure to stop by before 15 November to see it and check out other Hamilton artifacts online at www.masshist.org/hamilton.

Next, I would like to share a nifty hook with you! Not very spooky you say? What if I told you it was carved from human bone?

This fascinating artifact is a hook from the Sandwich Islands, supposedly made from a bone of Capt. James Cook. It is bone carved into a hook with a thin cord wound closely around the top of the shank and extending onto a wrapped and twisted section tied in a slip knot.

Well, enough about human remains! We also have a warbler preserved in arsenic, a death mask, and dolls. One such example is a doll belonging to members of the Codman and Butterfield families. “Rebeccah Codman Butterfield” is a very well preserved doll with an exceptional past.

According to a note penned by the donor’s mother, Ellis Phinney Taylor, and pinned to the doll’s petticoat, Rebeccah’s life began long ago but not too far away:

“My name is Rebeccah Codman Butterfield. I was born in 1841. My mother made me and I was the darling of the Brook Farmers & their children. Brook Farm was called The Transcendentalists. I grew up with the Alcotts, George Ripley, John S [Dwight], Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, William Ellery Channing, Elizabeth Peabody & Nathaniel Hawthorne–no wonder I look a bit cracked!”

Read more about Rebeccah and the Codman and Butterfield families here.

Having worked at the MHS for a number of years, I must admit that we get all sorts of questions! I still recall welcoming a researcher to the reading room on a dark and gloomy December morning who looked at me with delight and asked “Do they talk to you?” I was unsure who she was referring to so she clarified and said “Ghosts! Are you ever approached by ghosts? You must have so many here!” While many hours are spent in the stacks, I am not aware of any archivist or librarian who has encountered a ghost. Though I must profess, the Society is not free from strange occurrences. In the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Third Series, Vol. 72  p.417), there is one account from the Annual Meeting in 1957 which has always struck me:

“We have had our trials and tribulations. The janitor on duty when your Director took office lost his mind in this building, here, before our very faces, and had to be locked up until he died;” 

Hmm . . . not what you would expect to find while reading Annual Meeting notes. It continues:

“his very good successor died of a heart attack overnight; his brother and successor suddenly developed a strange illness and had to be relieved; the present janitor lost his wife and sole companion last June and is now desperately ill.” 

The list of interesting artifacts found within our walls goes on and on, and so could I. But I leave you to  browse our online—and fully searchable—catalog, Abigail, for “cool” and “creepy” items that intrigue you from the comfort of your living room . . . or crypt! 

And with that, we wish you a safe, yet slightly-spooky, Halloween night!

This Week @MHS

– Monday, 29 October, 6:00 PM: Armistice: WWI in Memory & Song, a collaboration of the MHS and the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, with John Brancy, Baritone; Peter Dugan, Piano; and Peter Drummey, MHS. A temporary exhibition on the end of World War I will be coupled with songs and a conversation about the journey home that men and women faced at the close of The War to End All Wars. This program will explore both the history of the war and the memory of it. On Tuesday October 30 at 8:00 pm, John Brancy and Peter Dugan will perform their program “Armistice: The Journey Home” in Seully Hall at Boston Conservatory at Berklee. A pre-program reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM.

– Tuesday, 30 October, 5:15 PM: Governing the “Black Power” City: Leon H. Sullivan, Opportunities Industrialization Centers Inc., & the Rise of Black Empowerment with Jessica Ann Levy, Johns Hopkins University, and comment by Julia Rabig, Dartmouth College. This paper traces the Opportunities Industrialization Center’s rise from its meager founding in North Philadelphia to one of the largest black community development programs in the United States. In doing so, it sheds new light on the financial and intellectual investments made by American business, government bureaucrats, and civil rights entrepreneurs like Sullivan in transforming black dissidents into “productive citizens,” “productive” having economic and civic connotations. This is part of the Boston Seminar on Modern American Society and Culture series. Seminars are free and open to the public. 

– Thursday, 1 November, 5:30 PM: “No Ideas But in Things”: Writing Lives from Objects with Deborah Lutz, University of Louisville; Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Amherst College; Susan Ware, Independent Scholar, and moderator Natalie Dykstra, Hope College. Often a biographer confronts silences in the record of her subject, when part of the life story is not documented with words. Mute sources—objects in the subject’s archive—can pose a challenge for interpretation, but also offer rich opportunities. How can biographers read objects as eloquent sources? This is part of the New England Biography Seminar series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

– Saturday, 3 November, 10:00 AM: The History & Collections of the MHS. Join us for a 90-minute docent-led tour of our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a party of 8 or more, please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org

Fashioning the New England Family is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The exhibition explores the ways in which the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces. Many of the items that will be featured have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The exhibition is organized as part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of cultural institutions set up to explore and celebrate the many facets of the culture of fashion in Massachusetts. 

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

 

“As Drowning Men Catch at Straws”: William H. Simpkins and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

I have now to tell you of a pretty important step that I have just taken. I have given my name to be forwarded to Massachusetts for a commission in the 54th (negro) Regt. Coln. Shaw.

This excerpt comes from a letter written by Civil War soldier William Harris Simpkins on 26 February 1863. Harris was serving with the 44th Massachusetts Infantry at New Bern, N.C. and had been recommended for a post in the new 54th Regiment, the first African-American regiment raised in the North. Simpkins decided to accept and, in this letter to his father, preemptively defended his decision and discussed the possibilities of the regiment.

William Harris Simpkins (1839-1863)

Simpkins was born in Boston, Mass. on 6 Aug. 1839 and worked as a clerk before enlisting in the Union Army. When he got word from Col. Francis L. Lee that he had the chance at a commission with the 54th under the command of Capt. Robert Gould Shaw, he was cautiously optimistic. He recognized the significance of the move and acknowledged what he might be giving up. Portions of his letter have been printed in histories of the regiment, but I think it’s worth quoting at length.

This is no hasty conclusion, no blind leap of an enthusiast, but the result of a considerable hard thinking.

It will not at first, and probably will not be for a long time, an agreeable position for many reasons too evident to state, and the man who goes into it resigns all chances in the new white Regiments, that must be raised; […] and there can be no dispute as to, among which color, the most comfortable & pleasurable position will be.

Simpkins’ friend Cabot Jackson Russel saw things in a similar light. The 18-year-old Russel served with Simpkins in the 44th and was also commissioned a captain of the 54th. Just one day before Simpkins, on 25 Feb. 1863, Russel wrote home to say that he had “given up everything” and was “going under Bob Shaw, as it seems so important to put this measure through.” (Russel’s letters can be found in the Patrick Tracy Jackson and Loring-Jackson-Noble family papers.)

Cabot Jackson Russel (1844-1863)

Despite the risks and the uncertainty, Simpkins still believed in the project. His letter continues:

Then it is nothing but an experiment after all. But it is an experiment, that I think it high time we should try; an experiment, that if successful, will be productive of much good; […] an experiment, which the sooner we prove unsuccessful, the sooner we shall establish an important truth and rid ourselves of a false hope.

Some publications stop quoting him there, but I found the next paragraph particularly moving.

There will probably be some trouble with the white troops in the field, arising from a traditional sence [sic] of honor, too nice for me to understand, which distinguishes between fighting behind earth-works thrown up by black laborers, and allowing a negro soldier to stand in the next field to fire his gun at the common enemy; but once prove the efficacy of black troops and I think they will hail them, as drowning men catch at straws.

To make the test you must have men who are willing for the trial. It is of especial importance, of course, in order to win the people to this movement, that it should be undertaken by the right sort of men, and that the first black Regt. should have everything done for it in the way of officers &c that would tend to make it efficient. If I am one of the persons selected, why should I refuse? I came out here, not from any fancied fondness of a military life, but to do what I could to help along the good cause. Why should I not stretch my patriotism a little further and accept a commission in a Negro Regt?

Simpkins was killed on 18 July 1863 during the assault at Fort Wagner as he kneeled next to his injured friend Russel. The 1864 memorial to Robert Gould Shaw includes a detailed description of Simpkins’ death, which was witnessed and recounted by Sgt. Stephen A. Swails.

Stephen Atkins Swails (1832-1900)

Simpkins, Russel, Shaw, and the black soldiers killed in the battle were buried together in a mass grave.

Simpkins’ letter forms part of the Hooper family papers here at the MHS—his aunt married into the Hooper family, and his cousin Henry Northey Hooper also served as a captain in the 54th Regiment. Unfortunately the document we have is only a copy written by someone else, and the location of the original is unknown. However, the Hooper collection does contain two original letters by Simpkins, written to his mother before he enlisted.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has many resources related to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, both online and in our library, including manuscript collections, photograph collections, and print material. You’ll find a handy introduction here.

 

“Splendid Flowering Bulbs”: Washburn & Co.’s 1865 Autumn Catalog

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

As we near the end of October here in Boston the trees are starting to turn vibrant yellows and oranges while the morning air is crisp with overnight frost. While many gardeners are digging up gardens and bringing plants indoors out of the cold for the winter ahead, it’s also time to think ahead to spring! Now is the season to plant tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and other flowering bulbs to rest through the winter months and flower with the return of light and warmth to the northern hemisphere. 

In the Massachusetts Historical Society’s collection of trade catalogs is an autumn catalog for 1865 from Washburn & Co. for Splendid Flowering Bulbs and Other Flowering Roots with Full Instructions for Cultivation. Inside are twenty-four pages of dense description and product listings by type: crocus, cyclamen, hyacinth, lilies, snowdrops, tulips, and more. Each price list is preceded by lush description: “The tulip,” offers the catalog, “of all bulbous flowers, is the most celebrated, popular, brilliant, and beautiful . . . easy of culture both in the conservatory or parlor and the open garden.” The Japanese lily, for which Washburn & Co. was lately rewarded with a silver medal by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, is given pride of place as an illustration inside the front of the catalog. 

Gardeners are able to order a range of bulbs for around $1.00 per bulb, or $4-8 per dozen, depending upon the variety. The catalog also offers gardening tools including flower pots, baskets (“a splendid assortment”), weather vanes, preserving jars, and flower arrangements for weddings and funerals. “Orders by Express or Telegraph will receive prompt attention”!

Interested in gardening in times past, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, or other aspects of flora and fauna in New England? Researchers are welcome to visit the library to consult this and other trade catalogs in our reading room. And don’t forget to venture out into this crisp autumn weather and enjoy the changing seasons in your own back yard. 

This Week @MHS

We have a busy week ahead with a couple of seminars, an author talk, and a workshop.

– Monday, 22 October, 5:15 PM: Paul Revere’s Ride through Digital History with Joseph M. Adelman, Framingham State University and Omohundro Institute; Liz Covart, Omohundro Institute; Karin Wulf, Omohundro Institute. This seminar examines components of the Omohundro Institute’s multi-platform digital project and podcast series, Doing History: To the Revolution. It explores Episode 130, “Paul Revere’s Ride through History,” and the ways the topic was constructed through narrative and audio effects, as well as the content in the complementary reader app. Participants are asked to listen to the podcast and access the reader app before the session. 

– Tuesday, 23 October, 5:30 PM: Reproducing Race in the Early Americas with Rhae Lynn Barnes, Princeton University; Deirdre Cooper Owens, Queens College; Sasha Turner, Quinnipiac University, and moderated by Nicole Aljoe, Northeastern University. This roundtable will use the body as frame for examining racial formation in the Caribbean and U.S. from the eighteenth century to the present. The presenters will meditate on biological reproduction in relation to citizenship and subjecthood, labor and economy, medical and scientific knowledge, and representations of blackness in popular culture. This program will take place at the Knafel Center, Radcliffe Institute. This is part of the Boston Seminar on the History of Women, Gender, & Sexuality series. Seminars are free and open to the public. 

– Wednesday, 24 October, 6:00 PM: Swindler Sachem: The American Indian Who Sold His Birthright, Dropped Out of Harvard, & Conned the King of England with Jenny Hale Pulsipher, Brigham Young University. Jenny Pulsipher opens a window onto 17th-century New England and the English empire from the unusual perspective of John Wompas, a Nipmuc Indian who may not have been all he claimed but was certainly out of the ordinary. Drawing on documentary and anthropological sources as well as consultations with Native people, Pulsipher examines struggles over Native land and sovereignty during an era of political turmoil and reveals how Wompas navigated these perilous waters for the benefit of himself and his kin. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders) 

– Saturday, 27 October, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM: Fashioning History workshop. Throughout history, our choices about what we wear tell the world about our personality, position, background, and beliefs. From textile in Boston Boycott, manufacture in the Industrial Revolution, to the fashion of war and protest, clothing offers a vivid lens to examine American cultural history. Drawing on the MHS exhibit “Fashioning the New England Family,” we will explore how clothing and style help us understand the everyday lives of historical New Englanders. This program is open to all who work with K-12 students. Teachers can earn 22.5 Professional Development Points or 1 graduate credit (for an additional fee). For questions, contact Kate Melchior at education@masshist.org or 617-646-0588.

Fashioning the New England Family is open Monday through Friday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The exhibition explores the ways in which the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces. Many of the items that will be featured have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The exhibition is organized as part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of cultural institutions set up to explore and celebrate the many facets of the culture of fashion in Massachusetts. 

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

 

Calling All High School Students: Apply for a 2019 John Winthrop Fellowship at the MHS

By Kate Melchior

Are you a student who loves history?  Are you a teacher with students who are intrigued by primary source research?  Want the chance to spend some time in the MHS archives?  Check out the fellowship opportunities at the Center for the Teaching of History! 

John Winthrop Student Fellowship

The John and Elizabeth Winthrop Endowed Fellowship encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the MHS in a research project of their choosing. Selected students will be referred to as “Winthrop Fellows”.  Winthrop Fellows and their supervising teacher will each receive a $350 stipend. This fellowship gives students the chance to learn how to navigate an archive, work directly with primary sources, and experience what it is like to be a historian.

Although students are welcome to work at the MHS Reading Room in Boston, online access to hundreds of recently-digitized documents from our collections now makes it possible for students from across the country to identify, incorporate, investigate, and interpret these primary sources in their work. Together with their teacher advisor (a current or past History or English teacher, member of Library/Media staff, etc), students decide on a research project proposal that uses sources from the MHS collections.  This can be a project already assigned in class.  With the support of MHS library and education staff, students then perform research using MHS materials during the spring and must complete their research project to the teacher advisor’s satisfaction by 1 June, and finally write a blog post about their experience.

The John Winthrop Fellowship empowers students to explore a topic of their interest and helps them to access the often intimidating world of historical research. One of the most valuable aspects of this fellowship is the opportunity for students to directly interact with materials from the MHS archives.  In reflecting on their experiences, many students were struck by the immediacy of the artifacts:

“I never expected to be staring at a three hundred year old letter in which Hugh Hall, one of Boston’s prominent slave traders, complains rather vehemently of seasickness. The letter was written in big, loopy handwriting, the polar opposite of Hugh’s brother Richard’s cramped impossibility, on yellowed old paper that felt somewhat slimy. For a moment, I was overcome by the idea that I was touching Hall’s DNA.” (2015 John Winthrop Student Fellow)

“It was incredible to see old newspapers that were transported along the Post Road to relay the world’s current events in the early 1700s, transformed into a computer document and displayed right in front of us.  The only thing that could top it was being able to hold the physical letter that essentially started the Boston Post Road. Oh yeah, we did that too!” (2016 John Winthrop Student Fellow)

Many students appreciated the chance to draw their own impressions of history directly from primary sources rather than interpreted through a textbook:

“At points in the letters, Nora [Saltonstall]’s sense of humor and wittiness were evident which reminded me that she was indeed human and brought to life the events that transpired, in a way that textbooks are unable to.” (2013 John Winthrop Student Fellow)

“I suppose what I liked most was the ability to interpret the original documents on my own and draw my own conclusions around the actual evidence, rather than directly being told a conclusion by a third party.” (2013 John Winthrop Student Fellow)

Students also valued the opportunity to work with MHS staff and librarians, who welcomed them to the archive and made the work of historical research more accessible:

“The staff always took me seriously, and was always ready to help if I had a question. Until now I had never used microfiche, but within two minutes the reference librarian had me set up and I knew all I needed to know to use it. I could even take pictures of the old documents and email them to myself so I could do work at home.” (2014 John Winthrop Student Fellow)

“Although we were entirely new to the MHS, the staff treated us as if we were any other historians. Along with finding great sources, the respect we received from the staff boosted our confidence in our historical research skills.” (2016 John Winthrop Student Fellow)

Most importantly, students walked away from their fellowship opportunity empowered by their experience at the MHS:  

“I have always wanted to be a historian. My time at the Massachusetts Historical Society obliterated any lingering doubts in that ambition. Words cannot describe the joy of these encounters with the past, an opportunity I will never forget.” (2015 John Winthrop Student Fellow)

Applications for 2019 John Winthrop Fellowships should be mailed no later 18 February 2019. Check out our website for more information on the Swensrud Fellowship and how to apply!

 

 

 

Hints to Soldiers on Health: 14 tips for those serving during the Civil War

By Sabina Beauchard, Reader Services

In the Albert Gallatin Browne papers you will find a printed piece of paper entitled, “Hints to Soldiers on Health.” These “Directions for Preservation of Health” give pointers to soldiers serving in the Union Army during the Civil War on how to keep themselves in tip-top shape while living through the worst of conditions and on the move. It includes my favorite tip, number 11, regarding bleeding to death:

If, from any wound, the blood spirts out in jets, instead of a steady
stream, you will die in a few minutes unless it is remedied; because an artery
has been divided and that takes the blood direct from the fountain of life . . .

Aren’t those positive words? If your blood is spurting out, you will most likely die. Don’t forget to wear flannel!

The handout does mention the difference between blood spurting and blood flowing, and what to do in either situation. While it’s necessary to know these things when you are about to enter a battlefield, the rather blunt wording shook me, thinking of all those who did indeed bleed out over the course of the war on both sides.

Number 7 is also a good reminder:

Recollect that cold and dampness are great breeders of disease. Have a 
fire to sit around, whenever you can, especially in the evening and after rain; 
and take care to dry every thing in and about your persons and tents. 

Even in the warmest of climates, it seems like having a fire would still be necessary. As William H. Eastman, a member of the 2nd Battery (Nim’s Battery) of Massachusetts Volunteer Light Artillery writes home to his mother from Bayou Boeuf, Louisiana, 8 May 1863:

. . . the flys are awful thick + as soon as the sun sets 
musquitoes “Oh Dear” tis no use for me to try +
give any idea of their number a swarm of Bees
is no comparison as soon as sundown we build large
fires of corn husks + keep them agoing all night
why if a man has occasion to do a job for himself
after dark he is obliged to take some husks out + build
a fire + sit in the smoke else his rear will be in rather 
a dilapidated condition rather a tough state of things
but such is the case. I am fortunately well off as
I have confiscated the Captains Bed and Musquito bar
that were among the stores but is rather hard for many 
of the poor fellows without bars ^who get up + walk around
half the night to pass the time away.

Well! Hopefully this post has made you feel a little more comfortable with your living conditions, and thankful winter will soon set in and erase mosquitoes from our lives for a short time. Remember, “if disease begins to prevail, wear a wide bandage of flannel around the bowels!”

Meet Some of Our Amazing Archivists

By Rakashi Chand, Reader Services

As a part of American Archives Month, we would like to introduce you to some of our amazing archivists! These are the very talented people that make our collections accessible and make our library work so seamlessly from behind the scenes. We are fortunate to have such an incredible, knowledgeable and dedicated staff, and would like the opportunity to acknowledge the contributions they make every day. 

We asked a handful of our archivists to identify their favorite collection/item at the MHS, indicate their area of expertise or interest, and share fun facts about themselves. 

Anna Clutterbuck-Cook
Reference Librarian


What is your favorite collection or item at the MHS? 

 One of my favorite items in the collection is a letter written from Rev. T. M. C. Birmingham to Margaret C. Robinson on 17 May 1923. In this letter, conservative preacher Thomas M. C. Birmingham of Milford, Nebraska, writes to Margaret C. Robinson, the head of the Massachusetts Public Interests League, seeking an ally in the fight against the “radical propaganda” being disseminated through women’s colleges such as Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Wellesley — propaganda turning “wholesome American girl[s]” away from patriotism and the Constitution, preaching “Communist sex standards,” calling the literal truth of the Bible into question, and exposing young women to the theories of Freud and Marx.  The MHS featured this document as one of our Objects of the Month in February 2011. 

Please describe your area of historical interest.

My research as a historian focuses on 20th century American religious and cultural history, particularly the ways in which American Protestants engaged with (and helped to create) new ways of thinking about gender, sex, and sexuality. I am interested in mainline and left-leaning Protestant participation in the feminist and gay liberation movements during the 1970s. I have also become interested in the (not at all unrelated) ways that American reproductive politics have been shaped by conservative Christian and white supremacist ideas about white womanhood and white women’s sexuality, reproductive decisions, and actions. 

What is a fun fact about you?

My first job in public history was volunteering as a tour guide at the Cappon House (Holland, Mich.) a historic home built in 1874 to house my hometown’s first mayor, his second wife, and some of his eleven children! The photograph above is me on my first day as a volunteer in the autumn of 1993, when I was twelve years old. 

 

Katherine H. Griffin
Nora Saltonstall Preservation Librarian


What is your favorite collection or item at the MHS?  

 Forbes family papers and other China trade collections, plus any ships’ logs.

What is a fun fact about you?

When I started working here, women staff members were expected to wear dresses or skirts always (no pants allowed).

 

Hannah Elder
Library Assistant


What is your favorite collection or item at the MHS? 

At the moment, my favorite collection is the Massachusetts Audubon Society Records. Mass Audubon was founded in the 1890s by two women, Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, who used their social influence to protect birds by encouraging women to stop wearing feathered hats. Their work led to many protections for birds and Mass Audubon is still around today! 

Please describe your area of historical interest.

My historical passion is the Medieval period, but I’m very interested in the American colonial period as well. I also love the study of material culture and the way it can inform our understanding of history. 

What is a fun fact about you?

I spent a semester at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where I learned Scottish Country Dancing! 

 

Ashley Williams
Library Assistant


What is your favorite collection or item at the MHS? 

My favorite item at the MHS is probably The Identity of Napoleon and Antichrist completely demonstrated… which is an essay we have on microfilm that I wrote a blog about last year. The unknown author sets out to prove Napoleon Bonaparte is the Antichrist by comparing excerpts from Revelations to significant aspects of his reign. 

Please describe your area of historical interest.

My historical interests include French History from the reign of the Bourbons through the reign of Napoleon, WWII history, and Jewish History.

What is a fun fact about you?

I was once in a college production of Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

 

Brendan Kieran
Library Assistant


What is your favorite collection or item at the MHS? 

I really like Lilian Freeman Clarke’s 1864 diary, particularly her candid entries about and addressed to Emily Russell.

Please describe your area of historical interest.

My interests include late 19th- and early 20th-century U.S. history and the history of gender and sexuality.

What is a fun fact about you?

I contribute 90s music knowledge on my trivia team.

 

Do you have a question for one of our staff members? Please contact us at library@masshist.org

Every month is American Archives month at the MHS! Continue to celebrate with us throughout the year and join us in thanking our amazing archivists for what they do every day!


This Week @MHS

This week we have a pair of Brown Bag talks, two evening programs, the first seminar in a new series, and a sold out tour. Details below:

– Monday, 15 October, 12:00 PM: Examining Land Ownership in the Praying Towns of New England with Taylor Kirsch, University of California, Santa Cruz. Across the tumultuous borderlands of 17th-century Southern New England, a diverse indigenous population numbering in the thousands carved out space for themselves via an unlikely colonial project, “praying towns.” This talk explores the complexities of indigenous land tenure within these communities, and its role in shaping the cultural, political, and spiritual landscape of New England.

Monday, 15 October, 6:00 PM: “All Legislative Powers…” Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution Then & Now with Margaret H. Marshall, Choate, Hall, & Stewart, and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts; Jack N. Rakove, Stanford University, and Pulitzer Prize recipient. Join us for a thought-provoking conversation on the history surrounding the issues that are framed by Article 1 of the Constitution, which established the U.S. Congress and defined its powers, including the rights to tax, raise armies, and regulate commerce and naturalization. Marshall and Rakove will discuss the historical context in which the article was drafted in the 1780s, as well as the current meaning and impact of the article in contemporary legal thought and practice. The Massachusetts Constitution will serve as counterpoint to the national story. This event will take place at The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 136 Irving Street, Cambridge, Mass. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:00 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. 

– Wednesday, 17 October, 12:00 PM: “Watering of the Olive Plant”: Catechisms & Catechizing in Early New England with Roberto Flores de Apodaca, University of South Carolina. Early New Englanders produced and used an unusually large number of catechisms. These catechisms shaped relations of faith for church membership, provided content for missions to the Indians, and empowered lay persons theologically to critique their ministers. This talk explores the content and the function of these unique, question and answer documents.

– Wednesday, 17 October, 6:00 PM: The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress & the Road to Civil War with Joanne Freeman, Yale University. Joanne B. Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. Pistols were drawn and knives brandished in an attempt to intimidate fellow congressmen into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders). 

– Thursday, 18 October, 5:15 PM: Losing Laroche: The Story of the Titanic’s Only Black Passenger with Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College, and comment by Saje Mathieu, University of Minnesota. Losing Laroche is the first in-depth study of the only black family on board the RMS Titanic. The story of the Haitian Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche and his descendants is largely unknown and troubles the assumption of an all-white Titanic narrative.This paper seeks to understand the possibilities of black advancement in the Titanic moment and throughout the Diaspora. This is part of the Boston Seminar on African American History series. Seminars are free and open to the public. 

– Saturday, 20 October, 10:00 AM: The History & Collections of the MHS. Join us for a 90-minute docent-led tour of 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 abentley@masshist.org.

– Saturday, 20 October, 10:00 AM: Tour of Longfellow Bridge with Miguel Rosales. Please note that this program is SOLD OUT. After five years and over $300 million worth of construction and refurbishment, the beautiful and historic Longfellow Bridge is once again fully operational. Constructed at the turn of the 20th century and designed with an eye towards the greatest infrastructure projects of Europe, the Longfellow Bridge has long been one of the most striking and beloved landmarks in Boston. Architect and urban designer Miguel Rosales has been involved in this restoration project for close to 15 years and will lead visitors on an in-depth tour of this exceptional bridge.

Fashioning the New England Family is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The exhibition explores the ways in which the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces. Many of the items that will be featured have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The exhibition is organized as part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of cultural institutions set up to explore and celebrate the many facets of the culture of fashion in Massachusetts. 

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

New Transcriptions Released for John Quincy Adams’ Diary

By Neal Millikan, Digital Projects Editor

Amid his daily whirl of diplomatic duties, John Quincy Adams paused to reflect on his latest dispatch to President James Monroe. After several rewrites, Adams had drafted a course of action that would shape American foreign policy for more than a century, and he was proud of it. “I considered this as the most important paper that ever went from my hands,” John Quincy wrote of his role in formulating the Monroe Doctrine, in which the United States called for European non-intervention in the western hemisphere and specifically in the affairs of the newly independent Latin American nations. This week, you can explore the Era of Good Feelings anew, thanks to our release of the next set of transcriptions on The John Quincy Adams Diary Digital Project covering March 1821 to February 1825 when he served as secretary of state for Monroe’s second presidential term.

John Quincy also kept a close eye on the American political landscape during these years. Sectional divisions and the personal rivalries between the men seeking to succeed President Monroe made this a particularly contentious period. The campaign for the 1824 election began in 1821, and eventually four viable candidates emerged: Adams, Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia, and General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. Jackson led the popular as well as the electoral vote; however, no candidate obtained the majority of votes necessary for election. The vote then fell to the House of Representatives where each state, regardless of population, had one vote, and a majority of the states was necessary for election. John Quincy finally won the contest in February 1825.

Throughout this period, John Quincy’s family remained a significant private concern. His three sons—George Washington Adams, John Adams 2d, and Charles Francis Adams—struggled academically at Harvard, and his wife Louisa Catherine Adams suffered from bouts of poor health. He maintained his exercise regimen of swimming in the spring and summer and walking in the fall and winter. He also continued to faithfully keep his diary entries—a difficult task due to his busy work schedule and growing number of daily office visitors: “I never exclude any one. But necessary and important business suffers, by the unavoidable waste of time.” For an overview of John Quincy’s life during these years, read the headnotes for each chronological period or, navigate to the entries to begin reading the diary.