Henry Davis Minot and His Birds

by Hannah Elder, Library Assistant

During American Archives Month, I told the blog that one of my favorite collections at the MHS is the Audubon Society of Massachusetts Records. Mass Audubon was founded by Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, two Boston women who used their social standing to save birds by persuading other upper-class women to abandon the fashion of wearing feathers. Today, I want to introduce you to another champion for birds: Henry Davis Minot.

Minot was born near Forest Hills in 1859, the sixth of seven children of William and Katharine Maria Sedgwick Minot. He took an early interest in ornithology, recording careful observations of what he believed to be a new species of bird in May of 1871. In 1876, Minot entered Harvard University, where he befriended fellow ornithological enthusiast Theodore Roosevelt. Throughout their friendship, the two exchanged letters and went on birding expeditions. During one expedition in the Adirondacks in 1877, Minot caught and preserved the wings of a blackburnian warbler. The preserved relics were placed in Minot’s personal papers and were found by an archivist when the collection was processed.

Warbler relics
Original wrappings for the warbler relics
Birding expedition relics, 1877
Relics from Minot’s 1877 birding expedition with Theodore Roosevelt

Minot left Harvard in his sophomore year and entered the railroad industry, but he never left behind his interest in ornithology. Throughout his travels to Mexico, England and Scotland, and the American Midwest, he kept counts of the birds he saw and made observations of species that were new to him. He wrote multiple books and essays on birds, including Land-Birds and Game-Birds of New England (1877), Notes on Colorado Birds (1880), and New England Bird Life (1881).

In 1880, Minot became not just an observer of birds, but an advocate for them with the publication of Diary of a Bird, Freely Translated into Human Language. In this short publication, Minot acts as “translator” for a black-throated green warbler who has kept a diary “for the purpose of amusing, instructing, and enlightening mankind,” even though the diarist claims he does not approve of the practice of diary-keeping amongst birds. The diarist does not have a name; he writes, “in a bird-community, every member is expected to know his own mate and children; beyond that, we make no distinctions . . . . I myself, for instance, have no individual name, and am very well content; for among us are no rights of property and inheritance, no law-suits, no marriage-ceremonies; but each of us lives for himself.” The warbler writes of the end of his migration from southern Mexico to the White Mountains, his mate’s efforts to build a nest and sit on their eggs, a run-in he has with a birder, and the activities of raising his family. Our feathered diarist often makes use of turns of phrase used only by birds (for instance, he once describes a lake as being “as long as the flight of a heron with thirty or more wing-beats), which Minot, as translator, helpfully explains. (Thirty heron wing-beats is about 500 feet, if you were wondering!)

The Diary of A Bird, by H.D. Minot

The major event of the diary is a meeting in early September of all of the birds of Massachusetts, organized to discuss “The Destruction and Extermination of Birds; how caused and how to be prevented.” The meeting, held in the middle of the woods to avoid notice by humans, is attended by all types of birds, leaving our warbler amazed at the sight of so many feathered friends. During the meeting, various species of birds describe their greatest threat. It is widely agreed that humans, with their traps, guns, nets, light-houses, clear-cutting, and domesticated cats, are the most dangerous threat to birds. Our diarist writes:

Men seem not only for the most part to have lost all appreciation of Nature, the best source of health and pleasure . . . but to be so utterly improvident as not to appreciate the mischief they are doing to themselves, or at least to their young, in deforesting the country. Their depravity is melancholy. Can’t they live without disturbing Nature, just as birds do? I can’t understand why they should ruin large tracts of country, as they often do, and then, instead of using them, leave them covered with pine-stumps, and bushes or stunted saplings.

As the warbler is speaking out against the use of birds in human fashions, the meeting is interrupted by the foe himself: a man with a gun, intent on shooting our diarist and his friends. I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens…

For Minot, the Diary was “a serious appeal for wiser thought and stronger action in the matter of protection of our birds” (letter to John Burroughs, 20 March 1880). He sent copies of the book to naturalists and it received praise and statements of hope for the future from some of them. In March of 1880, naturalist Samuel Lockwood wrote “This plea is very prettily put; and most heartily do I wish it God’s speed. . . . I love the birds, and cannot shoot them . . . Would that your little Warbler’s life story might still many a gun” (letter to Henry Davis Minot).

Sketch of a chickadee
An undated sketch of a chickadee by Minot

Sadly, Minot died in a train collision in 1890, so he never saw the conservation efforts of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which was founded in 1896. I like to think that he would have appreciated and supported their cause.

If you would like to learn more about Minot’s ornithological pursuits, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, or the personal papers of other Massachusetts ornithologists, please consider visiting the library!

“I Was Some Afraid”: The Civil War Letters of Dwight Emerson Armstrong, Part IV

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the fourth post in a series. Read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Today we return to the Civil War letters of Dwight Emerson Armstrong of the 10th Massachusetts Infantry. In March 1862, Dwight’s regiment left Camp Brightwood in Washington, D.C. and traveled south into Virginia as part of the Union advance on Yorktown. On 15 April, he wrote to his older sister Mary (Armstrong) Needham from his position near Warwick County Courthouse. The siege of Yorktown was underway.

As for the “miserable war” so far, Dwight had this to say:

I have not done much but lug a gun around. I dont want to come home until the war is over, now I have got here; but I sometimes almost think, that the Union costs rather more than it is worth. It sounds very well, for these great men, who live in good warm houses; and on the fat of the land; to preach of the value of this glorious Union but let these same men come down here and stand as picket guard some night in a pelting storm; and if they dont get some of their patriotism washed out before morning, I’ll lose my guess. Still I would not have you think that I am discouraged […] and as long as I can have the privilege of grumbling, [I] shall get along nicely.

Much of his time was occupied with repairing roads. The army’s wagons and artillery tore up the roads, rain filled the enormous holes left behind, and soldiers like Dwight were assigned to shovel mud into the holes to keep the roads passable. He understood the necessity of the work, but complained, “I dont think much of coming down here to mend their highways for them but I suppose I cant help it.”

Though he was bitter about the “great men” in their “good warm houses” and resented the drudgery of his work, he defended George McClellan against criticism that the general acted too slowly and cautiously. He called McClellan “a different sort of a man [who] cares something for a man’s life.” In fact, after a year of service, Dwight didn’t think he’d ever see much fighting.

May 4, 1862 letter written by Dwight Armstrong
Detail of letter from Dwight Armstrong to his sister Mary, 4 May 1862

On 4 May 1862, Confederate troops evacuated Yorktown, and the Union army, including the 10th Regiment, pursued them west across Virginia. The two sides faced off in the Battle of Williamsburg the following day, but by the time Dwight reached the front lines, the fighting was already over. He was both frustrated and relieved: “I have had no chance to fire again at the rebels yet, and there is no prospect of my ever having a chance to, and I am sure I dont want to, after what I have seen.”

He didn’t elaborate, but he may have been referring to the bloody aftermath of the battle, as described by Joseph K. Newell in his 1875 history of the regiment. Newell writes about the Southern soldiers unable to retreat: “Men wounded in every shape; some dead, and some dying; many shockingly mangled, to whom death would have been a blessing.” (p. 90)

Union forces continued their march west, closing in on Richmond. Dwight didn’t even know if the Confederate army was still in the city, but he hoped they would just get it over with, make their stand “until they get enough of it, and are willing to give up. I am tired of chasing them.” His regiment was positioned about eight miles from Richmond, at Fair Oaks.

It was here that Dwight would see his worst fighting yet. The Battle of Fair Oaks (or Seven Pines) broke out on 31 May 1862. The attack was unexpected, according to Newell, “like a clap of thunder from a clear sky.” (pp. 98-9) The Union army was driven back and suffered heavy losses.

June 2, 1862 letter written by Dwight Armstrong
Letter from Dwight Armstrong to his sister Mary, 2 June 1862

Dwight wrote a short note to his sister after the battle to let her know he was alive and unharmed, but didn’t go into much detail until 14 June.

You want to know how I felt while in battle. Well, I suppose I felt pretty much as you would to stand out and have shot, and shell, and all sorts of missiles thrown at you. I have often read that when a man goes into battle, he loses all fear, and only thinks how he can kill the enemy the fastest. I can imagine how a man, if he was nervous enough, could get worked up to such a pitch of excitement that he would lose all fear for himself; and dont doubt it is so in some cases; but so far as my experience goes it is quite the contrary. For my part, I am not at all ashamed to own that I was some afraid at first, though the thought of turning around and running away never crossed my mind. It is perfectly astonishing what an immense amount of lead it does take to kill a man. If a single thousandth part of the missiles thrown the other day had taken effect every man on the field would have been killed the first hour. Bullets sometimes come pretty close to a man without hurting him any but if a cannonball or a shell hits a body of men it makes bad work. […] The bullets tore up the ground under our feet, and whistled terribly close to our ears, and fell all around us like hailstones; and it seems miraculous that no more were hurt.

The captain of his company, Edwin E. Day of Greenfield, Mass., was killed at Fair Oaks. Dwight witnessed his death. Under heavy fire, Day’s men were forced to leave his body behind, but when the fighting was over, they buried him “as decently as possible.” After the war, his body was retrieved from Virginia and interred at Greenfield.

Dwight finished his letter by reassuring his sister, as he had many times, to “keep up good courage and dont worry about me.”

I hope you’ll join me for the next installment of Dwight’s story here at the Beehive.

This Week @MHS

Here’s a look at the programs we have planned for this week:

On Wednesday, 26 June, at 12:00 PM: Susie King Taylor: A Legacy of Black Womanhood & Historic Preservation with Rebecca Byrd, UNC Charlotte. Susie King Taylor was not Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman. Although she does not have the notoriety of those two women, her story is no less important. As the first African American army nurse who traveled with the First South Carolina Volunteers during the Civil War, an educator for freed people, and founder of the Women’s Relief Corps., Ms. Taylor is truly a remarkable woman. Although she remains in an unmarked grave, a younger historian has been tasked to preserve her legacy into the digital age. This is part of our brown-bag lunch programBrown-bags are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, 26 June, at 6:00 PM: The Peculiar Institution: Abigail Adams & Slavery with Edith Gelles, Stanford University. A senior scholar with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, Edith Gelles is an award-winning historian and author of Abigail & John: Portrait of a Marriage and Portia: The World of Abigail Adams. Gelles will discuss her current research on Abigail’s thoughts and experiences with slavery and race. 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).

On Friday, 28 June, at 2:00 PM: Abigail Adams: Nature & Nurture, a pop-up display and talk. “The Earth is putting on a new Suit,” Abigail Adams wrote, savoring the arrival of spring amid the tumult of national politics in 1800. Tending her kitchen garden and nurturing the new republic with equal care, Abigail delighted in learning about the natural landscape and sharing that knowledge with her family and friends. Join an Adams Papers editor for an in-depth look at the display. Free and open to the public.

On Saturday, 29 June at 10:00 AMThe History & Collections of the MHS. This is a 90-minute docent-led walk through of our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public. 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.

On Saturday, 29 June at 2:00 PM: “Can She Do It?” Gallery Talk with Allison Lange, Wentworth Institute of Technology. Join our guest curator for a guided tour and highlights from our current exhibition. Free and open to the public.

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, the exhibition illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. For over a century, Americans debated whether women should vote. The materials on display demonstrate the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. While women at the polls may seem unremarkable today, these contentious campaigns formed the foundations for modern debates about gender and politics.

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

Newly Digitized: the Arthur Asahel Shurcliff Collection of Glass Lantern Slides

by Alexandra Bush, Digital Production Assistant

The MHS is proud to announce a newly available digital collection. Prominent Boston landscape architect Arthur Asahel Shurcliff created this collection of more than 1,200 glass lantern slides, spanning 90 physical boxes, which the MHS acquired in the 1960s. There are many rationales for the digitization of an MHS collection. In this case, the fragility of these glass slides along with the absence of the appropriate projection equipment makes in-person viewing difficult. However, a high-resolution scan reveals a diverse array of subject matter; city planning maps and diagrams, historic images of Boston’s streets and landmarks, snapshots from Shurcliff’s travels abroad, and more.

Glass lantern slide of Boston waterfront
View of the waterfront, Boston, unidentified photographer, circa 1910s. From the Arthur Asahel Shurcliff collection of glass lantern slides. Photo. 6.19.50.

Arthur Asahel Shurcliff, born in 1870, enjoyed a long career as a landscape architect in Boston and beyond. He worked closely with Frederic Law Olmsted and his son, with whom he developed the first landscape architecture program at Harvard. Through his interest in urban beautification and landscape-based history, Shurcliff played integral roles in projects such as the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, the 1920s additions to the Back Bay Fens including the athletic track and Kelleher Rose Garden, and the reinvention of the Charles River Esplanade, among many others. He also dreamt of a transit ring encircling Boston which, although never realized, would have revolutionized the city’s traffic flow. Shurcliff married Margaret Homer Nichols in 1905 with whom he had six children. Margaret is described by the Nichols House Museum as a “spirited woman” whose wealth did not interfere with her social conscience. She spent her spare time teaching carpentry to inner city children and lobbying for women’s suffrage. The two were known to design and build wooden furniture together.

Photo of Arthur Shurcliff
Arthur Asahel Shurcliff, undated photograph from the Arthur A. Shurcliff Photographs, Photo. Coll. 337.

As President of the American Society of Landscape Architects as well as a member of the Boston Arts Commission, Shurcliff worked often with prominent individuals and organizations such as Boston’s Metropolitan District Commission and Metropolitan Planning Board. It is evidence of this work combined with that of his development of the Harvard program with Frederic Law Olmsted, Jr. that allows us to surmise that his collection of lantern slides was likely used for lectures to students or professionals in the landscape architecture field. In fact, entries in Shurcliff’s diaries, also held at the MHS, record frequent trips to various locales, camera in tow, with the aim of “preparing slides” for lectures. (Please see 23-28 February, 1923 diary entries, Arthur Asahel Shurcliff Papers, carton 7.)

Often treated as in this case as a precursor to the modern-day overhead transparency, lantern slides were popularized around 1849 but were still in use as late as the 1930s. Hand-painted scenes as well as those produced using photographic negatives, which were created both commercially as well as by amateurs using take-home kits, were used in conjunction with a light projector to produce images. These projected images were used for a variety of purposes from magic shows to academic lectures. In Shurcliff’s case, although most of the slides are without labels, it is safe to assume that the collection was created using a mixture of commercial and self-produced photography, along with photographs of paper documents such as maps or diagrams.

Lantern slide
A lantern slide from the collection.

The Shurcliff Collection of Glass Lantern Slides (Photo. Coll. 6.19) boasts an interesting and varied range of subjects. Those familiar with downtown Boston will enjoy paging through images of it from over 100 years in the past. Those interested in demographics will find the charts recording changes in the populations, traffic, and city planning priorities enlightening. Those in search of evidence of Americans abroad may find Shurcliff’s architecturally-minded, photographic diary of his travels through Southeast Asia to be an especially unique example. This fascinating collection is described in the online collection guide, which also includes links to the online presentation of each image.  Please explore the collection guide. The web displays of the lantern slides are also now discoverable via MHS’s general website search tool.

The MHS is grateful to the Boston Public Library for creating the master digital images of the lantern slides. The Library for the Commonwealth program of the Boston Public Library supports digitization services for a statewide collaborative project, Digital Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  In the near future, metadata relating to the Shurcliff lantern slides will be added to Digital Commonwealth’s online discovery portal, where people can search across thousands of collections from various cultural institutions in Massachusetts. In the meantime check out other digitized MHS collections currently on Digital Commonwealth.

Schurcliff glass lantern slide
View of Park Street looking north towards State House, Boston, possibly taken by Arthur A. Shurcliff, circa 1914. From the Arthur Asahel Shurcliff collection of glass lantern slides. Photo. 6.19.153.  

Further reading

  1. Cushing, Elizabeth Hope. Arthur A. Shurcliff: Design, Preservation, and the Creation of the Colonial Williamsburg Landscape. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, in association with Library of American Landscape History, 2014.
  2. Shurcliff, Arthur A. Autobiography of Arthur A. Shurcliff: written winter of 1943- 1944, with additions summer of 1946, summer of 1947. 1981.
  3. Todisco, Patrice. “Boston’s Charles River Esplanade: an urban jewel,” Landscape Notes, 2015. https://landscapenotes.com/2015/03/07/bostons-charles-river-esplanade-an-urban-jewel/
  4. “Margaret Homer (Nichols) Shurcliff (1879-1959),” Nichols House Museum, 2019. https://www.nicholshousemuseum.org/margaret_nichols.php
  5. Arthur Asahel Shurcliff papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. https://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0023

This Week @MHS

This week at the MHS, we have a couple of evening programs, a gallery talk, and a Saturday morning tour. Here’s a look at what is planned:

On Tuesday, 18 June, at 6:00 PM: Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote with Susan Ware. The history of how American women won the right to vote has been told as the tale of a few iconic leaders, all white and native born. But there is a much broader and more diverse story waiting to be told. This talk is a tribute to the many activists who worked tirelessly out of the spotlight in communities across the nation, protesting, petitioning, and insisting on their right to full citizenship. 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).

On Thursday, 20 June, at 6:00 PM: The Sound of Glass Shattering with Eleanor G. Shore, Harvard Medical School; Miles F. Shore, Harvard Medical School. One hundred years have passed since Harvard Medical School appointed Dr. Alice Hamilton as assistant professor of Industrial Medicine, making her the first female faculty member in the history of Harvard University. Hamilton’s legacy as a leader in the field of toxicology and occupational medicine, as a women’s rights activist, and as an international pacifist and outspoken advocate of progressive social reforms marks her as one of the great barrier-breaking women of the 20th century. 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).

On Friday, 21 June, at 2:00 PM: “Can She Do It?” Gallery Talk with Allison Lange, Wentworth Institute of Technology. Join guest curator, Allison Lange, Wentworth Institute of Technology professor, for a guided tour and highlights from our current exhibition.

On Saturday, 22 June at 10:00 AMThe History & Collections of the MHS. This is a 90-minute docent-led walk through of our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public. 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.

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, the exhibition illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. For over a century, Americans debated whether women should vote. The materials on display demonstrate the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. While women at the polls may seem unremarkable today, these contentious campaigns formed the foundations for modern debates about gender and politics.

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

Time & Demise: Document Descriptions at the Massachusetts Historical Society

By Andrew Kettler, University of Toronto, Andrew W. Mellon short-term research fellow at the MHS

Time is the historian’s obsession. Wasting time is the academic’s demise. For a cultural historian, the archive can often seem like the proverbial haystack. Because the focus of cultural research is frequently upon specific and often obscure topics rather than narrative or quantitative history, the manuscript archive is often a daunting and byzantine maze where searching for single references that relate to a defined subject can be an obstructed and time consuming journey.

Occasionally, finding single references can take hours of laborious reading of problematic handwritten materials. As such, many cultural historians turn their works towards theoretical analysis and printed materials to avoid wasteful hours of archival research when the buried needle is difficult to discover. However, the general concern with these archival mazes is commonly overcome when document descriptions within library and manuscript catalogs provide enough detailed summaries to help cultural historians, and all researchers, narrow their focus prior to possibly wasting time reading unnecessary materials.

While completing research for my project on the history of smell and slavery in the Atlantic World, I recently worked at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). While serving as a short-term fellow under the auspices of the Andrew Mellon Foundation, I worked often with the Beck-Alleyne family papers, 1787-1936. I had not originally sought out this collection prior to arriving in Boston, as my work at the MHS focused on searching for descriptions of slave bodies and plantation life within different paper collections from the 18th century.

Despite my initial oversight of this collection, the notes in the introduction to the Beck-Alleyne collection provided by the library staff involved great detail regarding the correspondence of family members and the specific papers within the collection. As a part of this assortment, and nearly all other collections at the MHS, researchers are frequently guided through centuries of papers through these simple keyword connections.

Specifically included as keyword links in the summaries for the Beck-Alleyne papers are topics related to slavery, trade, secession, and rebellion that cover vast areas from Boston to Barbados. Rarely would a scholar of plantation culture look to correspondence from a New England shipping family for notes on Bussa’s Rebellion in Bridgetown of 1816. However, because of the primary details provided in the document description by the library staff, keyword searches trigger important summaries of this rebellion that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

As portrayed by the ease of maneuvering through the Beck-Alleyne papers, the MHS is the premier archive for discovering specific references through these detailed document descriptions. The research team, from those who worked at the archive decades ago to the current library staff, have consistently provided document summaries that offer much more details than nearly all other archives with similar collections. Practically every manuscript document to be accessed at the MHS includes paragraph length descriptions that provide the cultural historian keyword search terms to help focus research much more quickly and consequently avoid wasting the researcher’s time with reading irrelevant materials for their projects.

The keyword searches that are now common within historical research due to the vast accessibility of digital materials makes exploration much quicker and frequently less precise. However, the greater force of historical research remains within the manuscript archive, where materials are recovered and interpreted for the broader historical audience and the public sphere. The detailed descriptions provided within primary keyword searches at the MHS deliver researchers markedly more time to produce engaging scholarship through limiting wasted time upon documents that could be poorly, lightly, or mistakenly described in the hands of less caring and coordinated research teams.

This Week @MHS

Join us at the MHS this week for a program! Here is a look at what is planned:

On Monday, 10 June, at 6:00 PM: Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait? Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, & the Fight for the Right to Vote with Tina Cassidy. In 1913, on the eve of his presidential oath of office, Woodrow Wilson landed in Washington, D.C., to witness 8,000 protesting suffragists, led by Alice Paul. From solitary confinement, hunger strikes, and mental institutions to sitting right across from President Wilson, this narrative reveals the inspiring near-death journey, spearheaded in no small part by Paul’s leadership, it took to grant women the right to vote in America. 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).

On Wednesday, 12 June, at 12:00 PM: “I did glimpse a tiger, but what I really got was malaria”: Massachusetts Women in India, 1920-1940 with Shealeen A. Meaney, Russell Sage College. Today we hear about American women heading off to Rishikesh to trian as yoga instructors, but what did India mean to women travelers from Massachusetts a century ago? This talk explores the ways that women experienced and wrote about India as tourists, hunters, and seekers in the decades after suffrage. This is part of our brown-bag lunch programBrown-bags are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, 12 June, at 5:00 PM: MHS Fellows Annual Meeting & Reception. MHS Fellows are invited to a special program at 4:30 PM followed by the Society’s annual business meeting at 5:00 PM. A reception will follow. This program is open only to MHS Fellows.

On Thursday, 13 June, at 6:00 PM: The Presidents: Noted Historians on the Lives & Leadership of America’s Best & Worst Chief Executives with Brian Lamb, Susan Swain, James Traub, and Peter Drummey. Over a period of decades, C-SPAN has surveyed leading historians on the best and worst of America’s presidents across a variety of categories—their ability to persuade the public, their leadership skills, their moral authority, and more. The crucible of the presidency has forged some of the very best and very worst leaders, along with much in between. Brian Lamb and Susan Swain will discuss presidential leadership qualities with historian James Traub and Peter Drummey, MHS. 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).

On Saturday, 15 June at 10:00 AMThe History & Collections of the MHS. This is a 90-minute docent-led walk through of our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public. 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.

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, the exhibition illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. For over a century, Americans debated whether women should vote. The materials on display demonstrate the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. While women at the polls may seem unremarkable today, these contentious campaigns formed the foundations for modern debates about gender and politics.

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

Strawberry Fun at the MHS

By Rakashi Chand, Senior Library Assistant

June is finally here! The days are getting warmer and the strawberry crop is ripe.

Strawberry Festivals were popular in New England, especially in the 19th century. They often occurred in late spring/early summer when New Englanders could finally enjoy warmer weather and the strawberries were ripe. The celebrations ranged from church gatherings and dances to fundraisers, picnics, and theatre nights.

In our collection of Theatre Broadsides, we have some especially enjoyable examples from Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Club. The Club hosted an Annual performance called “Strawberry Night.” The plays performed and the broadsides that accompanied them are irresistibly comical! In the spirit of strawberry season here are a few examples.

Found in the Strawberry Night theatre broadside from 1866:

 “… While the enchanted and vest-bursting audience are recovering from the effects of this remarkable concatenation of clownish stupidity, insatiable ambition, unalloyed virtue, and unsophisticated innocence, their attention will be called on the wonderful and elaborate German Duet…”

“…That the aching sides and smoke-filled eyes of the audience may have no rest, there will immediately follow a most wonderful, original, burlesque, tragic, extravaganzetta, entitled Babes In The Wood!”

Strawberry Night broadside, 1866
“Heir at Law,” Strawberry Night theatre broadside, 1866

And in the 1868 theatre broadside:

“Theatre H. P. C. Strawberry Night..: the evening’s Performance will begin with the farce, Friend Waggles! … The important and all-absorbing business transacted, and seats once more carefully resumed, the curtain rises on the farce, Wanted: One Thousand Spirited Young Milliners for the Gold Diggings.”

“In order that the plot play may be perfectly comprehensible to the most casual observer, the scenes will occasionally be changed.”

Theatre broadside, 1868
Detail of Hasty Pudding Club, Strawberry Night theatre broadside, 1868

The class of ’95 produced “Poor Pillicoddy” on 21 June 1894. The broadside states:

“After the Crowd has been decoyed into the Theatre by the Orchestra, the Management will lock the doors and present the serio-tragic spectacular drama, entitled “Poor Pillicoddy”…

Theatre broadside, 1894
Hasty Pudding Club, Strawberry Night, theatre broadside, 1894

The last comments in the broadside are thoroughly enjoyable:

Theatre broadside, 1894
Hasty Pudding Club, Strawberry Night, Theatre broadside, 1894

The MHS has an endearing and historic association with the strawberry and celebrations in its honor. An invitation to a strawberry festival in 1856 led to the donation of Mr. Thomas Dowse’s vast and coveted library:

“SPECIAL MEETING, JUNE, 1886. A Social Meeting of the Society was held at the house of Mr. Charles Deane, in Cambridge, on Friday, the 18th instant, at five o’clock, P.M.

The Hon. Robert C. Winthrop said:

“…But another of these Cambridge meetings was still more memorable, and can never be forgotten in the history of our Society. I refer, as I need hardly say, to the meeting at good George Livermore’s in 1856, just thirty years ago. From that meeting came the library and large endowment of our great benefactor, Thomas Dowse. Mr. Dowse was a neighbor and friend of Mr. Livermore, and had been specially invited by him to come over to our strawberry festival. Age and infirmities prevented his acceptance of the invitation ; but the occasion induced him to inquire into the composition and character of our Society, and he forthwith resolved to place his precious books, the costly collections of a long life, under our guardianship, and to make them our property forever. From that meeting the regeneration of our Society may thus be fairly dated. Cambridge strawberries have ever since had a peculiar flavor for us, – not Hovey’s Seedling, though that too was a Cambridge product, but what I might almost call the Livermore Seedling or the Dowse Graft, which were the immediate fruits of our social meeting at Mr. Livermore’s.

Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. 3, [Vol. 23 of continuous numbering] (1886 – 1887), pg. 53-54.

Inspired by the description above, and modeled on the spirited event of 1856, the MHS Library held its first Strawberry Festival in 2007.  The Strawberry Festival is now an annual tradition that the MHS staff and friends look forward to attending each year. The Library Reader Services staff bring in imaginative and delicious dishes and drinks with the strawberry as the star ingredient. Here are a few photos from our 2019 Strawberry Festival:

2019 Strawberry Festival
MHS President Catherine Allgor and members of the Reader Services Staff at the 2019 Strawberry Fesitval
Food at the 2019 Strawberry Festival
2019 Strawberry Festival
2019 Strawberry Festival
MHS staff enjoying the 2019 Strawberry Festival

We wish you all a lovely summer and look forward to seeing you in our Reading Room, to learn more about the Hasty Pudding Club, Theatre Broadsides, and strawberry festivals!

George Hyland’s Diary, June 1919

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

Today, we return to the diary of George Hyland. If this is your first time encountering our 2019 diary series, catch up by reading the JanuaryFebruaryMarch, April, and May 1919 installments first!

Hollyhocks from A Little Book of Perennials
Image from A Little Book of Perennials by Alfred Hottes (1923).

Early in June, George moves house from his winter quarters to “the James place” he mentions paying $800 to rent in the entry for May 28th. It is unclear from the diary whether George considers this move a temporary or more permanent one, although he notes on June 27th that “Mr. James is coming back from Oregon and will live here,” followed up two days later with the note, “I do not know where I shall go.”

As with previous months, George records the hours he spends at various tasks for neighbors and the money owed (presumably striking the numbers out when he is paid). A new leisure activity appears in the diary for June: time spent nearly every evening playing the guitar. Food also makes its appearance: rhubarb sauce, peach preserves, doughnuts, baked beans, berry cake, and moss pudding. If you — like I — have never heard of “moss pudding” before (see entries for June 13-14) it seems to be a milk pudding with a type of coastal seaweed used to thicken the mixture. Edible Cape Cod provides a recipe.

On June 29th George breaks his daily record to insert a paragraph on the Treaty of Versailles (signed on June 28th, 1919) which in George’s words: “closes the greatest war the world has ever known.” The next day, he returns to mowing the lawn “with the sickle and shears.”

Without further ado, here is George Hyland’s June 1919 in his own words.

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PAGE 332 (cont’d)

June 1. (Sun.) fair, W.N.E., S.E. Eve. par. Clou.; W.S.W. Went to H. Litchfield’s late in eve. To buy some bread.

2d. Went to the James place and worked 7 hours — mowing grass and making flower gardens and transplanting foxglove, can. bell, hollyhock, heliopsis and larkspur and cornflower plants — carried them there from my garden this A.M. Ellery B. Hyland went there with me in auto, carried some plates, dishes, etc. Had my dinner in the house — bought it in store. Ret. — rode 1 1/2 miles with Albert Litchfield. Fine weather, W.S.E. Clear. Nellie B. Sharpe stopped to see my plants. I watered all of them well.

Image of Canterburybells found in A Little Book of Perennials
Image from A Little Book of Perennials by Alfred Hottes (1923).

3d. Went down to the James place — mowed and trimmed all around the house. Carried my dinner. Walked down. Ret. — rode 1 mile with Ellery Hyland in auto. Carried some foxglove and canterbury bell plants and gae them to Mrs. Emma F. Sargent. […] Very hot weather W.W.S.W.; tem. 70-98 nearly all day.

4th. Moved into the James house. Ellery Hyland carried my things there in his auto truck. I rode down with him. 2 loads. Very hot weather – tem. 96. W.S.E. Clear. Worked in the place – made gardens for the plans I carried there.

5th. Worked 4 1/2 hours for Mr. S. T. Sheare clearing out the big store. Carried rubbish to the dump near Bound Brook and put the broken boxes […] his cellar. Very hot weather — tem. 78-98; W.N.W. fine eve. Mrs. Ethel Torrey and Margaret Sheare, and Mrs. Torrey’s children called here early in eve. Played on the guitar 3/4 hour in eve. X 1.35.

[entry crossed out]

6th. Worked 7 hours for Mr. Speare — repairing side-walk. 2.10. Fine weather. W.N.W. tem. 65-83. Walter Sargent [phrase crossed out] called here early in eve. I showed him a birds nest in the large rose bush on the south side of the house – 4 young birds (sparrows) in it. Played on the guitar 3/4 eve.

7th. Worked 8 1/2 hours for W. and Mrs. Emma Sargent. 2.40. Mrs. Sargent gave me rhubarb sauce — in a tumbler, and at night gave me some baked beans and cake to take home. Thunder, tempest 6 P.M. just as I finished work. Squall — W.N.W. Thunder storm and rain all eve. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve. tem. To-day 66-84. Muggy.

8th. (Sun.) Cold. W.N.E. tem. 55. Mrs. Irene E. Litchfield spent eve. Here.

9th. Worked on the place — dug up garden and did other work. Cold. Cloudy in afternoon — rain at times all aft. and eve. tem. 51-53. W.N.E. Played on the guitar 1/2 hour in eve.

10th. Fine weather. Cool; W.S.E. Clear. Planted my garden — called at Charlie’s late in forenoon — had dinner there. He cut my hair. Eve. clear. Cold. tem. 54. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve.

11th. Worked 6 1/2 hours for Miss Margaret Speare repaving side walk. 1.80. Fine weather, W.N.W. Clear. Cool. Walter Sargent, Mrs. Emma Sargent and Mrs. Edna Bailey called here late in […]

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to see my flower gardens. Mrs. Bailey is Mrs. Sargent’s mother. I showed Mrs. Sargent the birds nest in the great rose bush but the birds had left it. Mr. and Mrs. Sargent will leave here for Chicago Ill. where they will spend the summer, they have let their home here. Called at Wesley Gardner’s in eve. (about 5 P.M.)

12th. Worked on sidewalk 6 hours for Mr. Sheare – 1.80. Cool. W.N.E. Clear. The piano that was in the N. room was moved from here to Mr. Sheare’s store — Girl Scouts had it loaned to them. Miss Eudora Bailey and Miss Norma Morris came here when the piano was moved. Eve. clear. Cold. tem. 45. W.N.E. Fine weather.

13th. Went home to get some of my things. Called at Mrs. Harriman’s 1 3/4 hr. I also called at Uncle Samuel’s. Gave Mrs. Harriman 4 foxglove plants from my garden. Bought 1 1/2 qts. of milk at Andrew Bates’ then went back to James place. Worked on my garden 4 hours. Also late in aft. hoed in garden 2 hours for Archie Torrey — 60. Walked home and back. Played on the guitar 1/2 hour in eve. Fine weather. Clear. W.S.E. Cool. Made moss pudding.

14th. Hoed gardens 7 hours for Archie Torrey and S. T. Speare — 2.10. (Mr. Sheare is Mrs. Torrey’s father live in the same house). Mrs. Ethel T.gave me 2 doughnuts. Fine weather tem. 55-75. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve. W.S.E. to-day.

15th. (Sun.) Fine weather. W.S.E. tem. 65-86. Went home to get some of my things. Walked there rode nearly back with Charlie […] in auto. Bought some mill at Mrs. Merritt’s. Got 4 foxglove plants at home — gave them to Mrs. Edith Sargent and transplanted them for her. Lives with Mrs. Bailey — in house off James place — is Walter Sargent’s sister. Made a moss pudding in eve.

16th. Worked 7 1/2 hours for Peter W. Sharpe — had dinner and supper there. Nellie did go to school to-day. Fine weather. W.S.E. Charles spent eve. Here — I played on the guitar 1 1/2 hours. Fin. planting my garden early this eve. 11 P.M. clear.

17th. Worked 6 1/2 hours for P.W. Sharpe. Had dinner there. Fine weather — clear. W.S.E. worked 3 hours on the James place — after supper. Played on the guitar 1 hour late in eve.

18th. Worked 6 hours for P.W. Sharpe. 18 hours in all — 4.50. Had dinner there with Mrs. S. Fine weather. Cool. Clear. W.S.E. Worked 2 hours in my garden early in eve. Played on the guitar 1 hour late in eve.

19th. Mowed and trimmed lawn and bank 3 hours for Mrs. Eudora Bailey. Mrs. Sarah Brown (nee S.T. Bailey) there to-day. Have not seen her before for 16 or 17 years. Mrs. Bailey’s birthday to day (age 79 all her children called except Mrs. Emma F. Sargent — she is in Chicago Ill.) Henry, Albert, Fred, and Sarah. (Fred (ten), Henry (bass), Emma (sop.) and Sarah (contralto) are the Bailey Quartet. Sarah told me she lives in Wollistan, Mass. I also mowed grass 3 1/3 hours for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns. In eve. stopped and talked nearly an hour with a young man in an automobile near the fountain in N. Scituate — he brought some people from Thomas W. Larvson’s place to attend the motion pictures at the Victoria Hall near here. He was in the late war in British Army — was wounded 2 or 3 times while in service. He told me that Miss Jean Larvson was to be married to-night. Weather to-day W.S.E.; tem. 60-84; clear. Eve. clear. Chilly. Damp.

20th. Worked 5 1/2  hours for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns — mowing and other work. Rain 12:30-1:30 P.M., then cloudy. Eve. cloudy. 11 P.M., clear. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve.

21st. Worked 6 hours for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns — haying and mowing lawn — 14 1/2 hours in all — 3.35.Also mowed the grass among Mrs. Eudora Bailey’s currant bushes — 1 hour. Fine weather. W.N.W., tem. 65-85. Lightning S. of here in eve. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve. 11 P.M. clear.

22nd (Sun.) Fine weather — over —

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June 22. [cont’d] Clear. Cool. W.S.E. Cleared up a great pile of rubbish back side of the house. Eve. par. Clou. 11 P.M. clear.

23d.Worked haying 1 ½ hours — 45 — for Mrs. M. G. Seaverns. Also worked on the front steps — on this place — 7 hours. Par. cloudy, W.N.W., S.E. Played on the guitar 1 hr. 10 min. In eve. tem. to-day 50-67.

24th. In forenoon worked on the front steps and wooden walk. In aft. went to Hingham on train. Walked to Henrietta’s (H. Cen.) had dinner there. Spent aft. There. Ret. — rode back with H. Frankland his wife and three children, Ethel and Henrietta in automobile — they went to N. Scituate beach. Very hot weather — tem. 69-96. — 96 in shade all aft. Mrs. Ethel Torrey and children called here late aft. About 7:30 P.M. (fast time — 6:30 P.M. Standard Time). I went back with them to see their gardens. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve.

25th. Worked 2 1/2 hours for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns haying — got in all the hay. 75. Also worked on the steps and walk — finished the steps and walk. Also mowed with lawn mower, sickle, and shears 7 hours. Hot weather — tem. 68-94. 94 all aft. Played on the guitar 3/4 hour late in eve.

26th. Mowed the grass with lawn mower, sickle, and shears on the whole place — also repaired a window and the roller on the well curb — so it would not slip when drawing water — handle turn-in rolled — it turned in the roller a few days ago and it hit my right arm 6 or 7 times before I could get out of the way of it. Par. clou. tem. 65-85. W.S. transplanted some summer turnips late in aft. Mason Litchfield called here early in eve. — to get me to mow their lawn. I played several selections on the guitar for him. Late in eve. played on the guitar 1 h. 35 min — played 2 hours in all this eve.

27th. Mowed and trimmed lawn 5 hours for Mason Litchfield. Clou. Very warm and muggy — light rain at times. Began to rain at 3 P.M. and rained all aft. and eve. Mrs. Eudora Bailey came here about 6:30 P.M. with 2 berry cakes — she made them. She is 79 yrs of age. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve. I have got to move from this place Mr. James is coming back from Oregon and will live here.

28th. In forenoon — trimmed grass around the place 1 hour for Mason Litchfield — 6 hours in all — 1.75. In aft. Worked on the front walk 1 3/4 hours for Mrs. Ethel Torrey — 45. Also trimmed a large ash tree for Wm. Carter 2 hours — 50. Mrs. C. put up boards against the windows to prevent the great branches from breaking them. The branches were over the house. Early in eve. Mrs. Ethel Torrey sent two of her children here with some doughnuts and cookies for me. Also Mrs. Ella Sharpe sent her boy and a jar of pear preserves. Weather to-day cool. W.N.E. Played on the guitar 1hr 10 min in eve.

29th. (Sun.) Clear, cool. W.N.E. eve. cold. clear. 11 P.M., tem. 46. Have been getting ready to move from here — I do not know where I shall go.

The Treaty of Peace was signed yesterday at the Palace at Versailes [sic], Fr. […] Eng., Fr., Italy, Bel. and the United State of America (and other allies) and Ger., Servia [sic], Montenegro, Por. This closes the greatest war the world has ever known — over 17,000,000 lives lost dur. the war — men, women, and children K., starved, died of exposure. Only about 6,000,000 of them soldiers. I heard the guns on the warships in Boston Har. and vic. Firing salutes. U.S. has over 450,000 troops in Ger. now. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Div. of Regulars.

30th. Mowed with the sickle and shears — 6 1/2 hours for E. Jane Litchfield — 1.50. Had dinner there. Rode up to my home with […] Litchfield — Louis Litchfield’s son. Beechwood. Walked back to N. Scituate. Bought a qt. of milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. I also bought some

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bread at Fred Litchfield’s to cary to N. Scituate. Charles Bailey called here in eve. to get me to do some work for him. Emma and her children spent […] at place where I worked to-day. Fine weather. Clear. Cool. W. E. and S.E. Eve. very cool.

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If you are interested in viewing the diary in person 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.

*Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original. The catalog record for the George Hyland’s diary may be found here. Hyland’s diary came to us as part of a collection of records related to Hingham, Massachusetts, the catalog record for this larger collection may be found here.

“Let the Whole Government Go to Eternal Smash”: The Civil War Letters of Dwight Emerson Armstrong, Part III

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the third post in a series. Read Part I and Part II.

Letter from Dwight Armstrong to his sister Mary
Detail of letter from Dwight Emerson Armstrong to Mary (Armstrong) Needham, 21 Dec. 1861

When we left Private Dwight Emerson Armstrong in the fall of 1861, he and his regiment, the 10th Massachusetts Infantry, were stationed at Camp Brightwood (later Fort Stevens) in Washington, D.C. Dwight had seen no action yet, but was anxious to join the fight. Rumors abounded, both in camp and up North: the war would be over in a month or last another year; D.C. was in danger of imminent attack or perfectly safe; the regiment would be sent into battle at any moment or assigned to guard the nation’s capital; the troops were winning great victories or merely stumbling through inconsequential skirmishes.

Camp Brightwood was comfortable, and the soldiers had grown accustomed to the sound of nearby gunfire and cannon blasts, but the uncertainty irritated Dwight. His letters to his sister Mary (Armstrong) Needham in October 1861 were his bitterest yet, full of angry underlining for emphasis.

They have got old Armstrong this time but if Uncle Sam ever gets into another row with his rebellious children I know of one who wont help him chastise them, even if the old gent got whipped himself individually. Here they are keeping this great army here in idleness waiting for what; if anybody knows I wish they would tell. I believe that the officers are afraid to attack the rebels; it look[s] like it certainly and if they are not, why dont they do it.

In fact, the delay was making him cynical about the whole idea of reunification, and he told Mary that the Union should just fight or go home: “Now if the South cant be beaten why not give up at once and let the whole government go to eternal smash and have it done with.”

He’d started writing more broadly about the war and politics, criticizing the U.S. army for, among other things, their “foolish” attempt to starve the South “into submission.” There was also the undeniable fact that the Confederacy had chalked up a number of victories on land and sea, which called into question the reassurances of Northern generals. Dwight even began to doubt that God was on the side of the Union!

On 5 December 1861, Dwight reached the ripe old age of 22. Five days later, he wrote to Mary in a more introspective vein.

Many things have happened in the 22 years I have seen that we little thought of and how many, many things will happen during the next 22 years that we little think of now. It is true as you say we are all weaving the web of life and nations as well as individuals must play the part designed for them in the beginning and though we poor wretches often think that the machinery don’t work right yet doubtless in the end we shall all see that the jolts and wreckings were a part of the great plan and without which the web could not have been perfect.

Up to this time, he’d mentioned slavery only once or twice, but on 12 January 1862, he discussed the subject at length. He started by describing the “contrabands” at Camp Brightwood, enslaved people who’d escaped to Union lines.

We have got quite a lot of “contrabands” in our camp and they are very useful. Money would not hire one of them to set his foot out side of the camp for fear his master would get him. The slave as a class are much more intelligent than the white folks; after all that has been said about their not being able to get their own living and the like. P.M. General Blair has got some of the nicest slaves I ever saw. I wish I was half as smart as some of them.

(Montgomery Blair was Abraham Lincoln’s postmaster general from 1861 to 1864. Blair lived nearby and, according to Alfred S. Roe’s history of the 10th Regiment, had visited the camp the previous October.)

Dwight went on to compare the enslaved people and free black people he’d seen in D.C. The freemen were “as much poorer than the poorest people at the North as you can think” and usually had to beg for subsistence. Most slaves, he said, were not only more intelligent, but better fed and clothed, so they felt superior to and mocked “their free brethren” when they met in the street. Knowing this, “the free shun[ned] the slaves as they would a pestilence.”

The collection unfortunately doesn’t include Mary’s reply, but we can fill in the blanks from Dwight’s next letter. On 21 January, he clarified:

You want to know why the slaves want to be free if they were much better off then [sic] their colored brethren. It is true that all the slaves I have seen are much better off in every respect than the free negroes. But there is no such thing as a man’s being contented in slavery so long as there is a single spark of humanity in him. Most of the slaves I have seen, seem to be pretty well contented, but after all they aren’t, and never can be, so long as they have a master.

The 10th Massachusetts Infantry left Camp Brightwood on 10 March 1862 after a seven-month stay. For more “jolts and wreckings,” come back for Part IV of Dwight’s story here at the Beehive.