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!