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.
  4. “Margaret Homer (Nichols) Shurcliff (1879-1959),” Nichols House Museum, 2019.
  5. Arthur Asahel Shurcliff papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

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.

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!

“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.

Abigail Adams’s “favorite Scotch song”

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

Have you ever wondered what Abigail Adams’s favorite song was? Or maybe you wondered if John and Abigail had a song that was their song. A series of letters written between 1778 and 1787 seems to provide the answer.

Abigail Adams had an established affinity for “Scotch” songs. She was moved by the “Native Simplicity” of the lyrics and thought they had “all the power of a well wrought Tradidy.” While John was overseas serving as a commissioner at Paris, Abigail and her two youngest sons, Charles and Thomas, were fending for themselves in one of the severest winters Braintree had ever known. Abigail’s daughter, Nabby, was staying in Plymouth with friends, and her eldest son, John Quincy, was in France with his father.

“How lonely are my days? How solitary are my Nights?” Abigail wrote to her husband on 27 December 1778. “Secluded from all Society but my two Little Boys, and my domesticks, by the Mountains of snow which surround me . . . I am solitary indeed.” Someone Abigail identified only as a young lady found her in the midst of “a Melancholy hour” and decided to sing to her to cheer her up. That was when Abigail first heard the song “There’s Nae Luck about the House”—a song she would fondly cite again and again over the years.

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams
Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 27 December 1778

The traditional song, attributed to Jean Adam, tells the story of a wife excitedly greeting her seafaring husband, or “gudeman,” after he’s been “awa’.” Abigail, deeply moved by the sentiments of the song, begged for the music. Her son Charles, then eight years old, learned the song so that he could sing it and console Abigail whenever she needed.

Abigail enclosed the music in one of her letters to John, telling him “It has Beauties in it to me, which an indifferent person would not feel.” She drew out several couplets that she found particularly relatable: “His very foot has Musick in’t, As he comes up the stairs” as well as “And shall I see his face again? And shall I hear him speak?”

On 13 February 1779, when John received the music in France, he was similarly affected. “Your scotch song . . . is a charming one. oh my leaping Heart.”

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 13 February 1779

Abigail’s affection for the song was shared with her dearest friends. On 15 March 1779, Mercy Otis Warren wrote to her, “You May feelingly join with me and the Bonny Scotch Lass, and Warble the Mournful Chorus from Morn to Eve. Theres Little pleasure in the Rooms When my Good Mans awaw.”

In 1785, when Abigail tried to illustrate to her teenaged niece Lucy the importance of expressing genuine sentiments simply, she referenced the song again. “It is that native simplicity too, which gives to the Scotch songs a merit superior to all others. My favorite Scotch song, ‘There’s na luck about the house,’ will naturally occur to your mind.”

A year later, while living in London, Abigail learned that her family back home in Massachusetts “were all turning musicians.” Her niece was becoming adept at the harpsicord, her nephew had taken up violin, and John Quincy and Charles were learning the flute. “Our young Folks improve fast in their musick,” her sister reported in May 1786. “Two German Flutes, a violin and a harpsicord and two voices form a considerable concert.”

Though she was now reunited with her husband and daughter, Abigail’s family was still separated by the Atlantic Ocean. “Here you would have felt a pleasure which you never experienc’d in a drawing Room at St James,” her sister wrote on 14 July 1786. “To vary our Scene musick is often call’d for . . . and then my sister how do I Wish for you. No one ever injoyd the pleasures of young People more than you use’d too.”

Abigail couldn’t join their late night concerts by the fire, but she came up with a way to make her presence felt. In the winter of 1787, she received a letter from home: “The musical society at Braintree return their thanks for those Scotch Peices of Musick whih you so kindly Sent them.”

The World of Constance Coolidge & Her Infamous Charms

By Rakashi Chand, Reader Services

I have recently embarked on a journey . . . a journey through the papers of Constance Coolidge* (1892-1973). The MHS houses many incredible and fascinating collections yet I am rarely swept up the way that I am with this one. Turning each page of the collection carefully, I am full of eager anticipation to learn what will happen next and have been literally on the edge of my seat!

Constance Crowninshield Coolidge was as Bostonian as one could be. She was a descendant of the Adams, Amory, Coolidge, Copley, Crowninshield, and Peabody families. She even received regular relationship advice from her financial guardian, Uncle Charles Francis Adams (1866-1954), written on his ‘Secretary of the US Navy’ stationary.  I am only just beginning to learn about Constance and her world. Like a fascinated spectator, I am enthralled by her life and her lifestyle, and am falling for her infamous charms—as did all who knew her. Constance was loved by many men and admired by many more. Better than a scene from the Great Gatsby, each letter, item, and photograph in the collection is striking, provocative, sometimes sad, at other times delightful, or simply shocking.

Here is a sampling of some of the letters and photographs along with a postcard and telegraph found in the collection.

On Thursday, 22 November 1923, Felix concludes a letter to Constance with:

“I Love you, sweet Constance, and I can hardly wait to hold you in my arms again. Don’t be angry with me, I really don’t deserve it. Can’t we dine together Saturday night?



Letter to Constance from Felix
Letter from Felix written 22 November 1923

Just a few days later, on Saturday, 24 November 1923, Constance receives a letter from Eric (roughly transcribed):

“I don’t want to hurt you, but I believe more that it won’t affect you much, You haven’t even taken the time to answer my last cable, and I’m beginning to think you are incapable of feeling anything serious, or of realizing how much you hurt others. Perhaps, however, you don’t read my letters or cables any longer. I have your telegraph and also a most pitiful letter from mother. How she came to know is a mystery – I never told her anything.

For her sake I suppose I suppose I must try [—-] myself and find a job that will keep her alive. If it were not for her I should have no hesitation in killing myself.

It seems impossible to make you feel anything but in case it may make you think twice before treating some other unhappy man in the same way, I [—] you that you have broken my heart and any belief  I ever had in human nature.

Remembering what we have been to each other and the hours we have spent together, it is impossible to imagine how you could have brought yourself to do this & in this way.

Your letters are too numerous to return, so I am destroying them. Your [aunts] charm and the watch you gave me I shall send to you.

I should try to forget you altogether, but it would be useless because I still love you. In a new life without friends, beliefs or hopes of any kind, my memories of the racecourse and of will be all that
I have left.

In spite of everything I love you – you may not believe, but I do.

I love you Constance


Letter from Eric to Constance
Letter from Eric written 24 November 1923

And those are just two letters, from two lovers, who not only had affairs with Constance, but were completely and wholeheartedly in love with her. She had begun affairs with both of these young men while in still in China as the wife of diplomat Ray Atherton. However, they were not her first. Love letter after love letter can be found in the folders of this collection. Love is also found in the letters of friends and relatives, proof that there was something very special about Constance. Frequently in the limelight and sometimes in the news-paper, as is often the way in high Society, Constance was criticized for her un-lady like ways. She enjoyed things that were typically reserved for men such as horse racing and gambling. Yet, she could care less about what people would say about her and went on living her own independent life.

Biographers often seek this collection, and once you begin to read the letters, the reason quickly becomes apparent. Constance was more than a Boston Brahmin, a Femme Fatale, and  world-travelling heiress that lived a life reserved for fiction. She was charm encapsulated in a female figure. She was simply irresistible and she rarely resisted. This, of course had its consequences. A letter dated 8 July 1921 from the wife of Frank Fearon clearly demonstrates:

“ Before your questions could you define friendship for me, not the kind mentioned on paper, but the real thing?

Is it friendship when a woman sneaks off with another woman’s husband for half of the night, without a word to the wife and leaving the latter to find her way home the best she can?

Is it friendship for a woman to who pretends to be another woman’s friend to continually write to the latter’s husband addressing the letter to his office, when he has a home?

Is it friendship where a woman knows she has hurt her so called friend, by carrying on with her husband, to continue hurting her by the same method? …”

Letter written to Constance from Mrs. Fearon
Letter from Mrs. Fearon written 07-08-1921

While Constance loved Felix, and trailed Eric along, she also had an affair and deep friendship with Harry Crosby. In fact, her photograph was in Harry’s wallet the day he committed murder-suicide with another one of his lovers. Constance was also friends with Caress, Harry’s wife. The affair between Harry and Constance was one of the only affairs that bothered Caress (they had a very open marriage).  Perhaps this was because of the emotional connection?

Constance’s social circles and influence brought her in contact with suitors from far and wide. When the famed author H. G. Wells met Constance, the beautiful Boston Belle, he too fell under her spell. The collection contains 46 letters from H. G. Wells to Constance. Some poke fun of her Boston accent as she would walk her “dorg” in the morning.

H. G. Wells letter to Constance
Letter from H. G. Wells written March 13, 1935

Constance’s true loves were her horses and horse racing. She took great pride in her award-winning stables and in her success in a field rarely entered by women. Below are some wonderful photographs that Constance sent to her grandmother in a letter that reflect her happiness and joy. As well, they feature her irresistible smile.

Three photos of Constance and her horses
Photos Constance sent to her grandmother

Here is a wonderful postcard Constance sent to her father of herself and Katherine Rogers on the beach in their bathing suits.

Constance and Katherine Rogers on the beach
Constance and Katherine Rogers on the beach

Constance and Katherine were mutual friends with another fascinating woman, Wallis Simpson, The Duchess of Windsor. Letter from the Duchess also appear in this collection.

Wallis Simpson note to Constance
Note from Wallis Simpson

And finally, I would like to share one of many telegraphs in the collection. This is perhaps the most entertaining telegraph I have ever come across.

Telegram sent to Constance
Telegram from Felix

My exploration of this collection and this incredible woman are only just beginning. Stay tuned for further findings and more wonderful pieces from the world of Constance!

*The papers of Constance Coolidge are part of the Crowninshield-Magnus Papers at the MHS.

“They Dont Stop for Meetinghouses Nor Anything Else”: The Civil War Letters of Dwight Emerson Armstrong, Part II

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the second post in a series. Part I can be found here.

On 16 July 1861, after a month at the Hampden Park training camp in Springfield, Mass., the men of the 10th Massachusetts Infantry began their journey South. Among them was Private Dwight Emerson Armstrong, whose letters to his sister Mary were recently acquired by the MHS.

The regiment passed through Medford, Mass., where they camped on the banks of the Mystic River at what Dwight called Camp McClellan. (Regimental histories by Joseph K. Newell and Alfred S. Roe use the name Camp Adams; the land had once belonged to John Quincy Adams.) This location was practically idyllic compared to Hampden Park, but the respite was short-lived. Just five days later, the first major battle of the Civil War broke out.

Photo of destroyed stone bridge
Carte-de-visite photograph of stone bridge destroyed in First Battle of Bull Run (Photo. #3.806)

The First Battle of Bull Run, known to the Confederates as the First Battle of Manassas, was fought near Manassas, Va. on 21 July 1861. Dwight heard via telegraph that “the rebels were beaten and 1500 stand of arms taken and a 1000 prisioners.” But these initial reports were wrong—the battle was a terrible loss for the Union Army, and the 10th Regiment was ordered to move to Virginia sooner than anticipated. Dwight gamely told his sister Mary, “I hope we shall not have to stay a great while and I don’t beleive it is going to be a long war.”  On 23 July, he wrote his last letter before leaving Massachusetts, closing with “about 900 pounds” of love to his nieces Annie and Jennie.

By 28 July, Dwight and his regiment had reached the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. He described to Mary the steamer journey up the Potomac River, between the Confederate state of Virginia and the border state of Maryland. He saw a few masked rebel batteries, Mount Vernon (“a most beautiful place”), and “two or three old dillapidated looking negroes,” but no enemy soldiers so far.

In fact, Dwight was preoccupied with and angry about the army’s provisions, which consisted entirely of hard bread and rotten ham…for the enlisted men. He blamed Quartermaster John W. Howland and the commander of the regiment, Colonel Henry S. Briggs. It wouldn’t be the last time he wrote in such defiant tones.

I know it is a serious offence to say anything about our officers but I don’t care when I get mad and I will say that we have got a Quarter-master that don’t know enough to go in when it rains and a Col. that so long as he can keep his own contemptible old stomach full of beef steak don’t care what his men have to eat.

The next letter in the collection is dated 12 September, more than six weeks later. By this time, the 10th Regiment had settled at Camp Brightwood (a.k.a. Fort Massachusetts, a.k.a. Fort Stevens) in northwest Washington, D.C., which would be its home for seven months. Brightwood was one of dozens of encampments constructed during the war to improve the capital’s defenses. In one interesting passage, Dwight described building fortifications, which necessitated the destruction of a local church.

We have been at work for sometime past building batterries; and have not got through yet by considerable. It is a great deal of work to build them but there are a great many to do it. […] The first one we built has got a good brick meetinghouse inside of it. It stood on a hill right where they wanted the battery so the meetinghouse has got to be pulled down. […] It seems a pity to take it down for the heathen want it or at least need it as bad as they do any where but in war time they dont stop for meetinghouses nor anything else.

This church, the Emory United Episcopal Church, whose bricks were literally pulled down and used to build the fort, was later rebuilt and operates today as the Emory Fellowship. Fort Stevens is a national park, and some of its earthworks still exist.

Dwight was optimistic about the outcome of the war, felt safe at Camp Brightwood, and was adjusting fairly well to military service, despite the nits and cockroaches that were, in his words, “just like the Southerners never satisfied with what they have got but always want more territory.” The food had even improved since the “Quartermaster was very Providentially taken sick.”

He’d seen no combat yet, but every once in a while an alarm was raised, and the troops were “tumbled out of [their] tents” and held in readiness to march at a moment’s notice. None of these alarms had come to anything, and Dwight found the whole thing kind of amusing.

It is curious how anyone can get used to almost anything so as to not mind anything about it. […] They were having a battle only a few miles off and we could hear the cannons thundering away almost as plainly as if we had been there but we had got so used to disturbances of this sort that no one minded anything about it and all laid down with their guns beside them and went to sleep as quietly as though they were a thousand miles from any danger.

Please join me for the next installment of Dwight’s story!

Signature line of letter from Dwight Armstrong to Mary Armstrong
Detail of letter from Dwight Armstrong to Mary (Armstrong) Needham, 12 Sep. 1861

George Hyland’s Diary, May 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 January, February, March, and April 1919 installments first!

As the growing season commences in earnest, George’s labor increases and diversifies beyond chopping and hauling wood. In May he spends time at multiple households mowing lawns, trimming walks, planting flowers, pruning trees, and weeding vegetables. In addition to being paid in cash, he also earns half a rhubarb pie, half a jar of pear preserves, and ten doughnuts. He is also often fed dinner and supper, and nearly always tea with milk. His routine is punctuated in May by a trip to Boston on the 6th, where he does some banking, eats lunch at a restaurant near Rowe’s Wharf, and catches an airshow above Boston harbor. “They turned over,” George reports,  “made summersaults (end over end) dove down straight, and went up straight in the air. Some of them dove down in spiral form. When they were very high in the air they looked like a flock of hawks.”

Without further ado, join George on his daily rounds during May 1919.

* * *

PAGE 329 (cont’d)

May 1. Par. clou. to cloudy. W.S., S.E. a few sprinkles in aft. Worked 5 1/2 hours for A.E. Litchfield improving […] 11 1/2 hours in all. 300.  Called at Uncle Samuel’s late in aft. had supper there. Grace Whiting (nee Lee) and little girl there. Stanley Dorr called there to take them home in auto. He has lately returned from California. Light rain in eve.

2d. Fine weather tem. 44-66; W.S.W. In aft. worked 2 1/4 hours for Mrs. Salome Litchfield — dug up garden. Late in aft. went to N. Scituate — called at Charlie’s. Had supper there. Walked down and back. Fine eve. N. Light’s in eve. Conj. of Venus and moon.

3d. Worked 5 hours or Mrs. Salome Litchfield — 7 1/4 hours in all — 1.75. Early in eve. went to N. Scituate. Got some eggs there for Uncle Samuel — He gave me 10 cts. Mrs. S. L. gave me 1/2 jar of pear preserves and 10 doughnuts.

4th. (Sun.) Warm weather; W.S.; tem. 54-76. Clear to par. clou. Eve. par. Clou. 11:30 P.M., Lightening N. of here. Cloudy.

5th. Worked 7 1/4 hours for Walter and Mrs. Emma H. Sargent (nee E.H. Bailey) — 210.  Helped Mrs. S. make a garden — round garden — about 11 ft. in circum. Then I mowed the lawn, trimmed the grass around the house, then worked on the driveway. Wheeled off 1 load of sod and about 10 loads of stones and coal cinders. Had dinner there. Walked down ret. — rode 1 3/4 miles with Lemuel Hardwick — in auto. Very warm weather, tem. 48-86; W.S.W. wind changed to N.W. about 6:40 P.M. Light rain, did not get very wet. Thunder tempest S. of here in eve. E.F.S. very […] 10:45 P.M. par. Clou. […]

6th. Went to Boston. bought a $50 U.S. Bond — (5th) Victory Liberty Loan. Paid $10 to-day — will pay the balance $40 as soon as I can. got my 4th L.B. to-day at the state St. […] Bank. Walked to N. Scituate then rode to Black Rock Sta. (Cohasset) with Harry Pratt, then tr. to Boston on tr. return went to Pemberton (Hull) on the Steamer “Betty Alden” (725 tons) then tr. to Nantasket. Staid there about 1 1/2 hours then walked to N. Cohasset then tr. to N. Scituate — rode 1 3/4 miles with Arthur E. Litchfield. Had supper at Uncle Samuel’s. While at Nantasket I visited Paragon Park. Had lunch at Plakia’s restaurant off Rowe’s Wharf. Clear. Very cool — tem. 47-54. W.N.E., S.E. Eve. clear. Very cool. 7 aeroplanes were in the air over Boston. They had a sham battle in the air — They turned over, made summersaults (end over end) dove down straight, and went up straight in the air. Some of them dove down in spiral form. When they were very high in the air they looked like a flock of hawks. Most of them were sea planes, and came there from the Sta. at Chatham, Mass. Saw the Met Line Stem. “North Land,” and Stem. “Gov. Dingley.”

7th. Weeded and hoed rhubarb plants 6 hours for W.O.Clapp. […] par. clou. to clou. W.S.W. began to rain about 3:30 P.M. Shower at times. tem. To-day about 40-62.

8th. Weeded and hoed rhubarb plants 7 hours for W.O.C. — had supper there. Cool. W.N.W.N.E. Saw a Star Shell in eve. Same as used in the late war to light […].

PAGE 330

May 9. Weeded and hoed rhubarb plants 6 1/2 hours for Will Clapp. Par. clou. to cloudy; W.N.E., S.E. Very damp eve. par. clou.

10th. Weeded and hoed rhubarb 5 1/2 hours for W.O. Clapp. Forenoon cou. very damp. cold. W.E. began to rain about 3 P.M. rain all eve W.E.

11th. Cold storm — rain all day and eve.; W.N.E.; tem. About 38. Early in eve. went to Fred Litchfield’s and bought 2 loaves of bread. Cold and windy day and eve.

12th. Cold storm, light rain all day and eve. W.N.E. tem. 48. Chopped wood (in woodhouse) 2 1/2 hours for Mrs. Salome Litchfield — 40. Had dinner there. 11:15 P.M. still raining. Windy.

13th. Weeded and hoed rhubarb plants and carried off the weeds and grass (dog grass) 3 1/4 hours for W.O. Clapp — 28 1/4 hours in all — 7.00. Late in aft. went to N. Scituate rode 1 mile with Archie Mitchell — ret. rode 1/3 mile with Liba Litchfield and 1 1/4 mile with a man in auto (a Russian). Fine weather, clear; W.N.E., S.E., tem. About 44-52. Fine eve.

14th. Worked 7 1/2 hours for Mrs. Ethel Torrey (nee Speare) on flower gardens and front walk. 2.25. Carried my dinner. Walked down — ret. rode to Comcasset Hall with Henry Newcomb — then rode 1/2 mile with Frank Bates. Warm weather, W.S.W.; tem. 55-80. Wind changed to N.E. late in night. Cold and windy. Mrs. Emma Sargent stopped where I was working and said she would like to have me work for her to-morrow. [half a line scratched out]

15th. Worked 6 hours for Mrs. Emma Sargent — mowing lawn, trimming walks and […] she worked with me — is a very nice gardener. X 180. Carried a lunch — she gave some tea, milk, and other things. Rode down with Mr. Samuel Benson — junk dealer. ret. rode 1 3/4 miles with Albert Litchfield. Cold and windy. tem. About 40-6. W.N.E. gave Mrs. Ethel Torrey 2 Canterbury Bell, and 2 foxglove plants — carried them there this A.M. and transplanted them for her. Bought a new watch yesterday at Mrs. Seavern’s store. 1.25. Belva C. Merritt wound and set it for me. Eve. cloudy. cold. W.E.

16th. Fair W.N.E., S.E., tem. clou. 48-58. In aft. Worked 4 hours for Mrs. Salome Litchfield — cleared up a very large grape vine (cut it all down) and trimmed a cherry tree. — 100. Eve. cloudy; W.S.E. very damp. Some fog.

17th. Worked 5 ½ hours for Mrs. Emma F. Sargent — 1.65. Had dinner there. Cloudy until about 9:30 A.M., W.S.E. Aft., fair; W.S.W. windy. tem. About 46-68. Walked down — ret. rode 1 1/4 miles with Galen Watson in auto. Had supper at Uncle Samuel’s. Began to rain about 6:30 P.M. Rain all eve. Thunder storm S. of here. Mrs. S. worked with me in garden.

18th. (Sun.) Fine weather, clear; tem. About 47-67; W.S.W., N.W.

19th. Worked 4 hours for Mrs. Salome Litchfield — 1.00. Fine weather, tem. About 50-69; W.N.W.; S.W.; clear. Made a trellis for grape vines and did other work. B.D.P.B.B. 2W. Fine eve. Mrs. S.L. gave me 1/2 rhubarb pie — gave me a plate of mashed potatoes.

20th. Worked 6 hours for Mrs. M.E. Seaverns chopping up boxes, barrels, etc., and mowing lawn, trimming grass in front of house and store — 1.80. Fine weather. W.N.W. in forenoon — S.E. in aft. tem. About 48-69. Carried a lunch — Mrs. S. gave me some tea and milk. Walked down — ret. rode 1 1/2 miles with Hubert Harriman. Fine eve. Paul spent eve. Here. 11 P.M., clou., W.S.E.

21st. Worked 6 hours for Mrs. Seaverns — mowing, chopping up old barrels and housing the wood, made a garden and transplanted 3 foxglove, 3 Canterbury bell, 3 Hollihock, and about 15 cornflower plants (from my garden) — for Mrs. S. — 1.80. Mrs. Emma Sargent and her mother Mrs. Bailey called to see if I will work for Mrs. B. Walked down. — ret. — rode 1 mile

PAGE 331

with Margaret and Mother Brown in auto. Cloudy, damp. W.S.E. Carried my dinner. Eve. clou., foggy; W.S.E. to E. rain in night.

22nd. Rainy nearly all day. W.S.E.

May 21. Sergt. Alvin C. York, Co. 328th Inf. (U.S.N.A.) […] in New York. While he as in the great war (about 6 month) he k. 25 Germans, captured 132, and destroyed (or cap.) 32 German machine guns. Was the 82nd U.S. Div. 2nd Corps. U.S. Army. 45 off. And 780 men of the 82nd Div. Arr. to-day — from Fr. 82nd Div. Com. by Maj. Gen. Geo. P. Duncan — he said it’s true about Sergt. York. York belongs in Pall Mall, Tenn. The 82nd Div. is composed of men from Tenn., Ala., and Ga.

23rd. Worked 6 hours for Mrs. M. E. Seaverns — 180. Walked down — ret. rode 1 mile with George Hardwick in auto. Fine weather, W.S.W. to W. Clear. Tem. about […] Have sold 3 hollihock [sic], 3 Can. bell, 3 foxglove, and about 15 cornflower plants [two half lines crossed out] and 1 Calio[…] plants to Mrs. Seaverns — 100. Gave Mrs. Emma F. Sargent 2 Can. bell and 1 foxglove plants — carried them to her this A.M. and transplanted them for her. Carried my dinner. Mrs. S. gave me some tea — with milk. Fine eve. Called at Uncle Samuel’s — had lunch there Mrs. Fernald there.

24th. Worked 7 hours for Mrs. M. G. Seaverns — mowing, raking, grass, trimming around currant bushes and etc. — 210. Very warm and muggy. par. clou. in aft. W.S.W. rode 2 miles with Harry Brown and his mother in auto. H. just arr. from [sic] home from France — has been in the Great War — was in the U.S. Army over a year — in the 306th Field Art. 77th (N.Y.) Div., 2nd Corps. One of the ^best [inserted] Divisions in the army. Carried my dinner to-day. Walked home. Eve. clou. Warm. Light rain at times.

25th. (Sun.) rain at times all day. Thunder tempest S.W. of here late in aft. Eve. clear. W.N.W.

26th Worked 6 1/2 hours for Mrs.Salome Litchfield — 162. Had dinner there. Warm. par. Clou. Very windy. N.W. Eve. par. Clou.

27th. Worked 5 hours for Mrs. Eudora Bailey (Mrs. Emma F. Sargent’s mother) — 100. Walked down ret. rode back with Albert Litchfield. Fair. Warm and damp. Carried my dinner — Mrs. Bailey gave me some tea and milk. Paul s pent eve. here.

28th Worked 5 hours for Mrs. Bailey. 100. Fine weather. Clear. W.S.E. rode 2 miles with Albert Litchfield — ret. rode 2 miles with Lemuel Hardwick — in auto. Stopped and worked 1/2 hour on father’s lot in Mt. Hope Cem. fine eve. Hired box no. 2, at N. Scituate P.O. paid $300 due to the So. Scituate Bank — paid $800 for rent of the James place for June 1919. Have hired the place. Did all these things this A.M. — before I went to work. Carried my dinner — Mrs. B. gave me some tea and milk. […] in eve.

29th. Worked 6 hours for Peter W. Sharpe — mowing in X field, helped him spray his orchard and set up 30 bean poles. Had dinner there, fine dinner. X 150. Very hot weather tem. About 69-92. W.N. to N. W. Walked down ret. road near home with Margaret E. Brown in auto. last part of the way. Eve. hazy. An aeroplane passed over the house about 7 P.M.

30th. (Decoration Day) Worked 2 hours for Mrs. M. G. Seaverns — 60. Also worked some on the James place — in garden. Walked down. Late in aft. Went to Hingham Cen. at Henrietta’s — had supper there. ret. to N. Scituate on 7:15 tr. walked home. Walked 12 miles to-day. Went to Mt. Hope Cem. in morning — put flowers on graves of father and mother, grandfather Hyland and grandmother Hyland — also  my […] grandmother H. (his 2nd wife), also on aunt Emeline’s grave. Little Esther and Marion’s graves (Emeline’s children), Charlie’s children — (Edward and Olive) and on my great-grandmother’s grave (nee Lois Ellines) —

PAGE 332

and her 2nd husband […] G.A.R. there with band and S. of V. Boy Scouts and Soldiers of the Great War. Fred Jackson, Scituate Cen. Very fine weather, W.N.E., clear. Fine eve. Charles, Lucy, and Daisy on some […].

31st. Worked 7 hours for Peter W. Sharpe. Hoeing garden, potatoe [sic], corn, and pea and tomatoe [sic] plants — 163. Had dinner and supper there. After supper Peter, Nellie, and I moved (poled) some hay and put it all in one large pile. Walked down, rode home with Peter; Ella (Mrs. S.), Margery and Nellie in their auto. Very fine weather, W.N.E. and S.E. clear eve. clear. damp.

* * *

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.

Passing the bar: America’s first African-American Attorney

by Daniel Hinchen, Reference Librarian

Macon B. Allen, Esq.
Macon Bolling Allen, image accessed from

On this date in 1845, Macon Bolling Allen became the first African American admitted to the bar in Massachusetts. In the May 9, 1845 issue of William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, made note of Allen’s new standing in the Massachusetts legal world:

Macon B. Allen, Esq. lately of the Portland Bar, is, we observe, engaged in the practice of the law in this city. Mr. Allen is now a member of the bar of Suffolk, admitted here on examination. . .

But, as this little blurb intimates, while Allen was the first African American to be admitted to the bar in Massachusetts, it was not the first place Allen was admitted to the bar.

Letter from Samuel Fessenden
Samuel Fessenden to Samuel E. Sewall, 5 July 1844
(Massachusetts Historical Society)

Nearly a year earlier in July of 1844 Allen was admitted to the bar in the state of Maine. Prior to his  examination in Maine, Allen studied law in the offices of two white abolitionist lawyers, Samuel E. Sewall and Samuel Fessenden. On July 5, Fessenden wrote to his law partner proclaiming the news of Allen’s successful examination. His success, though, was not without opposition, and Fessenden recognizes that Portland may not be the best place for Allen to ply his new trade.  The letter in-full reads:

Portland July 5th 1844

My Dear Sir

I have the pleasure to inform you that our friend & protege, Mr. Macon B Allen was admitted to practice Law at the Bar of our Distric Court for this County, which admission, by Statute of this state, gives him the right to practice in all the state courts of Maine, as well the Supreme Judicial Court as those of inferior Jurisdictions. It is more honorable to Mr. Allen that this was done, after having submitted to a careful, and protracted examination by the Committee of the Bar, appointed by the SJC for an examining committee. My Partner Mr. Deblois and Brother Howard, two of our most distinguished counsellors were the Committee, and they certified that his legal and scientific attainments were such as to well entitle him to be admitted to practice at the Bar of our Courts

Mr Allen has improved the time he has spent here. He was not admitted however without strenuous opposition from John Rand Esq, one of the Committee, who refused to attend to his examination, and Augustine Haines Esq County Attorney, One a Whig, and the other a Democrat. Of course I warmly advocated his admission. Judge Goodenow who held the Court, though not an antislavery man, acted nobly, and said he could not, sitting on that Bench of Justice, have respect to the colour of the skin.

It was contended that to admit Mr. Allen woudl disgrace the Bar, no doubt because he was a coloured man, though that was not in terms avowed. His qualifications were not denied. I think Mr. Allen had the sympathy of a large protion of the people in the court, and some & I think quite a number of the jurors wept while I addressed the Court which I did much at large, on the rights of the coloured man, and the wickedness of that prejudice which was crushing him. I think the event will do great good. Rand & Haines are active politicians, & only agree in an inveterate hostility to the antislavery cause.

I regret that Mr Allen has to struggle with poverty, as I have been compelled to advance him the $20 duty or tax which our statute imposes, an admission to practice at the Bar, and some small sums beside to enable him to live. I hope he will be aided to repay me as I shall also be compelled to stand [security]for his bond while here. This regret I should not feel were I not myself a poor man –

I hope however the cause of truth will be advanced, by the victory which we have obtained. Deblois & Howard did their duty though I could perceive, they dd not wish him to be admitted. But they had too much honor and too high a sense of justice to refuse a certificate, fairly claimed by merit.

The cause of emancipation is [onward] in Maine. I have recently been in some of our Eastern Counties, and fully believe the genius of liberty is arousing from her slumbers. I made several antislavery addresses on my route. I feel to thank GOD & take courage.

I incline to think Portland is not exactly the place for our friend. Our coloured people here are few and poor; and Portland, altogether, is an inveterate proslavery place.

with regards

your friend and obt servant

Samuel E. Sewall Esq                                                                      Samuel Fessenden.

Despite – or maybe because of – his position as a trailblazer, Allen found difficulty obtaining clients. According to American National Biography, late in 1845 Allen complained in a letter to John Jay Jr. of New York, that New Englanders preferred famous or well-established lawyers. But, things got better quickly for him. In 1847, Allen was appointed a justice of the peace by the governor of Massachusetts, a Whig, which made him the first African-American appointed a judicial official in the United States.

Following the Civil War, Allen and several other African-American lawyers and activists migrated South. In 1868, he joined Robert Brown Elliot and William J Whipper in Charleston, South Carolina, in establishing the first known African-American law firm in the country, though they represented clients of both races.

Though he never attained high political office, in 1873 Allen was elected a judge of the Inferior Court by the South Carolina legislature, and in 1876 was elected to probate court and served through 1878. Following that stint he returned to his legal practice in Charleston.

Macon Bolling Allen died in 15 October 1894, leaving behind an unnamed widow and a son, Arthur W. Macon.


Fessenden, Samuel to Samuel E. Sewall, 5 July 1844, Robie-Sewall family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Smith, Johnie D., “Allen, Macon Bolling (1816-15 Oct. 1894).” In American National Biography, edited by John A Garraty and Mark C Carnes. Oxford University Press, 1999.

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote Now Open

Commemorating 100 years since Massachusetts ratified the 19th Amendment, a new exhibition at the MHS explores the activism and debate around women’s suffrage in Massachusetts. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, “Can She Do It?” Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. The exhibition is open through 21 September 2019, Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

"Can She Do It?" exhibition
“Can She Do It?” on display in the exhibition galleries at the MHS

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.

Display cases in the "Can She Do It?" exhibition
“Can She Do It?” display cases

Winning the right to vote required more than just passing legislation. Suffragists needed to convince the public to accept new gender roles for women. Anti-suffragists held firm that women should focus on family. They argued that politics would threaten their feminine virtues, damage the family, and ultimately destroy American society. Cartoons suggested that women would abandon their homes and families to cast ballots. In 1895, Massachusetts men and women founded the nation’s first anti-suffrage organization and led campaigns against the suffragists. Visitors are able to see examples of propaganda such as Home!

Home! Anti-suffrage cartoon
Home! Engraving, Boston: Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, [1915].
The engraving depicts a father returning home to find that his wife left children and domestic chores to him, counter to the era’s gender norms. Anti-suffragists printed pictures that of idealized American women who preferred fashion to politics. An anti-suffrage calendar from 1916 that shows a woman in pink with a floral muff and hat and holding a pink rose, a symbol of the anti-suffrage movement, is on display.

After a century of such criticisms, in the 1890s, suffragists argued that female voters would actually improve American life. They contended that women would clean up corrupt politics and favor initiatives to support families. Through their visual campaign materials, they demonstrated that woman could remain feminine, run households, and cast ballots. Not only would female voters continue to care for their families, they would do it better. One example on display is Double the Power of the Home, a broadside by local artist Blanche Ames that depicts a white middle-class mother at home with her children. According to the suffragists, this type of woman would cast a “good vote” in favor of her family.

The exhibition highlights racial divisions among the suffragists. After being excluded from prominent white organizations, Bostonian Josephine Ruffin organized the first national organization of black women, the National Association of Colored Women. Viewers will encounter portraits of black leaders as well as political cartoons that illustrate these tensions.

As the debate continued into the 20th century, British suffragists and labor activists inspired American suffragists to organize parades and pickets to attract attention. In 1915, about 15,000 suffragists marched in a “Victory Parade” in Boston. Suffrage supporters sported yellow roses or sashes while opponents displayed pink and red roses. A broadsheet with instructions for marchers participating in the 16 October 1915 parade is on display along with a scrapbook containing photos from the parade. Eleven states had granted women the ballot and suffragists hoped Massachusetts would be next. The referendum failed. Only 133,000 men voted for the measure, while almost 325,000 voted to defeat it.

Broadsheet with instructions for marchers for Suffrage Victory Parade
Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Victory Parade: Instructions for Marchers, Broadsheet, [Boston, 1915].
Firmly against parading in the streets, anti-suffrage propaganda caricatured suffragists as wild, masculine creatures who attacked dominant gender norms. Political cartoonist Nelson Harding exemplified this caricaturization in Ruthless Rhymes of Martial Militants. The cover of his booklet of humorous rhymes featuring a wide-eyed woman who has abandoned her axe in favor of a torch for the next demonstration is on display.

On June 25, 1919, Massachusetts ratified the Nineteenth Amendment which prohibited states from barring voters based on sex. The final state ratified the measure the following year and many women voted in the 1920 presidential election. Yet, not all women were guaranteed the right to vote. For example, literary tests, poll taxes, and violence prevented black men and women from voting. On August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.

Debates over access to the polls continue today, and Americans continue to advocate for social justice. In 2017, the Women’s March, which developed a platform that included a range of women’s rights, became the largest protest in the nation’s history. Items from the Women’s March including posters and a pussy hat are on display. Social movements and public protests continue to evolve, but the ballot remains an essential expression of political power.

A series of videos highlighting materials from the collection of the MHS are available to view in an interactive display. The videos were created by students at the Wentworth Institute of Technology. Allison Lange, their professor and the exhibition curator, developed this project as part of her class curriculum. The assignment prompted students to craft a three- to four-minute video about the debate over women’s rights in Massachusetts.

Wentworth Institute of Technology Student Videos
Interactive display showcasing videos created by Wentworth Institute of Technology students