“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

“I Guess I Shall Stand It”: The Civil War Letters of Dwight Emerson Armstrong, Part I

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

I should have written to you before this but thought I would wait untill I knew when I was going to war. […] I never have been sorry yet that I enlisted but think quite likely that I shall be before I get back if I ever do. I hope we shall not be gone long and will all come back safe and sound. You must not worry any at all about me while I am gone…

I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce our readers to another terrific collection of Civil War papers here at the MHS, the Dwight Emerson Armstrong letters. The collection is very small, consisting of just 38 letters written between 13 June 1861 and 27 April 1863, but the content is so interesting that I thought I’d start a short series here at the Beehive to talk about the story in more detail.

Dwight was born in the small town of Wendell, Mass. on 5 December 1839, the son of Deacon Martin Armstrong and Mary (Bent) Armstrong. Mrs. Armstrong died when Dwight was only four years old, and Martin remarried to a widow named Almira (French) Root. Dwight had three sisters, two brothers, and one half-brother. He was working as a laborer in Montague, Mass. when he enlisted on 19 April 1861, just one week after the attack on Fort Sumter. He was 21 years old.

All of the letters in the collection were written by Dwight to his older sister Mary. However, the letters came to us without envelopes, so her first name was all I knew, and it took a little time to track down more information about her. A 1900 genealogy identifies her as Mary Bent Armstrong, named for her mother. I finally found a footnote referencing her in a book called Wendell, Massachusetts: Its Settlers and Citizenry. Mary’s husband was a farmer named Emery H. Needham, and in 1861, they were living in Amherst, Mass. with their two young daughters, Annie and Jennie.

Some of Dwight’s letters are written on stationery decorated with colorful images of the American flag, Lady Liberty, etc. (Incidentally, the MHS holds a collection of over 1,000 Civil War “patriotic covers,” envelopes printed with pictures like these.)

Dwight Armstrong letters
Two letters from Dwight Armstrong to his sister Mary, 1861

The letter quoted at the top of this post is the first in the collection. Eight days later, on 21 June 1861, Dwight was mustered into service as a private in the 10th Massachusetts Infantry, Company G. His regiment was mobilized at Hampden Park, a repurposed racetrack in Springfield, Mass. In his second letter to Mary, written that day, Dwight described life in camp as “a perfect pandemonium.” This pandemonium included some discontent over the army’s less-than-stellar provisions.

I presume before this reaches you that you will read terrible stories of the muss which we had here yesterday but don’t beleive newspaper stories. The truth is we did come very near having a pretty serious riot and I thought for a time the buildings where the cooking is done would surely be pulled down […] We can if nesessary live on dog soup and ham with two maggots to one meat but dont intend to at present.

For context, I consulted two printed histories of the regiment, Joseph K. Newell’s “Ours”: Annals of [the] 10th Regiment (1875) and Alfred S. Roe’s very similar The Tenth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (1909). Both downplay this incident as nothing more than young men bristling at the restrictions of army life, or, in Roe’s words, “the unwillingness of Young America to submit to meets and bounds without some sort of protest” (p. 13-14). However, the discontent was real, and desertion was already becoming a problem. In his next letter, Dwight elaborated.

A good many have run away and I suppose they are afraid the rest will if they get a chance. As the time when we are to start comes on some begin to think they had better have stayed at home and a double guard is placed around the Park every night to keep them where they belong.

Regimental rosters in both Newell and Roe indicate that many soldiers did, in fact, desert during the short time the 10th was stationed at Hampden Park.

Dwight himself seemed relatively sanguine about his enlistment. July 1861 was “terrible hot,” but he was “tough as a knot.” He reassured Mary that “I guess I shall stand it as long as any of them.” He did complain about the drilling, guard duty, marching, and of course the food, but he kept it all in perspective.

We cant have a speck of butter and I miss that more than anything else. I suppose it is not best to find any fault for we cant expect to have anything as convenient as we would at home.

The 10th Massachusetts Infantry decamped on 16 July 1861 and began its long trip South. I hope you’ll join me in a few weeks to hear more of Dwight’s story.

George Hyland’s Diary, April 1919

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

If this is your first time encountering our George Hyland diary series, catch up by reading the January 1919,  February 1919 , and March 2019 installments first!

Uncle Samuel’s health, much remarked upon in the George’s diary entries for March, continues to be poorly for much of April. This means that George spends additional time and effort not only doing his own chores but attending to Uncle Samuel’s household as well. “Had dinner and supper there,” is the refrain for the month as George tends to his Uncle’s property. Only toward the end of the month does he remark that Samuel is well enough to do the chores himself. It is a chilly April, with temperatures only occasionally reaching above the 50s according to Hyland’s records. On the 25th it was so cold and windy that George decided not to make the journey into Boston to attend the return of the 26th Division (a.k.a. the “Yankee Division”) from France, though he had a ticketed seat in the reviewing stands along Commonwealth Avenue. Perhaps, if he had gone, he would have been given or purchased one of these welcome home placards produced for the event (the example below is from the MHS collections).

Welcome Home 26th Division shield
Welcome home 26th Division

One of the quirks of George’s record keeping that I find particularly charming is that he specifies “S. time” following some of his time-of-day weather notations — meaning “summer time,” a relatively new observance for the United States which had begun during the war as an effort to conserve on energy.

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


PAGE 327 (cont’d)

April 1. Clou. to par. clou. Cold. W.N.W. tem. 24-42. Did some chores at Uncle Samuel’s. Had dinner and supper there. Went to H. Brown’s store lat in aft. Job L. Ellins called at Uncle Samuel’s early in eve. Came from Campello. Cold night. Clear.

2d. Cold weather. Tem. 18-40. W.N.W. Snowstorm at times in forenoon. Aft. clear. did some chores at Uncle Samuel’s — Had dinner there. Late in aft. went down to Charlie’s. Had supper there and spent part of the eve. there. Walked down — ret. rode 2 miles with Geo. Ellins and Mrs. E. in auto. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. did some chores. eve. Clear. Carried 1 coat and 3 vests and gave them to Charlie this aft.

3d. Clear. W.N.W.; tem. About 29-53. Did some chores at Uncle Samuel’s. Had dinner and supper there. Late in aft. went to N. Scituate. Walked down – ret. rode 2 miles with Fred Litchfield in auto truck. Eve. clear. Frogs peeping again — first time for days. Has been same as […] 10 P.M. (S time) cloudy.

4th. Par. cloud. W.S. to S.E. Did the chores at Uncle Samuel’s. Had dinner and supper there. Eve. par. clou., 10:30 cloudy.

5th. Light rain and fog. W.N.E. In aft. (late) went to N. Scituate to Charlie’s — had supper there. Bought some meat at Job H. Vinal’s store for Ellen. […] rode 1 3/4 miles with Prescott […] in farm wagon. I walked home. Had dinner at Uncle Samuel’s did some chores there today. Eve. very foggy, W.N.E.

6th (Sun). Misty; W.N.E. tem. About 38-44. Did chores of Uncle Samuel’s. Had dinner and supper there, eve. Misty. W.E. fog.

7th. Fair. Par. to clear. tem about 44-70. W.S.W. Did chores at Uncle Samuel’s – had dinner and supper there. Clou. late in aft. Began to rain about 6:30 P.M. Rain at times heavy, thunder, tempest. S.W. of here (near). 9:40 P.M. (S. time) until 10:40 P.M. Rain here.

8th. Clear, W.N.W., N.E., S.E., S.W.; tem. About 40-60. Sawed, chopped, and housed wood 3 1/4 hours for Uncle Samuel. I also did chores there. Had dinner and supper there, eve. Cloudy.

9th. Sawed, chopped, and housed wood 5 hours for Uncle Samuel — also did chores there. Had dinner and supper there. fair. tem. 40-50. W.N.E., S.E. eve. par. Cloudy.

10th. Sawed, chopped, and housed wood three hours for Uncle Samuel. Clou. very […]. Rain in aft. Light rain. Cold. W.S.S.E. tem. About 40-46. Did chores. Had dinner and supper at Uncle Samuel’s. Light rain in eve. (late).

11th. Sawed, chopped, and housed wood 3 hours for Uncle Samuel. fin. 1 cord of wood. Did chores there. Had dinner and supper there. Cloudy. Tem. 45-66, W.S to S.S.W. Windy. Eve. cloudy. Very windy (S.) Began to rain at 10 P.M. (Ad. time.)

12th. Fair, W.S.W., W.N.W., tem. about 45-66. Did chores at Uncle Samuel’s — had dinner there. In aft. to Charlie’s. Had supper there. Rode 1 1/2 miles with John Selvine and […] in auto. Walked home in eve. Eve clou.

13th (Sun). Fair to cloudy. W.N.W., S.E., N.E., tem. About 40-62. Did chores at Uncle Samuel’s. Had dinner and supper there.

14th. Fair to par. Clou. W. N. Did chores at Uncle Samuel’s. Had dinner and supper there. He is better now, can do the chores himself. Eve. nearly clear. Large circle around the moon for a few minutes late in eve.

15th. Par. clou. W.N.W., N.E. Did some chores at Uncle Samuel’s. Had dinner and supper there. Eve. cloudy. W.N. E. to E. Cold wind, tem. Today about 40-56.

PAGE 328

16th. Split wood 1 1/2 hours in forenoon for Jane Litchfield. 35. Had dinner there. (J. had no breakfast. Nothing in the house to eat.) Very cold, chilly wind. E., cloudy. Windy. Rain all aft. Windy and cold. Light rain in eve. W.S.E. Heavy showers at times in night.

17th. Light rain most of the time. W.N.E. and S.E. Called at Uncle Samuel’s late in the forenoon. Did a few chores. Had dinner there. He is nearly well now. Will do chores himself. Eve. cloudy. W.S.E.

18th. Par. cloudy; W.N.W., N.E., tem. About 40-60. In aft. Carried a large box of toy furniture to a place just beyond the Bap. church — for Henry — A […] lady buys them. Called at Irene’s — no one there. Bought some groceries at J. H. Vinal’s, N. Scituate. Walked down and back 7 miles. Called at Uncle Samuel’s. Peter W. Sharpe, Mrs. Ella Sharpe, and Miss Olive Beull my third cousins there. She is the Great-Granddaughter of my Uncle Henry — Henry Hyland (father’s brother) — have recently moved from Eastford Coun. to Putterham, Mass. Eve. clear. W.W. Rode 1 1/4 miles with a man in auto down. Lives N. […] place.

19th. Clear; W.N.W.; tem. about 44-62. In aft. dug up and transplanted currant bushes 3 hours for Peter W. Sharpe. Called at Charlie’s late in aft. Had supper there. Walked nearly down — rode 1/2 mile with P.W.S. in auto. Walked home in eve.

20th (Sun.) Forenoon fair. aft. par. Clou. Very windy — S.W. chilly wind. Eve. clou. Light rain late in eve. Called at E. Jane Litchfield’s in eve. […] late in night.

21st. Split and housed 1 cord of dry hardwood for E. Jane Litchfield — 6 1/2 hours 162. Wind N.W. in forenoon. par. clou. Aft. clear; W.N.E. fine weather. Had dinner at E.J.L’s. tem. Today about 45-63.

22nd. Clear; cold; windy — W.N.E.; tem. 37-54. In aft. Went down to Charlie’s. Called at Peter W. Sharpe’s. Norma […] there. Walked down and nearly back — rode 1/4 mile with Merton Burbank. Had supper at Uncle Samuel’s. Fine eve. Clear; W.S.E.

23rd. Worked in flower gardens 4 hours for P. W. Sharpe. Walked down and back. Bought a lunch (doughnut and cheese) at J. H. Vinal’s store. Fine weather, clear; cool; W.N.E. fine eve.

24th. Worked on flower gardens 3 1/2 hours for P.W.Sharpe. Par. clou. to clou.; W.S.E. began to rain about 3 P.M. Went to Charlie’s — staid [sic] until 5 P.M., then went back to Mr. Sharpe — Had supper there. Rode home with P.W. and Mrs. S. — they [took] a young goat to L. H. Hyland’s. Bought some bread — also a Boston Daily Transcript. B. M. saved it for me. Walked down late in forenoon. Called at E. Jane Litchfield’s in eve. Lot Bates and Irma came there. I rode home with them. Light rain all eve. W.N.W. at 11 P.M.

25th. Cold and very windy (30 m.) W.N.W.; tem. 28-38. Ice in meadow this A.M. Eve. cold. — & P.M. tem. 30 — colder later in eve. The 26th Div. 1st Corps. — in the late war — marched through Boston this aft. With their guns, art., and band. Lately arr. from France. I had a ticket for a seat on the reviewing stand — on Commonwealth Av. Boston, but did not go there as it was so cold and windy.

26th. Cold and windy. W.W. tem. 28-41. Late in aft. Whent to No. Scituate — bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store. Called upon P.W. Sharpe and got a loaf of bread I left there Ap. 24. They were at supper. Walked down, rode back with Albert Litchfield. (2m.) Par. clou. To-day a few flakes of snow at times. Eve. fair. 3 men last from [..].

28th. Par. clou.; W.N.W.; tem. About 40-62. In aft worked in flower gardens 3 1/4 hours for P.W. Sharpe. 15. 13 3/4 hours in all, 275. Straightened edges of all the flower gardens and weeded them. Carried a lunch — at it in the house — also Mrs. S. gave me a piece of squash pie and some tea. Walked down — rode back with Albert Litchfield. Mrs. Emma P. Sargent came out to engage me to do some work on their place.

PAGE 329

[28th cont’d] Mrs. Ethel Torrey (nee Speare) also engaged me to work on flower gardens. Met Marron Hammond in Mrs. Seavern’s store. Norma M. with her.

29th. Mowed bushes, briers, and etc. in field 3 1/2 hours for Uncle Samuel. 75. Had dinner there. Par. clou. W.N.E., N.E., E. Eve. clear. cool. Spent eve. at Uncle Samuel’s.

30th. Worked 6 hours for Arthur E. Litchfield. Par cloudy to clear; W.N.E., S.E., very cool. Eve. clear. W.W. at 11: P.M.

* * *

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.

Living with Copley’s Fragments

by Caroline Culp, Stanford University, Andrew W. Mellon Short-Term Research Fellow at the MHS

There is a curious, even eerie painting in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s collections. The remnant of a larger canvas, Charles Russell’s disembodied head floats as if suspended in its adopted gold frame. So many of the standard questions scholars lob at portraits fail to stick to Russell’s image—How does the sitter’s pose reflect his identity? How does his clothing mark his social rank? How do the objects surrounding him speak to his historical moment?

Portrait of Charles Russell
John Singleton Copley, Charles Russell, circa 1757.

None of these questions can be answered. Instead, the repeated drumbeat of one query sounds: why and how did this cut-out face survive?

Charles Russell was painted by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), colonial America’s preeminent artist. Perhaps the work was completed in 1757, on the occasion of Russell’s graduation from Harvard. A loyalist, Russell fled to Antigua in 1774, where he died six years later. His portrait remained in the care of his sister, Sarah Russell, until her death in 1819, when it should have been inherited by Charles Russell’s eldest daughter, Penelope Russell Sedgwick.

But according to family ledged, Penelope’s sister Katharine Russell was so distraught at not herself receiving the picture of her father that “she cut out the head with a pair of scissors, and concealed it in her pocket” where she “always carried the head cut from the portrait.” In the pocket it remained for nearly thirty years, until “shortly before her death in 1847 she sent for her cousin, confessed to her what she had done, and gave her the head.” For almost a hundred years afterward the fragment was passed down the female line of the family until Mary Curtis donated it to the Society in 1943.[1]

This startling tale of family jealousy, desire, and destruction reveals Katharine Russell’s deep fetishization of her father’s portrait. It is a story that calls us to re-imagine all those heritage portraits hanging silently above the fireplace of American history.

In the 19th-century Atlantic world, a portrait was no mere silent witness to domestic drama. It was often a personified presence, activated by the mind’s desire for connection. A set of Copley family letters in the MHS collections illustrate the role a portrait could play within the home. Years after the painter left revolutionary Boston for London, his daughter Elizabeth (called Betsy) married and returned to America. Letters between Betsy and her sister Mary vowed that Betsy’s “absence will never lessen our mutual attachment.” Please, Mary begged, “dear Sister write to me as frequently as you can, as that alone can alleviate the pain of separation.”[2]

It was Betsy’s portrait that lessened some of the heartbreak the Copleys left in London felt at her leaving the household—and the hemisphere. John Singleton Copley painted Betsy shortly before her departure, capturing her with dreamy directness, her mouth half open as if about to speak. Though her dress and background fade into incompleteness, the crisp strokes of her face look ahead to the “immense distance [that] will be between us.” Betsy’s portrait was touted as “perfectly satisfy[ying]” to the family, who were “quite in raptures” with this surrogate presence that came to represent her absence.[3]

Today, Copley’s fragments of the past continue to have a presence among the living. Anne E. Bentley, Curator of Art & Artifacts at the Massachusetts Historical Society, welcomes incoming staff members with: “Let’s see if we can find you a nice office mate.” New staffers may select a work of art from the Society’s collections to hang in their personal office—a work that would otherwise be languishing off view in the shadows of storage. Bentley helps MHS historians to find a fitting “office mate” to share their space and inspire their work. It is this practice that allows Copley’s miniature portrait of Samuel Danforth to retain the integrity of its original use. Looking out affably from his gilded oval frame, Danforth’s image from the 18th century continues to be comfort and company in the 21st. Would that we could all have “someone to live with” at work.[4]

Portrait of Samuel Danforth
John Singleton Copley, Samuel Danforth, circa 1758.

[1] All quotations copied from a letter given by the donor, Mary Curtis, when she donated the fragment to the MHS in 1943. See Andrew Oliver, Ann M. Huff, and Edward W. Hanson, Portraits in the Massachusetts Historical Society: An Illustrated Catalog with Descriptive Matter (Boston: The Society, 1988): 87.

[2] Mary Copley to Elizabeth Copley Greene. August 23rd, 1800. MHS MS N-1034, Box 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Quotations derive from email correspondence with Anne Bentley and Katy Morris, April 5, 2019.

“Aut Ceasar aut Nullus”: The 1796 Presidential Election and Abigail Adams’ Latin Motto

Rhonda Barlow, The Adams Papers

Unlike the Harvard-educated men in her family, Abigail Adams did not spend years of her life learning Latin. When John Adams wrote to her and used Latin phrases, he often included the English translation. Once, after quoting several lines of the Roman poet Horace, he advised her to have John Quincy translate it for her. Yet in 1796, when it was unclear who would succeed George Washington as president, Abigail declared, “Aut Ceasar aut Nullus, is my Motto tho I am not used to quote lattin or spell it.”

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams
Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14 Feb. 1796, Adams Papers

“Either Caesar or nobody.” Abigail’s long correspondence provides clues to how and why she developed this motto. When Abigail read Plutarch’s Lives, the descriptions of the “tyranny, cruelty, devastation and horrour” of the Roman emperors gave her nightmares. She observed that just as Satan “had rather Reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” Julius Caesar would “rather be the first man in a village than the second in Rome.” She remarked that “to be the first in a village, is, preferable to the second in Rome and, is one of the first Maxims in the Catalogue of Ambition.”

When Abigail opened a 20 Jan. 1796 letter from John and read that George Washington would not seek a third term, she wrote back the next day, “My ambition leads me not to be first in Rome,” but “as to holding the office of V P, there I will give my opinion. Resign retire. I would be Second under no Man but Washington.” John also reported on the sectional divisions in Congress, and a possible compromise between “the Southern Gentry” and “the Northern Gentlemen” which would result in Thomas Jefferson becoming president and Adams remaining vice president.

But Abigail was having none of it. Writing to John on 14 Feb. 1796, she declared: “The Southern Gentlemen think I believe that the Northern Gentleman are fools, but the Nothern know that they are so, if they can believe that Such bare faced Dupery will succeed.” As long as Washington was president and Martha Washington first lady, she “had no desire for the first,” but if the Washingtons sought retirement, then, “Aut Ceasar aut Nullus, is my Motto tho I am not used to quote lattin or spell it.”

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams
John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1 March 1796, Adams Papers

John responded with a Latin motto of his own on 1 March 1796: “I am quite at my Ease— I never felt less Aniety when any considerable Change lay before me. aut transit aut finit— I transmigrate or come to an End. The Question is between living at Phila. or at Quincy. between great Cares and Small Cares.” John’s stoical acceptance of his fate belied his own ambition.

Aut Ceasar aut Nullus: Abigail issued her challenge to Congress and the nation. John won the election, and she became the first woman in Rome.

Julius Caesar bust
Bust of Julius Caesar, Vatican Museums

Theodore Metcalf, “the Nestor of Boston’s Drug Trade”

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

The apothecary of Theodore Metcalf & Co. was a Boston staple for decades. Founded by Metcalf in 1837 in the former house of Peter Faneuil at 39 Tremont Street, the pharmacy was patronized by untold numbers of the city’s residents in the 19th and early 20th century. The MHS recently acquired a fascinating volume listing thousands of daily prescriptions administered to Metcalf & Co. customers between 19 April 1865 and 5 April 1866.

Daybook of Theodore Metcalf & Co.

The volume is very large—over 16 inches tall and 2 inches thick—and every one of its 552 pages is dense with writing. (I don’t know if the handwriting is Metcalf’s or a clerk’s.) Prescriptions for a single day stretch to several pages. Considering that this volume represents only one year of prescriptions, we can get a sense of the scope of the operation. The pharmacy obviously did a booming business.

I couldn’t possibly list all the medicines, tinctures, extracts, and treatments Metcalf’s clientele were prescribed, but here are a few that caught my eye.

There’s cannabis…

Detail from page 6 of daybook
Detail from page 6


Detail of page from daybook
Detail from page 73

And belladonna.

Detail of page from daybook
Detail from page 187

Other prescriptions include laudanum, potassium iodide, quinine sulfate, narceine, camphor, and Hooper’s Female Pills(!). (I’ll leave it to the experts to make inferences from these, but I admit I spent a little time researching what conditions these medications were used to treat.) A promotional booklet, cited in a later article, touted Metcalf & Co.’s role in introducing to the American public “the four inestimable boons to humanity, chloroform, cocaine, ether, and vaccine.”

Some entries in the volume contain specific instructions, such as “To be rubbed behind each ear at night” or “One pill every second hour until the bowels are thoroughly moved.” Many, though not all, include the name of the prescribing doctor, a who’s who of the Boston medical establishment, as well as the name of the patient. Among Metcalf’s more recognizable customers were poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow…

detail from daybook
Detail from page 183

And Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner.

detail from daybook
Detail from page 233

Some of the symbols and abbreviations are unfamiliar to me, including letters in the first column and something resembling shorthand or Roman numerals in the third. I assume these notations indicate doses or lots, but I wonder if any Beehive readers might know. Please leave a comment below if you do!

Theodore Metcalf was only 25 years old when he opened his pharmacy, which would grow by leaps and bounds until it became what an article in the National Magazine (September 1904) called “the finest drug store in the world.” A piece in the Bulletin of Pharmacy (July 1908) features some terrific photographs of the store’s interior.

An obituary of Theodore Metcalf in the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record (5 May 1894) compared him to the wise advisor of the Odyssey and the Iliad, “the Nestor of Boston’s drug trade.” Metcalf was also credited with “elevating the position of the pharmacist from the rank of a tradesman to that of a professional man.” He was one of the founders of the American Pharmaceutical Association (now the American Pharmacists Association) in 1852.

We hope this volume will prove to be a valuable resource for researchers. The raw data it contains could inform many different fields of study. And you don’t have to take my word for it: according to one of the articles cited above, “The prescription books of the Metcalf store are of great historic value.” Another writer agreed, declaring that Metcalf’s “array of prescription books bound in Russia leather […] told an eloquent tale.”

An Archival Mys-Tree

by Hannah Elder, Library Assistant

Happy spring, everyone! In honor of this new season, I’d like to share a bit of an arboreal mystery that I recently uncovered. While thumbing through Volume VII of the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, I discovered a series of letters exchanged between the MHS and Mr. D. McConaughy, in Pennsylvania, following the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The letters, transcribed in full in the Proceedings, were related to the transportation of the trunk of a white oak tree, riddled with bullets, from the forest of a hill on the battle site. I was immediately intrigued.

The first letter, addressed to Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew, reads:

Gettysburg, Penn., August 7, 1863

Hon. John A. Andrew, Governor of Massachusetts.

Governor – I have selected from the forest upon Wolf Hill, at our breastworks, a trunk of a white-oak tree, fearfully riddled with bullets, so as to exhibit the effects of the withering musketry fire in the action of the 2d and 3d of July ult., when the enemy were so terribly repulsed on our right. In that wonderful strife, the Second Massachusetts Regiment bore a conspicuous and honorable part, as the thick graves of its noble dead eloquently attest. This scarred memento I desire to present to the Massachusetts Historical society; and have it now at the depot of our railroad, ready for shipment. Will you make the necessary arrangements for its transportation to Boston, and advise me of your readiness to receive it? For the life of your brave sons, poured out freely upon our soil, Pennsylvania sends this outgrowth of the life of her soil, eloquent of the dauntless strife and the glorious triumph here achieved.

With sentiments of high regard and esteem, yours truly,

D. McConaughy

Later that month, the Society replied:

Historical Rooms, Boston, Aug. 27, 1863

Dear Sir – Your eloquent and acceptable letter addressed to Governor Andrew has by him been forwarded to the Massachusetts Historical Society; in whose behalf I have the honor to communicate the wish, that you would add to the sense of obligation already conferred upon them, by transmitting by express, if no other means offers, the memorial of Gettysburg and its historic days which you have been kind enough to offer for their acceptance.

If directed to the Massachusetts Historical Society, Tremont Street, Boston I have no doubt it will duly reach its destination.

As I cannot speak authoritatively in the name of the Society, there have been no opportunity for them to act upon the matter, I shall not attempt to express, in such terms as I know they would desire, cordial response with which they would reciprocate the generous and patriotic sentiments with which you proffer this memorial of the great battle in this new war of independence. I hope a more formal recognition of these will be forthcoming when this shall have been added to the valued historic memorial which it is the purpose of this Society to collect and preserve.

Very respectfully your obedient servant,

Emory Washburn,

Chairman of Committee, &c.

The letters then tell the story of the tree’s journey from Pennsylvania to Boston over the course of September 1863. From Gettysburg, the tree traveled in an open-topped railcar to Philadelphia, where it was temporarily under the care of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which received a similar tree from Mr. McConaughy. While it was stopped in Philadelphia, it was under the guard of a police officer and a travel case was created for it. Next, the tree was placed on a steamship and it sailed to Boston, where it was received with excitement by the Society. After receiving the tree, the Society unanimously resolved to thank D. McConaughy for his donation of the tree, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania for caring for the tree, and the Northern Central Railway and the Pennsylvania Railway, along with the steamship Saxon, for transporting it free of charge.

After reading this, I had so many questions – was the tree still in the collection? What exactly did “trunk of a tree” mean? How had we stored and preserved it? So I took a look through our catalog, ABIGAIL, and asked a few members of the MHS staff, but was unable to locate the tree. It seems that it left the collection at some point, but no one is sure when. It was time for some digging through the institutional archives! I looked through the library records; the “Library Letters,” correspondence detailing gifts to the library; the Cabinet Book, which recorded the donations of artifacts to the collection; and curatorial records, but had no luck.

Page of Cabinet Book
Page of the Cabinet Book where I hoped to find record of the tree

Next, I tried the various catalogs of the collection created in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. And I found it! In the 1885 Catalogue of the paintings, engravings, busts, & miscellaneous articles belonging to the cabinet of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the tree is listed as Entry 119. The catalog record quotes directly from the initial letter from Mr. McConaughy and notes its presence in the Proceedings. I was excited to find the tree in the 1893 version of the catalog as well, but that catalog was just an annotated version of the 1885 catalog. The entry for the tree was unchanged.

1885 Catalog of the Cabinet
The tree in the 1885 catalog of the Cabinet

That’s where the tree’s documented journey ends, at least for now. I’ll keep searching, and I’ll be sure to post an update if I find evidence of the tree somewhere else in the collection.

In the meantime, in ABIGAIL I found records of other tree-related artifacts you may want to check out:

Fragments taken from the roots of the Liberty Tree

Nail and tree bark

Triangular piece cut from Shakespeare’s mulberry tree

Wood from the mulberry tree in the manor garden, Scrooby, England

Painted bark doll

Piece of wood from a tree reportedly used to hang witches

Oak leaves

If you want to view these artifacts or any of our other collections, please consider visiting the library!

George Hyland’s Diary, March 1919

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

If this is your first time encountering our George Hyland diary series, catch up by reading the January 1919 and February 1919 installments first!

Today, we follow George through a March that brought signs of spring. George moves from cutting firewood to trimming fruit trees (carefully noting how many hours he spends on each job and how much he is owed, striking out the amount when he is paid). The temperatures he faithfully records grow warmer, on average — though snow and rain fall regularly — and he notes that robins and bluebirds have returned. So, too, the frogs begin peeping. Illness has taken its toll on George’s social network — winter colds, bronchitis, and rheumatism bring lingering pain and fatigue. In the midst of seasonal chores and local networks of sociality, George also takes time to occasionally take note of world political events. On March 5th he notes that President Wilson has returned to Europe for the Peace Conference in Paris. A few days later, between recording his purchase of milk and a note about spring peepers he writes, “Women go to the polls and vote now. Mrs. Mable [sic] Newcomb voted at same time I did — in next booth.” Thus winter gives way to spring.

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

* * *


PAGE 324 (cont’d)

March 1. rain until about 2 P.M. W.S. to S.W. steady rain. Windy. Clear late in aft. tem. to-day about 42-55. Early in eve. went to N. Scituate. Bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store — also some choc. candy for Elizabeth. Walked down and nearly back — rode 1/4 mile with Robert J. Litchfield in his automobile. Met Marion Hammond and Norma Morris — near N. Scituate. Eve. clear; W.N.W., colder.

2d. Fine weather, clear; tem. About 27-40. Wind, variable N.W., S.E. Eve. clear. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s in eve. Called at Uncle Samuel’s. Elizabeth gave me 3 nice apples.

3d. Par. clou. In forenoon, aft. And eve. Clear. Tem. 30-46; W.N.E. Late in forenoon — 11:05 A.M. started for Hingham. Walked to Hin. Cen. via Mt. Blue St. arr. At Henrietta’s at 1 P.M. Streets very wet and muddy. Had dinner at Henrietta’s. Spent aft. There. Ret. walked to H. Sta. tr. to N. Scituate, then walked home. Bought some bread in H. — H […] Supply Co. — also bought some choc. candy for Elizabeth — 3cts. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Stopped there on my way from N.S. Henrietta is learning to play on the violin. Walked 8 1/2 miles.

4th. Went to Henrietta’s. Walked through Hingham woods (Mt. Blue St.) roads very muddy. Had dinner there and Spent aft. there. ret. — walked to Hingham Sta. tr. to N.S. then walked nearly home — rode 1/2 mile with Charles Fish in auto. Walked 8 miles. Bought some cho. candy for Elizabeth – 3cts. Gave it to [her] when I stopped there — on way home — she and Ellen and Uncle Samuel have a cold. Fine weather. W.S.S.W. tem. 32-55. Clear. Eve. clear.

5th. Clear to par. Clou. W.S.W. and S. tem. about 48-60. In aft. trimmed apple trees and other fruit trees 3 hours Hyman Coyne — He lives on the place that my Great-Grandfather owned and occupied — Cornelius Bates — was a soldier in the Continental (Regular) Army in the Rev. War. –1775-1782. Mar. a French girl — in Vermont or Can. So I am partly of Fr. origin. […]

PAGE 325

 Nationality.      The place is only 1/2 mile N. of here. Mr. Coyne is a Russian. Pres. Wilson sailed for France about 8:18 this A.M. on the Stm. “George Washington,” from N.Y. Hoboken Pier, N.J. returned to Fr. to take (continue) part in the Peace Conference in Paris. He has been in U.S. only 8 or 9 days — he arr. In Boston, Mon. A.M., Feb. 24, made a speech in Mechanic’s Hall in aft. and in eve. Left Boston for Washington, D.C. He came back from Fr. to attend to important business, then started back to-day. I heard the guns of the battleship “North Carolina” firing Pres. salute of 21 guns, when the Pres. arr. in Boston […] Pres. Wilson arr. in France (2d time) Mar.

5th continued. Clou. after 3 P.M. began to rain about 4:50 P.M. went to H. Brown’s store after I fin. work bought a daily paper. Also bought a large orange for Elizabeth – 7cts. Then went to Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk — also got some for Ellen. Elizabeth has a bad cold — prob. Has bronchitis. Light rain all eve. Very windy to-day. 11:50 P.M. wind light.

6th. Trimmed a large apple tree for Hyman Coyne — 2 1/2 hours — 63. Late in aft. Trimmed a large apple tree for Aaron Bates — 1 1/2 hours — 40. Clear; W.N.W., N.E., S.E.; tem. 28-40. Early in eve. bought some bread at H. Litchfield’s then went to Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk. Eve. clear.

7th. Split and housed 1 cord of heavy hardwood (maple, ash, w. birch, yellow birch, black birch, w. oak, black oak, Elm (2 kinds), and some pieces of pine) for E. Jane Litchfield — 6 3/4 hours — 175. Had dinner there. Cold; damp wind, N.E. to S.E.; tem. about 33-37. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s in eve — also got some for Ellen. Little Elizabeth gave me 2 apples. She is a little better — has a bron. cough. She is only 4 yrs old.

8th. A.M. cold, par. clou. W.N.E. Sold 25 lbs of papers and mag. 10 to Hyman Coyne. In aft. went to Cohasset. Walked with Geo. and Mrs. Ellery out; walked 9 miles. Bought some groceries at the […] store — bought 2 cakes of maple sugar for Elizabeth – 5 cts. Bought (in eve.) some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s and some bread at H. Litchfield’s. Par. clou. W.S.E. cold. tem. to-day 32-38. Eve. par. clou. Cold. W.S.E. 11:55 P.M. clear. calm. pruning […] shears at McGrand’s Hardware Store (C)  paid 2.00 — for pruning fruit trees. Has long wood handles. Rain and very windy late in night. W.S.

9th (Sun.) rain all day, W.S. to S.W. tem. About 40-60. Eve. cloudy.

10th. Went to Town Meeting in the town hall, Scituate Cen. rode down and back with Aaron Bates in auto. Hired by Archie Mitchell […] for road surveyer [sic]. Clear. cold. wind blowing a heavy gale — 42m. W.N.W. tem. 34-48. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s early in eve. Eve. clear. wind light. Women go to the polls and vote now. Mrs. Mable [sic] Newcomb voted at same time I did — in next booth. I heard a frog peeping last eve.

11th.Clou. A.M. light rain 10 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. W.S.W. cold, chilly wind. Sawed split wood in the cellar in forenoon. In aft. trimmed young apple (17) trees 1 1/4 hours for Anthony E. Litchfield also 1 nut tree — in his field in Norwell — 30. Aft par. clou. to clou. 5 P.M. cloudy. W.N.E. Went to Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk early in eve. Also bought some bread at H. Litchfield’s. 8 P.M. clear. Colder. Robins are around here now. Several in the orchard where I worked in aft.

12th. Clear. windy. Chilly. W.W.S.W. tem. 32-48. In aft. trimmed apple trees 3 hours for William F. Carter, N. Scituate. Down with […] Pratt in Mrs. Seavern’s grocery wagon, walked back. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Eve. clear.

13th. Forenoon fair to par. clou. Aft. par. clou. to clou. W. N.N. W. In aft. Trimmed fruit trees 2 3/4 hours for W.H. Carter. Walked down and back. Cold in aft. Windy. tem. To-day 50-32. Bought some milk —

PAGE 326

 Mar. 13

— at Mrs. Merritt’s early in eve. Bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store — also some choc. candy for Elizabeth – 3cts. Called at Charlie’s late in aft. He has had the rheumatism for 2 weeks — better now. Eve. cold. W.N.E. tem 25. 11:40 P.M. W.W. par. clou. Cold night.

14th. Cold weather — tem. 14-30. Wind N.W., N.E., S.E. did some work at home. Eve. cold — 26.

15th. Clear. Cold. W.N.E., S.E., tem. 16-34. In aft. dug around trees 2 hours for A.E. Litchfield in Norwell — 50. Early in eve. Went to H. Brown’s store also H. F. L’s to buy some bread then to Mrs. Merritt’s to buy some milk. Eve. par. clou. Cold — tem. 27; W.S.E.

16th. Cold, stormy. W.S.E. Light rain and snow all day and eve. tem. 36-34.

17th. Light rain, W.S.E. Very wet in streets — snow, water, mud. Tem. 34-36. Eve. clou. Very foggy.

18th. Light rain all day and eve. W.S. tem. About 54. Called at Uncle Samuels’ in early eve. Did a few chores — Uncle S. has a bad cold — has had it 3 or 4 weeks.

19th. Rain all day and eve, W.N.E., tem. About 38. Called at Uncle Samuel’s late in aft. Elizabeth gave me a piece of candy (Ellen made it) and an apple. 11 P.M. Cloudy. W.E.

20th. Cloudy. W.N.E. tem. About 42. Late in aft. Went to N. Scituate walked down and back. Bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store. Also some choc. candy for Elizabeth – 2 cts. Eve. clou. windy. — N.E. 11 P.M., par. Cloudy.

21st. Cloudy. W.N.E. tem. About 36-48. Called at Uncle Samuel’s late in forenoon — did some chores there. Hard dinner there. Called again early in eve. did a few chores. Elizabeth gave me an apple. Frogs are peeping. Spring birds are around here. Robins and Bluebirds. Misty rain for 1/2 hour to-day — in forenoon. Eve. cloudy.

22nd. Clou. W.N.E. cold. tem. About 34-38. Sarah came to Uncle Samuel’s last night and late in aft. (to-day) went back to Campello on 4:16 tr. (P.M.) from N. Scituate. I walked to N.S. and waited until Sarah and Elizabeth got aboard the tr., then went to Charlie’s — staid [sic] there about 2 hours, had supper there and walked home in eve. Daisy Graves still boards at Charlie’s. Charles has the rheumatism — in face, neck, and back of head. Has had it 3 or 4 weeks. A little better now. Bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Eve. clou., very windy — N.E.

23rd. (Sun.) Rain all day (light rain) and eve. W.N.E. cold storm. tem. About 34-38. Called at Uncles Samuel’s late in aft. Did a few chores.

24th. Clear; W.N.E.; tem. About 36-42. Called at Uncle Samuel’s late in forenoon — did some chores there. Had dinner there (ate part of the food I intended to carry to N. Scituate for my dinner there — also some that Ellen had cooked). In aft. went to N. Scituate and trimmed fruit trees for 3 1/4 hours for Wm. Carter. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s in eve.

25th. Clear; W.N.W; tem. about 34-55. In aft. trimmed fruit trees  3 1/2 hours for Wm. Carter — 12 1/2 hours in all — 3.17.  Carried my dinner to-day. Walked down and back. Called at Uncle Samuel’s. Did some chores. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s.

26th. Fine weather, W.S.W. to S.; tem. 46-66. Clear. In aft. (late) trimmed a large apple tree for Mrs. Ethel Torrey (nee Speare), N. Scituate — 2 1/4 hours — 60. Stopped at Uncle Samuel’s and did some chores. Met Ella Vinal late in aft. — first time for 4 1/2 years. One of my pupils on the guitar — passed by when I was up in the big apple tree. Nearly dark then. Later met near the R.R. Sta.

27th. Called at Uncle Samuel’s late in forenoon. Did some chores there had dinner there. Late in aft.trimmed fruit trees (two tall, old apple trees, and 5 or 6 small apples and pear trees) 2 hours — 50. Par. clou.; W.S. to S.S.W. tem. about 46-54. Eve. clou.; W.S.E. rain late in night. W.S.E. to S. Very windy — 35m. […]

28th. Rain all forenoon. W.S. tem. 45. Snow (light) in aft. for 1/2 hour. W.S.W. cold. Called at Uncle Samuel’s late in forenoon. Had dinner there. Did some chores early in the eve. Went to Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk. Stopped at Uncle Samuel’s and did some chores. Eve. cold. Cloudy. W.W. Windy — tem. 26. 11 P.M. Snow storm. Light snow S. all night.

29th. Snowstorm all day and eve. W.N.W.; tem. 26-32. Went down

PAGE 327

to Uncle Samuel’s late in forenoon did some chores — had dinner there, also did some chores late in aft. Had supper there cold and very windy late in aft. Snowstorm. Snow drifting. 12 (mid!) still snowing.

30th. (Sun.) Snowstorm at times all day and eve. W.N.W. tem. about 28-38; did some chores at Uncle Samuel’s to-day in aft. Also early in eve. Had stopped there. Light S.S. all eve. All the clocks in U.S. set 1 hour ahead to-day same as last year.

31st. Cloudy. damp. W.N.W.; tem. About 30-47. Late in forenoon went to Uncle Samuel’s — did some chores. Had dinner there. Late in aft. went went [sic] down to Charlie’s. He is much better. Called at Mrs. Seavern’s store. Bought some tea and other things. Bought 2 oranges for Uncle Samuel. Did some chores and had supper there. Eve. cloudy.

* * *

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.

A Resolute & Brave Woman: The Education of Sarah White Shattuck

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

The Shattuck family of Boston, Mass. consisted of father Lemuel, mother Clarissa (née Baxter), and five daughters: Sarah, Rebecca, Clarissa, Miriam, and Frances. The MHS recently acquired some papers of eldest daughter Sarah White Shattuck, primarily letters to and from family members while she was a student at Bradford Academy in Haverhill, Mass. The collection gives us not only a detailed picture of a young woman’s education in 19th-century New England, but also an intimate look at some interesting family dynamics.

Bradford Academy
Bradford Academy as it looked when Sarah attended (from A Memorial of Bradford Academy, 1870)

Bradford Academy, founded in 1803, was one of the premier schools for girls when Sarah began her studies there in April 1841 at the tender age of 13. Sarah’s letters include a lot of terrific detail about the school and its curriculum. Sarah learned philosophy, history, geography, algebra, chemistry, geometry (she was a big fan of Euclid), physiology, astronomy, French, and grammar and spelling (“these two studies they are the most particular with,” she said). There were prayers and Bible readings every morning.

This was a formative time for Sarah, both academically and socially. She seems to have flourished under the tutelage of several female role models, including the school’s teachers and especially its principal, Abigail C. Hasseltine. Sarah also took piano and singing lessons with Mary Noyes, the daughter of Deacon Daniel Noyes.

Sarah’s correspondents were her parents, her sisters, her uncle Daniel Baxter, and her aunt Sarah Baxter. The bulk of the letters, however, came from her father. Lemuel had little formal education himself, but had worked as a teacher, merchant, bookseller, publisher, and historian. He served on the Boston City Council and in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and was one of the founders of the MHS’s sister organization, the New England Historic Genealogical Society. (He was also a member of the MHS.) Unsurprisingly, Lemuel had high standards for his daughter’s education and high hopes for her success.

Lemuel advised Sarah on almost everything, particularly her courses and reading. Of botany, for example, he said, “there is no branch of knowledge—scientific knowledge I mean—better calculated to display the wonders of creation.” He also corrected her manners, at one point disapproving of certain “impudent expressions” and “unjust remarks” she’d made about other people. He critiqued her letters. He even had an opinion about the temperature of her room.

At times you feel sympathetic to Sarah for these well-meaning but incessant correctives from the paterfamilias. She couldn’t seem to catch a break. In one letter Lemuel would insist she work hard, and in the next warn her that working too hard may damage her health. However, Sarah was grateful for the opportunity to attend Bradford and never forgot the expense and trouble her parents were going to for her benefit.

When she complained of homesickness, Lemuel usually told her not to indulge it. But he wrote with great compassion on one particular occasion: Thanksgiving 1841. Sarah was staying at school for the holiday, and the few remaining students who occupied the mostly empty boarding house were girls she didn’t know well. She felt lonely and homesick to the point of tears. Lemuel wrote on Thanksgiving day to tell her how much the family missed her, too. Then he suggested she reach out to the other students, and his advice was kind and uncritical.

Cull all the sweets and beauties from all the flowers that dwell under your roof, and let the fragrance of your own character be manifest to all others. After all, dear Sarah, this incident in your life may have its uses to you. Think of it rightly – your dear father meant to do right – there you are – lonely to be sure for a few days, but a few days soon pass away. Think how important it is that our minds should be di[s]ciplined to some little trials – try and surmount all you now experience – Resolve that you will make the best of your situation – […] use all the power you may be able to command over your feelings to govern them – be a woman – behave like a resolute, a brave one.

Letter from Lemuel Shattuck to Sarah Shattuck, 25 Novmeber 1841
Excerpt of a letter from Lemuel Shattuck to Sarah White Shattuck, 25 November 1841

Sarah was only 14 years old, but this letter and others in the collection tell us a lot about their relationship. Lemuel may have scolded, but he was also very proud. He sometimes wrote to her about his own work and even asked her advice on the best school for her younger sister Rebecca. When Sarah worried about her exams, he encouraged her to be confident and to “overcome all diffidence […] there is no occasion for it in you.”

Unfortunately, the Shattuck family had its tragedies, as well, just like all of these old families. Two of the sisters died of consumption just a few months apart: the youngest sister Frances in 1850, at the age of 15, followed by 21-year-old Rebecca. Sarah wrote lengthy and moving tributes to both of them in her diary. (The collection also includes several letters by Rebecca.) Clarissa, the middle sister, died in 1858, 15 days after the birth of her third child. Lemuel died in 1859, and mother Clarissa in 1871.

Sarah married her first cousin, John Henry Shattuck, in 1849. The couple had at least one child, Lucy, before Sarah died on 4 February 1863 at the age of 35. Miriam lived until 1909, decades longer than the rest of her family.

I’ll let Lemuel have the last word. Here’s how he concluded one of his letters:

And now dear Sarah what shall I say further? If I say what I have so often said – love – love – love of all of us, sincere and ardent, is ever yours, it is but a repetition of the old story, but it is nevertheless as fresh and blooming as if it never had been told, and appears as a flame that never grows dim. O Sarah may you be returned to us in safety and in happiness and may you be prepared to enjoy or endure any event that may happen in all your future life.

Select references:

Barrows, Elizabeth A. A Memorial of Bradford Academy. Boston: Congregational S.S. and Publishing Society, 1870.

“Lemuel Shattuck.” Memorial Biographies of the New England Historic Genealogical Society: Towne Memorial Fund. Vol. III. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1883. pp. 290-321.

Lemuel Shattuck papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Shattuck, Lemuel. Memorials of the Descendants of William Shattuck, the Progenitor of the Families in America That Have Borne His Name. Boston: Printed by Dutton and Wentworth for the family, 1855.

The MHS holds other material related to Bradford Academy, including printed items, papers of teacher and principal Rebecca Gilman, and papers of student Martha Dalton Gregg, a contemporary of Sarah’s.

An Adams Tells All About Abigail

by Sara Georgini, The Adams Papers

When did you first hear the letters of John and Abigail Adams? Fashionable Bostonians could pin their first memory to an exact spot. Shortly after lunchtime on a January afternoon in 1838, two hundred curious guests swarmed into the Masonic Grand Lodge downtown. Braving the cold, they came to hear Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), son and grandson of presidents, tell all about his famous family. He felt ready, even eager, to air a few memories. A month earlier, Charles had begun work on his lecture at the special request of the Massachusetts Historical Society, which hosted a series of talks around town. A studious researcher and a curator of the family archive, Charles wanted to share Abigail’s life story with a larger audience. He asked his father, John Quincy, for permission to narrate the private manuscripts in public. “My intention would be to use such of my grandmother’s letters most especially as would illustrate the female character of the age of the Revolution,” Charles wrote. “Of course, the selection must depend upon my discretion and there would be no publication.” When the query reached him, the senior Adams had retrenched in public service. He sent a hasty reply: “Use all the papers at your pleasure.” Charles dove into the project. Here is how her grandson chose to remember Abigail.

Letters of Mrs. Adams
Originally published in 1840, this bestselling work went through multiple editions: Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams. With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams

Charles was a systematic reader. Back at the family farm in Quincy, the papers overflowed with love letters and state secrets. He plodded through the stacks, more or less chronologically. In constructing a narrative for his lecture, Charles stuck to the basic timeline of the Revolution. His first pick was an 8 Sept. 1774 letter from John to Abigail. The Massachusetts delegate wrote hurriedly from the Continental Congress: “It would fill Volumes, to give you an Idea of the scenes I behold and the Characters I converse with. We have so much Business, so much Ceremony, so much Company, so many Visits to recive and return, that I have not Time to write. And the Times are such, as render it imprudent to write freely.” In his lecture draft, Charles summarized what happened next in that chain of correspondence: how John Adams compared the Anglo-American politics of the day to those of Julius Caesar; how the Harvard-trained lawyer quoted Shakespeare’s lines on the “shallows” of bravery; how John often addressed Abigail as “Portia.” Charles stressed that John cherished his wife as a confidante and adviser.

Enter Abigail. Two decades after her death, the second First Lady commanded Boston’s biggest stage and reclaimed the nation’s imagination. The first Abigail letter that Charles read was sent to John, dated 24 May 1775, heralding the drumbeat of war. “I wish you was nearer to us. We know not what a day will bring forth, nor what distress one hour may throw us into,” Abigail wrote. “Heitherto I have been able to mantain a calmness and presence of Mind, and hope I shall, let the Exigency of the time be what they will.” Carefully, Charles reconstructed Abigail Adams as an emblem of republic motherhood, a woman who raised her children to guard and grow the nation. In his selection of manuscripts and public remarks, Charles sharply reoriented the Adams family’s political brand around Abigail’s legacy. Appealing to early Victorian views on Christian nurture, he emphasized that women’s domestic influence fueled the American Revolution. Like “light to the diamond,” moral virtue gave to the “political character of a nation all its lustre and its value,” Charles wrote. Women like his grandmother were blessed and burdened to provide it.

Charles Francis Adams carte de visite
Charles Francis Adams, Carte de visite by John & Chas. Watkins, 1862

Abigail Adams’s nature fascinated Charles, and he shared that awe with his audience for at least two hours. He wondered aloud: How did she balance private emotion and public duty? And what  might studying other women’s lives reveal to Americans about the “revolutionary spirit”? He did not include her eloquent plea to “Remember the Ladies,” but he certainly kept her message intact. Thanks to Abigail’s canon, Charles glimpsed a new field for citizens and scholars to explore. “All of the leading actors in the revolutionary drama had mothers or wives or intimate friends with whom they indulged in the expression of their genuine, unadulterated feelings,” Charles said. “And yet when we take a glance over what is now known to exist upon record of them, where do we find anything even tolerably satisfactory to reward our search?” At the first public reading of the Adams Papers, Charles Francis Adams neatly laid out many of the editorial challenges and opportunities that we face today as an editorial project. And his initial encounter with family history encouraged him, as an editor, to learn how to think between the documents. Sometimes his opinions and ideas manifested on the page, when he silently omitted or even “corrected” his grandparents’ words. Yet Charles was the first to impose meaningful order on the archive. He also took on the task of building a presidential library on Peacefield’s leafy grounds.

Did the crowd of 1838 lean forward a little bit more as they listened in on Abigail and John? Charles repeated his lecture to several keen audiences, relieved that his “experiment” was a hit. Heartened by his hard-won popularity as a man of letters, he began compiling a popular edition of Abigail’s correspondence. With a few tweaks, he repurposed his Massachusetts Historical Society talk for use in the introductory memoir. He reminded readers that Abigail’s letters offered a backstage pass to revolutionary drama, and that Americans would benefit from her story. For Charles, remembering Abigail held “double charms…painted by the hand of truth.”