This Week @ MHS
**Please note that the Society is closed on Monday, 1 September, in observance of Labor Day.**
September is upon us and it makes its appearance quietly as we begin the month with a holiday closure. The only main item of note this week on the calendar is a Brown Bag lunch talk on Wednesday, 3 September. Come by the MHS at noon for "Unspeakable Loss: North America's Invisible Throat Distemper Epidemic of 1735-1765," presented by Nicholad Bonneau, University of Notre Dame. While the New England throat distemper epidemic never achieved the notoriety acquired by other more notorious diseases of the colonial era, no single epidemic of that period proved more deadly to European settlers. This project asks why this epidemic escaped comment by contemporaries and past historians while raising interpretive questions informing our larger views of change, the priority of documentation, and the role of memory. This talk is free and open to the public so pack a lunch and come on by!
And remember that on most Saturdays, including 6 September, you can visit the Society for a free tour. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led tour that explores all of the public spaces in the Society's home.. This event is free and open to the public and begins at 10:00AM. And while you are here for the tour you can also view our current exhibition, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I," open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM.
**Library Hours Changing! Effective 1 September, the library is no longer open late on Tuesday evenings. New hours for the library are Mon-Fri, 9:00AM-4:45PM, and Saturday, 9:00AM-4:00PM.**
| Published: Sunday, 31 August, 2014, 12:00 PM
Library Hours Changing
By Elaine Heavey, Reader Services
I write with sadness that as of 1 September 2014 the MHS library is reducing its hours, eliminating the extended hours on Tuesday evenings. The new library hours will be:
Monday through Friday – 9:00 AM to 4:45 PM
Saturday – 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Unfortunately the reduction in hours was necessary. Once this became evident, many staff members looked at library use patterns to determine where cuts could best be made. Over the years, especially since reinstating Saturday hours in the spring of 2008, evening use had steadily declined. That is not to say that we do not appreciate that this change will impact researchers – especially those visiting from great distances and those that enjoyed using the library until minutes before attending a Tuesday evening seminar. But it does mean that based on current use patterns, it is hoped that eliminating the evening hours would have the least impact on our researchers. In other words, the lesser of two evils.
This morning, as I checked the MHS website, the outgoing phone messages, and library handouts to ensure that our hours had been updated in all the necessary places, I began to think about how an era was ending. When I first started at the MHS in 2006 evening hours were a well-established part of the library schedule. I knew we had switched the hours from Thursdays to Tuesdays a few years back (with almost no change in use statistics with that move), but as I began to wax nostalgic, I got to wondering just how long the MHS library had been offering evening hours to researchers.
I went to the reference shelf and grabbed a box containing back issues of Miscellany, the MHS newsletter, and began browsing for notices of library hours. The first issue in the box I selected was dated 1990. I discovered that at that time the MHS was open Monday through Friday 9:00 AM to 4:45 PM. Those hours did not change until June 1997 when Saturday hours (9:00 AM to 1:00 PM) were added. I was surprised to learn that it was not until September 2001 that the Thursday evening hours (through 8:00 PM) were added. And they were added as the Saturday hours were eliminated, hoping that the evenings would see greater readership.
So as we say adieu to our evening hours, and offer researchers three less hours per week to explore our collections, I am happy to say that we are still offering Saturday hours, which on its second go-round was amazingly successful,** and that the MHS library continues to offer more operating hours than it did throughout most of the 20th century.
**Perhaps being open until 4:00 PM allows weekend researchers to sleep in a bit on their Saturday morning and still feel they can have a worthwhile research day.
| Published: Friday, 29 August, 2014, 8:00 AM
Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 35
By Elaine Heavey, Reader Services
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Tuesday, Aug. 7th, 1864
Thursday was a day of fasting for our national afflictions; - a day of thanksgiving too to the community for a blessed rain the day before after an unexampled drought.
Tuesday, Aug. 28th
Uncertain rumors of peace negotiations, & political arrangements, are the order of the day. Democ. Convention to nominate candidate meets tomorrow at Chicago.
| Published: Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 12:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
There are no events scheduled for this, the last week of August, but you can still come in any time, 10:00AM-4:00PM, to see our current exhibition. Please be sure to keep an eye on our online events calendar to start planning your visits for September!
**The Society is closed on Saturday, 30 August, and Monday, 1 September, in observance of Labor Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 2 September. Enjoy the long weekend!
| Published: Sunday, 24 August, 2014, 12:00 PM
Marion Learns About the Family: Sexuality Education in the 1930s (Part One)
By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services
Wearing my historian hat, I am interested in the ways in which twentieth-century Americans made sense of shifting sexual and gender practices. The mainstream media often figures conflict over sexual morality as fallout from the post-Sixties “culture wars,” feminist activism and backlash, and the rising visibility of queer citizens. In actuality, American anxiety over -- and enthusiasm for adopting -- modern family and relationship practices can be traced back to at least the Progressive Era.
These anxieties often manifested themselves, much as they do today, through adult debates over what youth should know about human sexuality and when they should know it. By 1929, adult fears about discussing sex with young people were familiar enough that satirists E.B. White and James Thurber devoted a whole chapter of their book Is Sex Necessary?: or, Why You Feel the Way You Feel to the question of “What Should Children Tell Their Parents?”:
If young folks lack the tact of intelligence requisite to enlightening their parents, the task should be intrusted to someone else. Yet it is hard to say to whom. A child should think twice before sending his father around to the public school to secure sex information ... women teachers, to borrow a phrase, are apt to be 'emotionally illiterate.'
Here in the Massachusetts Historical Society we can find evidence of the lessons teens have been taught throughout the past two centuries regarding sexual health and sexual relationships. Within the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. Family Papers, for example, we find course materials for a class on “The Family,” offered at Walpole (Mass.) High School during the 1934-1935 academic year -- a few years after Is Sex Necessary? went to print. The class was attended by high school senior Marion Howe, whose Thurber-like doodles offer visual commentary on the curriculum’s typescript pages.
“The Family” is perhaps best understood as a course on the sociology of family life. It is part premarital counseling, part anthropological study. Readings -- drawn from religious pamphlets, sociological writings, and popular journalism -- cover the various forms of marriage, divorce, religious views on family life, family planning, sexuality within and “without” marriage, homosexualty (“inversion”) and birth control. Absent from this 1930s “sex ed” curriculum is frank discussion of sexual hygiene, the mechanics of partnered sex, or discussion of sexual pleasure beyond such vague phrases as “the sex instinct” or “a sex experience.” Perhaps Thurber and White spoke from experience when they suggested youths should “think twice” before securing reliable information about human sexuality from public school teachers -- at least those in Walpole, Massachusetts!
Many of the social issues outlined by curriculum’s introduction have a familiar, if slightly fusty, ring to them. “The problems of sex and the family are more acute and more wide-spread today,” the anonymous author begins, observing an “increased desire for freedom without an accompanying sense of responsibility.” Shifts in social order, including the industrial revolution, “has made marriage an economic liability instead of an asset for the man … [and] no longer the only career open” to women. Prolonged education leads to postponed marriage, while contraception “eliminates the fear of offspring.” As in the twenty-first century, feminism is criticized for encouraging bad behavior among women: “Many women [today] are making the single standard the low one practiced by many men.”
In other sections, the rhetoric of 1935 stands in stark contrast to what would be socially acceptable to articulate in a mainstream sexuality textbook today. Consider the following passage on family planning:
The question of the right of couples to remain childless involves the question of the desirability of race survival and the obligation of desirable potential parents to assume their share of the burden… With the rapid increase of undesirable human stock and the rapid depletion of desirable stock, an obligation certainly rests on those who have valuable biological and environmental contributions to make. The choice between single blessedness and a home with children cannot be settled altogether on a personal basis.
While such racialized fears and negative stereotypes about non-parenting couples still inform debates about family policy and morality today, the language of “undesirable human stock” and “the burden” of “race survival” used earnestly within a public school curriculum suggest how acceptable expression of anxieties change over time, even if the anxiety itself remains alive and well.
What did eighteen-year-old Marion Howe make of her education in “the family”? In part two of this story, we will endeavor to answer that question by cracking open her diary. Kept intermittently between 1934-1937, the volumes document her social activities and academic studies during her final year of school, as well as her first marriage (1936-1941) and the birth of her first child in 1937. Stay tuned!
| Published: Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 1:00 AM