The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Bygone Celebrations of May Day in Boston

Today is the 1st of May, a day once celebrated with merriment, song, dance and baskets. The celebration of May Day originated in pre-Christian Europe as a festival to celebrate the coming of Spring and the first planting. The boisterous celebrations of May Day suffered a bit with the onset of Christianity, but what emerged was a more innocent and beautiful festival. It was this festival, brought over from Europe, which reached its peak in nineteenth century America. Bostonians celebrated May Day with concerts, dances, and by making May Day Baskets.

May Day exhibition of the Sabbath School connected with the Universalist Society of Methuen, Mass...


The May Day holiday was perhaps the loveliest of all celebrations. Adorned in flowers and beautiful colors, this was a day to truly celebrate beauty, friendship and happiness, as well as the coming of spring and all the wonderful sights, smells, tastes and feelings that accompany the warmer months. The holiday was as sweet and as beautiful as the season it heralded. May Day baskets were often homemade baskets that would be filled with freshly picked flowers, sweets, and sometimes even small gifts, to be left on the doors of friends, neighbors and possibly even a romantic interest. The May baskets were secretly hung on the door of friends and loved ones on May 1st.

In 1850, a Massachusetts man named Thomas Power composed an ode (below) to an unknown woman who presented him with a May Day basket.

To the Unknown Lady: who sent to the Writer, on May morning, a bouquet, exceedingly beautiful, and very fragrant

…Lady, so beautiful the gift you send,

It might to others beauteous objects lend

A wealth of loveliness, and still be seen

The favorite talisman of May’s fair queen;

Blended so gracefully, its tints compare

With show of Iris painted on the air.


What welcome perfume! –Ever shall it be

Thus fresh is grateful memory to me:

Each coming May-day shall new fragrance bring,

And Time decree one bright, unending Spring.


150 years ago the city was rife with concerts and dances to celebrate May Day. Children jubilantly danced around May Poles as their rite of Spring, and schools held assemblies and choral concerts. Adults and children alike enjoyed the festivities, songs, and dances that accompanied the festivals.

One such event was sponsored by the Warren Street Chapel in 1860. The festivities that took place at the Boston Music Hall included poems, songs like Dr. Parson's "A Song for the Children. May Day," and the very fashionable tableaux, "The Living Pictures," which had swept over Europe and then became vogue in America. The entire thing wrapped up with a "Social Assembly, Fourteen Dances, at Eight O'Clock, P.M."

May Day, 1860: Boston Music Hall


Another celebration held in 1858 featured songs specially arranged for the day and to be sung at specific times; "Fancy Dances" held at set times throughout the day; "Games, Graces, &c." to occupy revelers during lulls in the music and dancing; and in the evening, a "Grand Promenade Concert" performed by the Germania Reed, Brass, Militrary Band and Full Orchestra." In addition, visitors could purchase bouquets and potted flowers to take home (with delivery to any part of the city an option).

Programme for May-Day...


So, consider rekindling some of these bygone May Day traditions and festivities. Prepare a basket, sing a song, and dance a dance, and celebrate the season with these words:

Oh! Mild be the wind! And clear be the sky!

                As we wake another May-morning.

Before the sun rises, abroad we fly,

                Dull sleep and our drowsy beds scorning,

To dance! Then, my dear ones, and away!

                Bright splendor the hills are adorning.

The face of all nature looks gay,

                ‘Tis a beautiful, joy-breathing morning!

Hark! hark! forward! tantara! tantara!


Have a lovely May Day!




- Encyclopaedia Britannica online, "May Day: European seasonal holiday." Accessed 30 April 2018 at

- Weeks, Linton, "A Forgotten Tradition: May Basket Day." NPR History Department, 30 April 2015. Accessed 30 April 2018 at

- "The May-Day Festival: Symposium," Francis W. Parker School Year Book, Vol. 2, The Morning Exercise As A Socializing Influence (June 1913), p. 150-157. Accessed 30 April 2018 at





comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 1 May, 2018, 11:48 AM

This Week @ MHS

Are you looking for some history-themed events to help pass your week as we head into May? Well then, you're in luck! Here are some programs coming in the week ahead here at the MHS:

- Tuesday, 1 May, 5:15PM : First up this week is a seminar from the Early American History series. Join us as Matthew Kruer of the University of Chicago presents "The Time of Anarachy: the Susquehannock Scattering and the Crisis of English Colonialism, 1675-1685," which is part of a larger book project. This paper argues that the seemingly distinct conflicts across the English colonies in the 1670s were actually connected by the political initiatives of the scattered Susquehannock Indians. The dispersion of the Susquehannocks caused instability in surrounding Native American and colonial societies, drawing them into a spiral of violence interrupted only by Susquehannock success, which brought stability to the northeast and shattered the southeast. Linford Fisher of Brown University is on-hand to provide comment.

Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. To RSVP: email or call (617) 646-0579.

- Wednesday, 2 May, 12:00PM : The Brown Bag talk this week centers on some 20th century topics. David Shorten of Boston University presents "Neutrality and Anti-Imperialism: A New Synthesis for the 1920s." After the war, a movement comprised of scholars, journalists, peace activists, and “anti-monopolist” US Senators worked together to articulate a new conception of US neutrality. Unlike the more widely discussed international war outlawry movement, this national movement focused narrowly on one radical conclusion: that protection of capitalist interests had motivated World War I, and thus, that the US government must permanently disavow the right to protect those interests in order to prevent war’s future recurrence.

Brown Bag lunch talks are open to the public, free of charge.

- Wednesday, 2 May, 6:00PM : The final event in the This Land is Your Land Series is "The Future of Our Land." The Boston metropolitan area is in the enviable spot of having more people who want to live and work here than there is space for. Real estate regularly sells for prices that would have seemed inconceivable twenty five years ago. This situation puts more funds in municipal coffers, but what will this increased demand and density do to plans to preserve open space? How will climate change impact our priorities for preserving open space and how might it limit our options? Join us for this panel discussion with Kathy Abbott, Boston Harbor Now; Austin Blackmon, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space for the City of Boston; Madhu C. Dutta-Koehler, City Planning and Urban Affairs, Boston University.

This program is open to the public, registration required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders). Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM.

Please note that the library is CLOSED on Saturday, 5 May, to make room for a special teacher workshop. See below for details.

- Saturday, 5 May, 9:00AM : Known as the "master of the art of narrative history," David McCullough is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. In a special teacher workshop, "History and the American Spirit," he will join us to discuss his perspective on history, education, and American legacy. This workshop is FULL and registration has closed. Please contact Kate Melchior at or 617-646-0588 with any questions.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 12:00 AM

Announcing 2018-2019 Research Fellowships

Each year the MHS grants a number of research fellowships to scholars from around the country. Our four fellowship programs bring a wide variety of researchers to the MHS. See the list of incoming 2018-2019 fellows and their project titles below. You can learn more about each fellow’s research at their MHS brown bag lunch talk—keep an eye on the calendar to find out when they’ll present!

This year we offered 23 short-term fellowships to scholars whose research brings them to the MHS, including a new fellowship for a project on American religious history, the C. Conrad and Elizabeth H. Wright Fellowship. (See page 8 of our last newsletter for details!)

We talked about our collaboration with the National Endowment for the Humanities in our last blog post. This collaboration allows us to offer long-term fellowships, where the researchers spend 4-12 months as part of the MHS community. We also partner with the Boston Athenaeum to offer a Loring fellowship for a researcher studying the Civil War, its causes and consequences. The Athenaeum’s Civil War collections are anchored by its holdings of Confederate states imprints, the largest in the nation. The Society’s manuscript holdings on the Civil War include diaries, photographs, correspondence from the battlefield and the home front, papers of political leaders, and materials on black regiments raised in Massachusetts.

The MHS is also proud to be a founding member of the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, a collaboration of over two dozen major cultural institutions across New England. Each year, the Consortium offers fellowships to researchers whose projects bring them to NERFC member archives. This year, 11 of the 2018-2019 NERFC fellows will be researching at the MHS.

We are looking forward to welcoming all our 2018-2019 research fellows, and learning more about their work on 20th-century reform movements, 17th-century mercantilism, and all points in between!


Suzanne and Caleb Loring Fellows on the Civil War, Its Origins, and Consequences

Jean Franzino

Beloit College

Dis-Union: Disability Cultures and the American Civil War


MHS Short-term Fellowships

African-American Studies Fellow

Crystal Webster

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Beyond the Boundaries of Childhood: Nineteenth Century Black Children’s Cultural and Political Resistance


Andrew Oliver Fellow

Ann Daly

Brown University

Hard Money: The Making of a Specie Currency, 1828-1860


Andrew W. Mellon Fellows

Nicholas Ames

University of Notre Dame

Communities of Difference in 19th Century Irish-America


Caroline Culp

Stanford University

The Memory of Copley: Afterlives of the American Portrait, 1774-1920


Timothy Fosbury

University of California, Los Angeles

Persistent Archives and the Early Americas, 1600-1830


Madeline Kearin

Brown University

Sensory Experiences of Daily Life at New England Hospitals for the Insane


Andrew Kettler

University of Toronto

Odor and Power in the Americas


Molly Laas

University Medical Center Göttingen

Moral Measurements: Wilbur Olin Atwater and the Making of the American Diet


Kirsten Macfarlane

Cambridge University

The Reception of European Biblical Scholarship in Early North America


Adam Mestyan

Duke University

American Travelers in the Middle East, 1830s-1930s


Molly Reed

Cornell University

Ecology of Utopia: Environmental Discourse and Practice in Antebellum Communal Settlements


Benjamin F. Stevens Fellow

Dexter Gabriel

University of Connecticut

A West Indian Jubilee in America: Mapping August First in New England


C. Conrad & Elizabeth H. Wright Fellow

Jennifer Rose

Claremont Graduate University

The World Becomes Round: Early Encounters between Bombay Parsis & Yankee Merchants, 1771-1861


Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellows

Nicole Breault

University of Connecticut

The Night Watch of Early Boston, 1662-1776


Matthew Fernandez

Columbia University

Images Abroad: Henry Adams and the Picturing of Modernism


Xiangyun Xu

Pennsylvania State University

The American Debate over the China Relief Expedition of 1900


Malcolm and Mildred Freiberg Fellow

Diego Pirillo

University of California, Berkeley

Renaissance Books in Early America: John Winthrop Jr. and Italian Occultism


Marc Friedlaender Fellow

Nicole Williams

Yale University

The Shade of Private Life: The Right to Privacy and the Press in American Art, 1875-1900


Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellow

Roberto Flores de Apodaca

University of South Carolina

“Alas my Backsliding Hart!”: Religious Worldview and Culture of New England Continentals 1775-1783


Ruth R. & Alyson R. Miller Fellows

Shealeen Meaney

Russell Sage College

Boston meets Brahmin: Massachusetts Women in Gandhi’s India


Christopher Stampone

Southern Methodist University

“[A]s if she were born to empire”: Isabella, the Bildungsroman, and the Establishment of a New American Society Identity in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s The Linwoods


W. B. H. Dowse Fellows

Taylor Kirsch

University of California, Santa Cruz

Indigenous Land Ownership in the Praying Towns of the New England Borderlands: Indigenous Lives Lands and Legacies of Seventeenth Century Massachusetts


Ian Saxine

Alfred University

The End of War: Indians, Empires, and Identity in the American Northeast, 1713-1727


MHS-NEH Long-term Fellowships

Mara Caden

Yale University

Mint Conditions: The Politics and Geography of Money in Britain and Its Empire, 1650-1760


Brent Sirota

North Carolina State University

Things Set Apart: An Alternative History of the Separation of Church and State


New England Regional Fellowship Consortium Fellows

Doris Brossard

Rutgers University

The “‘right’ to indulge in the act of sexual intercourse”: Unmarried People, Sex, and the Laws on Contraception in Massachusetts (1960- 1972)


Daniel Burge

University of Alabama

A Struggle Against Fate: The Opponents of Manifest Destiny and the Collapse of the Continental Dream, 1846-1871


Christina Casey

Cornell University

Lady Governors of the British Empire


Donna Drucker

Technische Universität Darmstadt

The Study of Human Sex Problems: A History of American Sexual Science, 1895–1945


Susan Eberhard

University of California, Berkeley

American Silver, Chinese Silverwares, and the Global Circulation of Value


David Faflik

University of Rhode Island

Passing Transcendental: Harvard, Heresy, and the Modern American Origins of Unbelief


Alexey Krichtal (MHS)

Johns Hopkins University

Liverpool, Slavery, and the Atlantic Cotton Frontier, c. 1763-1833


Katherine McIntyre (MHS)

Columbia University

Maroon Ecologies: Albery Allson Whitman and the Place of Poetry


Gwenn Miller (MHS)

College of the Holy Cross

“You Will Bring Opium to Canton”: John Perkins Cushing and Boston’s Early China Trade


Joshua Morrison (MHS)

University of Virginia

Cut from the Same Cloth: Salem, Zanzibar, and American-Omani Trade (1820-1870)


Peter Olsen-Harbich (MHS)

College of William and Mary

A Meaningful Subjection: Coercive Inequality and Indigenous Political Economy in the Colonial American Northeast


Camille Owens (MHS)

Yale University

Blackness and the Human Child: Race, Prodigy, and the Logic of American Childhood


Traci Parker

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights


Fabricio Prado

College of William and Mary

Inter-American Connections: North-South American Networks in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions


Kimberly Probolus

George Washington University

Separate and Unequal: The Rise of Special-Selection Programs in Boston, 1950–2000


Wendy Roberts

State University of New York, Albany

Itinerant Politics: Settler Colonialism and the Evangelical Long Poem


Josh Schwartz

Columbia University

Pictures: Charles Dana Gibson, John Sloan, and the Making of Modern Americans


C. Ian Stevenson (MHS)

Boston University

“Army Tales Told While the Pot Boiled”: The Civil War Vacation in Architecture and Landscape, 1880-1910


Hannah Tucker (MHS)

University of Virginia

Masters of the Market: Mercantile Ship Captaincy in the Colonial British Atlantic, 1607-1774


Thomas Whitaker (MHS)

Harvard University

The Missionary Republic: The Rise of Evangelical Missions in the United States, 1789-1819


Rhaisa Williams

Washington University in St. Louis

Shuffling, Shouting, and Wearing Down: Rethinking the Techniques of Protest in Welfare Rights Organizations


Nathaniel Windon (MHS)

Pennsylvania State University

Gilded Old Age: Inheritance and American Literature, 1877-1918


Kari Winter

State University of New York, Buffalo

Fourteenth: Vermont’s Struggle For and Against Democracy, 1775-1875


Colonial Society of Massachusetts Fellowship

Andrew Rutledge (MHS)

University of Michigan

“We have no need of Virginia Trade”: New England Tobacco in the Atlantic World

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 27 April, 2018, 10:43 AM

Barbara Hillard Smith’s Diary, April 1918

Today we return to the 1918 diary of Newton teenager Barbara Hillard Smith. You may read our introduction to the diary, and Barbara’s January, February, and March entries, here:

January | February | March | April

May | June | July | August

September | October | November | December


As regular readers of the Beehive know, we are following Barbara throughout 1918 with monthly blog posts that present Barbara’s daily life -- going to school, seeing friends, playing basketball, and caring for family members -- in the words she wrote a century ago. Here is Barbara’s April, day by day.


* * *

MON. 1                       APRIL

School. Mrs. Reeds. Muriel’s. Mrs. Reeds.


Mother went to New York. Muriel’s. Mrs. Reed.

WED. 3

Mrs. Reed’s. Dance at Spud’s. Night at Pegs.


Mrs. Reed’s all day. Red Cross Rally. Muriel Over Night. Hurt Knee

FRI. 5

Liberty Loan parade. In Town. Addressed cards for Dr. Godfrey

SAT. 6

Mother came home

SUN. 7

Sunday School. Studied.

MON. 8

School. Mrs. Reed’s



WED. 10

School. Rehearsed for Dancing.

THUR. 11

School. Knee hurt so came home at end of third. Mrs. Reeds

FRI. 12

School. Rehearsal for Camp Fire. Snow. Practice Kitchen for dinner

SAT. 13

Mrs. Reeds. Camp Reunion. “Pete” for week-end

SUN. 14

Church. Sunday School. Lasell Vespers

[Editor’s Note: Private college in Newton, est 1851, at this point would have been Lasell Seminary for Young Women]

MON. 15

School. In town. To lawyer. Awful Cold.

TUES. 16

Mrs. Reeds. Mrs. Bigelow here.

WED. 17

School. Rehearsal for dancing. Mrs. Reed’s

THUR. 18

School. Mrs. Reed’s. Surgical Dressings. Pegs over night

FRI. 19

Worked on Costume. Rehearsal for pageant. Missed Cousin Bert

SAT. 20

Mrs Redmond’s girls here. (Awful) ([fony]) Pageant Feast behind the scenes.

SUN. 21

Sick? Sunday School.

MON. 22

School. Rehearsed dance. Tennis.

TUES. 23

School. Took care of sonny.

WED. 24

School. Rehearsed for meet

THUR. 25

School. Took care of sonny.

FRI. 26

School. Gym. Meet. Tennis

SAT. 27

Washed my hair. Took care of sonny. Swimming

SUN. 28

Sunday School. Everyone Blue. Wendell showed me about the bugle

MON. 29

Headache? In town. Got material for skirt + dress

TUES. 30

School. Took care of the baby. Clark Reed wounded.

* * *

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 Barbara Hillard Smith collection may be found here.



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 23 April, 2018, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

As preparations for our upcoming exhibit continue, it is a pretty quiet week at the Society as far as programs go. Here is what we have on tap:

- Tuesday, 24 April, 5:15PM : The seminar this week is "Creepy Crawling in Los Angeles: The Manson Family and Cultural Mixing as Apocalypse." In this paper, Jeffrey Melnick of UMass-Boston explores the cultural fluidity that allowed Los Angeles's hip aristocracy to mingle with marginal figures like Charles Manson, but also the backlash which turned the Manson Family into a warning for the dangers of migration and the promiscuous cultural mixing that could follow. Gretchen Heefner of Northeastern University provides comment. This seminar is part of the Modern American Society and Culture series.

Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. To RSVP: email or call (617) 646-0579.

- Wednesday, 25 April, 6:00PM : Join us for the second installment of an ongoing series of programs relating to land use in Massachusetts over the years. This Land is Your Land: Public Land looks at large-scale preservation of open space by government entities, like the Boston Public Garden, the Emerald Necklace, a network of state forests, and more, that were all significant contributions to keeping open land available to the public. Were these projects pioneering? Have they shaped national discussions? Are similar projects possible today? This talk is a conversation with Ethan Carr, UMass Amherst; Alan Banks, National Parks Service; Sean Fisher and Karl Haglund, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation; moderated by Keith Morgan.

The program is open to the public and registration is requried with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders). A pre-talk reception will start at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM.

MHS is proud to partner with the Trustees of Reservations, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Mount Auburn Cemetery, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, and the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center to plan this programming. This program is supported by the Barr Foundation.


There are no public building tours during the month of April.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 22 April, 2018, 12:00 AM

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