The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

October is American Archives Month!

The archive of the Massachusetts Historical Society is not only home to an invaluable and incredible collection of American history, but it is also staffed by amazing people. Get to know your local archivists in Reader Services! We are here to assist you with all your research needs in the library of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

To find out more about the wonderful archivists you meet when you visit the MHS, I asked a few fun questions:

Why did you choose to become an Archivist?

What is your favorite archival tool?

And what is your favorite MHS collection(s)?


From Alex Bush,

Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why did you choose to be an archivist?

I stumbled into the field unexpectedly after my third year of American Studies at Smith—all I knew was that I wanted to surround myself with history and always have a use for all those dates and eras I’d spent so long studying. I also happened to have some experience working in libraries. I was lucky enough to get a short summer internship at the Massachusetts Historical Society, which ended up completely cementing my love for all things archival and sent me straight from Smith to Simmons College to start my career in library science/archives. Upon returning to Boston, I was also able to return as a staff member (not a lowly intern!) at Mass Historical. The moral of the story is that you should never listen to people who tell you that your undergrad major is useless, because you might end up accidentally tripping into your dream career.

Your favorite archival tool?

I love those little white cotton gloves. They make me feel super fancy.

Your favorite MHS collection?

 I could spend hours reading through John Quincy Adams’ diaries—nearly 70 years of daily entries, all digitized and available on the Mass Historical website. Included is everything from line-a-day quips to long musings on American politics to marginal doodles. I find it especially impressive that he managed to include the hour he awoke every morning (usually between 3 and 6 a.m.).


From Brendan Kieran,

Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why did you choose to become an Archivist?

I first took interest in the field as an undergraduate history major looking for a career path involving history. I was initially drawn to the idea of working with historical materials. However, a desire to help preserve and make accessible marginalized histories plays in important role in keeping me motivated and excited about this type of work.

Your favorite archival tool?

I really enjoy looking through our collection guides when working on reference questions here at the MHS. Each guide is different, and I like coming across various names and subjects – some expected, some unexpected – while searching them.

Your favorite MHS collection?

The Walter Channing Papers, 1810-1921, which I highlighted in a recent post on The Beehive, is one collection that really interests me. It was exciting to explore the ways in which MHS collections are relevant to the study of anarchism in the United States.


From Grace Wagner,

Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why you choose to be an Archivist?

I majored in history in undergrad and I’ve always been interested in material culture, particularly fashion and textiles. Archives unite both interests.

Your favorite archival tool? 

Searchable finding aids are incredibly useful in that they provide information about an entire collection rather than a basic overview.

And your favorite MHS collection(s)?

I am constantly surprised by the diverse materials housed in our small broadsides collection and, in particular, enjoy looking through the Theater broadsides.


From Rakashi Chand

Senior Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why you choose to be an Archivist?

I have always loved history, even as a child. I looked for ways to immerse myself in that which I loved, and the Library of the Massachusetts Historical Society is a history-lovers dream come true! Not only am I surrounded by history, as a member of the Readers Services Staff, I am a guardian of history! We ensure that the manuscripts are safe every step of the way; from the moment they leave the stacks, while in transport, then consulted in our Reading Room, until they are safely returned to the stack shelves. It’s like being on the frontlines of historical research and protection!

Your favorite archival tool?

My favorite tool is Abigail, our online catalog. We depend heavily on our catalog and consult it continually throughout the day. Our catalog is fully searchable from home and readily accessible through our website at In Reference Services, Abigail is certainly my best friend.

A close second are Hollinger Archival boxes; seeing rows of neatly organized Hollinger boxes full of documents is simply thrilling!

And your favorite MHS collection(s)?

There are too many collections to name! The fact that we have the equivalent of three presidential libraries always astounds me! The Papers of President John Adams, President John Quincy Adams and the second largest collection of President Thomas Jefferson Papers outside of Monticello! But that’s not all, we have more Presidential Papers! I also love so many of the intimate pieces of history housed in our collection, such as the dying letter of Wilder Dwight, in my opinion one of the most touching and poignant items in our collection. We also house 53 pieces of mourning jewelry in our artifact collection.


From Shelby Wolfe,

Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why you choose to be an Archivist?

Helping others access archival material is a great way to learn unexpected things while I work.

Your favorite archival tool?

Since ABIGAIL has led me to countless reference question answers, research interests, and blog post topics, I would have to say our online catalog is my favorite tool.

And your favorite MHS collection(s)?

I’m a big fan of the numerous travel diaries in our collections – anytime I need to take a mini vacation, they’re always there for me!



Please feel free to ask us more about our field, our library and our collections!


comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 5 October, 2016, 12:00 AM

Fully-Digitized Manuscript Collections Now Available

The Massachusetts Historical Society is pleased to announce that seven collections relating to women in the public sphere have been digitized thanks to funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.  The grant allowed us to create high resolution images that are accessible at the MHS website, as well as preservation microfilm created from the digital files.

The seven collections range from small (one thin folder of documents kept by the Juvenile Anti-Slavery Society records) to large (7,534 images of records kept by the Woman's Education Association) and date from 1827 (Society for the Employment of the Female Poor Trustees' reports) to the 1930s (Rose Dabney Forbes papers as well as the Woman's Education Association records).

These collections contain records of organizations primarily run by women concerned with social issues--anti-slavery, women's education, the peace movement, treatment of the poor, and anti-suffrage.  A total of 16,003 digital images depict all the pages of these seven collections and are available as sequences of images linked to manuscript collection guides.

Juvenile Anti-Slavery Society records, 1837-1838

Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, 1895-1920

New England Freedmen's Aid Society records, 1862-1878

Rose Dabney Forbes papers, 1902-1932

Society for the Employment of the Female Poor trustees' reports, 1827-1834

Twentieth Century Medical Club records, 1897-1911

Woman's Education Association (Boston, Mass.) records, 1871-1935

The work for the grant included the detailed review of all the documents in the collections, preparation for digitization and the creation of metadata for the master images.  The majority of the high-quality uncompressed master digital images were created at MHS with some images created by the Northeast Document Conservation Center.  The production steps required for the web presentation were completed by MHS staff.

Please explore these new collections!   


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 3 October, 2016, 3:35 PM

This Week @ MHS

Our program schedule is ramping-up as we enter October. Here's a quick look at all of the events on offer in the week ahead:

- Monday, 3 October, 6:00PM : The first program of the week is an author talk with James Traub. Join us for a talk about his new book, John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit, which tells the story of a brillian, flinty, and unyielding man whose life exemplified political courage. This talk is open to the public and registration is required at a price of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM with the program starting at 6:00PM.

- Tuesday, 4 October, 5:15PM : "Reconsidering Slavery and Slave Law in Early Massachusetts" is the next installment in the Society's Early American History series. Largely considered unexceptional in its attitude towards slavery - even culpable for laying a foundation for slavery - in this paper, Holly Brewer of the University of Maryland offers a nuanced reading fo the MAssachusetts policy debates of the 1640s to emphasize considerable resistance to the ideas of forced labor. Comment provided by Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard Law School. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 5 October, 12:00PM : "Reading Textiles as Text: An Examination of Pre-1750s Survivals at MHS" is a Brown Bag talk with Kimberly Alexander of the University of New Hampshire. The project sets the experience of fashion, consumerism, and consumption within a cosmopolitan Atlantic world, with particular attention paid to the textiles associated with the Byles and Hancock families in Boston. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Friday, 7 October, 12:00PM : The second Brown Bag talk of the week is titled "A Muss Among the Flunkies: Unruly Choristers and Instrumentalists in the Antebellum Opera." Presented by Rachel Miller of University of Michigan, this project traces how the haphazard strikes of anonymous choristers and instrumentalists - "a muss among the flunkies" - grew into the nation's first performers' unions and protective associations, which in turn continue to shape our contemporary ideas and practices of creative work. This talk is free and open to the public.

- Friday, 7 October, 2:00PM : "Turning Point: The U.S. Constitution" features Kyle Jenks, a James Madison reenactor, who will discuss Elbridge Gerry's criticism of the Constitution. This event is free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 8 October, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Turning Points in American History.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 2 October, 2016, 12:00 AM

Reference Collection Book Review: Chinese in Boston

Chinese in Boston, 1870-1965 by Wing-Kai To and the Chinese Historical Society of New England (Charlestown, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008), part of the Images of America Series, tells the story of the Chinese experience in New England with a focus on Boston, MA through historic photographs with captions. The book is divided into seven chapters, which range from the first arrivals of Chinese immigrants in New England to the Settlement of Boston’s Chinatown, to various other topics until finally arriving at the modern experience of the Chinese in Boston. The text is brief as the photographs are the main source of history and context in this book.

The images come from a variety of sources ranging from the Bostonian Society to the Peabody Essex Museum to the Chinese Historical Society of New England, which was founded in 1992 to document the coherent and vibrant culture of Chinese Americans in New England. The book features the first Chinese owned business, notable members of the Chinese community, and photographic evidence of cultural assimilation as well as cultural preservation carried out in New England. The photographs are well presented and illustrative of the Chinese American experience in New England.

This book is useful for people trying to familiarize themselves with the Chinese history in New England and due to its length and format, can be read/viewed easily and quickly. It is hard to research the history of immigrant groups or minorities who were often not affluent and therefore not the subject of art, photography or historical records, making this book a rare source of an under-represented topic of New England History. This book begins circa 1870 with the first (known) photographic evidence of Chinese immigrants in New England and concludes with present day imagery.

Related Collections:

For more general history of Chinese immigrants in America the library of the Massachusetts Historical Society offers there secondary sources:

The Chinese in America: A Narrative History by Iris Chang (New York: Viking, 2003).

Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 by Roger Daniels  (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).

Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).

For the Chinese Exclusion Act we offer:

The Chinese Exclusion Act, Known as the Geary Law: Speech of Hon. Elijah A. Morse, M.C., of Massachusetts, in the House of Representatives, Friday, October 13, 1893 (Washington : [s.n.], 1893).

Amendment of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Speech of Hon. William Everett, of Massachusetts, in the House of Representatives, Saturday, October 14, 1893 (Washington: s.n., 1893).

Chiang Yee: The Silent Traveller from the East: A Cultural Biography by Da Zheng; foreword by Arthur C. Danto. New Brunswick (N.J. : Rutgers University Press, 2010).  

An Anglo-Chinese calendar for the year ...: corresponding to the year for the Chinese cycle era (Canton : Office of the Chinese Repository).

Circular letter, signed C. L. Woodworth, regarding the Associations efforts with Chinese immigrants, Indians and African Americans. [Boston : s.n., 1880]

The library of the Massachusetts Historical Society houses a rich collection of China Trade papers and resources:

“Manuscripts on the American China trade at the Massachusetts Historical Society” by Katherine H. Griffin. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, v. 100 (1988), p. 128-139.

Researchers on site also have access to the Adam Mathew database of primary source materials China, America and Pacific: Trade & Cultural Exchange.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 30 September, 2016, 4:04 PM

An Adams Homecoming

On September 4, 1801, John Quincy Adams stepped ashore in Philadelphia, returning to the United States almost exactly seven years after he had left on his diplomatic mission to the Netherlands. He was not returning alone however; now his wife, Louisa Catherine Adams, and their first son, five-month-old George Washington Adams, accompanied him. Greeted by his brother Thomas Boylston Adams who was living in the city, the reunion was a happy but brief one. Both Louisa and John Quincy were anxious to see their parents once more but as the Johnsons lived in Washington, D.C., and the Adamses in Quincy, going together would mean a long wait for one of them. Neither wanted to put off greeting their families and so they went in opposite directions for the first time in their marriage. Louisa departed on the stage on September 12 with their son headed south, and John headed first to New York to see his sister, Nabby, before completing the journey to Massachusetts.

The decision to go independently was not without its concerns, however. Although her father was American, Louisa was “yet a forlorn stranger in the land of my Fathers” and ultimately in an unfamiliar country with an infant. John Quincy noted his distress over the separation in his Diary: “I parted from her and my child with pain and no small concern and anxiety.”

In her Autobiography, Louisa recalled reuniting with her parents for the first time in four years: “When I arrived after a tedious and dangerous journey, my Father was standing on the steps at the door of the house, expecting his Child, yet he did not know me— After he had recovered from the shock at first seeing me; he kept exclaiming that ‘he did not know his own Child,’ and it was sometime before he could calm his feelings, and talk with me.” John Quincy’s experience on the other had was quite different; on the 21st he recorded the event: “Here I had the inexpressible delight of finding once more my parents. After an absence of seven years— This pleasure would have been unalloyed but for the feeble and infirm state of my mother’s health. My parents received me with a welcome of the tenderest affection.”

As both John Quincy and Louisa settled in, they reunited with old friends and wrote to each other from afar. Although the plan was for Louisa to once again travel alone and meet John Quincy in Massachusetts, John Quincy agreed to meet Louisa and escort her and their son northward for one more significant homecoming—on November 25 John Quincy “had the pleasure of introducing my wife and child to my parents.” For her part, Louisa acknowledged that she had been received “very kindly,” but after London and Berlin, Quincy was quite an adjustment, and indeed Louisa declared, “Had I steped into Noah’s Ark I do-not think I could have been more utterly astonished.” It would take time for this homecoming to feel like home.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 28 September, 2016, 8:24 AM

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