Guest Post: Research Fellow Finds More Than She is Looking for in Sarah Louisa Guild's Diary
By Laura Prieto, Simmons College
I have come across several surprises in the reading room recently, as is entirely typical in manuscript research. One archival pleasure is finding what we hope is there, but another is encountering the unexpected.
I eagerly opened Sarah Louisa Guild’s diary for 1898 anticipating some insights on the Spanish-American War, as the MHS catalog promised. I was seeking a woman's personal view of that conflict and Guild did not disappoint me. Her observant, intelligent entries demonstrate how avidly she followed news on the war as well as on local politics. She decried the "wretched Mugwumps who cry 'down with imperialism'. . . . Mugwumps seem to always pull down but never build up." Her partisan interests were likely influenced by her older brother Curtis; "Curty" had volunteered to fight and had political ambitions, supported by his family. But the passion with which she wrote about political candidates and issues suggests that "Lulu" would have been engaged by them anyway.
I feel fortunate to have Guild's careful, candid thoughts on what was happening around her. As is the case with most war correspondence, her "homefront" letters did not make it into the archive, even though her brother's letters from Army camp are preserved. Without her diary, we'd have no trace of what Sarah Louisa made of the war or of her relationship to it.
But her diary is much richer than just political commentary. Guild wrote about her love of music and included capsule reviews of the concerts she attended. Sometimes I'd turn a page and find a pressed flower, or a four-leaf clover. One tiny pansy came from a bouquet sent to comfort her upon the death of her mother. Guild always appreciated such tokens of affection; she especially noted how one gift of flowers came from a friend who hadn’t much money. (Guild later sent that friend a ticket to the Boston Symphony.) The diary is also a record of Guild's mourning and her declining health. She consulted doctors and tried bromides and tonics to no avail. She wrote the last entries from a sanatorium in Connecticut that specialized in treating nervous diseases.
On occasion, Guild trained her sights on others in her social set. One unusually acerbic entry remarked upon the death of Isabella Stewart Gardner's husband in 1898:
Mr. Jack Gardner was seized with apoplexy at noon at the Somerset. He was carried to his Beacon St home and died at 9 P.M. Good natured clumsy man! Wonder if his nervous & fashion loving wife will marry again. He was like a Newfoundland dog at her heels.
Guild's judgment reminds us that late nineteenth-century women continued to be the makers and breakers of reputation among the privileged classes. Such barbs could sting deeply, as any fan of Edith Wharton knows. Gardner no doubt could wield mighty social muscle in her own defense.
Pressed flowers and sharp-tongued gossip: it's just such unexpected interruptions that helpfully unsettle what we think we're researching. I opened her diary searching for a "good source," but find the privilege of glimpsing Sarah Louisa Guild, a complete, complicated human being who is more than the sum of her words.
Laura Prieto is currently working at the MHS as a Ruth R & Alyson R. Miller Fellow.
| Published: Friday, 22 April, 2011, 10:00 AM
Welcome to Short-Term Fellow Laura Prieto
This spring, the MHS staff welcomes short-term fellow Laura Prieto, one of our 2010-2011 Ruth R & Alyson R. Miller fellows in women’s history. Dr. Prieto is an Associate Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies at Simmons College here in Boston. She received her Ph.D. in History from Brown University in 1998, and her dissertation on professional women artists in the United States, 1830-1930, has been published as the book At Home in the Studio: The Professionalization of Women Artists in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
In addition her work on women artists, Dr. Prieto has done extensive research on gender, race, and imperialism during the past ten years. Her MHS fellowship project, “New Women, New Empire: 1898 and its Legacies for Women in the United States” is a part of this research. During her fellowship, Dr. Prieto will be exploring the “real and imagined collection relationship between American and colonized women,” with a focus on the Spanish-American war and the immediate post-war period, as the U.S. began to realize imperial ambitions. She will be reading the private writing of women (correspondence and diaries) on the “splendid little war”, as well as newspaper coverage and the more public responses to the war made by public figures such as Charles Francis Adams and by leaders in the Anti-Imperialist League.
Laura Prieto will give a brown bag lunch talk about her research at the MHS on Wednesday 4 May from 12:00-1:00pm. The event is free and open to the public.
The MHS staff is pleased to have Dr. Prieto with us throughout the spring and wishes her a fellowship period full of discoveries.
| Published: Wednesday, 6 April, 2011, 8:00 AM
Keeping the reader services staff on their toes, three short-term fellows and one New England Regional Fellowship Consortium recipient are in residence at the MHS this February. Here is a look at what they are working on:
Marc Friedlaender Fellowship recipient Marc-William Palen, University of Texas at Austin, arrived early in the month to work on his project “The Cleveland 'Conspiracy': Mugwumpery, Free Trade Ideology, and Foreign Policy in Gilded-Age America.” Palen began his visit by working through an impressive list of almost two dozen late 19th century pamphlets, and has been working primarily with the papers of Edward Atkinson for the past week. He also plans to also work with the Henry Cabot Lodge Papers, George Bancroft Papers, and the Adams Family Papers (among others) during his time at the MHS.
Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship recipient Rachel Herrmann, University of Texas at Austin, also arrived at the beginning of the month to delve into "Food and War: Indians, Slaves, and the American Revolution." In her first two weeks at the MHS Herrmann focused her research in the papers of Henry Knox, William Hudson Ballard, and John Sullivan. This week she has worked with the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America Records and the microfilm edition of Revolutionary War Orderly Books at the Massachusetts Historical Society . She also plans to consult the Benjamin Lincoln Papers, Timothy Pickering Papers, Moses Greenleaf papers, and several other relevant collections during her visit.
Edward Hanson received the Paine Publication Fund Fellowship to continue his work editing the papers of Robert Treat Paine for publication. During this visit to the MHS library, Hanson, who has been working with the Paine papers since the late 1980s and co-edited with Stephen T. Riley the material for volumes 1 & 2 (1992), and edited volume 3 (2005), has been working with material from the Robert Treat Paine Papers held at the MHS preparing material for the 4th & 5th volumes in the series.
Finally, Joshua Smith, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, recipient of an award from the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC), returned to the MHS this past Monday to complete his fellowship research toward his project, "Yankee Doodle Upset: New England's Yankee Identity in the War of 1812." Smith settled into his research consulting the Binney Family Papers and the Orderly Book of the Alfred Company of Cavalry. Later in the week he plans to work with the Vaughn Family Papers and the Caleb Strong Papers. Smith will also be visiting the Maine Historical Society and Mystic Seaport as part of his NERFC fellowship.
| Published: Wednesday, 16 February, 2011, 8:00 AM
Local Researcher Uses MHS to Populate Wikipedia Pages
A local independent researcher recently made her way to the MHS to conduct research on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Boston-area libraries. She reports that while a substantial amount of research for her project can be completed online, thanks to mass scanning projects like GoogleBooks, the Society holds a number of early library circulars and catalogs that are unique and which she is unable to locate in digitized format.
Two examples of the types of documents she has found useful in her research are a small notice printed in 1818 for the Charlestown Social Library, and a catalogue of books belonging to the subscribers of the library of Milton and Dorchester (1790). The Catalogue of Books includes some 95 titles including a handful of works still familiar to readers today: John Milton’s Paradise Lost, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith.
Subscription libraries were “Netflix for an era of readers,” according to the historian Robert E. Sullivan . An early type of lending library, they were privately funded and one paid a fee in order to join and have access to the collections. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Boston metropolitan area boasted a large number of these institutions. Our researcher is attempting to flesh out the history of individual libraries. She reports that she shares the fruits of her labor on Wikipedia, thus making the information available in these rare documents accessible to a much wider audience. This is a unique example of the working relationship between brick-and-mortar institutions like the MHS, the researchers who work in them, and the world of internet-based, crowd-sourced information.
 Robert E. Sullivan, Macaulay: The Tragedy of Power (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 409.
| Published: Thursday, 27 January, 2011, 10:00 AM
The Unpredictable New England Weather
In the library this morning, while looking for information in a manuscript collection, I found something else entirely: hope.
Sitting safely ensconced in the warm and flake free library, I watched as just outside the window Boston received yet another solid coating of snow -- adding to the several inches still on the ground from the storm last week. And I began to despair. Is there any hope that warmth and sunshine will return to us? Will the snow ever melt?
As a life long New Englander, deep down I know that the melting will happen. But I also know you cannot predict when the winter weather will end. And even with the Red Sox preparing to depart for spring training, actual spring seems so far away. So after drudging through the over 40 inches of snow we have received so far this year, and seeing the below zero temperatures predicted for the coming weekend, I was having a hard time feeling hopeful about a change in the weather.
Until I sat down with the microfilm edition of the diary of Sarah Gooll Putnam (Sally), that is. I had gone to the diary looking for her observations about Civil War soldiers in the city of Boston, but in browsing the diary's pages I found words of hope, as her entries for January reminded me of the truth in the old saying "If you don't like the weather in New England, wait a few minutes."
On 13 January 1863, twelve year old Sally writes about wrapping herself in layers in order to go outside of the house and of a skating party on Jamaica Pond. Just days later, on 24 January, she writes "It is just like summer now. we [sic] such nice warm weather."
Here is hoping there is nice warm weather on the way for us.
| Published: Friday, 21 January, 2011, 8:00 AM