The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Around MHS

“Long Sleeps Last Night for Both Sophias”: A New Mother’s Diary from 1910

As one of our staff prepared to depart on maternity leave this fall, I took the opportunity to delve into the print and manuscript materials in our collection related to pregnancy and childbirth, parenting and childhood. The MHS has a wide variety of print, manuscript, art and artifact materials related to the history of parents and children, from Cotton Mather’s Help for Distressed Parents, Or, Counsels & Comforts for Godly Parents Afflicted with Ungodly Children (1695) to the children’s health diaries of Helen C. Morgan (in the Allen H. Morgan Papers), who kept tidy notes on her children’s growth, eating habits, childhood illnesses, and medical treatments from their infancy through their college years (1923-1951).

One of my favorite discoveries was the diary kept by Sophie French Valentine during the first months of her daughter’s life. Perhaps in anticipation of her daughter’s birth, Sophie purchased a page-a-day Standard Diary for 1910. In the days before Internet-based social media was our platform of choice for documenting the everyday, Standard Diaries offered a way for many Americans to keep account of their own comings and goings with “status updates” that continue to resonate with intimate immediacy for future generations.

Sophie Valentine’s 1910 diary remained blank until the page for Saturday, July 23, on which she wrote simply, “She came. 8 pounds 7 ounces, 21 inches. Thoroughly healthy. abt 11.42 a.m.”

While her infant daughter was healthy, Sophie was not. On August 2nd she had to undergo an operation (unspecified), that necessitated separation from her daughter and several days’ sedation with “narcotics.” Sophie wrote on the page for August 2nd, “I nursed the baby every three hours up to this time - but just before the operation it was decided best to take her from me!”

As the summer waned, Sophie recovered from her surgery and chronicled the comings and goings of her household, as well as the growth of her daughter (also christened Sophia). Several weeks after the birth, the family doctor paid a visit and pronounced “the little one…sound and vigorous.” Three days later, infant Sophie “went out in the bassinette in front of the house” for the first of what would be many afternoons in the fresh air with her mother. Sophie’s husband, a diplomat, appears to have been away during much of his wife’s convalescence, but a steady stream of female friends and relatives populate the pages of Sophie’s diary. On August 14th, for example, the day “the little one” was baptized Sophia French Valentine, she “had pictures taken with Harriet, Charles, Aunt Martha, Auntie May; and Elizabeth and Lucy,” as well as with her mother and Aunt Caroline (“who held her and talked to her lots”). Later she was visited by “Theodore, Mrs. Graves, and Auntie Beth.”

By Thursday of that week the social whirl may have worn thin for both mother and daughter: the entry for August 18th reads simply, “Long sleeps last night for both Sophias.” A heartfelt status update that will no doubt resonate with many new parents generations hence.

The Sophie French Valentine Papers are part of the Robert G. Valentine Family Papers and available for use by researchers in the reading room of the MHS library.





comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 1:00 AM

Coming Soon: Massachusetts Historical Review, Volume 15

Fractious centennial commemorations reveal ethnic and socioeconomic tensions in Boston!

Daguerreotype of “white slave girl” rocks the North, stirs antislavery fervor!

Radical agrarian thumbs nose at Knox, describes self as “Plaintive worm”!

Real cause of Cape Cod salt industry decline EXPOSED!

So we begin in media res with my unofficial headlines for the four research articles that make up the meat of volume 15 of the Massachusetts Historical Review, a rich and satisfying historical meal with all the trimmings followed by a dessert of three book review articles. But first, readers will enjoy an invigorating apéritif in the form of distinguished professor and writer Gordon S. Wood’s “Remarks on Receiving the John F. Kennedy Medal,” which makes plain his views on the current divide between academic and popular history writing.

“Claiming the Centennial: The American Revolution’s Blood and Spirit in Boston, 1870–1876,” by Craig Bruce Smith

The 1870s—the decade in which Boston held celebrations to commemorate key events of the American Revolution—was fraught with conflict. Classes, lineages, races, and sexes raged in the press, in the streets, and in the meeting venues of Boston for the assumed right to “claim the centennial.”


“The Real Ida May: A Fugitive Tale in the Archives,” by Mary Niall Mitchell

In the mid 1850s, a daguerreotype of a young girl named Mary Botts—a freed slave so light-skinned she “passed” for white—caused a sensation. The image shocked its audience into a kind of empathy for slaves (and generally for African Americans and Africans under the Fugitive Slave Law) that many might not have felt otherwise. Botts’s story and others related in this essay illustrate the power of the early photographic image to speak to hearts and to change minds.


“‘Persecuted in the Bowels of a Free Republic’: Samuel Ely and the Agrarian Theology of Justice, 1768–1797,” by Shelby M. Balik

Follow the adventures of Samuel Ely, a New England minister and agrarian radical who never missed an opportunity to stir up trouble in the name of divine justice. The outspoken Ely railed against what he saw as the unfair distribution of land patents. Eden, he argued, “was a garden containing six acres only, . . . not a Patent, thirty miles square, nor seventy miles long.”


“The Making and Unmaking of a Natural Resource: The Salt Industry of Coastal Southeastern Massachusetts,” by William B. Meyer

The Cape might be coveted real estate today, but before the 20th century, it held very few economic opportunities. One of them was the production of salt by the solar evaporation of seawater. Domestic saltmaking was viable because of heavy tariffs on imported salt—for a time, the duty was the federal government’s main source of revenue. This essay tells the fascinating story of the industry’s rise and decline and offers keen analysis that will make you think twice before using the term “natural resource.”


The MHR is a benefit of MHS membership. Those who are not yet members can learn about subscription to the MHR or order individual copies here.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 1 November, 2013, 1:00 AM

MHS Hosts Wiki-edit-a-thon

On Tuesday, 22 October, the MHS held a Wikipedia edit-a-thon as part of the Open Access Week 2013. The goal of the MHS edit-a-thon was to create and/or improve Wikipedia articles related to philanthropy and philanthropists in Massachusetts in the 19th century. The MHS's first foray into the edit-a-thon world attracted a small but very enthusiastic crowd of aspiring Wikipedia editors.  

Adam Hyland, a developer with Bocoup in Boston, presented an introduction to Wikipedia. He explained the Five Pillars of Wikipedia to the newest Wikipedians, emphasizing that anyone can edit Wikipedia! He also encouraged the group to start with small edits to familiarize themselves with the Wiki markup language. Adam’s passion, wit, and knowledge clearly energized the session and gave the new editors confidence. 


During the MHS session, the Wikipedians made minor text edits and added links to several articles, including Timeline of Boston history, Forbes family, Massachusetts Humane Society, and Charitable Irish Society of Boston. A new page was created for the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture. You can view the results from our event page. By the end of the session, the group had successfully edited several pages pertaining to Massachusetts philanthropic history during the 19th century and the MHS staff and volunteer editors had an excellent adventure in Wikipedia editing. 

Interested?  The MHS hopes to hold future Wikipedia events to encourage the use of our collections and the sharing of information! Stay tuned for more information.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 October, 2013, 8:00 AM

Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the MHS

Have you ever wondered who adds the references to Wikipedia articles? The answer is YOU!

Join us on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 from 2:00 PM to 6:30 PM for a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon! The MHS is hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to edit Wikipedia articles using our materials on philanthropy and philanthropists in 19th-century Boston. This event is part of the week-long Open Access to Massachusetts History 2013.

1154 Boylston Street

The event will include a short how-to on Wikipedia basics, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Society and refreshments. If you are new to Wikipedia editing or an experienced Wikipedian, all are welcome! Just bring your laptop, power cord, a government-issued ID, and a ready mind. Learn more about the event and RSVP

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 18 October, 2013, 2:07 PM

Discussing Digitization with a Visitor from Serbia

On May 7, I had the privilege of sharing information about how MHS digitizes its collections with Dr. Andrej Fajgelj, Director of the Cultural Center of Novi Sad.  (Novi Sad is the second largest city in Serbia.) The Cultural Center is embarking on a new project to use information technology in art and culture and Dr. Fajgelj will be overseeing a large digitization effort to present rare books, musical scores, notes and manuscripts. 

The purpose of Dr. Fajgelj’s trip to the United States was to meet with professionals involved with the digitization of library and cultural heritage materials.  Over the course of about one week, he visited many institutions on both coasts including the San Francisco Public Library, Stanford University, the Internet Archive, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

To help Dr. Fajgelj understand the context in which our digital projects take place, Brenda Lawson, Director of Collections Services, provided a brief overview about the MHS.  Even though MHS is an independent research library (and differs greatly in size from the other institutions he visited), I conveyed how important it is for us to create digital collections according to standards and best practices.  At MHS we always have to work to balance the content and goals for digital projects with the available resources.   We talked about workflows, standards, equipment, encoding, web delivery systems, and budgets.  

Towards the end of our meeting Dr. Andrej Fajgeli made some thought-provoking points about the importance of the Cultural Center’s upcoming digitization activities.  He acknowledged that at the present time, there aren’t significant amounts of digitized Serbian-language material s.  As a former instructor of languages and assistant professor in a university philology department, he is well-aware of the fact that students turn to the Web for research, news, and fun.  Although many Serbs know multiple languages, he wants them to find more Serbian cultural sources online.  He hopes more digitized Serbian materials will inspire Serbs to be creative and write songs, prose, and poetry in their native language. 

Dr. Fajgelj was accompanied by Glenn Carey, a U. S. State Department English Language Officer (who kindly provided the image of the meeting).  Dr. Fajgelj’s trip and itinerary were administered by the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and the Massachusetts portion of his visit was arranged by WorldBoston. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 7 June, 2013, 1:00 AM

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