The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Collections News

Putnam Diaries to be Microfilmed

The Sarah Gooll Putnam diaries (finding guide) will be unavailable from 8 April through approximately 1 May 2010; they are headed offsite to be microfilmed. In July 2009 the MHS received a $16,771 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to conserve, microfilm and digitize portions of the diaries.

Putnam, a Boston portrait artist, began her diary on Thanksgiving Day in 1860 when she was nine years old and maintained it until her death in 1912, filling 27 volumes. The diaries are richly illustrated with approximately 400 watercolor paintings and chronicle Putnam's career as an artist as well as her extensive travels throughout the United States and abroad.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 1 April, 2010, 9:38 AM

Presidential Letters Guide Launched

Over the last several months Jeremy Dibbell, Anna Cook, and I have been tantalizing all of you with peeks into the library’s latest project, Presidential Letters at the Massachusetts Historical Society: An Overview.  I am glad to announce that as of the 23 February 2010 the project has finally come to its completion and the completed finding aid is now available online at

This subject guide is an overview of the MHS' holdings of all known letters written by presidents found in the Society’s manuscript and autograph collections.  The guide now lists over 5,400 letters written by every U.S. president except for William Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. This number does not include the letters found in the Adams Family Papers and the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts for John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. 

This very large project was completed over a relatively small period of time (five months to be exact), which could not have been done without the assistance of several people. 

 - L. Dennis Shapiro, a Trustee of the Society, who developed the original idea of the project with Peter Drummey, provided funding for the project through the Arzak Foundation, and gave feedback throughout the project. 

- Peter Drummey, the Stephen T. Riley Librarian, who developed the original idea of the project with Trustee L Dennis Shapiro, helped brainstorm formatting and content, provided me with locations of important letters and tidbits of information on presidents. 

- Brenda Lawson, the Director of Collections Services, who helped brainstorm formatting and content and who also edited endless pages of presidential letter descriptions.

- Susan Martin, Manuscript Processor and EAD Coordinator, who helped encode the finding aid and gave both Sarah and me a tutorial on the use of XMetal. 

- Sarah Desmond, Semester Intern from Endicott College, who spent 35 hours a week for three months looking through catalogs and collections, describing presidential letters, and formatting and encoding the finding aid. 

I also would like to mention the assistance of the staff of the MHS who provided me with feedback and locations of letters that fell through the cracks.  

Although the bulk of the guide is complete, please keep in mind that this is an ongoing project. As new collections come in and new collections are processed new letters could be added to the guide. 

It was a pleasure working on this project and I hope all will enjoy it.  

You can browse the guide here.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 25 February, 2010, 7:24 AM

New Forbes Family Collections

New Forbes family papers which arrived at the MHS in several installments, deposited by the J. M. Forbes Family Archives Committee in 2004, 2008 and 2009, have recently been processed and added to ABIGAIL. These include the J. M. Forbes & Co. estate papers, a collection of the papers of the estates of a number of Forbes family members, including Edith Emerson Forbes, William Hathaway Forbes, John Murray Forbes, Sarah Swain Hathaway Forbes, and others. The finding aid is available at

A new collection of Perkins-Cunningham scrapbooks highlights the families and lives of another branch of the Forbes family, descended from Robert Bennet Forbes (the brother of John Murray Forbes, and a noted ship captain and China trader). His daughter Edith married railroad magnate Charles Elliott Perkins and lived much of her married life in Burlington, Iowa.  She kept twelve volumes of “A Grandmother’s recollections found in a diary in an old hacienda on the banks of the Mississippi River,” which consist of letters, reminiscences, and clippings about her family.  Edith Perkins’s daughter Edith married Edward Cunningham and lived most of her life in the Boston area, and she kept six volumes of scrapbooks, “Letters of Many Years,” similar to those of her mother, which tell of her life and her family over the years. Both of these series are a rich source of information on the Forbes, Perkins, and Cunningham families.  A description of them can be found at

The Forbes deposits also include a very substantial group of “Additions” to the Edith Emerson Forbes and William Hathaway Forbes papers already here at the Society. These Additions have been added to the existing collection, and arranged in the same series (although not integrated with the original material), and can be accessed on-line through the finding aid to the whole collection, which now bears the somewhat cumbersome title of “Edith Emerson Forbes and William Hathaway Forbes Papers and Additions.” The finding aid is located at

The John Murray Forbes papers also received one box of additions, consisting of correspondence on various business and political subjects, and including a series of letters to Benjamin F. Sanborn concerning the education of J. M. Forbes’s son Malcolm. These were not integrated into the existing papers but added as a separate series to the collection, and described in the on-line finding aid at

In addition, a handful of items were integrated into the existing Elise Cabot Forbes papers. No revisions to the guide were necessary; it is available at

Please note that many of these collections are stored offsite and must be ordered at least one business day in advance. Follow the instructions in the finding guides for ordering material from these collections.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 1 February, 2010, 1:46 PM

Pamphlets, Pamphlets Everywhere!

Some excellent news from our Senior Cataloger, Mary Fabiszewski, who announces a major milestone in her current project, creating catalog records for our online catalog (ABIGAIL) of all the printed pamphlets in our collections. Mary writes:

"The cataloging department (me) is pleased to announce, that with the addition of Barret Wendell's 'Relations of Radcliffe College with Harvard' (much less salacious than it sounds, I'm sure), the 1800s are finally at an end (as far as cataloging pamphlets are concerned).

I started this project back in January of 2008 with the year 1831. Since then 15,725 new records have been added to ABIGAIL, bringing the total number of pamphlets for that time period to 19,352. Along the way, of course, each pamphlet got a new envelope and was put in its proper place.."

Reference Librarian Elaine Grublin provides some data about what the presence of online records means for the use of these documents:

"Just to show how much Mary's cataloging efforts have paid off, here are some quick call slip numbers.

In 2006, items with "box" call numbers were requested 195 times. That was 7.6% of the total number of printed items called for in that year.

In 2009, items with "box" call numbers were requested 620 times. That was 29.6% of the total number of printed items called for in that year."

I know all our researchers who use these materials join us in congratulating Mary for her hard work, and look forward to continued progress in 2010. The twentieth century pamphlets are scheduled to be completed by July of this year.

Oh, and in case you're interested in Mr. Wendell's pamphlet, you can (now) find the ABIGAIL record for it here.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 29 January, 2010, 8:59 AM

New Collection Guide: Edward Atkinson Papers

A new guide to the Edward Atkinson papers, 1819-1920, is now available on the Massachusetts Historical Society website  ( Previously only minimally described, the newly processed collection and finding aid contribute to a fuller understanding of the breadth of Edward Atkinson's business affairs.

Edward Atkinson was born on 10 February 1827 in Brookline, Massachusetts. He began working as a teenager and became a very well-known and respected authority in a number of business fields and social causes including cotton manufacturing, anti-slavery, fire prevention and insurance, and the science of nutrition, to name but a few.

The loose correspondence has been reorganized, and where applicable, separate series of correspondence have been created. We hope this will save researchers some time as they look for letters from many of Atkinson's most frequent correspondents, including Wilbur Olin Atwater, Thomas F. Bayard, Jonathan Chace, John Murray Forbes, Franklin L. Ford, Charles Nordhoff, Charles Eliot Norton, John Ott, Ellen H. Richards, or David Ames Wells. 

Additionally, the 79 letterbooks have been re-indexed as part of the project; the new cumulative index can be found at the bottom of the collection guide. Outside of the above named separate series, there is no name index to the loose correspondence, but the index to the letterbooks can be used as a guide to narrow down a potential date or date range of Atkinson's incoming mail. In the finding aid, each letterbook is also described separately with a list of selected subjects discussed and frequent recipients.

Indexing the letterbooks proved challenging as over the years, in at least two purges, letters were removed either by Atkinson or his descendants prior to the collection's arrival at the Historical Society, and in creating the new index we found instances where letters were removed after the handwritten indexes were made. While the cumulative indexes do not include entries for the letters removed from the letterbook volumes, the original handwritten indexes remain available at the beginning of each letterbook. We took care to catch each instance, and often mourned the loss of letters which promised to be interesting or quirky, such as Atkinson's letter to the Department of Lost Umbrellas.

Contributions to the creation of the finding aid were made by Kimberly Kennedy, Kyle Hudgins, Rebecca Hecht, Susan Martin, and Peter K. Steinberg. Support for this project was provided by the FM Global Foundation.

Please note that the Edward Atkinson papers are stored offsite and must be requested at least one business day in advance. Contact the Library at or (617) 536-1608 to request materials. Please discuss your request with the reading room staff before requesting cartons by barcode.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 7 January, 2010, 10:24 AM

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