“Our Splendid Misery”: Louisa Catherine Adams in the White House
By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers
Many Americans have strong opinions about the White House. It is simultaneously a government building housing the executive branch and a private dwelling for the president and his family. As its care and maintenance falls to the public, both public access to and perception of this building, and its inhabitants, has long been a sensitive subject.
In April 1825, Louisa Catherine Adams wrote a colorful letter to her son, Charles Francis, on her impressions upon moving into the White House:
It is and has been ever since I first saw the House a matter of wonder to me how a Lady of so much delicacy as Mrs. Monroe could endure to live in a house in which I declare from what I saw she had not the comforts of any private mechanic’s family and I believe it would be difficult to find such an assortment of rags and rubbish even in an Alms House as was exhibited to the Publick after their departure—
The State of things was such that knowing the impression on the publick mind concerning the general splendour of the Mansion I thought it best to throw open the House and by admitting the people to see it in the real state correct the absurd and preposterous notions which had gone abroad by giving them the opportunity to judge for themselves— Some people pretend I have done wrong but as we are pretty much in the situation of the Man and his Ass in the Fable I do not care at all who likes or who dislikes. I respect my Masters the Sovereign People with great sincerity but I am not so much alarmed at the idea of going out at the end of four yeas as to desire to make any sacrifice of actual comfort for the sake of prolonging my sojourn in this would be magnificent habitation which after all like every thing else in this desolate City is but an half finished Barn— . . . I am obliged to close my Letter with a wish that you had seen our splendid misery which on the subject of Internal improvement certainly would have inspired you to do it ample justice—
Louisa’s lively wit, jabbing at her new residence, the public’s misimpressions, along with a controversial political topic of the day, internal improvements, reveals a political climate not so far removed from our own.
| Published: Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 1:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
After celebrating Patriot's Day and the running of the Boston Marathon, we return for a shortened week at the MHS, with these events on tap.
On Tuesday, 16 April 2013, drop by the MHS for the latest Immigration and Urban History Seminar, "Dynamic Tensions: Charles Atlas, Immigrant Bodybuilders, and Eugenics, 1920-1945." Dominique Padurano, Scarsdale High School, presents a paper which highlights the paradox of bodybuilders like Charles Atlas who marketed diet and exercise regimens by emphasizing their own innate weaknesses while, at the same time, espousing eugenics techniques of the day. Ms. Padurano also argues that, in a time when the nation was not a hospitable place for foreigners, both techniques served as sorts of assimilation strategies within immigrant and ethnic bodybuilding communities. Martin Summers, Boston College will provide comment. The seminar will begin at 5:15pm and is free and open to the public. RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar paper. This event has been canceled.
And on Thursday, 18 April, as part of the History of Women and Gender series, the MHS will present a panel discussion, "The Big Tent of U.S. Women's and Gender History: A State of the Field." Beginning at 5:30, join the group discussion to see what is going on today in the field of Women's and Gender History in the United States. Essayists are Cornelia H. Dayton from the University of Connecticut, and Lisa Levenstein, University of North Carolina at Greensoboro. Joining them will be the panelists, Crystal Feimster of Yale University, Carol F. Karlsen of the University of Michigan, and Betsy More of Harvard University. This panel discussion is free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
Closing out the week, on Saturday, 20 April, come in at 10:00am for the MHS Tour: The History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led tour takes guests through the public space of the Society's home at 1154 Boylston St. and touches on the history and collections of the Society, as well as some of the art and architecture on view. No reservation required for individuals and small groups but parties of 8 or more are requested to contact the MHS prior to attending. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
| Published: Monday, 15 April, 2013, 1:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
After a successful multi-day conference on the Civil War the Society is back to normal programming this week. Still, it is shaping up to be a busy one!
First on the bill is the next installment of the Environmental History Seminar series. On Tuesday, 9 April, join us at 5:15pm for "Good Meat & Good Skins: Winter game and political ecology on the maritime peninsual, 1620-1727." Thomas Wickman of Trinity College will examine how a mixed-menu of game animals allowed northeaster Indians a flexible pattern of winter mobility. At least until 1704, that is, after which English soldiers patrolled these winter hunting grounds and interfered with the natives' reliance on wild game. Mr. Wickman will argue that political ecology, the effects of power on access to routes and resources, mattered more than environmental degradation to the fate of the winter hunt on the Maritime Peninsula. Comment provided by Neal Salisbury, Smith COllege. Seminars are free and open to the public though RSVP is required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar paper.
On Wednesday, 10 April, there are multiple events happening, starting with a Brown Bag Lunch at noon. Pack a snack and come in to hear Frances Clarke, University of Sydney, as she presents "Child Soldiers in America." Did you know that, until recently, children aged seven to seventeen constituted a significant portion of the American military? In this project, co-authored with Rebecca Jo Plant of University of California, San Diego, Ms. Clarke aims to study the relationship between childhood militarism in American history and to trace the debate over enlistment of minors from the Revolution to the modern era, analyzing the shifting representations and experiences of child soldiers. This event is free and open to the public.
Then, at 6:00pm on Wednesday, award-winning author Nancy Rubin Stuart will give a talk entitled "Defiant Brides of the Revolution," part of the New Books/New Looks: Revisiting the Past series. This author talk examines how the lives and personal developments of Peggy Shippen and Lucy Knox were changed by their marriages to Benedict Arnold and Henry Know, respectively. Ms. Stuart will reveal the contradictory paths the two young women followed subsequent ot their passionate marriages to patriotic men during the American Revolution and early Federal era. Through correspondence, historical drawings, and portraits, Ms. Stuart will expose how these defiant brides affected the course of the Revolution. Registration is required at no cost for this event. Please RSVP. There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30pm. Contact the education department for more information at email@example.com/617-646-0560.
Following the author talk the Society will hold its second Historical Happy Hour to continue the conversation over cocktails at the Back Bay Social Club. This is a special member event for MHS Associate Members and their guests, who will receive priority admission to the program as well as complimentary appetizers and a drink at the Happy Hour. Cash bar will also be available. While the author talk is open to the public, the Historical Happy Hour is only for associate members and their guests and begins at 7:30pm. Registration is required at no cost. Please contact Katy Capó for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org/617-646-0518. The Back Bay Social Club is located at 867 Boylston St.
And on Friday, 12 April, be here at 2:00pm as Elaine Grublin, Head of Reader Services, shines a spotlight on our current exhibition. "'You Know I Dislike Slavery': Lincoln before the Presidency" focuses on the text of an August 1855 letter from Lincoln to his friend, Joshua Fry Speed. Elaine will discuss Lincoln's early thoughts on slavery in American and his reaction to the rise of the American ("Know-Nothing") Party. Show up early or stay after to browse our three current exhibitions, all revolving around the question of slavery in the United States. "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land: Boston Abolitionists, 1831-1865," "Lincoln in Manuscript & Artifact," and "Forever Free: Lincoln & the Emancipation Proclamation" will all be on view until 24 May, 10:00am-6:00pm, Mon-Sat.
Rounding out the week, come in on Saturday, 13 April, at 10:00am for the MHS Tour: The History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led tour takes guests through the public space of the Society's home at 1154 Boylston St. and touches on the history and collections of the Society, as well as some of the art and architecture on view. No reservation required for individuals and small groups but parties of 8 or more are requested to contact the MHS prior to attending. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or email@example.com.
Finally, please note that the Historical Society will be closed on Monday, 15 April 2013, in observance of the Patriot's Day holiday and will resume normal hours on 16 April.
| Published: Monday, 8 April, 2013, 7:48 AM
Congratulations! 2012-2013 Graduates Using MHS Materials
By Anna J. Cook, Reader Services
Since July 2012, the Massachusetts Historical Society has granted use permission to a number of scholars utilizing MHS collections in their theses and dissertations. Below are a list of the scholars and their projects.
Many of these projects should be available in the ProQuest database of theses and dissertations. We encourage you to explore the fine work done by our researchers!
“Lost [or Gained] in Translation: The Art of the Handwritten Letter in the Digital Age”
Dallie Clark, University of Texas
“Plain as Primitive: The Figure of the Native in Early America”
Steffi Dippold, Stanford University
“ ‘Rage and Fury Which Only Hell Could Inspire’: The Rhetoric and Ritual of Gunpowder Treason in Early America”
Kevin Q. Doyle, Brandeis University
“Bodies at Odds: The Experience and Disappearance of the Maternal Body in America, 1750-1850”
Nora Doyle, University of North Carolina
“ ‘Deep investigations of science and exquisite refinements of taste’: The Objects and Communities of Early Libraries in Eastern Massachusetts, 1790-1850”
Caryne A. Eskridge, University of Delaware
“Female Voices, Female Action: A Small Town Story that Mirrors the State Struggle to Protect Massachusetts Womanhood, 1882-1920”
Sarah Fuller, Salem State University
“Engendering Inequality: Masculinity and the Construction of Racial Brotherhood in Cuba, 1895-1902”
Bonnie A. Lucero, University of North Carolina
“Trading in Liberty: The Politics of the American China Trade, c. 1784-1862”
Dael A. Norwood, Princeton University
“Het present van Staat: De gouden ketens, kettingen en medailles verleend door de Staten-Generaal, 1588-1795”
George Sanders, University of Leiden
“International Tourism and the Image of Japan in 1930 through Articles and a Travel Journal Written by Ellery Sedgwick”
Katsura Yamamoto, University of Tokyo
Did you, or anyone else you know, author a thesis or dissertation using materials held in the MHS collections in the past year? Please leave a comment on this post sharing the title, author, and the name of the institution to which the work was submitted.
Thank you all for your excellent work!
| Published: Friday, 5 April, 2013, 1:00 AM
Maple Sugaring: Thomas Jefferson’s Sugar Maples
By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services
"The Sugar maple, it appears, is the most delicate of the whole number, for all of them are totally lost," reported son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph to Thomas Jefferson in a letter dated 27 March 1792. While Jefferson spent most of that year in Philadelphia, Randolph managed the Monticello estate and garden including the planting of 60 sugar maples. Jefferson and Randolph must have delighted in this type of letter for they shared an avid interest in horticulture. Thomas Jefferson considered horticulture a refuge from politics. Thomas Mann Randolph would later become a founder and president of the Albemarle Agricultural Society in Virginia. The loss of the sugar maples in 1792 was undoubtedly disappointing for both horticulturalists. Why had Jefferson cultivated such an interest in sugar maples?
Thomas Jefferson’s interest in these trees can be traced to fellow founding father and physician of Philadelphia, Dr. Benjamin Rush. Rush extolled the political advantages of maple sugar over West Indies cane sugar in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1791. According to Rush, domestically produced maple sugar would not require the slave labor force used to produce cane sugar, but maple sugar could also be cultivated to supply the domestic demand, lessen dependence on imported cane sugar, and be exported for profit. Resolute in this reasoning despite being a slave owner himself, Jefferson purchased 60 sugar maples in July 1791 from nurseryman William Prince of Flushing, New York, and began his experiment in homegrown maple sugaring. His large order of fruit trees and roses including the sugar maples was completed in November 1791 upon which Randolph began supervising the planting of these specimens.
However, it was not a fruitful year for Monticello according to Randolph. “It gives some consolation however to know with certainty that [the Sugar maple] is abundant about Calf-pasture, & that the hemlock-spruce-fir is a native of [Monticello],” Randolph continued in the letter to Jefferson. “Another unproductive year in y.r orchards of the low country increases the value of the mountains by giving reason to think that their summits in a short time will be the only region of Virginia habitable by fruit trees.” Randolph’s frustration with the meager survival of the trees was evident. Within two years, Jefferson indicates in his garden book that there are only eight sugar maples alive.
Despite Jefferson’s disappointing planting in Virginia, the maple sugaring tradition remains alive and well in New England today. In the Northeast, maple sugaring season starts in February and continues through April. The tapping process collects sap from the trees to be made into maple sugar or maple syrup through boiling. While the neighboring state of Vermont is best known for its quality maple syrup, Massachusetts also produces the sticky pancake accoutrement. Approximately 40-50 gallons of sap are needed to produce one gallon of syrup. Shocking, isn’t it?
If you are not too busy daydreaming about pancakes now, you can find out more about the sugar maples and other fruit trees at Monticello in Jefferson's garden book and correspondence in the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson manuscripts.
| Published: Wednesday, 3 April, 2013, 8:00 AM