The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From Our Collections

Trick AND Treat: The Digitized Norwood Penrose Hallowell Papers

The recently launched fully digitized manuscript collections of Civil War papers at Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) is a significant step forward in making our collections accessible remotely. Motivated by the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the presentation of full-color surrogates of complete collections will be a model for further digital projects at the MHS. Just as the MHS was inspired by the fully digitized collections available on other websites, we hope our approach can be useful as other organizations undertake similar projects.

Many of the collections were straightforward to digitize. Crudely and in short: remove a folder from the box>remove a piece of paper from the folder>scan>repeat. Of course, much more goes into the process than that: determining permanent and secure storage for 9,000+ images, repairing documents in need of some T.L.C. (Tender Loving Conservation), potentially informing researchers they cannot work with the materials for a while, capturing metadata, tracking all the moving pieces, and so much more. Some collections contained material separated for specific reasons. Photographs and oversize materials, for example, are stored in different locations as these items have their own preservation requirements.

The Norwood Penrose Hallowell papers proved to be particularly challenging to digitize for a variety of reasons.  There are loose papers; three disbound scrapbooks; an oversize, intact scrapbook; an oversize scrapbook volume; and some of those aforementioned separated oversize materials. Funding for the digitization of the nine Civil War manuscript collections that enabled both the creation of preservation microfilm and the online version of the collections was provided by 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.  Part of the budget of the grant enabled us to send large (oversize) materials to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover for imaging.  As part of the preparation to send the collection out, we needed to record how many pages there were in total and how many digital images we expected. Then, once we got the collection back, we needed to reconcile that the collection was returned complete and that all of the anticipated digital images were made.

The oversize scrapbook, a.k.a. Scrapbook Vol. 3 was the most difficult part of this collection to represent online. It contains pasted-down newspaper articles, photographs, tipped-in items, photocopies, letters, pamphlets, and other relevant memorabilia. By browsing the digital images, you will see a number beneath each thumbnail image in the sidebar on the left. This is the sequence number that we used to order images so that they will accurately reflect the order of the original item. On occasion, the thumbnail images will appear to be the same. But, please do not be fooled or think us careless. What is actually happening is that a more complicated scrapbook page—one containing something with print on both side of the leaf, or a multi-page document—is being imaged page-by-page, with items flipped up, down, or over, or with loosely tipped-in pieces being photographed and removed one by one.

A good example of this is the sequence number range of 71-76. In sequence number 71, you can see the page in its static, flat form, as it would appear if the volume were in front of you: a letter (of six pages) and a drawing an animal (a doe? a deer? a horse? – I know metadata, not animal species). Sequence 72 shows the first page of the letter flipped up, so that you can read the second page, sequence 73 shows the third page of the letter, and so on. This sort of thing happens throughout the series (see also, for example, sequence numbers 140 -148; and 149 -157, which culminates fascinatingly with the story of death of "Jo-Jo" the "Dog-Faced Man"). We hope that this blog helps to explain the treats this collection has to offer. Happy Hallowell!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 31 October, 2014, 12:00 PM

Ghost Advice!

Happy Halloween, dear readers! In preparation for all the spooky fun and candy this evening, I present you with two “facts” about ghosts from English humorist Jerome K. Jerome’s 1891 book, Told After Supper

1. It is always Christmas Eve in a ghost story.

Jerome K. Jerome begins his introduction with the following:

It was Christmas Eve. I begin this way because it is the proper, orthodox, respectable way to begin, and I have been brought up in a proper, orthodox, respectable way, and taught to always do the proper, orthodox, respectable thing ; and the habit clings to me.

Of course, as a mere matter of information it is quite unnecessary to mention the date at all. The experienced reader knows it was Christmas Eve, without my telling him. It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story.

Christmas Eve is the ghosts’ great gala night. On Christmas Eve they hold their annual fete. On Christmas Eve everybody in Ghostland who is anybody – or rather, speaking of ghosts, one should say, I suppose, every nobody who is any nobody – comes out to show himself or herself, to see and to be seen, to promenade about display their winding-sheets and grave-clothes to each other, to criticize one another’s style, and sneer at one another’s complexion.

If Jerome is to be believed, you may rest assured that you will most likely not see a “real” ghost on Halloween. If you do see a ghost, you can talk about the contrary occurrence to Jerome’s ghost on Christmas Eve. The English writer’s ashes are buried at St. Mary’s Church, Ewelme, Oxfordshire, England.

2. The act of homicide results in both murderer and murdered ghosts.

The Tales After Supper narrator relates the following story: A mysterious young woman in a nightgown visits the room of a young man staying in his family county house for the Christmas holiday. She sits on his bed before suddenly vanishing. The young man interrogates the ladies of the house the next morning in hopes that he may identify the visitor.

[The host] explains to [the guest] that what he saw was the ghost of a lady who had been murdered in that very bed, or who had murdered somebody else there – it does not really matter which: you can be a ghost by murdering somebody else or by being murdered yourself, whichever you prefer. The murdere[r] ghost is, perhaps, the more popular ; but, on the other hand, you can frighten people better if you are the murdered one, because then you can show your wounds and do groans.”

If given the choice, I would prefer to not become a ghost any time soon. Happy Halloween to everyone and to all, a sweet night!

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 31 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

Black Days: The Wall Street Crash of 1929

Today we commemorate the 85th anniversary of Black Tuesday, the worst day of the 1929 stock market crash that preceded the Great Depression. For a close-up look at these events, we turn to the papers of Henry P. Binney (1863-1940), a Boston banker and investment adviser. His voluminous outgoing correspondence, bound into 14 large letterbooks and covering the last thirty years of his life, forms part of the Henry P. Binney family papers.

The Wall Street crash began a few days before, 24 October 1929, on what came to be called Black Thursday. The bull market sustained through most of the 1920s had culminated in a record-high Dow Jones Industrial Average at the beginning of September 1929 before stock values started to tumble. Black Thursday saw the first precipitous drop. Nearly 13 million shares were traded in a single day, double the previous record and more than triple the volume of an average day. The boom was over. On that day, Binney wrote to a colleague who had proposed an investment opportunity:

On my return from a short trip to New York I find your letter of October 21st. While I do not know what reaction Mr. Ray Morris would now have regarding your proposition if presented to him I do not believe he or anybody else would consider anything new at this time. The tremendous shake-out of this morning in the stock market has taken the gimp out of pretty much everybody and it will take time for the panic of today to be forgotten. During the last week paper profits have faded away and many people rich at the beginning of said period are now poor.

To another investor on the same day, he wrote, “Everybody is pessimistic about everything just now.” Little did he know that Black Thursday would be followed by an even more frightening plunge in the market. On Black Tuesday, 29 October 1929, 16.4 million shares were traded in an all-out panic. While these numbers pale in comparison to the trading that we see on Wall Street today, they were unprecedented at the time. The stock ticker couldn’t keep up and ran hours behind as the market spiraled out of control.

One of Binney’s frequent correspondents during this period was his brother-in-law Roy E. Sturtevant. A week after the crash, he told Sturtevant:

Even the man who had his nose close to the grindstone on those fateful days did not, apparently, benefit much….Personally I don’t like the outlook. Such a tremendous crash as has occurred will take long to live down.

Binney’s prediction was prescient. He knew it would take years for the stock market to recover, but he did his best to stay optimistic and often reassured his friends and colleagues. On 30 January 1930, he joked to Sturtevant, who served as vice-president and treasurer of the Ludowici-Celadon Co. in Chicago:

I have just been reading your circular letter of January 28th to the stockholders, and have been looking over your figures for 1929. I imagine this is the first time the “Profit for the year” has been in red! However, lots of Industrials are on the same raft with you, so don’t be depressed.

Binney himself seems to have been less dramatically affected by the crash, at least initially, than many others. He was already a fairly conservative investor, preferring the safer bond market to risky stocks, and the events of October 1929 strengthened that tendency.

That's not to say he didn't feel the pinch. Between 1929 and 1932, the Dow Jones would lose about 90% of its value, bottoming out in July 1932. Curious to see how Binney was holding up, I looked ahead to his correspondence of that year. His letters had become more pessimistic and skeptical. I found him writing often about cutting back on utilities and luxuries, such as a proposed trip to Europe for his 18-year-old daughter Polly. He even swallowed his pride and accepted a gift from his brother- and sister-in-law, the Sturtevants:

Between ourselves, we will have to see how the depression works out. If matters remain as they are, it would be better in my judgment not to spend the money, especially as Europe is not a real necessity. I try not to be too gloomy when at home but, notwithstanding my efforts, both of my ladies have come to the conclusion that I had better hoard gold for contingencies. This being the case, I have decided to accept, with a million thanks, the check….No people I have ever known have ever been half as nice as you and Roy have been to us.

Unsurprisingly, his correspondence had also become more overtly political. He preferred Herbert Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt, but felt Hoover wasn't up to the job. Binney feared a revolution if the Depression dragged on much longer. The relief measures he supported included a $5 billion bond issue to put people back to work, the repeal of Prohibition for additional revenue, and a tax on all manufactures. Here's a sampling of his more political letters:

Needless to say I am dreadfully sorry to hear that you are so blue – it is quite the fashion here. However, things must turn or the U.S.A. will be faced by a Revolution before snow flies! I have no use for Mr. Hoover but even he may be better than whoever the Democrats nominate! Two or three days ago in New York I found rather a more cheerful tone although when one man laughed most of us fainted away at the unusual sound! [17 June 1932]

Lots of people think The Great Depression is on its last legs but, having turned pessimist, I am not at all certain of this. Apparently President Hoover will not be returned. I do not know a single Republican who will vote for him. The G.O.P. gentlemen all have their tails between their legs and either won’t vote at all or cast their votes for Roosevelt who nobody likes but, it is thought, cannot be as sloppy as H.H.! [13 July 1932]

The Depression seems to be passing, at least stock-marketwise. You had better print in your well[-]known newspaper that the one reason for this is the action of the Government in seriously attempting to put people to work. The method adapted is a little clumsy but what can one expect of Washington?! [9 Aug. 1932]

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 29 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

“To the Women of Boston…”

Like many New Englanders, I followed the recent Market Basket labor strike with near-obsessive interest. Of course, a small, selfish part of me was irked that my “More for Your Dollar” shopping had been temporarily suspended. But beyond that, I was inspired by the employees’ bravery and revolutionary spirit. After weeks of negotiations and uncertainty, I was pleasantly surprised that the workers had triumphed over the CEOs. I’d noticed two important things while following the story; first, that many of the employees who were protesting “on the front lines,” as well as the consumer advocates who boycotted the store, were women. And secondly, that in the news media, many labor activists discussed the "record breaking" strike as distinctly unique to Massachusetts. These two facts are not particularly startling, given the state’s strong history of labor organizing and activism, much of which began with Massachusetts women.

In the 1830s, more than fifty years before labor movements became popular throughout the United States, the Lowell Mill women began organizing and striking, forming the first union of female workers in the United States. Over the next few decades, the same radical spirit picked up momentum and moved to the city of Boston. 

In 1874, forty-six years before the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, a group of female business owners in Boston formed the Business Woman's Mutual Benefit Association, which published circulars in Boston newspapers to advertise its services.

This circular, dated 27 February 1874, explains that “the object of [the] association [was] threefold:”

1st. To provide a fund from which a certain sum shall be paid to any member in case of sickness.

2nd. To provide a fund from which members in case of extreme need can obtain small loans, without interest, said loans to be returned by installments, in such sums and at such rates as shall be agreed upon.

3d. To provide respectable burial to deceased members.

To include as many people as possible, the Association established two tiers of membership: beneficiary members paid yearly dues and were subsequently entitled to all of the aforementioned benefits. Honorary members paid a one-time fee and received a certificate, but did not gain any benefits from the association. Men were “cordially invited to become Honorary members,” but the Board of Directors was comprised entirely of women.

Although women’s rights were not supported by the majority of Bostonians, the Association did have some allies. For instance, in its 2 April 1874 issue, The Index: A Weekly Newspaper Devoted to Free Religion, introduced the Association’s statement by writing:

We have been requested…to give a ‘word of notice’ to the following circular; but we find it so excellent that it seems proper to publish it in full in THE INDEX, with our heartiest approval of the organization and its object. Similar ones ought to be everywhere established; and the attention of all friends of the cause of women is called to one of the best plans yet devised to further it.

Nineteenth-century society provided independent women with very few legal and social rights, so these Bostonian businesswomen decided to organize and unite to protect themselves (and each other). Their circular states:

The constant complaint among women is that nothing is done to help them, pecuniarily, as a body, in case of need. The constant response of men is, that women will not unite as do men to help each other…by becoming members of, and thus supporting this association, women will not only effectually disprove the charge, but they will by this simple method do more to defeat the evil effects of unjust wages to women…

This last point seems particularly poignant and timely given that in mid-September, the United States Senate yet again blocked the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have strengthened equal pay protections for women. Despite the valiant efforts of these pioneering ladies, women are still fighting to be paid equal wages, one hundred and forty years later. Perhaps we should look to these revolutionary nineteenth-century women for some twenty-first-century inspiration in our continued fight for gender equality.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 23 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

“I can do nothing without you”: The 250th Anniversary of John and Abigail Adams

This month we celebrate the 250th wedding anniversary of John and Abigail Adams. Their marriage endured through separations, long in distance and time, war, partisan politics, and family hardships. Their distance and struggle became our treasure, because it is through their incredible correspondence that we obtain such an intimate look inside their lives—lives that in so many ways, are not so alien to our own.

     

About a month before their 25 October 1764, wedding, John Adams wrote to Abigail Smith movingly describing how important she was to him:

Oh my dear Girl, I thank Heaven that another Fortnight will restore you to me—after so long a separation. My soul and Body have both been thrown into Disorder, by your Absence, and a Month of two more would make me the most insufferable Cynick, in the World. I see nothing but Faults, Follies, Frailties and Defects in any Body, lately. People have lost all their good Properties or I my Justice, or Discernment.

But you who have always softened and warmed my Heart, shall restore my Benevolence as well as my Health and Tranquility of mind. You shall polish and refine my sentiments of Life and Manners, banish all the unsocial and ill natured Particles in my Composition, and form me to that happy Temper, that can reconcile a quick Discernment with a perfect Candour.

Abigail was that and more for John. His counselor and confidant, the one that even at the age of 61 and President of the United States, he could “do nothing without,” Abigail, while managing his beloved farm and caring for family, provided him with local news and gossip, advice, and a sympathetic ear. Likewise, for Abigail, when faced with trials of her own, she looked forward to a reunion with her dearest friend, where “I come to place my head upon your Bosom and to receive and give that consolation which sympathetick hearts alone know how to communicate.”

When Abigail died on October 28, 1818, just days after their fifty-fourth wedding anniversary, a heartbroken John wrote to his son John Quincy Adams, “My consolations are more than I can number. The Separation cannot be So long as twenty Separations heretofore. The Pangs and the Anguish have not been So great as when you and I embarked for France in 1778. . . . Love to your Wife. May you never experience her Loss.”

If you would like to learn more about this great American love story, the Abigail Adams Historical Society in Weymouth, MA, is holding a multi-day celebration and conference including remarks from Sara Martin, the Series Editor of the Adams Family Correspondence series, on October 24–26, 2014. Click here for more information.

 

 

Images:  Abigail Adams. Pastel on paper by Benjamin Blyth, circa 1766. Artwork 01.026; John Adams. Pastel on paper by Benjamin Blyth, circa 1766. Artwork 01.027

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 15 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

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