The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From Our Collections

From Fenways Past

Tomorrow, the Massachusetts Historical Society -- in collaboration with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy -- is offering a walking tour of our neighborhood, the Fenway. In celebration of this unique neighborhood, I have selected a few postcards from our collection that illustrate the Fenway’s gardens, streets, and buildings as they once appeared. The next time you visit the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Museum of Fine Arts, Fenway Park, or the Back Bay Fens, take a moment to look around for signs of our neighborhood as it has grown and changed for the century and more that the MHS has occupied the corner of Boylston and The Fenway.


Since 1912, Fenway Park has been home to the Boston Red Sox and parts of its original brick facade are still visible to visitors and passersby. This postcard dates from 1914 and suggests that the ritual of lining up before the gates open has a long history!


The Back Bay Fens, part of the chain of city green spaces known as the Emerald Necklace, were designed and constructed in the 1890s by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted. The broad avenues of The Fenway and Park Drive that encircle the gardens, playing fields, and marshlands, were purposefully designed for leisure driving, cycling, and walking.


The two columns at Hemenway St. and Westland Ave. still stand as a gateway to the Fens for pedestrians and drivers alike. If you walk through this intersection today, many of the young trees depicted on this postcard now tower above the street, providing shade to pedestrians and cyclists as they pause for a break in automobile traffic.


Open to the public in June 1876 on Copley Square, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston relocated to the Fenway in 1909. The Evans Wing for Paintings, depicted here in a fine black and white print, opened to the public in 1915. Today, one of three entrances to the museum opens out onto the Fenway, memorably flanked by the bronze sculptures Night and Day by Spanish artist Antonio Lopez Garcia.


 Across the waters of the Fens from the MFA stands the Kelleher Rose Garden, opened in 1931 and designed by landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, whose papers are held in the MHS collections.


Beyond the Museum of Fine Arts, along The Fenway, stand “Mrs. Jack Gardner’s Palace” --  the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum -- and Simmons College, founded in 1899 and opened to its first class of 142 students in the fall of 1902. They offered young women degrees in Home Economics, Library Studies, Secretarial Studies, Nursing, Teaching, and General Science.


At the opposite end of the Back Bay Fens from Simmons College stands the Somerset Hotel. Designed by Arthur Bowditch in the 1890s -- the same period during which the Massachusetts Historical Society’s 1154 Boylston St. building was under construction -- Somerset Hotel still stands today along what remains of Charlesgate Park, the link between the Back Bay Fens and the Charles River Esplanade.


The Esplanade parkland was severed from the Emerald Necklace in the 1950s when Storrow Drive was constructed to ease the traffic congestion to and from downtown Boston. Our final postcard today shows the newly-minted roadway as it snakes passed the now-iconic Hatch Memorial Band Shell, from which the Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcasts its Boston Pops concert every 4th of July.

While the postcard collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society is uncataloged, it is available for research use in the Society’s reading room. The postcards are arranged by geographic location and subject matter, covering Massachusetts, national, and foreign scenes. If you would be interested in accessing this collection please contact the library to arrange a visit.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 28 July, 2017, 10:42 AM

Winslow Homer’s Civil War reporting for Harper’s Weekly

While searching through the MHS’ library catalog, ABIGAIL, for records relating to Mr. Sidney Homer, an 1860s inventor, I stumbled upon a trove of graphics created by Winslow Homer. As a fan of Homer, I admonished myself for not being aware that we had any of his artworks here at the MHS. I did not, however, find any of Homer’s famous paintings in our stacks. Instead, I found evidence of an oft-overlooked part of Homer’s artistic career.

Known for his dramatic depictions of the ocean and idyllic images of country life, Homer’s career as a painter began to take off after his late-twenties. However, he showed artistic talent much earlier in his life in the form of sketches, prints, and other black-and-white media. This includes the MHS’ holdings, a selection of some of Homer’s lesser known work from this earlier period of his life, consisting in-part of prints he created for Harper’s Weekly as an artist-reporter during the Civil War.

Following an arduous apprenticeship at the Boston lithographer J.H. Bufford, 21 year-old Winslow Homer was eager to begin his career as an artist free from the shackles of any sort of contracted work. He became a freelance illustrator, submitting pieces to magazines such as Harper’s or Ballou’s Pictorial. When he was offered a contract as a staff artist for Harper’s in 1860, he turned it down. “The slavery at Bufford’s was too fresh in my recollection to let me care to bind myself again,” he later stated. “From the time I took my nose off that lithographic stone, I have had no master; and never shall have any.” However, after completing a commission from Harper’s to cover the presidential inauguration of Abraham Lincoln at the dawn of the Civil War, Homer began a stint with Harper’s that would end up becoming a formative part of his early career as an artist.


 “Presidents Buchanan and Lincoln entering the senate chamber before the inauguration. – (From a sketch by our Special Artist.)” Harper’s Weekly, March 16, 1861, p. 165


With photography still in its developmental period, some of the public’s best sources for images of current events were publications such as Harper’s Weekly. Based in New York City, Harper’s was a political magazine featuring news, stories, illustrations, and more. It was especially active during the Civil War, during which it had nearly 200,000 subscribers, and it worked to provide the public with images, news, and accounts from the front. Part of this endeavor included the hiring of around 30 artist-reporters, tasked with shadowing troops to the warfront and attempting to depict what they saw there. In a short but vivid description from their June 3, 1865 issue, Harper’s explained the project as follows:

They have made the weary marches and dangerous voyages. They have shared the soldiers’ fare; they have ridden and waded, climbed and floundered… The pictorial history of the war which they have written with their pencils in the field, upon their knees, upon a knapsack, upon a bulwark, upon a drum-head, upon a block, upon a canteen, upon a wet deck, in the grey dawn, in the dusk twilight, with freezing or fevered fingers…--this is a history quivering with life, faithful, terrible, romantic.

Winslow Homer was one such artist, although he was not assigned to a particular unit as were most of his colleagues. He made several trips to the front over the course of the war, but completed most of the actual depictions of what he saw there back at his studio in New York. His first trip to the front was likely around October of 1861, during which he focused on the Army of the Potomac. He did not witness any fighting as the army had recently returned from its defeat at Bull Run and was undergoing reorganization. The majority of Homer’s depictions of the war featured army life rather than actual fighting—soldiers setting up camp, eating, receiving medical care, or generally palling around. His images of camp are jovial and often humorous, highlighting the solders’ camaraderie and rowdiness. When compared with other artists’ depictions of soldiers from that time, Homer’s soldiers are distinctive in their quality of expressivity in contrast to other square-jawed, conventionally patriotic representations of “heroic” troops.  Though Homer did have a few pieces of a more patriotic nature, such as “Songs of the War” and “Our Women of the War.”


 Detail from “A Bivouac Fire on the Potomac,” Harper’s Weekly, Dec. 21, 1861, p. 808-809


Detail from “Our Women and the War,” Harper’s Weekly, Sept. 6, 1862, p. 568


In the spring of 1862 Homer visited the front again, and this time witnessed actual fighting. He was present in Washington to watch McClellan’s Army of the Potomac embark, and accompanied them on a transport ship to the York Peninsula in preparation for an advance on the Confederate capitol. Homer watched the month-long siege against Yorktown, but left not long after the siege ended. He completed most of his depictions of what he saw there after he returned to New York, and thus ended his stint as a “special artist” for Harper’s. He later complained to his friend John W. Beatty that Harper’s greatly reduced the size of his sketches upon printing them, sometimes squeezing 4 onto a single page and paying him only $25 for the entire page instead of $25 per artwork as was originally negotiated.

“The Army of the Potomac: a sharp-shooter on picket duty,” Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 15, 1862, p. 724


“Rebels outside their works at Yorktown reconnoitering with dark lanterns,” Harper’s Weekly, May 10, 1862, p. 305


Homer’s more famous images of the Civil War, “A Cavalry Charge” and “A Bayonet Charge,” were done after he returned to his home in New York and ended his work with Harper’s. Later drawings of army life suggest that he did make subsequent visits to the front later on in the war, but they were not part of Homer’s official work as a reporter. From here he shifted his focus to painting, although Harper’s did offer him another steady job at the end of his time at the front. Feeling intimidated by his obscurity as a painter, Homer heavily considered taking the job and vowed to his brother that he would accept the offer if his next two paintings did not sell. Unbeknownst to Homer, his brother purchased the paintings himself. Homer did not find out until years later, at which point he “swore roundly and refused to speak to his brother for weeks.” Still, this small encouragement helped to propel Homer into his career as a painter. In subsequent work he depicted scenes from war and soldiers, no doubt inspired by these early sketches.


All prints pictured in this post and more can be seen in their original forms in Harper’s Weekly at the MHS.


  1. Donald H. Karshan and Lloyd Goodrich, The Graphic Art of Winslow Homer, organized by the Museum of Graphic Art, New York, 1968
  2. Lloyd Goodrich, Winslow Homer, New York: Published for the Whitney Museum of American Art by Macmillan, 1944
  3. “Biography of Winslow Homer,” Winslow Homer, 2017,
  4. Amy Athey McDonald, “As embedded artist with the Union army, Winslow Homer captured life at the front,” Yale News, 20 April, 2015,




comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 12:00 AM

“A stain of depravity”: John Quincy Adams on Lord Chesterfield

When Louisa Catherine Johnson wrote to her then-fiancé John Quincy Adams on March 20, 1797, she desired to impress him with her reading of Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son. The reaction she received was not the reaction she expected.

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield 

(National Portrait Gallery, London)


Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son is a compilation of 448 letters from Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773), to his son, also named Philip (1732–1768), from the time the boy was five until his death. The letters contain lessons on subjects such as history and mythology in the boy’s youth, but the older he gets, the more the lessons relate to what Stanhope constantly refers to as, “the useful and necessary art of pleasing.” When the boy was eleven, Stanhope wrote that he desired he should be “as near perfection as possible” as “never were such pains taken for anybody’s education” and as his opportunities for knowledge and improvement were unparalleled. “The smallest inattention, or error in manners, the minutest inelegancy of diction, the least awkwardness in your dress and carriage, will not escape my observation,” Chesterfield wrote to his son. Understandably, Philip felt the need to keep secrets from his father. Upon his death from edema in 1768, Chesterfield discovered that Philip had been secretly married for ten years and had two sons. While Chesterfield provided for Philip’s two sons during what remained of his life and in his will, he neglected to leave Philip’s wife Eugenia anything, prompting her to publish over thirty years of his letters to his son. The collection of letters, published in 1774, attracted a great deal of notice in Britain and across the Atlantic.

Over twenty years after their original publication, Louisa wrote to her fiancé that she thought the letters “very good” but asked for John Quincy’s opinion on the book. John Quincy responded that he was never permitted to read the letters in his youth and harbored “too much contempt” for the principles within to have dedicated time to its perusal in his adulthood. Furthermore, he told her Chesterfield had a “stain of depravity which pervades all his ideas of morality” and that could only generate an “accomplished knave.” He advised her to read Samuel Johnson instead and leave Chesterfield’s “fraud” and “baseness” alone. (There is a 1779 copy of Stanhope’s work in the Stone Library at Peacefield with John Quincy’s bookplate attached.)

Undoubtedly, John Quincy’s fervent ideas about the book he claimed not to have read came, in part, from his parents. When his mother Abigail requested a copy in 1776, his father dissuaded her, telling her she wouldn’t want it as the letters were, “stained with libertine Morals and base Principles.” Abigail accepted her husband’s advice but got her hands on a copy four years later. After perusing the letters, she agreed that Chesterfield was filling his son’s mind with “the most immoral, pernicious and Libertine principals.”

Though John Quincy was no stranger to a father’s care, attention, and critiques, his relationship with his father little reflected the relationship of the Stanhopes. While John Adams urged his son to study the history of revolutions, Chesterfield outlined the proper way to bid farewell to mistresses. Chesterfield was, and urged his son to be, a chameleon in the world, a far cry from John Adams, the possibly uprooted but never swayed oak. In fact, Chesterfield’s instruction was so opposed to John Quincy’s lifestyle that he admitted to Louisa he felt as though Chesterfield were “personally satyrising” him.

John Quincy’s reaction to the text perhaps realizes his father’s April 15, 1776 wish that his children should “wear mean Cloaths, and work hard, with Chearfull Hearts and free Spirits” and that they would “scorn Injustice, Ingratitude, Cowardice, and Falshood. Let them revere nothing but Religion, Morality, and Liberty.” Nowhere did John Adams mention the useful and necessary art of pleasing.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 12:00 AM

“Honest and Faithful” Emerson P. Dibble

That word Southwick brings a lot of happy memories to my mind. Can almost see the place now. The old mountain is just beginning to turn color. Chestnut burrs are about half formed and [I] can plainly see the tobacco field with the seed plants standing out like guards. 

This passage is from a letter written by Private Emerson Phelps Dibble on 25 August 1918, about one month after his enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps. The MHS recently acquired a fascinating collection of Emerson’s papers, primarily letters written during his service in World War I.


Emerson Dibble was born on 24 March 1898, the son of Albert C. and Winifred E. (Phelps) Dibble. As far as I can determine, he was their only child. Emerson’s mother died when he was just three years old, and his father remarried a woman named Millie Holcomb. The Dibbles lived on a farm in Southwick, Mass., where they grew tobacco.

Emerson enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on 23 July 1918. Most of the letters in the collection were written to his stepmother Millie, his father Albert, and his girlfriend (later wife) Olive Madeline Jordan. Emerson’s letters are detailed, affectionate, funny, and often very moving. For example, when he wrote the words above, he was in training at Parris Island, S.C., and the pangs of homesickness had set in. Being away made him appreciate his home and family more. Millie wrote that she cared for him as if her were her own son, and he replied, “You can never know how my heart jumped when I read that.” He wrote to his father in the same vein:

When I saw and recognised your hand writing Gee, there was that same big lump came up in my throat and then when I read on and saw your feelings [I] couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes. They were tears of gladness tho’ and [I] can tell you this dad that when this big fight is over and I come back up in a decent country and back to Home there is going to be a closer, dearer feeling between us. I’ve made mistakes in the past that [I] never realized until now. You told me hundreds of times that [I] would see them some day but I in a foolish, boyish passion and anger could not see things the way you did. But [I] can assure you that I see them now, and, oh, so plainly, Dad. When I get back you and I are going to be father and son and not strangers as we have almost been.

Emerson seemed to flourish under the rigorous military discipline. He grew fitter and stronger every day, and even qualified as a sharpshooter. He was proud of the toughness of the Marines: “I wouldn’t want to be a Common Soldier. The U.S. Marine is the only real soldier of [the] United States and is good as any other in the world.” Emerson was also full of interesting anecdotes. He described meeting, in South Carolina, “one old fellow who said he was 92. Don’t know whether he was or not. He looked it tho’. He was a slave when the Civil War broke out and he told us he had seen the battle of Cold Springs and also the evacuation and capture of Richmond by the Yankees.”

In September 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic hit Parris Island, and the camp was temporarily quarantined. Emerson had “a slight attack” and recovered, but he was worried about the folks back home. The following month, he shipped out to Europe.

Letters took longer to reach him across the Atlantic, and when he didn’t hear from Millie, Albert, or Olive for three months, he worried even more. He wanted “to have everyone all O.K. when I come home.” But it was Emerson who would get the worst of it. After another bout with the flu and a fever of 103, he was hospitalized with sub-acute bronchitis. He complained of headaches, weakness in his legs, and a cough, but didn’t feel that bad, he said. It was the monotony he hated.

On 1 May 1919, an ecstatic Emerson wrote to Olive and Millie from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’d been transferred back to the states and still hoped for a full recovery before leaving the service. One letter revealed a new detail: it was tuberculosis that had killed his mother Winifred eighteen years before, and the family was afraid Emerson would contract it, too. He reassured them that he’d had four sputum tests, and all four had come back negative.

Olive and Emerson were now engaged to be married. Olive was a schoolteacher in Springfield, Mass., and Emerson wrote to tell her how much he missed her:

Oh, Olive dear, if you had only known how I longed for you. Just to see you, to kiss you, to feel you cuddle up close to me as you used to. Gee, dearest girl, I lived over a hundred of those fine times we used to have to-gether. […] You understand, don’t you? Guess I have changed some since a year ago. Maybe in some ways for the worse but principally for the good. […] Oh, dearest girl, if you could only feel my feelings now, Olive, I love you, love you – God help me if I ever stop loving you. […] Hoping and praying to be with you and kiss you (again & again) sometime in the near future.

Emerson was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps on 29 July 1919 with marks of “excellent” for character, obedience, and sobriety. His service was described as “honest and faithful.” In the fall of 1919, before their marriage, Emerson worked at the General Electric plant in Pittsfield, Mass., and wrote often to Olive in Springfield. They were probably married in 1920.

The next letter, the final letter by Emerson in the collection, is heartbreaking. It’s dated 3 February 1921 and was written on stationery from a ladies’ clothing shop in Holyoke, Mass.—Emerson was apparently boarding there after receiving treatment at a sanatorium. His despair is palpable. At the same time, we learn that Emerson and Olive had become parents.

Today I started to “streak” again so I suppose may expect a hemorrhage any time. Hope this one finishes the bell for [I] am sick and tired of this separation and this recurrence of the trouble. Am afraid that I am going to be a misfit and a dependent for life and thats too much for me. […] Have thought of you often and pray for you and the little girl every night. Can’t go to sleep for hours sometimes just thinking of you dear. […] Maybe I am cowardly and all that but am ready to die tonight and would go happy knowing that [I] had taken a load from the world in general.

Emerson died in July 1922 and is buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, Mass. According to his application for a driver’s license, filled out earlier that year, he had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis after all.

I’d love to know what happened to his daughter, Peggy Dibble. She was still alive in 1924, but I can’t find any record of her after that. The collection came to us with a small photograph album, but unfortunately the people in the photographs are unidentified. Another unsolved mystery is the  location of Emerson’s diary, which ended up in the hands of his friend Mike Cronin and was probably returned to Olive after Emerson’s death.

Amazingly, Olive lived to the age of 94 and died in October 1990. She never re-married and is buried in the Lynn cemetery plot with Emerson.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 12:00 AM

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, July 1917

Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:

Introduction | January | February | March | April | May



Only two pages of Gertrude’s diary from June 1917 remain in her diary for that year, the rest having been sliced out at some point before the volume was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society. Only July 26-31 remain. Still, in even these half-dozen entries we see Gertrude’s life contain everything from a party at the beach to a visit to a former cook who had served the family, now on a pension, to design commissions, to tea with a woman whose son has just enlisted and will soon ship out to war in Europe.

I turn it over Gertrude.

* * *

26 July.

To Lodge school to tea.


27 July.

Mrs South had a bathing party at the [illegible]. Rather fly [illegible] but amusing. Being a Friday & [illegible] day, a number of people [illegible]. So I planted my red sunshade in the sand & Clarence Hayden & I made ourselves into a “Vogue” cover for the amusement of the others. The children had a good time. John frisked about.


28 July.

Went in to see Mrs Plumer the old cook. Her cooking days are over. I am paying for [illegible] & [illegible] has a pension.


To Barton’s after tea


29 July.

John’s [illegible] lesson. “But Mummy, which were the nice people?”

Jacob & Esau

Took John to drive. Lovely sunset at C. Hayden’s.


30 July.

To Ilaro & town.
Called on the Majors.


31 July.

Savannah about green plots.
Inspection of auctions.

11. Dr Gooding dentist. He has invented [illegible] oval playing cards and has asked me to design a cover for them.


Tea at Mrs [illegible]. Her son has gone to enlist and she is very sad at his departure.


* * *

As always, if you are interested in viewing the diary or letters yourself, in our library, or have other questions about the collection please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 7 July, 2017, 12:00 AM

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