By Kittle Evenson, Reader Services
Spring has officially, if tardily, sprung here in Boston and researchers and staff alike are again staring distractedly out of the reading room windows at the green grass, new leaves, and vibrant sunshine.
To draw our wandering attention back inside, I decided to showcase a few examples of early Bostonians preserving and portraying the natural world in all its beauty.
While the MHS offers countless examples of artistic depictions of nature, I chose just two to share here: one for its pure beauty, the other for its scientific bent.
The first is a nondescript volume from the Quincy-Howe family papers. Labeled as “Flower paintings, clippings -- Eliza S. Quincy,” and dating to the mid-19th century, the volume is part scrapbook, part sketchbook, with newspaper clippings of familial news mounted opposite hand-drawn sketches of ornate flowers.
Colorful painting of a flower in Eliza S. Quincy’s 19th century album of flower paintings and clippings
The emphasis of this work is artistic, the mood of the drawings complements the clippings. They are at turns mournful and celebratory, with romantic lines and rich colors.
A painting of a somewhat mournful-looking flower sits opposite a 1867 poem on the life and death of J.W.R.
A delicately-colored painting of a flower in full bloom is unaccompanied by a newspaper clipping
From a similar period (1850s-1870s) the second example is far more scientific, although the beauty of nature is not lost on the viewer (or creator).
The cover of Ocean Mosses from 1872, owned, if not assembled, by Mrs. Edwin Lamson
Inside 3 bound volumes from the Lamson family papers are pressed clippings of “ocean mosses” and “ocean flowers” collected along New England coastlines. Some are identified with binomial nomenclature, others are left unlabeled. All are impressively well intact for being approximately one-hundred-and-fifty years old.
An unlabeled segment of ocean moss from a Lamson family volume entitled Ocean Mosses c. 1850
A labeled segment of ocean moss from Mrs. Edwin Lamson’s 1872 volume
Even though this collection tend towards a more scientific look at underwater nature, the elegance and beauty of these plants prevails.
Artfully arranged ocean mosses surround a poem in Mrs. Edwin Lamson’s June 22, 1872 volume
The poem wreathed by moss reads:
fanned by the
winds of a summer
parterre, Whose gales
are but sighs of an evening
air, Our delicate, fragile and
exquisite forms, Were nursed
by the billows, and rocked
By the storms.
Investigating a bit, this appears to be a slightly modified verse of a longer poem entitled “Seaweeds”:
Oh call us not weeds, but flowers of the sea,
For lovely, and gay, and bright-tinted are we;
Our blush is as deep as the rose of thy bowers,
Then call us not weeds, -- we are ocean’s gay flow’rs,
Not nurs’d like the plants of the summer parterre,
Whose gales are but sighs of an evening air;
Our exquisite, fragile, and delicate forms
Are the prey of the ocean when vex’d with his storms
I found several versions of this poem, although few bore official attribution. One version, attributed to a Miss Elizabeth Aveline of Lyme Regis, England, that I found most interesting was mentioned in a book by Patricia Pierce on Mary Anning, an English paleontologist whose early 19th century discoveries of Jurassic marine fossils helped shape our scientific understanding of the world. Pierce mentions how Anning scrawled this poem in an album under a clutch of dried seaweed. An eerily similar description to Lamson’s treatment pictured above.
While I found no reference to Anning amongst the Lamson volumes, this tentative, poetic link piqued my interest in the transatlantic discussions of scientific discoveries had by 19th century women. A topic I am sure to continue exploring.
If 19th century depictions of the natural world strike your fancy and you would like to see these volumes in person, please feel free to stop in and visit our library. If you are interested in seeing what other materials we have related to botany and the beauty of nature you can browse our online catalog, ABIGAIL, from the comfort of your own home.
| Published: Saturday, 21 May, 2016, 3:43 PM
Following Their Bliss: Two Very Different Trips to California
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
Serendipity is one of the great things about working in archives. Just a few months apart, the MHS acquired, purely by chance, two collections related to members of the Bliss family. Pelatiah Lawrence Bliss (Lawrence to his friends) and James Wheaton Bliss were very, very, very distant cousins. In fact, to trace their exact connection, you’d have to go back many generations, to the 17th century.
While Lawrence and James were contemporaries, there’s no reason to believe they knew—or even knew about—each other. And they didn’t have much in common. Lawrence (1821-1851) was the youngest child of a West Springfield, Mass. tanner. He tried his hand at various careers, working as a store clerk, teacher, and farmer in Georgia, Alabama, and Michigan, apparently without much happiness or success at any of them.
James (1825-1875), on the other hand, was an established Boston businessman. According to the Bliss family genealogy published by a relative, “as a prominent and successful merchant in the clothing trade [James] was highly esteemed. […] Few men of his age were more frequently consulted by their business associates.” He served on the Executive Committee of the Boston Board of Trade.
I did find one interesting parallel between Lawrence and James: both men traveled from Boston to San Francisco, though under dramatically different circumstances. In 1849, Lawrence joined the California Gold Rush and sailed on the Drummond around Cape Horn. The trip took seven months. Twenty-one years later, his distant cousin James rode on the first chartered transcontinental railroad excursion to San Francisco and back. He was home in just over a month.
Both manuscript collections are small, but Lawrence’s papers consist primarily of correspondence, including a detailed 18-page letter he wrote during his voyage on the Drummond. He seemed to have no illusions about his prospect for success in the Gold Rush, worrying, as he watched a sunset, about how “deceitful luster” can lead to “perished expectations.”
James’s train trip was luxurious. A colleague described the Pullman excursion here at the Beehive a few years ago. The MHS has also digitized a broadside about the trip, as well as the first issue of the newspaper printed on the train. You can find James and his teenage daughter Josie, who accompanied him, listed on both documents. I don’t have a picture of James, but here’s Josie, with the receipt for their fare.
Lawrence was unfortunately unsuccessful as a gold prospector. On 8 Aug. 1850, he wrote home, “Misfortune, disaster, & disappointment seem to have attended me ever since I arrived in the country. […] Don’t let anybody come to California whom you can influence.” And a few weeks later, “I cannot blame myself for my ill success, as I have done the best I could.” He died penniless in San Francisco just three days shy of his thirtieth birthday.
As for James, he married Sarah Jane Wood in 1849 (the same year of Lawrence’s fateful trip west) and had six children, four of whom lived to adulthood. He died in 1875.
| Published: Wednesday, 18 May, 2016, 2:40 PM
Margaret Russell’s Diary, May 1916
By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services
Today, we return to the line-a-day diary of Margaret Russell. You can read previous installments here:
Margaret Russell’s diary entries for May 1916 presented a puzzle which was solved through the collective sleuthing of archivists on social media. Early on in my transcribing I stumbled upon a word in the May 3 entry I could not decipher:
I posted the image on Twitter and by the end of the evening not only had the word been successfully translated (“sessions”), but the larger story behind the entry had been hunted down by curious followers. It turned out that in May 1916, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America held a meeting in Washington, D.C. at which Margaret Russell attended as a Massachusetts delegate (she writes of being part of “the Boston Party”). Unfortunately, she fell ill while in D.C. and spent much of her time there bedridden. She reports on May 9th that “people [were] very kind in sending flowers.” She spent much of the month feeling poorly, though her diary also records afternoon drives and occasional social calls or family dinners.
* * *
1 May. Monday - Left on the 10 o’clock spent the night at Colony Club & saw Kate who is quite poorly.
2 May. Tuesday - Did a few errands, very hot. Met the Boston Party with Francis P. at 3.30 for Washington.
3 May. Wednesday. Opening of the sessions. Felt poorly and thought it was the heat. Lunched at Hattie’s. Drove with F. P. down Potomac.
4 May. Still hot & do not feel well. Went to White House & thought Mrs. Wilson very attractive. Took drive to Chevy Chase camp. Mass. party in evening.
5 May. Had a bad night & feel feverish so went for Dr. Handin who says it is [liver?]. Ankles red & swollen.
6 May. Saturday. In bed.
7 May. Sunday - still in bed.
8 May. Monday. Frances & all hands left. Miss Didier [illegible] came & is bright & pleasant.
9 May. Tuesday - People very kind in sending flowers. Still in bed but feel better.
10 May. Wednesday - In bed but days pass quickly.
11 May. Thursday - Like Dr. Handin so much.
12 May. Friday. In bed but better.
13 May Friday - Got up after lunch & went for hour’s drive with Hattie & then back to bed.
14 May. The same - Dr. Handin comes every day.
15 May. Sunday - left at 12.30 & got to N.Y. very comfortably. Spent night at Belmont also Miss. Didier.
16 May. Monday - Kate Cary came to see me. Said good job to Miss D-- & left on 12 o’c. Miss Ahler joined me at the Springfield. Not too tired. Family to dine.
17 May. Tuesday - Stayed in bed till lunch & then on couch for the rest of day. Felt the fatigue of the journey.
18 May. Wednesday - Sent for Dr. Smith who looked me over. Let me go to drive in the P.M.
19 May. In bed till twelve - drive to Swampscott after lunch. Then rested. Margaret Bradley engaged to Roger [illegible].
20 May. Friday - In bed till twelve. Went out in my new car for long drive. Feel better.
21 May. Saturday - Out at eleven for errand & to see Aunt Emma. Rested & then to see M. Bradley.
22 May. Sunday - Stayed in till I went to lunch with H.G.C.’s. Then to drive & to Fall River Hosp. to see E. Murray. Family to dine.
23 May. Monday - Doctor says I have improved in all respects. Went to see Marian then Mary’s & after lunch to botany lesson.
24 May. Tuesday. Lunched at Alice Burn’s. Only Sallie Ames & Mrs. Bell. Went to dine & home to rest.
25 May. Wednesday - Errands in the morning. Went to Swampscott.
26 May. Thursday.
27 May. Friday - Walked down town & bought flag. Took a long drive.
28 May. Saturday - Great preparedness procession. Went out & walked about, great enthusiasm.
29 May. Sunday. Walked to cathedral. Photographer came to take the 4 generations. Baby was good. Family to dine.
30 May. Monday - lunched with Marian. To E & E & then Good S--. Saw Aunt Emma.Came home & rested.
31 May. Packing - Packing.
* * *
If you are interested in viewing the diary in person 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.
*Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original.
Image: Edith Wilson, no date. Portrait from the Library of Congress.
| Published: Thursday, 12 May, 2016, 8:00 AM
Part of the Process (ing)
By Dan Hinchen, Reader Services
In many archives, staff numbers are so low that all members must perform many different functions, from accepting new donations of material and housing the material for storage, to arranging and describing (processing) and providing reference assistance. Often, there is even much more on top of this (think: budgeting, fundraising, outreach, etc.). In past jobs I had the opportunity/necessity of donning these different hats.
Here at the MHS we are extremely fortunate in that we have several different departments that are all responsible for carrying out these functions, not in isolation but with focus and a degree of specialization. All of this results in the smooth operation of the organization as an archive.
As someone who works (and very much enjoys) working on the public side of things, being part of a dedicated reference staff is great. I am able to focus much of my attention on the researchers, both in-person and remote, who want to utilize the collections we hold. However, this means that I run the risk of growing rusty with other archival functions. Thankfully, this is a collaborative organization and we get the chance to work with other departments to varying degrees at different times.
In the past year, I had the opportunity to take part in the re-processing of the George Bancroft papers. This collection of papers from the 19th century historian/diplomat relates to his time as a student - both at Harvard University and at Georgia Augusta University in Gottingen, Germany – as a schoolmaster, poet, historian, and diplomat. Bancroft’s writings and correspondence correlate to myriad events in American history during the 19th century and are a vital source of information for his lifetime.
Bancroft at work in his later years
(from the Marian Hooper Adams photographs, MHS)
Until now, this large collection (60+ boxes, 50+ volumes) was only given a basic level of description in our online catalog, ABIGAIL. While the material has been arranged and accessible to researchers, there was very little information forthcoming about the content of the papers and volumes. With that in mind, the Society decided to revisit the collection and give it a bit more attention in the hopes that more researchers will find their way to it.
While the MHS’ Collection Services department carries out our normal processing activities, we in Reader Services are occasionally able to get a hand in so that we can keep our non-reference skills sharp. The Bancroft papers were my opportunity to get into the process.
I was tasked with going through the 50+ volumes in the collection in order to get a grasp on the general types of volumes they are (i.e. diaires, journals, memoranda books, account books, etc.) and to get some idea of the content therein, then to house the material appropriately, and then to provide descriptions of the various volumes, along with a biographical profile of the man, for inclusion in a new online finding aid.
What this means for me is that I not only learned a great deal about Bancroft’s early life as a student in Germany, but also that I got to practice my processing. This was a bit of a reeducation for me since I have not been in a position to process materials for a few years now.
Aside from re-housing all of the material in the collection (new boxes for loose papers, cases for many volumes, etc.), the major deliverable item from this project is the new online finding aid for the Bancroft papers. Unlike the catalog records in ABIGAIL, our online finding aids are discoverable via web searches using search engines like Google. Our hope is that now many more people from near and far can more easily learn about what the collection holds and perhaps come to the library to dig in even deeper.
Are you interested in learning more about Mr. Bancroft and his milieu? Take a look through the guide and then consider Visiting the Library!
| Published: Friday, 6 May, 2016, 12:00 AM
“Big city life at its very best”: Urban Renewal, Vice, and Adult Entertainment in 1970s Boston
By Brendan Kieran, Reader Services
During the 1970s, Boston’s Combat Zone, a (now former) adult entertainment district located around lower Washington Street, was at the center of urban renewal plans. After looking through the finding aid for the Park Plaza Development Project records, I decided to dig in and see if I could unpack attitudes toward the Combat Zone during this period. I largely focused on a group of reports produced during the planning period by the Park Plaza Civic Advisory Committee (CAC), a citizen’s group formed in response to the plans of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) for the project. These records provide insights into the shifting attitudes toward regulation of adult entertainment and vice in Boston during the 1970s, and also shed some light on the goals of urban renewal projects, the physical and social geography of the city, and desired models for maintaining order in the city.
The BRA’s plans for the Park Plaza project called for the demolition of parts of the Combat Zone. In a May 1973 report, the BRA discusses the impacts of this demolition on adult entertainment in the city. The report mentions the prior demolition of Scollay Square and its impact on adult entertainment. Businesses did not move from the Square to the Washington Street area when it was demolished; rather, the Washington Street adult district already existed. This implies that when the Combat Zone is destroyed, adult businesses from the Washington Street area will not move elsewhere, and the businesses in other areas will not be impacted. The report then states the City of Boston’s desire to increase surveillance and management of “remaining adult entertainment,” utilizing “new street lighting, public mini-parks, sign control, expanded police enforcement, continued police ‘visibility’, and possible additional control under various regulatory measures.”
The “Combat Zone” area is to the left in this photo.
The BRA met resistance to this plan, however. Writing in July 1974, CAC member Daniel J. Ahern criticizes the demolition plan, and writes about proposals to preserve the district. His report represents a different view than the earlier one taken by the BRA; he suggests that containment of adult entertainment in that district is necessary for the well-being of the city. Ahern makes his views on the matter clear in Appendix A of his report, a memo dated 1 May 1973. In the memo, he is very critical of the “earthy” forms of entertainment in the Combat Zone that he thinks certain people “associate with big city life at its very best.” However, he argues that the best approach is to maintain it in that location, invest in it, and keep it available for people who want it while protecting other parts of Boston from those forms of entertainment.
Along these lines, an Entertainment District Subcommittee of the CAC was formed to work on these issues. Connections were formed between the CAC and business owners in the area, who wanted to privately invest in plans for improvements to the area. Additionally, both the CAC and the business owners expressed interest in working with the BRA to implement new plans. The BRA, however, while expressing a willingness to work with the CAC and business owners, was fairly uncooperative. As of Ahern’s writing in July 1974, and at least as late the release of a February 1975 CAC newsletter, the demolition plan was still in place.
These discussions about vice and urban planning took place within a broader context of urban renewal in 1970s Boston. The Park Plaza reports call for revitalization of underutilized areas, and predict an influx of newer, wealthier residents and customers into the area. According to a March 1974 Department of Community Affairs report, over three-quarters of the new housing proposed as part of the Park Plaza project were for “middle and upper income residents.” The influence of big developers and the lack of affordable housing in the proposal serve as points of contention for some people. This suggests room for analysis of class dynamics and who would have benefited from the developments.
As I only looked at this small group of reports, it’s safe to say that I haven’t come close to unpacking the whole story. For example, I’m interested in the roles that race and gender may have played in these discussions and developments. If you’re interested in conducting some investigations of your own, the Park Plaza Development Project records are open for research here in the library at the MHS.
| Published: Wednesday, 4 May, 2016, 12:00 AM