The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Recent Events

Revisiting Bunker Hill

Fifty years ago Thomas Fleming published Now We Are Enemies: The Story of Bunker Hill. As the anniversary of that pivotal Revolutionary War event approaches, and more importantly in celebration of the fifty years since the book was first published, Fleming has issued an anniversary edition of the title hoping to reach a new generation of Americans with the inspiring and complex tale of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

On Tuesday, June 15, Thomas Fleming gave a lunch-hour talk at the MHS taking the audience through his experience of writing the book. It seems the project began while he was on a trip to Boston to research an article. Fleming was traveling with his family and his son looked at a portrait of Joseph Warren and asked Fleming who he was. In searching for the answer to that question, Fleming discovered his next book. And in the process of writing it came to understand that Bunker Hill was not just any other battle. It was not a simple matter of the good guys vs the bad guys, or the amateur (American) vs the professional (British) soldiers. On that battlefield men who had fought together during the French and Indian War now Joseph Warrenstood on opposite lines; men that had lived and worked side by side, that had called each other friend, were now facing each other in battle.

Over the course of his talk Fleming highlighted the roll of the American heroes of the day, including Joseph Warren, Israel Putnam, John Stark, William Prescott, Andrew McClary, and Peter Salem (one of the free blacks fighting in Prescott’s regiment). Using passages from participants own letters and diaries Fleming brought the battle and the people involved in it back to life for those sitting in audience.


For information about upcoming events at the MHS be sure to check our events calendar.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 17 June, 2010, 8:00 AM

Local Teachers Meet Edith Holliday, WWI Volunteer

On Monday, June 7, nine teachers from Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School in Bridgewater, MA visited the MHS to attended a fullday workshop entitled "American Women in Europe: Red Cross Canteen Service in WWI." The workshop, which aimed to give teachers primary source material to work into their lesson plans, focused on Edith Holliday, a Boston area native that volunteered for service in the American National Red Cross in 1918.

The visit began with a presentation of WWI materials held by the MHS. This presentation, including propaganda posters, maps, manuscript letters and diaries, scrapbooks, and artifacts, demonstrated the wide range of WWI era resources teachers can draw from in creating content for their classroom lessons. The presentation was followed by a demonstration of a sample lesson plan utilizing primary source material from the Edith Holliday Papers. The lesson focused on the service of American women in the Red Cross with special attention given to the canteen workers that worked to provide comfort, rest, and a good meal to soldiers on their way to and back from the front. The WWI letters of Edith Holliday were used to give students first hand insight into the work of the Red Cross workers and to illustrate why women would volunteer for such service at that time.

Writing to her husband in August 1918 Edith states, "That is the highest duty we of our generation have to do, to work with all our hearts for a world fit for our children to live in." The proposed lesson asked students to contemplate the work Edith and her fellow volunteers did in France, examining the successes and shortcomings of the canteen program and considering how the role of women changed as the war went on -- both at home and abroad.

At the age of 49, Edith Hovey Holliday set sail for France as a volunteer in the American National Red Cross. She left her husband and two teenage daughters behind in Boston. Her oldest child, her son Harold, had volunteered for service in the Yankee Division and would follow her to France a short time later. In the almost eleven months she spent in France Edith served in two Red Cross canteens, in Nevers and St. Germain des Fosses. With the end of hostilities in November 1918 she relocated to Perigueux in southwestern France, completing her service as a searcher -- assembling information on wounded, missing, and killed-in-action soldiers. She departed France to return to Boston in March 1919.

The MHS holds a collection of Edith Holliday's personal letter, written primarily to her brother Carl, her husband Guy, and her children Harold, Beatrice, and Beckie. This collection chronicles her efforts to become a volunteer and her journey to and through France. There is also a small collection of photographs, including images of Edith and her children.

If you are a teacher or school administrator interested in finding out more about teacher workshop and professional development opportunities at the MHS contact Kathleen Barker in our education department at


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 16 June, 2010, 1:00 AM

The Catholic Exodus from Eliot School: Lunch Talk Recap

On Friday, 14 May local historian and author of The North End: A Brief History of Boston’s Oldest Neighborhood Alex Goldfeld gave a presentation on “The Eliot School and the Catholic Exodus of 1859.” 

Before getting into details about the 1859 incident, Goldfeld sketched out the history of Boston’s school system, beginning with the founding of Boston Latin in 1635, and of Catholics in Boston during the Colonial, Revolutionary, and New Republic periods (giving, as an example, the anti-Catholic sentiment expressed in raucous Pope’s Day celebrations in the pre-Revolutionary period). He also discussed the intersection of these two histories: the options available to Catholic students for their education during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Catholics, although a persecuted minority in Massachusetts, had nevertheless been a presence in Boston since its founding, and by 1788 celebrated their first public mass and by 1830 boasted a population some 10,000 strong in Boston and Charlestown, shepherded by one bishop and four priests. Although the Catholic church provided religious instruction for students, they did not – during the first half of the nineteenth century – develop a parochial school system that offered instruction in secular as well as religious subjects. Children from Catholic families attended public, Protestant-run, grammar schools, including the Eliot School in Boston’s North End. 

In March of 1859, Father Wiget, a recently-arrived Swiss Jesuit priest, urged some of the boys in his St. Mary’s Sunday school to resist recitation of Protestant prayers and Bible readings in school. On 14 March, a ten-year-old boy named Thomas Whall (at student at Eliot) was beaten for thirty minutes on the hands after refusing to follow the teacher’s instructions and afterwards fainted when he finally conceded defeat and attempted to read the assigned lesson. 

This punishment (perceived as excessive even by the standard of the day) caused Whall’s parents to file a lawsuit against the Eliot School administration and sparked widespread controversy about the place of corporeal punishment as well as religious instruction in public schools. Between 300-400 of the Eliot School’s approximately 700 pupils left in protest (though many trickled back) and St. Mary’s parish responded by organizing a Catholic school that stood as an alternative to public school education (a school that remained open until 1973). 

Goldfeld argues that this incident and the political rhetoric surrounding it on both sides raised questions about the place of religion in the school system and the role of public schools in the assimilation of immigrants that still have echoes in modern-day debates. 

Alex Goldfeld has been a local historian and tour guide in Boston for the past ten years and can be found online at It was a pleasure to have him speak at the MHS and we look forward to seeing what his next project will be.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 17 May, 2010, 8:00 AM

"McClellan in Boston": Lunch-Talk Recap

On Wednesday, 28 October, the MHS hosted a brown-bag lunch talk, “McClellan's Visit to Boston, January 28-February 8, 1863"  in which Carol Bundy, a current Andrew W. Mellon Fellow and long-time MHS researcher, led a discussion of her current project. An audience of about twenty, comprised of MHS members, staff, and research fellows, as well as local scholars and history enthusiasts, listened as Carol presented a brief synopsis of her research before engaging her in a lively question and answer session.

At the outset of the program Carol described her project as an “unformed mass of dough, just beginning to rise” meaning that the project is in its early stages and she is still working on identifying the main characters and primary direction of her narrative. She introduced the audience to her project by giving a bit of background about both McClellan’s visit and the social and political environment in Boston in the winter of 1863. 

While McClellan’s visit to Boston in that winter is the focus of the project, McClellan himself is not the center of Carol’s research. The project is “not so much about McClellan, as about Boston’s reaction to McClellan.” As a result Carol has been working to identify the men responsible for bringing McClellan to Boston that winter, as well as fleshing out his itinerary. Through contemporary diary accounts she has already identified a committee of twelve men responsible for bringing McClellan to Boston. The hope is that the project will grow from there as she explores these men and their connections to both each other and the places that McClellan visited during his time in the city.

The greater questions to be explored include the reasons for McClellan's visit to Boston, and why was he seemingly so popular with Bostonians at the time. Bundy presented the argument that the men who brought McClellan to Boston supported him for various - mostly personal - reasons which were more pragmatic than ideological, and raised her own questions about the reaction of the city at large. 

During the discussion part of the program attendees raised questions about the role of religion in the development of the political and personal motivations surrounding individual positions on the emancipation issue, the appeal of McClellan (which was presented as being a superficial appeal), and the form that the written project may take once the direction of the project becomes more clear.

A hearty thank you to Carol for an engaging presentation and for sharing her research with us. Keep your eye out for the resulting publication down the road.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 31 October, 2009, 8:25 AM

"Marriage Extraordinary": Lunch Talk Recap

This Wednesday (8 July), the MHS hosted a brown bag lunch talk, “Marriage Extraordinary: Interracial Marriage and the Politics of the Family in Antebellum Massachusetts,” given by Amber Moulton-Wiseman, a graduate student of African-American Studies at Harvard University and a short-term research fellow here at the MHS.  Amber spoke on the nineteenth-century battle to lift the ban on interracial marriage that had been in effect in Massachusetts since 1705, prohibiting legal marriages between whites and people of color (particularly those of African descent).  Amber gave a brief description of the six-year campaign to end the ban, which began in 1837 with a grassroots petitioning drive and ended during the 1843 legislative session when the Massachusetts legislature voted to lift the ban, wiping away what many at the time considered to be one of the “old stains of slavery.” The political campaign was seen by activists as the first in a series of battles to defeat segregation, closely tied to debates over segregation of railway cars and Massachusetts schools.

Amber highlighted some of the collections she has used here at the MHS, such as the Charles Francis Adams diaries and the Wigglesworth family papers, to establish the context of the interracial marriage debate here in Massachusetts, and to understand the diverse interest groups that eventually came together in order to bring about the repeal – from female reformers who organized petition drives, to high-profile anti-slavery activists such as William Lloyd Garrison, to everyday Massachusetts citizens who, otherwise uninterested in the issue of interracial marriage of the rights of African-Americans, saw repealing the ban as a way to establish a Northern identity distinct from the slave-holding South.

In conversation following Amber’s initial presentation, attendees posed questions about the concept of race identity during antebellum period, and the problem of identifying interracial marriages as such, since “race” is such a fluid concept.  Amber clarified that, for the purposes of her research, she believed it best to draw the “race line” according to how people were seen (or saw themselves) at the time, rather than attempt to impose our own conceptions of racial categories onto an historical situation.  We also talked at length about the way in which the benefits of interracial marriage were framed by its supporters: marriage, Amber argues, was usually held up as a question of security for children and mothers.  The moral question concerning those who sought to legalize interracial marriage was, as one attendee put it, “whether men were bound to support women they have sex with” and the children they have as a result of those sexual relationships.  The legitimacy and security of mothers and children, rather than the rights of women as sexually-active individuals, was the primary concern of the pro-marriage reformers – even as the specter of women having sex outside of marriage (and outside of their own race!) was never far from peoples’ minds.

Many thanks to Amber for an engaging introduction to her topic and we wish her the best as she begins drafting her dissertation!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 10 July, 2009, 7:05 AM