The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Recent Events

Dangers and Denials: Cautionary Tales for Our Times

On Thursday, February 10, Boston University Professor Andrew Bacevich joined us for the first event in our new conversation series, "Dangers and Denials: Cautionary Tales for Our Times." Over the next few months, the MHS will host several programs that will examine what happens when evidence from the past is disregarded as nations fall prey to the seductions of greed, power, and ambition. Is this time really different or is it the result of a repeating pattern that we have ignored to our peril?

The conversation centered on ideas explored by Professor Bacevich in his most recent book Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. The program began with a discussion of the sources that contributed to the militarization of United State foreign policy after World War II. These mutually-reinforcing conditions, including the rhetoric of American exceptionalism, economic expansion, and the growth in military and government bureaucracy in the second half of the twentieth century, have kept America on a constant cycle of foreign intervention and war. Why, he asked, has there been no effective counter to this perpetual movement towards war and violence abroad? The answer to breaking this cycle, he argued, will not come from leaders in Washington, but from the people, who need to demand and bring about change.

When discussing America's role (or potential role) in contemporary world affairs, professor Bacevich reminded the crowd of a speech given by John Quincy Adams before the House of Representatives on July 4, 1821. Discussing America's global persona, Secretary of State Adams argued that while America was the "well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all," she did not go abroad "in search of monsters to destroy." In response, several audience members asked how Adams's insightful observations on nineteenth-century policy could be adapted to present-day American policy. For example, how (or should) the United States respond to the revolutionary events taking place in Egypt? Bacevich argued that although the United States has no real ability to affect events in that country, our government should play close attention to the eventual role of the Egyptian military, which receives weapons, training, and financial support from our nation’s military-industrial complex.

Professor Bacevich offered his own thoughts on the war in Afghanistan as the conversation drew to a close. He asserted that intervention in Afghanistan is not of vital national interest to the United States. Is our presence there, he asked, really the best use of our nation's resources? Should a sense of moral obligation to the people of Afghanistan take precedence over our moral obligation to other peoples? America has bigger questions to consider, according to Bacevich, including how our nation can share the responsibility for maintaining order in the world with other parties, especially given the dwindling resources available to us. What can we -- as citizens and as a nation -- do to combat the growth of anti-western jihadism? These and other challenges loom large on America’s horizon.

Given audience response, it's clear that our new conversation series is off to an exciting start. We hope you will join us for our next conversation at 2:00 P.M. on Saturday, March 5, 2011. Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale will be on hand to discuss his latest book, The Decline and Fall of the American Republic.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 17 February, 2011, 8:00 AM

Maier Talk Available Online

You can now watch Pauline Maier's 23 October MHS author talk about her new book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 online, thanks to the Forum Network. The video is located here.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 9 December, 2010, 7:46 AM

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

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