The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, May 1917

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

Introduction | January | February | March | April

The entries for May 1917 are more extensive than the first few months of the year, beginning with May 3 and ending on May 31 with only one extensive gap in the middle of the month. In these brief entries we catch glimpses of Gertrude ever on the move between family, society, and artistic obligations -- nursing her young son in bed with a cold, regular trips to Ilaro where building was still underway, the arrangement of a “very successful” dinner party followed by an evening at the theater to see a play about German spies in Southeast England during World War One (at this point still raging in Europe). 

Gertrude makes several reference in May to “Self Help” meetings. The Women’s Self-Help Association (or Society) was a charitable organization that she and a group of other Barbadian women founded in 1907 -- and which, according to the Barbados Museum & Historical Society, only ceased operations in 2011. The organization arranged for what today we might consider a “fair trade” shop in Bridgetown, Barbados, where women could sell handicrafts and artwork to tourists as a means of adding to the family income. Edward Albes of the Pan-American Union wrote approvingly of the shop upon visiting Bridgetown in 1913:

In the salesroom of the association may be found picture postals, photographs, curios, Indian pottery, lace, embroidery and fancy needlework, homemade jellies, cakes, pies, light lunches, delicious ices, etc., and all at remarkably low prices. The maintained by the ladies of Barbados, and is a splendid example of practical benevolence.

Not everyone saw “practical benevolence” of upper-class women as so splendid, of course. Writing shortly after the war, in 1920, women’s rights activist Maria Moravsky sniffed in The Suffragist:

The members of these organizations occupy their time mostly by reading sentimental 'colonial' novels, eating ice cream, selling their old jewelry and making crochet -- in order to help their families. Hand-craft -- sewing babies' caps, making embroidery and laces -- is considered less humiliating by the old-fashioned Barbadian gentlewomen than salesmanship or clerical work.

This passage hints at the tension that may have existed between Gertrude -- an upper-class woman seeking to put her own professional skills and resources to work in support of women’s industry -- and a new generation of activists critical of labor they deem “humiliating” and “old fashioned” compared to the twentieth-century pink collar opportunities opening up for (some, white) working class women in department stores and offices. As we have seen in already in the first quarter of the year, even Gertrudes spare records of her daily life can offer an opportunity to explore the complex -- and not always easy -- gender, class, and racial politics of her particular life, opportunities, and actions.

* * *

3 May.
Somerset House Team Tournament.
[illegible] went.


4 May.
Circus 2-10.

The Lewistons.

Also Brazilian ambassador & his [illegible] sent by the Perkins.


5 May.

Circus again. A great success particularly the [illegible] which [illegible].


6 May.

Headache from curtain lights of last night.


7 May.

More headache.

Carrolls to tea (?) [or (!)]

4.30 Mrs. Lew.


8 May.


Made cement baskets under dreary room windows.

Swimming party at the Lewistons.


9 May.

Self Help meeting.

Jon had a cold & kept him in bed.


17 May.

Swim with John who [illegible] all right again.

12.45 Improvement Society which just asked me on its committee.

Pachu & Lew in P.M.


18 May.

Band Hall stone work.

Eve. I gave a dinner party for the Harold Leightons. I made special cards & had a short dinner - [illegible] theater. But excellent. The Whytes. Dr. Wm. Pilgrim, Mrs. South, Mrs. Fell, Mrs. Da Costa, Laddie [illegible], Miss [illegible] (who did not go to the theater), Mr. [illegible] Carpenter.

Went to “The Man Who Stayed at Home” (Clifton Whyte in the name part).
A very successful evening.


19 May.

11. Mrs. Collyum about Self Help difficulties. She was so nice.

Cook very ill had to be sent home.

4.30 Batting party.


20 May.

Walked to Illaro with Mrs. Fell.

Afternoon [illegible] with the Pils.

Eve wrote letters.


21 May.

Early to Ilaro

Auction in town.

Called Lewistons.


22 May

[illegible] auction


23 May

8 a.m. Public Buildings with Miss Packer.

10.30 Self Help.

1. [illegible] meeting.

P.M. Burtons tea party. Miss Burton sang “Buffalo Gals come out to play - come to play by the light of the moon.” John also sang charmingly.


31 May

Bathing party at Mrs. Harold Whytes. John had a find romp with Edna.

* * *

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, 5 May, 2017, 3:29 PM

Out West: Colorado Mines and the Labor Strikes of 1904

In March, Brendan Kieran from Reader Services wrote a blog post about industrial labor unions in Boston. This month, while browsing through ABIGAIL, I happened upon echoes of a very different kind of union history: that of the Western Federation of Miners and the Colorado Labor Wars of 1903-1904. The WFM, formed in 1893, sought to bargain for the rights of miners whom they felt were being exploited by rich mine owners.

The Massachusetts Historical Society collections, despite our East Coast location, is connected to the mines and miner strikes of Southwestern Colorado through the journals of Robert Livermore. His personal papers include a collection of neatly penned memories decorated with photographs and original pen-and-ink drawings.  

Robert Livermore surveying in Colorado


Livermore, who grew up in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts and attended Boston Latin School, Harvard University, and MIT, journeyed out west in the early 1900s to travel and to work for the mines owned by his brother-in-law, Bulkeley Wells. Livermore arrived at Camp Bird Mine in Ouray, Colorado on 27th June 1903 to survey and sample the rock formations.

A sketch of Camp Bird drawn by Robert Livermore


In his journal, he describes the combination of “luxury and wilderness” Camp Bird Mine boasts:

We live in a great wooden building with baths, hot water, and electric lights, the best of wholesome food and fresh creamy milk, and all around us is the great wilderness of spruce forest and jagged peaks as it was since time immemorial.

Livermore’s brother-in-law Bulkeley Wells, whom he affectionately refers to in his diary as ‘Buck,’ was a businessman and manager/owner of Smuggler Mining Company in Telluride. Between his mine in Telluride and Camp Bird Mine in Ouray, there was much unrest among miners, mine labor unions, and mine owners. Wells himself was often at the forefront of anti-unionist attacks. According to a Daily Sentinel article, Wells led a mob of townspeople to ransack buildings to find and force out union members.

Meanwhile, Livermore seemed to enjoy his work in and around the mines, though he makes numerous observations of men who were killed or maimed in the harsh working conditions. “Yesterday Jessey, the shift boss was caught in a cave-in, in 327 stope but luckily escaped with only a broken leg.” (A stope, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a usually steplike excavation underground for the removal of ore that is formed as the ore is mined in successive layers.”)

Livermore himself suffered injuries from his work:

On Saturday the 18th, my eye became very much inflamed from a piece of steel or rock which had lodged in it while sampling. I went to Ouray and had it looked to by the local doctor. He could find nothing in it at first, but that day discovered the substance in the middle of the pupil and extracted it, supposedly.

In an entry dated 21st August 1904, Livermore describes an army of hundreds of anti-unionists descending upon Cripple Creek:

I never saw a more impressive sight than these hundreds of quiet, determined Americans, with their dinner buckets in hand, each with a revolver on his hip, making no display but resolved to suffer no more from the murderous gang who have tyrannized over them so long.


Livermore details the army’s actions of overpowering the union store and marching its members out of town. Later that evening, the union store was destroyed by a mob - an act which Livermore questions in his diary. Perhaps he did not share the sentiments of Buck, who seemed to relish the power and force he could exert over the unionists.

In his writings, Livermore appears fiercely attached to his sister and, by extension, his brother-in-law. Besides this loyalty to the anti-unionist Buck, and in spite of the fact that he uses a phrase like “murderous gang” to describe the union members, Livermore appears to be a passive observer in these conflicts.


“Today I was commissioned and sworn in as a ‘special deputy sherrif’ [sic] under Bell, which entitles me to carry a gun.”


This changed in September 1904. Under Adjutant General Sherman Bell, Livermore was appointed “special deputy sheriff” in Colorado’s government-backed anti-union forces. In one journal entry, he celebrates that he’ll be allowed to “carry a gun” and that he is “likely to see some fun if the unionists try to come back.” Perhaps his brother-in-law’s influence won out in the end.

A photograph of Livermore’s “Deputy Sheriff” insignia


After the strikes ended at the close of 1904, Livermore would go on to invest in and run numerous mining companies. He retired to Boxford, Massachusetts and died in Boston in 1959.

If you would like to learn more about Robert Livermore and his life, you can visit our library. You can also find related materials at the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 3 May, 2017, 2:17 PM

This Week @ MHS

- Tuesday, 2 May, 5:15PM : We start the week with an Early American History Seminar, this time in panel format. "Nathaniel Hawthorne and Friends" is a discussion with Philip Gould of Brown University and Thomas Balcerski of Eastern Connecticut State University. The conversation revolves around their respsective essays, "Hawthorne and the State of War" and "A Work of Friendship." Maurice Lee of Boston University provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 3 May, 12:00PM : Stephen Engle of Florida Atlantic University leads this week's Brown Bag lunch talk, titled "Politics of Civil War Governance: A Conversation about Lincoln and his Loyal Governors during the Civil War." Engle discusses his most recent book, Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union's War Governors and how it led to his current project, a biography of Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Wednesday, 3 May, 6:00PM : "Where to Go" is the next installment of the Cooking Boston series of public programs here at the MHS, exploring the culinary history of Boston. In the 20th century, Boston clung to two identities: that of thrifty Puritans and of cosmopolitanism through education. This created some remarkably bland food but also made the city fertile ground for a culinary revolution. In the 1960s, chefs like Julia Child and Joyce Chen brought the flavors of the world to America through Boston. This event features a discussion with James O'Connell, Corky White, and Eriwn Ramos, moderated by Peter Drummey of the MHS. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Members of Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

- Saturday, 6 May, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.

- Saturday, 6 May, 1:00PM : The practice of slavery in the early modern Atlantic world generated a variety of theological debates about its nature, origins, and legitimacy. "Of One Blood? New England Slavery and Theology," part of the Begin at the Beginning series of talks, is a discussion led by PhD candidate Eduardo Gonzalez of Boston College. This program is open to the public, registration required at no cost. The discussion is based on primary readings listed on the reigstration page. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 30 April, 2017, 12:00 AM

Reference Man in Catalog Land : Describing publications in the George Frisbie Hoar papers

We here in the Library Reader Services department at the MHS concern ourselves with the user/researcher side of our collections. This job allows us to continually sharpen the skills of reference librarians: catalog searching, materials handling, patron interactions, and the like. Unfortunately, this being a full-time job, there is a chance that some of our other library skills can atrophy. Thankfully, we occasionally get the opportunity to flex those other muscles by taking on projects in other areas.


Recently, I started a cataloging project in which I create bibliographic records for entry in our online catalog, ABIGAIL. The print material that I am cataloging all comes from the George Frisbie Hoar papers, a voluminous collection that contains a heady mix of manuscript material, printed matter, and even some images. This is a valuable project for me because it allows me to get a much better sense about some of the topics on which the collection is informative. It also results in a great deal more description for a researcher about what is contained in the collection, at least as far as the printed matter is concerned.

Much of the project consists of copy-cataloging. That is, using catalog information already created by other institutions and made available via the Online Computer Library Center, or OCLC. This method of cataloging saves us from recreating the wheel for every single object, though we still need to add information about the specific copy in our holdings. For instance, in every catalog record I create for ABIGAIL, I need to note that it is stored offsite with the rest of the collection, a note not needed by other libraries.

When there is no record freely available through OCLC, then original cataloging is required. This entails adding into a form all of the bibliographic data necessary for making the item discoverable by researchers. So, we had the basic stuff like author, title, and publisher (when known), but also things like subject headings which provide another means of discovery. When the project is finished, a researcher working on a project about currency will now be able to find several publications in the Hoar papers about bimetallism, for example.

The project is also well-timed as we are seeing a very dramatic upswing in requests for material from this collection. In the last twelve months there were over 170 requests for the collection! Not only are people very interested in the large amount of manuscript material – over 100 record cartons simply of correspondence – but also in the wealth of print material that Hoar collected. Most of this related to various topics with which Hoar and his congressional colleagues wrestled during the latter-half of the 19th century, some of which are gaining renewed relevance today: immigration, American imperialism, election laws and controversies, bankruptcy and anti-trust legislation, and Supreme Court matters, to name a few.

In the end, this project is a classic Win-Win-Win scenario: I get some practice using my cataloging skills, our cataloger has one less project to worry about, and the researcher gets better information about what we hold in our collections.

Interested in learning more about this collection? You can find an online collection guide to the George Frisbie Hoar papers on our website, then, learn about Visiting the Library


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 29 April, 2017, 2:26 PM

“Legible only to myself”: John Quincy Adams’s Shorthand

A line in John Quincy Adams’s 1788 diary is the earliest example of his use of English poet John Byrom’s shorthand system. The system replaces words with symbols to make writing faster and, eventually, easier. Six years later, Adams recorded in his diary that his youngest brother, Thomas Boylston, was attempting to teach himself shorthand and noted that he had once endeavored to learn the system, “but soon gave over the pursuit; not having a very high opinion of the utility of the art.”

Later in life John Quincy changed his mind about shorthand’s usefulness, though he did not strictly adhere to the Byrom system. The symbols, some of which are his own variations, appear in his diary more frequently beginning in 1810. John Quincy penned an entire sonnet in shorthand on October 30, 1826. He wrote, “I record it thus that it may be legible only to myself, or to a reader who will take the trouble to pick it out of the short-hand— If it were better poetry I would have written it at full length.”

Though it at first appears to be a page of scribbles, by using a combination of Byrom’s original structure and the hints John Quincy scattered throughout his papers, it is indeed possible to “pick it out.” The linear symbols represent consonants and digraphs; vowels are represented by dots, if at all. If a symbol stands alone, it represents a commonly used word.



Directly translated, the first line of the sonnet (above) reads, “Da f/v m fthrs brth I hl th y.” Once the vowels and commonly used words are filled in, we get “Day of my father’s birth I hail thee yet.” Let’s examine some of the symbols used here. The first symbol in the line is a “d.” If it stood alone, it would mean “and;” however, it is modified by a dot. The placement of the dot reveals what vowel it represents. From top to bottom, the dots represent A E I O U. Because it sits at the top of the symbol, we can read the letters as “da.” The word is “day.” For longer words, several symbols are combined. You can see the green that represented f or v in the second word is repeated in the fourth; in this case, it represents f. The next symbol, in blue, is the digraph th. The orange dash is r, and the yellow line is s. What is written is “fthrs,” obviously, “father’s.” The r and th are repeated in the following word, with a b at the front, “brth,”—“birth.” Note that even though the th arch is flipped upside down, the meaning remains the same.

Using past examples of John Quincy’s shorthand as a guide, you simply need to write out what you know, use context clues, repeat the process fourteen times, and you’ve picked out the sonnet!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 26 April, 2017, 12:00 AM

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