The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

The busy summer research season is in full swing here at the Society. If you don't want to come in and use the reading room, though, here are some public programs you can take in this week:

- Tuesday, 12 July - Thursday, 14 July : Teaching Three Centuries of History through MHS Collections is a three-day teacher workshop taking place here at the MHS. Participants will engage with items in the collections, learn from guest historians, and investigate different methods for using primary sources in the classroom. Educators in grades 5-12 are welcome to apply. For more information, including application instructions, contact education@masshist.org or call 617-646-0557. 

- Wednesday, 13 July, 12:00PM : Join us for a Brown Bag talk titled "The Great Peace of 1670 and the Forgotten Corner of the Iroquios Confederacy's Eastern Door." Evan Haefeli of Texas A&M University examines the origins of the treaty int he war against the Iroquois and the previously overlooked alliance between the Hudson Valley and New England Algonquians int he 1660s. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Wednesday, 13 July, 6:00PM : Author Larry Tye peels away layers of myth and misconception to paint a complete portrait of a singularly fascinating figure in Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon. Come in on Wednesday evening for a talk with the author. This event is open to the public, though registration is required with a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Fellows or Members). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk commences at 6:00PM. 

- Saturday, 16 July, 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 abentley@masshist.org.

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Turning Points in American History.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 10 July, 2016, 12:00 AM

Fathers of the American Navy: John Paul Jones and John Adams

On July 6, 1747, John Paul Jones was born in Scotland. He is widely credited as the father of the American Navy for his successful campaigns as a captain during Revolutionary War. It would be fair, however, to say that John Adams might deserve a share in that title as well. From his role in drafting the original rules for the Continental Navy in 1775 to his organization of the newly created Department of the Navy as president in 1798, Adams had been a strong advocate of “Floating Batteries and Wooden Walls” as the primary system of war and defense for the young nation.

Jones and Adams got to know each other in the late 1770s while Adams was in Europe, and no one who is familiar with the Adamses will be surprised to learn that both John, and later Abigail, formed strong opinions about Jones.

John Adams noted his impression in his diary entry for May, 13 1779: “This is the most ambitious and intriguing Officer in the American Navy. Jones has Art, and Secrecy, and aspires very high. . . . Excentricities, and Irregularities are to be expected from him— they are in his Character, they are visible in his Eyes. His Voice is soft and still and small, his Eye has keenness, and Wildness and Softness in it.”

Abigail met Jones when she joined John in Europe after the war had ended, but he was nothing like she had imagined the naval hero to be: “Chevalier Jones you have heard much of. He is a most uncommon Character. I dare Say you would be as much dissapointed in him as I was. From the intrepid Character he justly Supported in the American Navy, I expected to have seen a Rough Stout warlike Roman. Instead of that, I should sooner think of wraping him up in cotton wool and putting him into my pocket, than sending him to contend with Cannon Ball,” she wrote. “He is small of stature, well proportioned, soft in his Speach easy in his address polite in his manners, vastly civil, understands all the Etiquette of a Ladys Toilite as perfectly as he does the Masts Sails and rigging of a Ship. Under all this appearence of softness he is Bold enterprizing ambitious and active.”

 

While they did not become close friends, John Paul Jones did offer JA his bust, and to the end of his life, JA remembered Jones as intelligent, a good letter writer, and “gentlemanly in his dress & manner.” As both men regarded the American Navy as central to the success of the nation, Adams never failed to respect Jones’ naval ability or the “glorious success” of Jones’ famous capture of the British frigate Serapis, for which the Continental Congress awarded Jones a medal, the first to commemorate a naval victory. A restrike of that medal is housed within the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 6 July, 2016, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

Please note that the Society is CLOSED on Monday, 4 July, in observance of Independence Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 5 July. 

We're back after a long holiday weekend and we're ready to give you some more public programs! Here is what we have lined up this week:

- Wednesday, 6 July, 12:00PM : Join us for a Brown Bag lunch talk with David Faflik of the University of Rhode Island. The talk is titled "Passing Transcendental: Harvard, Heresy, and the Modern American Origins of Unbelief." The project examines the idea of the transcendentalists of Boston in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, as "infidels" in their day. Faflik also asks if the alternative faith that they articulated constituted not just a kind of unorthodoxy, but of outright unbelief. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Wednesday, 6 July, 6:00PM : Bone Rooms: From Scientific Racism to Human Prehistory in Museums is an author talk featuring Samuel Redman of UMASS - Amherst. Redman unearths the story of how human remains became highly sought-after artifacts for both scientific research and public display. This talk is open to the public with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. 

- Saturday, 9 July, 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 abentley@masshist.org.

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Turning Points in American History.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 3 July, 2016, 12:00 AM

The Lynn Shoemakers’ Strike of 1860

The MHS just acquired a letter written by an eyewitness to the historic shoemakers’ strike in Lynn, Mass. in 1860. I decided to dig into the story and, as usually happens, learned much more than I anticipated. It’s remarkable how much history can be represented in a single document.

 

 

Moses Folger Rogers (1803-1886) was a Quaker living in Lynn. Most of his 6 March 1860 letter to John Ford of Marshfield, Mass. is dedicated to the biggest story in town, the shoemakers’ strike then underway. Lynn was a major center for the manufacture of shoes. Labor unrest in that industry had been growing for many reasons—increased mechanization, market glut, the economic crisis of 1857—all of which resulted in record low wages.

Workers took to the streets on George Washington’s birthday, 22 February 1860, and the strike lasted for several weeks. Newspapers covered it extensively, and many historians have written about it, but it’s hard to overstate the value of first-hand accounts like this one.

Rogers was not pleased. He lamented the “agitated & excited state of this community.” A week before, it had appeared “that it might be thought necessary to call out the malitia to quell the mob, but with the additional Police force, which came from Boston, order & quiet were restored without the aid of the malitia, a fact for which I feel very grateful, for I feared there might be blood shed – every thing here is now very orderly & quiet, though the ‘Strikers’ continue to hold on, to the number of from 2500 to 3000 persons and what will be the final result remains to be known.”

There had been some violence, including clashes with police and seizures of goods. But it subsided after the first few days, and the rest of the strike consisted of meetings, marches, rallies, and other demonstrations of peaceful solidarity. It was the largest strike in American history up to that time, spreading across New England and involving tens of thousands of workers.

But it wasn’t just the possibility of bloodshed that worried Moses Rogers. He was also dismayed by the active involvement of women in the uprising. In fact, the Lynn strike was notable for the vital role women played in both planning and execution. It makes sense—women were integral to the shoemaking industry. They worked at home as “binders,” or hand stitchers, or operated sewing machines in factories. In his book Class and Community, Alan Dawley wrote: “Without the action of women, it is questionable whether the strike would have occurred at all, and certainly without them it would have been far less massive in its impact.”

But Rogers described these developments in a horrified tone with lots of outraged underlining: “In addition to the above number there is a strike amongst the Ladies, who I understand propose parading the streets tomorrow to the number 2000.” The march did happen, and in dramatic fashion. Thousands participated, including 800 women, in the midst of a snowstorm. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper published an illustration.

 

Rogers finished his diatribe with a flourish: “I will not undertake to give an account of the disgraceful & shameful deeds enacted in this city since the Strike commenced, suffice it to say that I never witnessed anything in my life which appeared so appaling & fearful.” His response to the strike was not atypical, judging by newspaper accounts. But the strikers had substantial support from townspeople, Lynn’s Bay State newspaper, and even Abraham Lincoln, who was campaigning for president at the time. (The shoemakers’ demonstrations, protest songs, and slogans were infused with antislavery rhetoric.)

Although the Lynn strikers had some temporary political success, ousting most of the city government in the next election, they ultimately failed as negotiations fell apart and workers’ differences proved insurmountable. When the Civil War broke out a year later, attention shifted away from the issue, and war-time demand for manufactures accelerated. However, the Lynn shoemakers’ strike was a watershed moment in American history, remarkable for its size and scope, a clash of old and new systems that foreshadowed labor disputes of the next 150 years.

-------------------

Select sources:
- Dawley, Alan. Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976.
- Faler, Paul G. Mechanics and Manufacturers in the Early Industrial Revolution: Lynn, Massachusetts, 1780-1860. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1981.
- Juravich, Tom, William F. Hartford, and James R. Green. Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.
- Lewis, Alonzo and James R. Newhall. History of Lynn, Essex County, Massachusetts: Including Lynnfield, Saugus, Swampscot, and Nahant. Boston: John L. Shorey, 1865.
- Melder, Keith E. “Women in the Shoe Industry: The Evidence from Lynn.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 115.4 (October 1979): 270-287.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 29 June, 2016, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is a quiet week here at the Society as we approach the holiday. Here's what's happening:

- Wednesday, 29 June, 6:00PM : "A New Perspective on the 19th Century Rivalry Between New York and Boston" is a talk about how changing technology introduces tools that can change the way we see and understand history. Join Dr. Michael Wheeler who will talk about the use of Historical Geographic Information Systems (HGIS) in the development of three-dimensional animated maps for studying historical events, placing New York and Boston in the limelight. This talk is open to the public free of charge, registraiton required. A recption precedes the talk at 5:30PM and the event begins at 6:00PM. 

- Saturday, 2 July, 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 abentley@masshist.org.

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Turning Points in American History.

Please note that the Society is CLOSED on Monday, 4 July, in observance of Independence Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 5 July.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 26 June, 2016, 12:00 AM

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