The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Letters to Rosamond



For most of her life, Rosamond Gifford was a resident of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. However, she was also received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Radcliffe College, attended the Sorbonne in Paris, and was fluent in French.[i] Clearly, her residency in Boston never limited her worldview, or indeed, the array of individuals who corresponded with her. The Rosamond Gifford papers, 1930-1954, is composed of letters primarily dating from 1931-1946. During this time, Gifford received letters from a Harvard college professor advising her on thesis work for Radcliffe College, former classmates from the Waltham School for Girls, and friends who became soldiers and Red Cross nurses during World War II. Rosamond herself wrote to her family from France while touring abroad and studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. I have decided to highlight some of this correspondence for my blog post this week.


The first of these comes from George L. Lincoln, a professor who worked in the Department of Languages and Literature at Harvard. The letter is dated November 3, 1931, when Rosamond was an undergraduate in her junior year at Radcliffe College. The letter is brief, consisting primarily of several book recommendations for Rosamond’s thesis about French religious history, including The Holiness of Pascal by H.F. Stewart, but there is a note at the end that reads: “It seems to me that this thesis – if favorably commented upon by C.H.C.W. – might well be the basis for your HONOR Thesis next year.” This is an interesting comment, notable in that Lincoln later serves as an academic advisor for Gifford in letters sent between 1931 and 1933, before Radcliffe College and Harvard merged their classrooms, which would not happen until over ten years later.[ii] For Radcliffe women, interaction with Harvard faculty was often conducted through different channels, whether this was separate classes taught later at night, or corresponding with professors about their academic work through postal mail. Despite these interactions, female undergraduate and graduate students would receive degrees only through Radcliffe at this time.

Radcliffe was not the only women’s school where Rosamond studied. The Gifford collection also includes a ‘Round Robin’ correspondence between Rosamond and former classmates from the Waltham School for Girls (the list of names includes Eleanor “Batesy” Bates, Vi Campbell, Rosalie Norris, Janet Lewis, and  Marion Chick). It began on January 22, 1940 with a letter from the organizer and ringleader of this endeavor, Eleanor “Batesy” Bates, who opens her letter with a cheery, ““Dear Round Robinites” and encloses her hopes that 1940 will bring forth a “new and rejuvenated Waltham Round Robin.” In this set of correspondence, Rosamond and her classmates discuss their lives with a refreshing degree of frankness. The letters include inexplicable nicknames and private jokes, slang, political talk, gossip about other classmates, and discussion of professional careers (writing, welfare work, teaching, and librarianship among them). I have included some favorite excerpts below:


“Oh, yes, I saw Gone With the Wind in New York two weeks ago, and liked it so much I sat through it a second time – ten hours in the movie before I left, but I had brought sandwiches with me, and went out during intermission.” – Eleanor “Batesy” Bates

“I do not get around much as my time is so taken up with writing and study, to say nothing of my son, husband and housework.” – Vi Campbell. 

“Will be awfully glad to see you all if we decide to visit Waltham this year en masse so do let me know the place. It would be fun to have a cigarette in North Hall, instead of behind the gym just once.” – Janet Lewis


After World War II, there aren’t many more letters between Rosamond and her various correspondents, but Rosamond continued to live at 340 Commonwealth Ave. until her death in 1997. The Rosamond Gifford collection was a delight and a surprise to stumble across and have the opportunity to explore. Although I have shared words from Rosamond’s various correspondents, I would like to end this post with an excerpt from a letter written by Rosamond herself, dated July 16, 1936, while she was traveling abroad on an Anne Radcliffe fellowship for her graduate studies in France:[iii]


“Dearest Tribe,

We arrived here contrary to your expectations on time, July 13, and depart the twentieth for a dozen days mad scramble through Normandie and Bretagne…From here we went to Ajaccio, one of the most charming cities I ever was in. The atmosphere exhales Napoleon and the house where he was born is most satisfactory. It is located on a little square with a garden, and the interior retains for the most part the original decoration of delicate eighteenth century designs. The main square is lined with palms and slopes down to the harbor which is surrounded by more red mountains – which were glowing in the evening light as we sailed away. I loved Corsica, best of the whole trip.”

She signs the letter, “Ever and ever so much love, Tibbles.”


[i] “Rosamond Gifford, 87, Philanthropist, taught French.” The Boston Sunday Globe, July 20, 1997.

[ii]  Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Yards and gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe history. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, 216. Radcliffe would not officially merge with Harvard until 1977.

[iii] “Radcliffe Gives 42 Fellowships.” Daily Boston Globe, May 12, 1935.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 12 October, 2016, 12:41 PM

Rose Dabney Forbes and the American Peace Movement (part 1 of 2)

The Digital Projects team here at the MHS has spent much of the past two years working on an LSTA funded project that we are calling “Women in the Public Sphere.” This grant allowed us to fully digitize and make accessible seven collections related to women’s involvement in social issues of  the 19th and early 20th centuries, including the suffrage and anti-suffrage movements, education, poverty, anti-slavery and pacifism. 

The collections range in size from 11 items in the Juvenile Anti-Slavery Society records, 1837-1838 to more than 3000 items in the Rose Dabney Forbes papers, 1902-1935. In this post, I will take a closer look at the Forbes papers, which document the participation of Rose Dabney Forbes (1864-1947), the wife of businessman J. Malcolm Forbes (1847-1904), in the American peace movement of the early 20th century, as an officer of the Massachusetts Peace Society, the American Peace Society, the Massachusetts branch of the Woman's Peace Party, and the World Peace Foundation. The records of the organizations in which she was involved include governance documents, meeting minutes, and correspondence, as well as printed materials.

In a typescript draft of an address delivered to members of the “Thought Club” in Hyde Park, Mass., by Mrs. Forbes on 1 February 1916, she argues for  the “necessity of extending the reign of law out from the smaller circle of nationalism, to the larger circle of internationalism.” Forbes goes on to write that,

Irrespective of opinions as to the causes, and as to the consequences of this terrible  European war, thinking persons who stand for Twentieth Century ideals are passionately  exclaiming that this shall be the last war between civilized nations; that the world after   this shall not allow such a method for trying to settle international differences.

Speaking as a representative of the Woman’s Peace Party, Forbes asked why the peace movement “is still imperfectly understood even by many persons who are distinctly in sympathy with its fundamental object.” Was it because the war is happening overseas, leading to what she called “[m]ental inertia”? Was it because of a “[l]ack of literature giving authoritative and complete statement of what a great body of leading internationalists believe,” or because, as she suggested, the press ridiculed the ideas as well as the movement? 

She addressed what she calls a misconception that “when we work to banish the war system from earth, we are lowering the heroic ideals of manhood- that we are training our boys to be timid and slothful-to be ‘molly-coddled. No indeed” she exclaimed, “we train our boys to be ready to die for their country, by serving humanity, not by destroying their human brothers.” Lastly she asked whether it could be that the very name of the movement had held it back. “The word Peace,” she wrote, “stands for the result of justice and righteousness; peace is an effect, not a method of working force. Only in a restricted sense of the word is peace simply cessation of war.”

As part of her call to action, Forbes quoted Phillips Brooks, Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Ellery Channing, and she summed up her argument by insisting that

The truth is that the war against war is and has long been an aggressive campaign of  education. The Peace Movement is a determined onslaught on the old and barbarous  system of war, and a persistent pointing of the way to constructive international peace.  The Peace worker must summon all the logic and clearness of thought that he can  command and he must needs stand firm in his faith, not heeding either the ridicule or the sneers of the unconverted.

How do peace movements of today articulate their hopes and strategies? We encourage you to look through these newly digitized collections and make your own comparisons and discoveries.

For more of the story, check out part 2 of Rose Dabney Forbes and the American Peace Movement



Funding for the digitization of this collection and the creation of preservation microfilm was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 10 October, 2016, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is a holiday-shortened week for the staff here at the Society, but we still have five days of programs to take in. Please note that the library is closed on Monday, 10 October, for Columbus Day, and will re-open on Tuesday, 11 October. Here is what is on tap this week:

- Monday, 10 October, 10:00AM : The MHS again participates in the Opening Our Doors program hosted by the Fenway Alliance. Stop by, 10:00AM-3:00PM to explore our Turning Points exhibition, which explores 15 decisive moments when everything changes or a process began that would change what followed. For more information about Opening Our Doors, please visit 

- Tuesday, 11 October, 5:15PM : "Adapting Capitalism to Climates: Entrepreneurs, Stock, and Transcontinental Telegraphy in the United States, 1844-1861," is part of the Environmental History Seminar series and features Edmund Russell of Boston University. This essay focuses on the models of capital accumulation employed in building the telegraph and on the financial models and environments that made regional telegraph networks with different features. Merritt Roe Smith of MIT provides comments. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 12 October, 12:00PM : "Henry Cabot Lodge and the Decline of the Eastern Establishment" is the research project of Luke A. Nichter of Texas A&M University. In this Brown Bag talk, Nichter discusses his research into the life of this senator, statesman, presidential advisor, and presidentail candidate by popular demand, whose political career stretched from the 1930s to the 1970s, and who, up to now, has escaped biographical treatment. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Wednesday, 12 October, 6:00PM : When it comes to transportation, Boston has a history of innovative, amibitious thinking and groundbreaking projects, yet today, Boston's public transportation is facing serious challenges. "Getting the MBTA Back-on-Track" is a panel discussion which will explore the history of the MBTA, how the current situation came to be, and what we can expect in the future. This program is open to the public for a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows), and registration is required. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the program at 6:00PM. 

- Friday, 14 October, 2:00PM : Stop by Friday afternoon for a gallery talk with Peter Drummey, Stephen T. Riley Librarian of the MHS. "Turning Point: Ether as an Anesthetic" looks at the innovation that led to the its first use in surgery and the revolution it produced. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 15 October, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour 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: Turning Points in American History.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 9 October, 2016, 12:00 AM

Guest Post: The Boston Post Road

National History Day (NHD) was upon us. The dreaded three-month research project that requires scouring the depths of every database for any primary or secondary source that could help prove our thesis. After many late nights of research, and enough tears (and pizza) to last us a lifetime, we had given up hope in finding any valuable sources. In a time of despair, we turned to the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) for guidance. With a topic like the Boston Post Road, how could it not?

With the help of Mrs. Sampson, our remarkable history department head at Stoneham High, we were able to contact Kathleen Baker and Anna Clutterbuck-Cook. They assisted us in arranging a visit to the MHS, where we were able to meet the rest of the knowledgeable and welcoming staff.

We walked into the MHS expecting to see stereotypical old men with their shirts buttoned to the very top, sitting in the corner of every room we entered, reading large encyclopedias. With this in mind we were prepared to act as proper and professional as we could.  Contrary to what we expected, we checked in and quickly realized that MHS was staffed by young, enthusiastic historians. We were welcomed with an informative tour of where everything was located. Although we were entirely new to the MHS, the staff treated us as if we were any other historians. Along with finding great sources, the respect we received from the staff boosted our confidence in our historical research skills.

Now we were ready to find what we really came to the MHS for: colonial newspapers on microfilm!!!  Although, the actual letter that started the Boston Post Road in 1672 may also have been important to see.  The staff was always ready to help, which made the entire process much easier than anticipated.  A few clicks later and we were in!  It was incredible to see old newspapers that were transported along the Post Road to relay the world’s current events in the early 1700s, transformed into a computer document and displayed right in front of us.  The only thing that could top it was being able to hold the physical letter that essentially started the Boston Post Road.  Oh yeah, we did that too!  We were guided into a room with rows of tables accompanied by dim lighting as not to fade the age old documents. The woman helping us explained that we were allowed to take pictures of the documents, which we took full advantage of. Although we had to stay quiet and respect the others working, they did allow us to pass the documents to each other. A piece of advice for anyone who will be reading colonial letters: brush up on your ability to read sophisticated cursive if there is no transcript for the particular letter.

We were able to quickly and efficiently find everything we had come for. But beyond the sources and helpful staff, the experience gave us an opportunity to join the professional field of history and make an argument. With our foundation of quality research backing us, NHD was more than a high school project, it was our transition into respectable historians.


**The MHS has awarded the John Winthrop Student Fellowship since 2013. This fellowship encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the Society in a research project of their choosing.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 7 October, 2016, 12:00 AM

October is American Archives Month!

The archive of the Massachusetts Historical Society is not only home to an invaluable and incredible collection of American history, but it is also staffed by amazing people. Get to know your local archivists in Reader Services! We are here to assist you with all your research needs in the library of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

To find out more about the wonderful archivists you meet when you visit the MHS, I asked a few fun questions:

Why did you choose to become an Archivist?

What is your favorite archival tool?

And what is your favorite MHS collection(s)?


From Alex Bush,

Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why did you choose to be an archivist?

I stumbled into the field unexpectedly after my third year of American Studies at Smith—all I knew was that I wanted to surround myself with history and always have a use for all those dates and eras I’d spent so long studying. I also happened to have some experience working in libraries. I was lucky enough to get a short summer internship at the Massachusetts Historical Society, which ended up completely cementing my love for all things archival and sent me straight from Smith to Simmons College to start my career in library science/archives. Upon returning to Boston, I was also able to return as a staff member (not a lowly intern!) at Mass Historical. The moral of the story is that you should never listen to people who tell you that your undergrad major is useless, because you might end up accidentally tripping into your dream career.

Your favorite archival tool?

I love those little white cotton gloves. They make me feel super fancy.

Your favorite MHS collection?

 I could spend hours reading through John Quincy Adams’ diaries—nearly 70 years of daily entries, all digitized and available on the Mass Historical website. Included is everything from line-a-day quips to long musings on American politics to marginal doodles. I find it especially impressive that he managed to include the hour he awoke every morning (usually between 3 and 6 a.m.).


From Brendan Kieran,

Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why did you choose to become an Archivist?

I first took interest in the field as an undergraduate history major looking for a career path involving history. I was initially drawn to the idea of working with historical materials. However, a desire to help preserve and make accessible marginalized histories plays in important role in keeping me motivated and excited about this type of work.

Your favorite archival tool?

I really enjoy looking through our collection guides when working on reference questions here at the MHS. Each guide is different, and I like coming across various names and subjects – some expected, some unexpected – while searching them.

Your favorite MHS collection?

The Walter Channing Papers, 1810-1921, which I highlighted in a recent post on The Beehive, is one collection that really interests me. It was exciting to explore the ways in which MHS collections are relevant to the study of anarchism in the United States.


From Grace Wagner,

Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why you choose to be an Archivist?

I majored in history in undergrad and I’ve always been interested in material culture, particularly fashion and textiles. Archives unite both interests.

Your favorite archival tool? 

Searchable finding aids are incredibly useful in that they provide information about an entire collection rather than a basic overview.

And your favorite MHS collection(s)?

I am constantly surprised by the diverse materials housed in our small broadsides collection and, in particular, enjoy looking through the Theater broadsides.


From Rakashi Chand

Senior Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why you choose to be an Archivist?

I have always loved history, even as a child. I looked for ways to immerse myself in that which I loved, and the Library of the Massachusetts Historical Society is a history-lovers dream come true! Not only am I surrounded by history, as a member of the Readers Services Staff, I am a guardian of history! We ensure that the manuscripts are safe every step of the way; from the moment they leave the stacks, while in transport, then consulted in our Reading Room, until they are safely returned to the stack shelves. It’s like being on the frontlines of historical research and protection!

Your favorite archival tool?

My favorite tool is Abigail, our online catalog. We depend heavily on our catalog and consult it continually throughout the day. Our catalog is fully searchable from home and readily accessible through our website at In Reference Services, Abigail is certainly my best friend.

A close second are Hollinger Archival boxes; seeing rows of neatly organized Hollinger boxes full of documents is simply thrilling!

And your favorite MHS collection(s)?

There are too many collections to name! The fact that we have the equivalent of three presidential libraries always astounds me! The Papers of President John Adams, President John Quincy Adams and the second largest collection of President Thomas Jefferson Papers outside of Monticello! But that’s not all, we have more Presidential Papers! I also love so many of the intimate pieces of history housed in our collection, such as the dying letter of Wilder Dwight, in my opinion one of the most touching and poignant items in our collection. We also house 53 pieces of mourning jewelry in our artifact collection.


From Shelby Wolfe,

Library Assistant in Reader Services

Why you choose to be an Archivist?

Helping others access archival material is a great way to learn unexpected things while I work.

Your favorite archival tool?

Since ABIGAIL has led me to countless reference question answers, research interests, and blog post topics, I would have to say our online catalog is my favorite tool.

And your favorite MHS collection(s)?

I’m a big fan of the numerous travel diaries in our collections – anytime I need to take a mini vacation, they’re always there for me!



Please feel free to ask us more about our field, our library and our collections!


comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 5 October, 2016, 12:00 AM

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