The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

We have another busy week ahead here at the Society, starting with a holiday event. Please note that the library of the MHS is closed on Monday, 13 October, in observance of Columbus Day. However, the building will remain open as part of Opening Our Doors, Boston's largest single day of free arts and cultural events. The galleries are open 10:00AM-3:00PM. Stop by to view Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War. This event is free and open to the public.

On Tuesday, 14 October, drop by the MHS at 5:15PM for an Environmental History seminar. In "Finding Meaning and Debating Value in a Historical Landscape," David Benac of Western Michigan University looks at the competing interpretations of landscape as a resource or as a haven. Adding nuance to the debate, Benac employs a third category: historical significance. Victoria Cain, Northeastern University, provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. 

There are two events on Wednesday, 15 October, that are open to the public. First, beginning at noon, stop by with  a lunch to hear Rachael Abbiss of the University of Chester present "The Role of the Military within Imerpial Security Policy, 1685-1689." This Brown Bag talk highlights a project which examines the army and military policy in the Dominion of New England between 1686 and 1689. This event is free and open to the public. Then, beginning at 6:00PM, join us for a talk given by J. Kevin Graffagnino of the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. "Rebels in Vermont!: The St. Albans Raid" details the events of the 1864 attack on St. Alban's, VT by a band of 22 Confederate soldiers. There is  apre-talk reception that begins at 5:30PM. This event is open to the public with a fee of $10 (no charge for Fellows and Members). RSVP required. Please call 617-646-0560 or click here to register.

Beginning on Friday, 17 October, is a two-day teacher workshop titled "Massachusetts Women and the First World War." The workshop explores the activities of Massachusetts women involved in the Great War, beginning before the official involvement of the U.S. in 1917. The events feature material from collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Fort Devens Museum. There is a registration fee of $75 and includes lunch both days, materials, and admission to the Fort Devens Museum. Day one (17 October) takes place in Devens and day two (18 October) at the MHS. This workshop is open to all K-12 educators as well as history enthusiasts. To register complete this Registration Form and send it with your payment to: Kathleen Barker, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215. Contact education@masshist.org for more information.

Finally, on Saturday, 18 October, there is a public tour at the Society. Beginning at 10:00AM, "The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society" 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.orgWhile you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I."

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 12 October, 2014, 8:00 AM

“The Moonlight Is Wasted”: Not So Quiet on the Western Front

The stacks of the MHS are filled with innumerable letters written by soldiers serving in U.S. wars to their families back home. This year marks both the sesquicentennial of the penultimate year of the Civil War and the centennial of the first year of World War I. It’s a disheartening fact that we rarely lack for war-related anniversaries to commemorate, but these letters are an invaluable resource for a true understanding of U.S. wars.

Some of them were written to anxious parents by very young soldiers, barely out of high school and full of bravado. Others come from older, battle-hardened men who write wistfully to their children while shells fall around them. Sometimes a soldier breezily anticipates the upcoming battle in which we know he will be killed, or has an eerie premonition of his own death. While it’s impossible for most of us to comprehend the realities of war as experienced by those in the thick of it, little details speak volumes. I always find it interesting how the ordinary things we take for granted are perceived in radically different ways by a soldier on the front lines.

Take moonlight, for example. Lovers serenade in it, poets write about it, dreamers gaze up at it. Moonlight is one of the universally acknowledged beauties of life, right? Well, not if you’re digging trenches in northern France in 1918. William F. Wolohan, serving with the American Expeditionary Forces, 103rd Engineers, Co. E, explained in a letter to his mother on 30 Nov. 1918 that he and his fellow soldiers had a different perspective:

Night work was the hardest as this country over here is positively the blackest place I have ever been in at night. Our night work consisted mostly of barbed wire work. A funny thing, still we over here can not realize the jokers regarding Beautiful-moon light nights. One mother wrote to her son who is sleeping in here with us, said that outside a beautiful moon was shining down, how much she enjoyed these moon light nights and she could always think that this same old moon was shining down on him. Yes Henry said the same moon shines but I wish the moon would die or never come out. You see on moonlight nights these big bombing planes come over and drop everything from pins to rail road engines, including boocoo bombs….So on moon l[ight n]ights we are always careful and we figure th[at] the moonlight is wasted. I wish I could remember some of the funny expressions I have heard when we did not know but the next minute we would be blown to atoms.

Henry had good reason to dislike the moon, it turns out. He had nearly been killed in a German bombing raid while working on a trench near the French town of Fismes on the Vesle River. Wolohan illustrated Henry’s story with this diagram of trenchworks. The sketch is in pencil, so it’s hard to make out some of the details in this reproduction here, but Henry and the “Bomb Hole” are marked by asterisks at the top. Below that, you can see the “Barb wire,” “no mans land,” and the “German wire.”

 

Wolohan wrote this letter to his mother shortly after the end of the war but before he was shipped home. In it, he proposed this theory for the Allies’ success:

As one of our fellows said the other night It was the American Smile that won this war, and I agree with him. Even in the darkest minutes you can always get a smile out of these A.E.F. wargoing Americans. I have seen men come back all shot up an[d] smiling to beat the band. One night when on a long march we were held up by our divisional train for four hours. So we gave a show right in the middle of the road.

The William F. Wolohan papers is one of our smaller collections at the MHS. It contains only three letters and three postcards, but the terrific content more than makes up for its small size. I particularly like this poignant throwaway line on the back of a postcard dated 6 Oct. 1918:

This is a French soldiers postal card. It was taken by the Germans off a captured French Soldier. We took it off a dead German soldier. Such is the fortune of war in both the big and little things.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 8 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

First up this week on the list of events here at the MHS is "Katherine, Grace, and Mary: Archaeological Revelations of 17th and 18th Century Women from Boston's Big Dig." Beginning at 6:00PM on Monday, 6 October, join us as Joe Bagley, Boston City Archaeologist, discusses the uncovering of mountains of historical data during the archaeological surveys conducted prior to the start of the Big Dig. The talk focuses primarily on three sites where evidence of the lives of three women - the late 17th century site of Katherine Nanny Naylor, the early 18th century site of Mary Long, and the mid-18th century site of Grace Parker - came to light. There is a $10 fee (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617- 646-0560 or click here to register. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM. 

On Tuesday, 7 October, come by at 5:15PM for an Early American History seminar given by David Konig of Washington University in St. Louis. "Thomas Jefferson, Lawyer: Property and Personhood in the Law of Slavery" examines the complex relationship between Thomas Jefferson's legal career and his ownership of slaves. Comment provided by Malick Ghachem of MIT. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Then, on Wednesday, 8 October, there is a special member event at the Society starting at 6:00PM. Members and Fellows are invited to hear John W. Tyler, editor of The Correspondence of Thomas Hutchinson: 1740-1766 (2014), as he presents "History Revealed: Thomas Hutchinson and the Stamp Act Riots." The evening will feature a reception at 6:00PM and remarks by Mr. Tyler at 6:30PM followed by a presentation of items from the Society's collections. Registration is required at no cost. THIS EVENT IS SOLD OUT. If you would like to be placed on the waiting list, please call 617-646-0518.

And on Thursday, 9 October, please join us for an author talk featuring Adam Hochschild of the University of California, Berkeley. "1914-1918: The War Within the War," Hochschild describes the battle between people who regarded the war as a noble and necessary crusade, and a brave minority who felt it was tragic madness and who refused to fight. In an illustrated talk, he focuses on the country where that tension was sharpest, Great Britain. Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. The talk is open to the public but registration is required. Please RSVP

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 5 October, 2014, 12:00 PM

Mysteries of the Elisha W. Smith, Jr. Logbook: Part III

Research is a nonlinear process rife with search strategies and dead ends. While researching the inside front cover note and the scrapbook engravings of the Elisha W. Smith Jr. logbook, I remained curious about the scrapbooker’s identity. Several clues exist within the logbook to identify the individual. The efforts of penmanship practice garnishes the pages with the initials “E D F” and the names “Elbridge” and “Freeman.” While this clue offered a name as a place to start, I still found myself running into dead ends.

 

A plethora of physical and digital resources exist to help researchers locate genealogical information. I started with a physical resource research strategy that proved unsuccessful. I searched through family histories Freeman Genealogy and Genealogy of the Freeman Family for “Elbridge Freeman” and “William Freeman.” I assumed that the ship’s name, the schooner William Freeman, referred to a relative of Elbridge Freeman. I also surmised that Elbridge Freeman was born in the late 1850s to early 1860s because the scrapbooker pasted Gleason’s Literary Companion engravings in the volume. Gleason’s Literary Companion ran in publication from 1860 to 1870 so the individual who read the juvenile literary magazine was young. These names and time frame narrowed my search, but these criteria also narrowed my results to zero.

Moments of revelation for researchers occasionally come from other researchers’ insight or suggestion. I found a lack of answers in the physical resources, but Librarian Elaine Heavey utilized online databases to find Elbridge D. Freeman’s birth certificate from FamilySearch, a free, online tool for genealogists. Elaine provided the document that put all the pieces together!

William D. Freeman sailed with supercargo Elisha W. Smith Jr. on the schooner William Freeman to Jacmel, Haiti in 1857. Both men and the schooner originated in Wellfleet. William Freeman later served as acting master of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Navy yard. On 31 July 1861 William D. Freeman and Harriet A. Freeman welcomed their first born son Elbridge D. Freeman into the world. Somehow the logbook ended up in William Freeman’s hands after the voyage of the schooner William Freeman. Young Elbridge turned one of his father’s possessions, Elisha W. Smith’s logbook, into an eccentric scrapbook in the late 1860s.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 4 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

Marion’s Hidden Curriculum: Sexuality Education in the 1930s (Part Two)

In my last post, I highlighted the curriculum for a mid-twentieth-century course on “the family” located in the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. Family Papers. The young woman who attended the course was eighteen-year-old Marion Howe, whose diaries from the period elliptically document her questions and anxieties about sexual desire. These diaries, read in counterpoint to the formal curriculum on family life, suggest a hidden curriculum of social constraint that shaped Marion’s experience of her body, her emotions, and the choices she would face in forming adult relationships.

As an adolescent in the newly-constructed American youth culture, Marion’s experience of heterosocial was shaped by the social norms and expectations of her high school peers. Consider these snippets from the winter of 1934:

Johnnie snubbed me, and he and Charlie had another ‘argument.’ Gosh, I don’t know what to do. I like Charlie, I like Johnny, and I like Joe -- and I’m in love with one of them, and I don’t know who. I wouldn’t want to give up any of them -- Gee, I guess I must be awfully selfish. … I know I’m going to be called a ‘two-timer,’ but what on earth can I do about it? (3 January)

 

I can’t love Charlie. I might -- ! Wotta life! I wrote a note to Johnny, but I haven’t the courage to give it to him. But when I do, I’m gonna ask him if he’s going ‘steady’ with Elie. Gee, how I hate her, even tho’ I don’t know her! (5 January)

 

Got up rather late after raising Cain in bed with Shrimp and Dutch this morning. … Shrimp and I had a talk last night before going to sleep -- and we decided C, J, and I should all have an understanding. … I don’t know what Shrimp means when she says I haven’t learned my lesson yet. (13 January)

 

I guess I’m fickle, but as long as I’m gonna be an old maid, it’s okay. (23 February)

 

Charlie came up. Joe asked me if I would go to the movies. Though I liked Johnny. G[eorgie] G[lebus] asked me for a date. Helped prepare Ma’s party at church tomorrow. Cooked 100 or so cakes. (14 March)

As historian Beth Bailey has documented in From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), mid-twentieth-century youth culture differentiated between dating and “going steady.” Dating was nonexclusive and embedded one’s peer network whereas “going steady” meant exclusivity and a more serious intention to consider engagement or marriage. Yet in practice, where did one slide into the other? It’s clear in these diary entries that Marion is caught up in the pleasure of dating and fantasizing about the relationship potential of the young men who appear to be competing for her attention. Yet she also worries about being read as a “two-timer” for refusing to “give up” Charlie, Johnnie, or Joe. But Johnnie might be “going steady” with Elie -- and thus out of bounds for a casual date? Maybe it’s better just to be an “old maid” rather than navigate these uncertain waters.

Dating, and going steady, also meant negotiating physical intimacies -- something that Marion expresses a deep ambivalence about. Consider the entry from 1 April 1934:

After church at night Joe and I went for a ride. He let me drive. I’m glad he doesn’t try to get mushy. That’s the greatest trouble of boys of this age. Whenever they take you in their car, they expect you to start petting; and if there’s one thing only in this world that is sickening, it’s petting and the like. (Maybe it’s all right with the right boy.)

Is Marion’s “sickening” displeasure at getting “mushy” due to her own discomfort with relational sex, her disinterest in Joe (whom she will marry two years later), or tension borne of her social role as gatekeeper? It’s impossible to know -- likely a combination of all three. 

By her late teens, a job-seeking high school graduate whose parents resist her interest in attending college, Marion’s adolescent dating relationships take on a greater degree of seriousness and urgency as the year moves on. In August 1935 she writes of a flirtation with Jim, a lifeguard she has had a crush on, and then a series of entries are cut out of the volume. When the diary resumes, it seems clear she has had some sort of unsettling or violating sexual experience:

Got up about 8. All I could think of was what Jim would be doing. … I’d get thinking of Jim and then lose the sequence of the plot. I hate myself for falling for him. … [her close friend] Shrimp wanted to know more of the Experience Monday, so to oblige her, I told her some of it. The rest she doesn’t know, and so I won’t hurt her. At night it hurts most to remember. And I can’t forget, much as I try. (28 August)

Whatever lessons she has had about human sexuality have not helped her feel confident making sense of her the situation. Several days later, she reports that she’s “had the talk with Shrimp today about generation [and] realize how completely ignorant I have been” (1 September 1935). The details relayed by Shrimp, however, fail to relieve the anxiety she feels about sexual intimacy, and the following spring -- shortly after she and Joe commit “the indiscretion” together -- she screws up her courage and seeks medical advice:

I went to see a doctor, not so much because I’m afraid but because I am curious, and would like to end this lethal ignorance that always leads to worry. My greatest misery, however, lies in the fact that HE DOESN’T CARE if I worry…

The rest of the entry is ripped out, leaving the question of what constituted Marion’s worries unanswered, though we can make our educated guesses.

Diaries such as Marion’s shed invaluable light on the experience of Depression-era teens exploring their sexuality and emerging adulthood in an era where reliable sexual health information was often difficult to come by -- particularly for young women. If you are interested in exploring Marion’s story further, the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. Family Papers are open for research and can be requested from offsite storage by contacting the reference department.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 3 October, 2014, 12:00 AM

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