The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From the Reading Room

Advertising in America

If you are someone who regularly reads Boston newspapers, then you probably have noticed a few advertisements within the pages. In fact, on a given day you might find several pages worth of advertisements in a single issue. And then there is the Sunday edition which comes with an entire section composed solely of ads. Occasionally, these can be useful to inform about upcoming events, special deals at a department store, or penny-saving coupons at the grocery story. More often, though, they can seem a bit of a nuisance and waste of material, taking up space and distracting from the articles.

 

But did you know that the first time a paid advertisement appeared in an American newspaper it happened here in Boston?

 

By the start of the 18th century, the New England colonies were thriving and the population was steadily increasing along with its wealth, enterprise, and intelligence. Even foreign countries began to look at Massachusetts with interest, and colonists desired acquaintance with affairs in England, Europe, and the other colonies in British America. “Such increase of population and trade must naturally call for a publication, of the common character of newspapers.”[i]

The Boston News-Letter, the first regularly published newspaper in the British Colonies of North America, began publication on 17 April 1704. This newspaper was “published by authority” and featured all of the latest news from London, though with the time it took to cross the Atlantic, there was usually a delay of three months or so. At the very end of the inaugural issue, publisher John Campbell included a short paragraph announcing that any person could insert a small notice at a “reasonable rate.”

 

It was only two weeks later in issue number three, dated 1 May – 8 May 1704, 309 years ago this week that the first three paid advertisements appeared. The ads called for the recovery of stolen goods, information about lost anvils, and even information about real estate available on Long Island, New York.

While these ads appear to be regarding fairly mundane matters, readers only had to wait a couple of weeks for this new “social media” to get more interesting. In issue number five, 15 May-22 May 1704, readers looking for adventure got their opportunity.

Sadly, only two weeks later, one would also see two ads that, by today’s standards, are a bit more insidious. In issue number eight, we are reminded that Massachusetts was not always a cradle of liberty and that people were property.

What do you think today's advertisements will look like to researchers in 300 years? Maybe they will wonder how we ever got by driving automobiles relying on fossil fuels or how we kept time with something as simple as a Cartier watch. Will they look at personal ads as a definition of human interaction in our time?

To see more examples of the early days of advertising in American newspapers, consult our online catalog, ABIGAIL, or visit the library at the MHS to see what other early Massachusetts newspaper titles we have in our collections!



[i] Bradford, Alden, History of Massachusetts, for two hundred years: from the year 1620 to 1820, Boston: Hilliard, Gray, 1835. 

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 4 May, 2013, 8:21 AM

Congratulations! 2012-2013 Graduates Using MHS Materials

Since July 2012, the Massachusetts Historical Society has granted use permission to a number of scholars utilizing MHS collections in their theses and dissertations. Below are a list of the scholars and their projects.

Many of these projects should be available in the ProQuest database of theses and dissertations.  We encourage you to explore the fine work done by our researchers!

“Lost [or Gained] in Translation: The Art of the Handwritten Letter in the Digital Age”
Dallie Clark, University of Texas

“Plain as Primitive: The Figure of the Native in Early America”
Steffi Dippold, Stanford University

“ ‘Rage and Fury Which Only Hell Could Inspire’: The Rhetoric and Ritual of Gunpowder Treason in Early America”
Kevin Q. Doyle, Brandeis University

“Bodies at Odds: The Experience and Disappearance of the Maternal Body in America, 1750-1850”
Nora Doyle, University of North Carolina

“ ‘Deep investigations of science and exquisite refinements of taste’: The Objects and Communities of Early Libraries in Eastern Massachusetts, 1790-1850”
Caryne A. Eskridge, University of Delaware

“Female Voices, Female Action: A Small Town Story that Mirrors the State Struggle to Protect Massachusetts Womanhood, 1882-1920”
Sarah Fuller, Salem State University

“Engendering Inequality: Masculinity and the Construction of Racial Brotherhood in Cuba, 1895-1902”
Bonnie A. Lucero, University of North Carolina

“Trading in Liberty: The Politics of the American China Trade, c. 1784-1862”
Dael A. Norwood, Princeton University

“Het present van Staat: De gouden ketens, kettingen en medailles verleend door de Staten-Generaal, 1588-1795”
George Sanders, University of Leiden

“International Tourism and the Image of Japan in 1930 through Articles and a Travel Journal Written by Ellery Sedgwick”
Katsura Yamamoto, University of Tokyo

Did you, or anyone else you know, author a thesis or dissertation using materials held in the MHS collections in the past year? Please leave a comment on this post sharing the title, author, and the name of the institution to which the work was submitted.

Thank you all for your excellent work!

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Friday, 5 April, 2013, 1:00 AM

The Joy of Discoveries: Answering a Visitor's Question

It is always fun to make a connections in surprising places.  It is even more fun when those connections are made as a result of a question asked by a visitor to the MHS.

Last week, a visitor to our current exhibition The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862, asked a simple question that I could not answer.  The question, was Stephen Perkins -- a soldier featured in the exhibition -- related to the Perkins that was the namesake of the Perkins School for the Blind

Unable to answer the questions off the cuff, I promised to research the relationship and provide an answer via email. This lead me on a serendipidious mission.

Thomas Handasyd Perkins (1764-1854) -- one of Boston's most successfull China trade merchants -- was an early benefactor of the the school, selling his own home (which had housed the school for a year) and donating the funds so that the school could be moved to a larger location as enrollment grew. The MHS holds a large collection of Perkins' personal and business papers (see a guide to the collection here), which is where I started my search. But I was unable to determine a clear familial connection between Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Stephen Perkins there.  So I changed my search strategy and turned to our online catalog, ABIGAIL, for assistance. 

Through ABIGAIL I discovered that the photograph of Stephen Perkins featured in our exhibtion was the only item we held credited to Perkins himself. So I kept digging through the entries for the various Perkins family members until discovering the generic subject heading "Perkins Family" which brought me to a catalog record for an item that seemed to have promise in terms of revealing a clear answer to the question at hand: a large broadside title The Perkins Family of Boston.  Dashing to the stacks to view the broadside, I was delighted to see that it  was a large genealogical chart which revealed there was a connection between Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Stephen G. Perkins, killed at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in the Civil War. 

Looking at the chart I could see that Thomas had a brother named Samuel, who was born in 1767. Samuel had a son, who he named Stephen, in 1804.  That Stephen also had a son named Stephen, born in 1835.  That Stephen, the grandson of Thomas Handasyd Perkins' brother Samuel, was the Stephen pictured in our exhibition. 

I was happy to be able to reveal the answer to the exhibition visitor as well as to build for myself a little extra knowledge to share with future visitor to the MHS. 

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:09 PM

The Darian Expedition

Welcome to a new Beehive series, “Readers Relate,” in which we hope to bring you a variety of examples of the type of research being done here in the MHS library by researchers who visit in person, and also by researchers who contact us from across the globe.

We developed a set of five questions for our researchers to respond to via email and will forward the questionnaire to researchers nominated by members of the MHS staff. If you are yourself a researcher and are interested in participating, please contact me at acook@masshist.org and I will be happy to forward the questionnaire to you.

Our first response comes from Julie Orr, a Colorado native who recently spent some time at the MHS on her way home from a year in residence at the University of Dundee, Scotland.

Can you briefly describe the research project that brought you to the Massachusetts Historical Society? 

The research seeks to expand the multinational historiography surrounding the attempt by the Company of Scotland to establish a colony on the isthmus of Panama in 1698-1700.

What specific material in our collections made coming to the MHS important to your research?

The Francis Russell Hart Collection contains his notes, transcriptions and translations of varied documents addressing the Spanish perspective of the Scottish initiative.

 While you were working here, was there something you examined that surprised you?

Hart´s material contained the first documentation of both torture of prisoners and the reaction of the general population of Spanish America to the Scottish incursion.

Is there a particular quote (or visual image) from the material that you consulted that stands out for you?

The visual image of masses being celebrated in response to the Scottish capitulation.

If you brought a visitor to the MHS and you had a chance to show them ONE item from our collections, what item would it be? 

Hart´s translation of the interrogation of the translator for the expedition, who was abandoned on Cuba.

Orr writes of her work, “Following a career with the U.S. Public Health Service in environmental health, I have returned an academic setting to further my education in history, specifically to examine and expand the story of the Darien Expedition and its impact not only in Europe but also in the Americas.”  We wish her good fortune with her project, and thank her for taking the time to answer our questions.

 

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00 AM

“Houses of Ill Fame” in Boston, 1907-1910: A Police Report

A graduate student doing research on early social work and “delinquent” girls recently reviewed a publication in our collection titled A Record of the Enforcement of the Laws Against Sexual Immorality Since December 1, 1907 as Contained in the Information relating thereto Embodied in the Reports to the Governor of Massachusetts made Annually by the Police Commissioner for the City of Boston (City of Boston: Printing Department, [1910?]). The report compiles data on police activity between 1907 and 1910 to contain “public and semipublic sexual immorality” in the city of Boston.  “Total extinction” of immorality “cannot be hoped for, can hardly be imagined; but effectual restraint can be applied,” wrote Police Commissioner Stephen O’Meara in his introduction to the report.

Attempts at such “restraint” are what the report documents. For example, the report offers a table showing the number of “houses of ill fame” against which charges were brought (between 1879 and 1908, the number fluctuated from a low of 19 to a high of 114 annually) and enumerates how the “keepers” of these houses were punished. Most common was a fine of $50.00; two, however, were imprisoned and seven sent to a “house of correction” for one year.

“Night walkers” (women who sold sex on the street) were similarly rounded up and fined or confined in prisons or correction facilities. Notable for historians is the data on the sex workers that the author of the report believed was relevant to include. They provided tables showing the birthplace and age of women who had been found in brothels and who had been found working on the street, as well as detailing the punishments meted out. Specifically, they seem interested in noting the number of women who are native U.S. rather than foreign-born residents. Of the 375 women and girls arrested on the street (no mention is made of male prostitutes), 266 were from the United States while the remaining 109 had been born 14 other nations, all European countries with the exception of Canada and Russia. Their age ranged from sixteen to “above 40.” In addition, the police also arrested 46 women and girls who, “though conducting themselves in an immoral manner on the streets, were in most cases hardly more than delinquent or wayward children,” most often returned to their parents or placed on probation.

The report also includes a section on public fears surrounding “white slavery,” cautioning that “the transition from a virtuous life to a life devoted wholly or in part to mercenary immorality … is rarely sudden.” Women and girls, rather than being coerced, instead found themselves lured into “mercenary immorality” for a variety of reasons, ranging from lack of religious training to poverty to exposure to “flashy public entertainments and reading matter which rouse their bad instincts.” (Probably reading this report is bad for me!)

This report is an intriguing example of the intersection of law enforcement and the emerging fields of social work in the early 1900s. The report, and other early 20th century publications on similar topics, can be viewed in our library during our business hours.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 25 May, 2011, 8:00 AM

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