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Beehive series: From Our Collections

Zymurgy in the Stacks: Brewing History at the MHS

Like many other people these days, one of my hobbies outside of work is brewing beer at home. It’s a good way to spend an afternoon and the results, if not immediate, are usually very satisfying. As I type this, there are 3 gallons of Holiday Cheer Ale in a glass carboy on my counter, bubbling-away during the primary fermentation stage. It will take a few weeks until I get my final product, so patience is a necessity. But, since I’ve gotten myself into a good rotation the last couple of months, I have plenty of other styles on standby for when I get thirsty.

Even though I started brewing about two and a half years ago, I have not yet been brave enough to do a lot of experimentation with my recipes. Instead, I rely heavily on a list of house recipes created by the folks at my local brewing supply store in Cambridge. These recipes provide step-by-step instructions (which I have down-pat, at this point), specific types and amounts of grains, malt extracts, and hops that go into a given brew, and a few types of yeast that they suggest for the best results. So far, these recipes have not failed me.

On a few different occasions I have searched our online catalog, ABIGAIL, to see what the MHS holds in relation to beer and brewing. Sadly, there is not much, most of it coming in the form of old printed treatises on beer. A few weeks ago, though, I struck gold! While preparing a display of manuscripts for a visiting college class working on food history, I brought out an item that is listed in our catalog as an “Anonymous Recipe Book, ca.1800.” Upon opening the folder, I found staring at me a small manuscript page with the simple heading “To brew Beer.”

“Take 3 pints of malt, a double handful of Hops, as much of bran or shorts, boil these in ten gallons of soft water for two hours, then strain it, and when cold, add half a pint of molasses a half pint of yest and work it well. To colour it add a handfull of roasted barley whilst it is boiling. The yest of this beer put in a bottle with water & kept in a cool place, will serve to make bread.”

Also included on the page is a recipe for Spruce Beer:

“Take half a pint of Spruce. Boil it two hours in five gallons of soft water, a quart of molasses. When cold work in a large tea cup full of god thick yest, let it work 24 hours & then bottle it off. It will be pleasant Beer without the spruce.”

As I mentioned above, with modern recipes I have grown accustomed to seeing very specific amounts (usually in ounces, to one decimal place) and varieties of grains/malts and hops to create a certain type of brew. I feel like these somewhat vague descriptions (3 pints of malt; a double handful of hops) made more sense 200 years ago because the pickings were probably slim and brewers were using what was grown nearby. In the 18th century, a brewer did not have to agonize over whether to use Northern Brewer hops or Fuggles; the myriad options simply were not there.

Still, I think that maybe in the near future I will overcome my reliance on the modern recipe and give this piece of brewing history a try at home.  


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 20 November, 2015, 12:00 AM

Family and Mental Illness in Early 20th-Century Massachusetts

The MHS is home to a rich variety of family papers. These collections of diaries, correspondence, and other materials provide windows into the way people thought about each other and the world around them. I decided to utilize these resources to explore the ways New Englanders thought about mental illness a century ago. Searches in ABIGAIL led me to the David Richards Family Papers. David Richards (1850- ca. 1927) was a farmer and businessperson who lived in Sherborn, Massachusetts. His wife, Esther (Etta) Coffin Loring Richards struggled with mental illness for a number of years, and a good deal of correspondence among the family members relates to her condition. The personal nature of many of these papers leads to interesting accounts of the way one family understood and responded to mental illness, but the papers also offer insights regarding family dynamics and attitudes surrounding treatment in the early 20th-century.



In The Mad Among Us: A History of the Care of America’s Mentally Ill, historian Gerald N. Grob writes that the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries constituted a period of challenges to and changes within the psychiatric profession. There were calls for an increasingly-scientific approach to psychiatric medicine, as well as a shift toward psychopathic hospitals rather than “traditional” mental hospitals. These new hospitals emphasized research and cared for a variety of so-called deviant individuals rather than simply long-term, chronically-ill people. However, according to John R. Sutton, rates of institutionalization remained high even with attempts at reform, in part due to new developments in the creation and management of deviance in the United States. Etta Loring Richards’ institutionalization takes place within this context. According to “A Very General Sketch of Mrs. R from the Summer of 1907 to Spring of 1916,” written by David Richards ca. 19 July 1916, Etta felt around the summer of 1907 that she could not trust anyone, and that she was not “having the medical attention she needed.” Etta was taken to Arlington Heights Sanatorium, then later to Adams Nervine. At Arlington Heights, she was diagnosed by a Dr. Ring (three Dr. Rings, two of whom are said to be affiliated with “Ring’s Sanatarium” in Arlington Heights, are mentioned on page 395 of this 1910 Medical Directory of Boston), who said of her condition: “There is nothing the matter with the woman physically, its simply Hypochondria.” After six months at Adams Nervine, Etta returned home. However, her mental health concerns reappeared in later years.

Throughout these papers, Etta and David reflect on Etta’s illness; these writings present possibilities for analysis of family and gender dynamics in their time and place. In a 2 December 1907 letter from David Richards to Mr. Batchelder, the family’s lawyer, David quotes Etta and her pleas for treatment, writing “‘If Mr. Batchelder were here he would say that you ought to take me [and] you say that you always do what Mr. Batchelder says,’” as well as “‘I did wrong in not going, but I am doing wrong all the time.’” Later, in an undated letter from about January 1908, Etta writes that she is sleeping well, but is having trouble eating, and often stays in bed feeling fatigued. She also notes that she is hurt and upset that David wanted to “keep money away from me,” as he thought she would “spend it all on Quack [doctors].” I certainly feel Etta’s pain when reading these letters.

In addition to Etta’s frustration regarding David’s apparent indifference and skepticism toward her treatment, I got a sense of the loneliness Etta felt when her husband failed to give her the attention she sought while she was institutionalized. In a 1 June 1908 letter, Etta writes:

Why do you [–] how can you forsake me so [–] Dr. Fuller [told] me you had never inquired for me through him. He said Dr. Stevens had not inquired for me since he was here [–] the 28 of March so you have not heard of my condition for two months. God in heaven knows I could never leave you in such a suffering condition [-] and never inquire for you – directly or indirectly – for two long months[.] Oh how it hurt me[.]



Etta’s writings about her husband suggest that, in her mind, he was not there for her or interested in her well-being. This raises questions about the ways women were supposed to be taken care of by their husbands during this period. Was David’s behavior normal, with Etta expressing frustration at the roles of men during this period, or was David failing to fulfill a role that was expected of him? A closer look at David’s own writings may shed some light on these questions, as well as raise some additional ones.

David’s blend of indifference toward and control over Etta’s treatment and conditions are noticeable in his own writings, as well. In his “General Sketch,” he writes about his “indifference to my wife’s sufferings.” This supposed indifference is not just observable in hindsight; David writes that “some dear friends insisted Nervine plan my plan [sic], trying to make out my wife [insane?] to get control of her property.” This assertion may or may not have been entirely accurate, but the idea does seem to have some basis in his actions, as a similar fear seems to be on Etta’s mind when she laments his unwillingness to give her any money. David admits in his account that, when Etta wanted to go to an Asylum in 1914, he “laughed at her fears, would not listen to her story of desperation.” This apparent trivialization of Etta’s concerns regarding her health is frustrating to read; however, David’s attitudes present possibilities for analysis of patriarchy within early 20th-century families as well as gendered responses to mental illness within families of this period.

This brief exploration certainly does not tell the whole story of the Richards family, nor does it provide an authoritative account of mental illness and family in the early 20th-century. Numerous other correspondents and subjects exist in these papers, including other family members, as well as Etta’s friends and doctors. The David Richards Family Papers are available for viewing at the MHS, so feel free to stop in for a visit if you would like to explore them on your own.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 13 November, 2015, 12:00 AM

Armistice Day, 11 November 1918

Today marks the 97th anniversary of the Armistice of Compiègne and the official end of World War I. You may be celebrating Armistice Day, Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day, depending on where you live.

The MHS holds the papers of many soldiers, aid workers, and other men and women caught up in the Great War. Among them is an entertaining collection of 43 letters from Alton Abraham Lawrence of New Bedford, Mass. to his friend Albert Stedman Murdy. Lawrence served in England and France as a private in the 658th Aero Squadron and 1108th Aero Replacement Squadron of the American Expeditionary Forces. In a letter dated 13 Nov. 1918, he described the armistice celebrations in Paris:



"In my letter of a week ago today I told you that the war would be over soon. It sure is and I’m not a bit sorry either. The terms embodied in the armistice were stiff enough to bury all the German Junkers. In a couple of weeks the Germans will be in the power of the armies who represent democracy.

“'Now let’s go,' is the cry over here. All the boys in the A.E.F. are raving about going home. Can you blame us? I know you can’t. Unless they will send me to do guard duty in Germany I want to come home tout de suite. If they will send me there I’m game for another year overseas. I[t] sure would be fine for me to hike down the main drag in Berlin.[…]

"When the glad news in regard to signing the armistice was heralded I was in camp. The anti aircraft batteries in Paris put up a fake barrage in honor of the occasion. The noise could be heard for miles around.

"Yesterday I was in Paris and sure did have a great time. All the boys in the surrounding camps were on pass until reveille this morning. The people are wild and sure are celebrating. They are making no effort to conceal their elation.

"From the Louvre up the Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe the mobs command the roads and walks. The Tulleries [sic] is always filled with people whose cheeks are flushed with ardor. In some instances the men are carrying women on their shoulders. The gangs are apt to do most anything.

"I was near the Madeliene [sic] when I got cornered by a gang of larkers. The[y] formed a ring around the rose bush (some rose bush). Believe me they can yell viva l’America. The troops had a loud time. Honest to goodness I never celebrated so in my life before. I ate, drank and yelled until I was almost gag[g]ed. Oh what a head next morning. France has less wine and co[g]nac than she had a week ago."


Lawrence had enlisted just over a year before, on 28 Oct. 1917. Now he was 22 years old and anxious to get back to the life he’d left behind. His return would be delayed for over five months, but he kept his spirits up and continued to write regular letters to Murdy, reminiscing about old times and speculating on his post-war plans. For one thing, he resolved to continue his interrupted education under Prof. Harry C. Bentley at the brand-new Bentley School of Accounting and Finance (now Bentley University in Waltham, Mass.).

I was particularly impressed by Lawrence’s appreciation for those personal relationships that had carried him through his wartime service. His friendship with Murdy had apparently been somewhat new or distant at the beginning of their separation, but their correspondence brought them closer. Lawrence anticipated a warmer friendship with him:

"When we get together again we will meet with a fondness that we have never felt before. One could hardly say that you and I have been together very much socially. The tone of your letters gives me the confidence to make this assertion. I guess that I am not far from being correct this time, am I Albert? I used to regard you as a damned good fellow and you know that old kid."


Lawrence had also developed a new perspective on his father:

"He sure is a good old scout and I have often been very sorry that I did not chum around with him more when I was a little fellow. But the Dad was always a pretty tired man when he came home from work. My father has had to work for everything he has and this took up most of his time. There is another time coming to us and we should be able to get together then."


Of course, it wasn’t just the high-minded things that Lawrence missed. He also looked forward to cruising in his car (“the old EMF”) around Boston and New Bedford, where he was sure he and Murdy would find “plenty of Janes.” Along the top of the 13 Nov. 1918 letter shown above, his first to Murdy after the armistice, Lawrence wrote excitedly: “Shine up the EMF.”

Lawrence’s cheerful and slangy letters are definitely worth a read. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to learn much about his life after the war. Census records show that he returned to New Bedford and married a woman named Ruth, with whom he had two daughters, Lillian and Hannah. He died in 1942 at the age of 45.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 November, 2015, 12:00 AM

Memorializing the Fallen, Inspiring the Living: “Death of the Immortal Dahlgren”

I was all set to do a spooky Halloween post for this installment of the Beehive, but while looking for a broadside advertising a Boston magician, my eye snagged on the word Immortal in the title on a proximal folder. With magic on the mind, who wouldn’t be intrigued?

The document in the folder was “Death of the Immortal Dahlgren,” a poem by M.S.N. memorializing the death of a man described as a “Chieftain of Glory!” the “Hercules of Liberty!” whose “bold heart died to be free / Warm’d by its out-gushing flood.”

M.S.N.’s “Death of the Immortal Dahlgren”

Published in 1864 it seemed clear that this poem described a Civil War soldier, but who was The Immortal Dahlgren?

Halloween and magicians forgotten, I went on the hunt for this mysterious man.

Working backwards, I searched our online catalog ABIGAIL for the M.S.N. poem and found its item record (including Dahlgren’s first name - Ulric), and through that, two other poems and a memorial sermon of the same theme.

Chas. Henry Brock’s “Ulric Dahlgren”

B.B. French’s “Lines suggested by the death of one of the bravest men this war has brought into the service -- Colonel Ulric Dahlgren”

B. Sunderland's "In memoriam: Colonel Ulric Dahlgren"

Sunderland’s memorial sermon includes copies  of the three poems I had already found, with the addition of one by H.T. Tuckerman. 

H.T. Tuckerman's "Ulric Dahlgren"

All the poems describe, in florid prose, Dahlgren’s heroic battle actions, with Tuckerman’s also alluding to Dahlgren’s Swedish heritage and injuries he sustained earlier in his short career. 

The picture they paint is emotionally clear, if somewhat lacking in facts. Rev. Sunderland’s sermon helpfully fills in many of the gaps, beginning as it does at birth and expounding Dahlgren’s 22 years over 100 pages. Interestingly, the published copy also includes a letter from Congressman Schuyler Colfax and others requesting Sunderland to publish his oration. The letter reads, in part,

Dear [Rev. Byron Sunderland, D.D.]: We respectfully request that you will furnish for publication a copy of the eloquent and patriotic discourse on the life and death of Col. Dahlgren . . . We wish to see the noble daring and heroic devotion to the cause of his country, which characterized the brief but brilliant career of this young soldier, held up before the youth of our country that they may be stimulated to an honorable emulation of his virtues, and, if need be, to a similar sacrifice of their lives 

Not only is Colfax and company hoping to exemplify Dahlgren’s sacrifice for the Union army, but “to honor his memory” in hopes that it “will add to the reproach and shame of all [their] enemies and all who sympathize with them” 

The sermon itself draws the listener (or reader) through the life of a young man whose nature was shaped by “domestic, scholastic, and Christian influences,” and whose father’s military example inculcated in him the belief that “if [he dies], what death more glorious than the death of men fighting for their country?” 

Colonel Ulrich Dahlgren

Highly educated, Dahlgren began his career as a lawyer in his uncle’s practice before following in his father’s military footsteps in 1862. Wounded in July of 1863, Dahlgren lost his right foot but returned to active duty, a newly promoted Colonel, in November of that same year. In late February of 1864, he joined General Kilpatrick’s offensive to free Union soldiers held at the Confederate prison Belle Isle near Richmond, VA. The mission was a failure, and in the early hours of March 2, 1864, just a few miles outside of Richmond, Col. Dahlgren and 500 of his men were ambushed by Confederate forces. Of the fated encounter Sunderland writes

Among the bodies that rolled down together in the dust and darkness, were Ulric Dahlgren and his high-mettled horse, all pierced and shattered with the leaden hail that made them both one heap of swift mortality.

This quiet death, indistinguishable from the thousands of others that occurred around it was publicly honored by the Union leaders as the exemplary sacrifice of a selfless officer. Military and political leaders alike had a vested interest in inspiring commitment and sacrifice in the nation’s youth, and a fierce support on the part of their families. They wove a narrative of Ulric Dahlgren that supported this conviction: a young man from a prominent military family who rose rapidly through the official ranks and gave for his county what Abraham Lincoln called in the Gettysburg Address, “the last full measure of devotion.”

The Massachusetts Historical Society holds a wealth of manuscript materials pertaining to the American Civil War, including firsthand accounts, military records, and photographs. Many collections and items have been digitized for projects associated with the 150th anniversary of the War, and still others are available for viewing on-site at the MHS library. Researchers interested in the Ulric Dahlgren memorials or any of our other collections are encouraged to stop by during any of our open hours.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 30 October, 2015, 12:08 PM

"Three Generations Have Advanced in a Century" : From John Adams to Charles Francis Adams II

            On October 31, 1835, John Adams’ grandson Charles Francis Adams, along with his wife, Abigail Brooks Adams, had their second son, Charles Francis Adams 2d, baptized at their home in the presence of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams and other close family members. Born in May, the day for the christening had been specially chosen—the centennial of John Adams’ birth. While John Adams’ birthday is recognized as October 30 in the new style Gregorian calendar, John Quincy Adams erroneously believed that the date should be recognized on the 31st and convinced Charles Francis to hold the baptism on that date.

            Charles Francis Adams, who often reflected on his place within his illustrious family, noted the occasion in his diary:

“It was a little singular that a child of mine should be christened just one hundred years from the birth of his great grandfather. Three generations have advanced in a century. May the last who is carrying the name of the family into the next be as honest, as determined and as a conscientious as the first. I trust in a power above us which has for reasons unknown thought fit to make among us instruments for advancing the power, the honor and the prosperity of this Nation, and whose decrees are always just and always wise. My feelings always overpower me when I reflect how unworthy I am. Prosperity has been showered upon me. May I learn to deserve it!”

            John Quincy Adams also linked the events in his diary: “This day is the centurial anniversary of my fathers birth. . . . He was born of Parents in humble life, and has left an illustrious name, for his descendants to sustain by virtues like his own. May it please the disposer of all Events that his great grandson this day devoted to the service of God and man may enjoy as long, as useful and as prosperous a life.”

            The prayers of the father and grandfather were indeed answered in Charles Francis Adams 2d (1835–1915), who was a distinguished Union Army officer, railroad executive, historian, and biographer. Along with these many achievements, Charles Francis served as president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and selected the spot on the Fens Park where the MHS now resides. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Adams Manuscript Trust and the deposit of the Adams Family Papers at the Society, thereby assuring the preservation and propagation of his great grandfather’s legacy and that of the entire family.

            For more on the collection, preservation, and dissemination of the family’s manuscripts and the origins of the Adams Papers Editorial Project, see the introduction to the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams.



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 28 October, 2015, 2:16 PM

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