The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

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Death of a Party

"At seven minutes to three o'clock on the afternoon of Monday, Oct. 20, 1902, the National Club of Massachusetts committed suicide by voting itself out of existence. The scene of the tragedy was Room 12, Young's Hotel, Boston. Twenty-one members, four less than a quorum, agreed with unanimity and composure to commit this act. A few minutes later, twenty-one gentlemen dispersed to their usual occupations so quietly that neither the elevator boy nor the waiters, nor the lynx-eyed clerks of the hotel, suspected what had been done. The newspapers took no notice of the suicide. The police did not exercise their ingenuity in inventing a theory as to its motive, or debate whether the weapon used were sharp or blunt. To this day, the coroner has ordered no 'quest. And yet, for the historian, the National Club may be of interest, because of the great crisis out of which it sprang. That is why I have been so precise in specifying time and place and circumstance; and why it seems right to give the Society for safe keeping this collection, unfortunately incomplete, of papers refering to the Club and to is parent, the National Party of 1900. Antiquaries today spend their lives gathering similar material about political organizations long past; and in due season our time will be antiquity to a new age."

From "The Suicide of a Political Infant" by William R. Thayer, found in the National Party records, 1900-1903.

 

If you want to learn more about the demise of this political movement, consider Visiting the Library!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 20 August, 2016, 12:39 PM

“Have you look’d at this Universe, through the Telescopes of Herschell?”

The Juno space probe began orbiting Jupiter on July 4, 2016, and already has transmitted images of the planet’s moons and famous Great Red Spot. The study of the planets is not new, however, and when he was in England, John Adams had the opportunity to meet one of the most famous astronomers of his day.

In 1781, astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus, an accomplishment that earned him the patronage of King George III. Herschel set up his telescopes near Windsor, the summer home of the king.

John Adams seems to have been impressed. In 1786 he wrote, “Herschell indeed with his new Glass, has discovered the most magnificient Spectacle that ever was seen or imagined.” He tipped his hat to Herschel when writing his Defence of the American Constitutions: “A prospect into futurity in America, is like contemplating the heavens through the telescopes of Herschell: objects, stupendous in their magnitudes and motions, strike us from all quarters, and fill us with amazement!”

Adams had the opportunity to look through Herschel’s telescopes himself. He was supposed to accompany his friend Benjamin Vaughan to Windsor on the evening of April 1, 1787. A few days later, Vaughan wrote that although Adams had been unable to attend, “Dr. Herschell will always of course be happy to see his Excellency;—but the longer the visit is deferred, the more will be there to see. The most proper time is, the first quarter of the moon, whenever the visit is intended.”

What could have kept John Adams from an opportunity to look through Herschel’s telescopes? Adams explained in a brief note:

“I am very much mortified to loose the Pleasure and Advantage of an Excursion to Windsor, to see Mr Herschell in Such Company: but the State of my Family is Such that I cannot justify leaving it.— Mrs Smith is in Travel and the Anxiety occasioned by this Event has made Mrs Adams so much worse, that I should be very bad Company at Windsor, and what is more decisive, it becomes my Duty to Stay at home.”

Mrs. Smith—his only daughter, Nabby—was “in travel,” meaning she was in labor, and Abigail was understandably anxious about the birth of her first grandchild. As usual, John Adams knew where his duty lay—the volcanoes on the moon would have to wait.

Although we do not know when Adams finally looked through Herschel’s telescopes, we do know that he maintained his interest in astronomy. In 1813, Adams wrote to John Quincy, “Have you look’d at this Universe, through the Telescopes of Herschell? What am I and all my Posterity? What is this Globe of Earth? What is the Solar System?”

For more on the Adamses and astronomy see here

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 17 August, 2016, 10:43 AM

Abigail’s Window

The First Lady was lost. Nine miles off the main road, Abigail Adams, 56, hacked her way through the thick woods bordering Baltimore and the “wilderness city” of Washington, D.C. Eager to join husband John in the new capital, Abigail had left Quincy in early November 1800 with two servants. By Saturday the 15th, they had fallen a few days off course. For two hours, a frustrated Abigail circled the same forest paths—a precious gulf of travel time gone, since they only rode in daylight, and local inns were scarce. Abigail (accurately) reckoned that 36 miles of rough and lonely land lay ahead. She forged on, “holding down & breaking bows of trees which we could not pass,” as she told sister Mary Smith Cranch, “untill we met a Solitary black fellow with a horse and cart. We inquired of him our way, and he kindly offered to conduct us.” Abigail hired him on the spot. Following his directions, by Sunday afternoon she reached her new home, “a Castle of a House…in a beautifull Situation” with a “romantic” view of the Potomac River.

Abigail Adams’ trove of letters, as national convention-watchers have recently reminded us, supply a unique view of slavery and of the African-American experience in the new republic. When First Lady Michelle Obama reiterated on Monday that slave labor built the White House, many viewers turned to founding-era papers, including those of the Adams family, for details. Enter Abigail. One of the second First Lady’s D.C. dispatches, back in popular circulation again this week, lists her candid observation of slaves at work outside the President’s House window. Here’s an extract of the 28 Nov. 1800 letter to Cotton Tufts that got Abigail Adams trending on Facebook and lighting up Twitter:

“The effects of Slavery are visible every where; and I have amused myself from day to day in looking at the labour of 12 negroes from my window, who are employd with four small Horse carts to remove some dirt in front of the house. The four carts are all loaded at the Same time, and whilst four carry this rubish about half a mile, the remaining eight rest upon their Shovels, two of our hardy N England men would do as much work in a day, as the whole 12; but it is true Republicanism that drive the Slaves half fed, and destitute of cloathing, or fit for May faire, to labour, whilst the owner waches about Idle, tho his one Slave is all the property he can boast. Such is the case of many of the inhabitants of this place.”

 

Such a public display of slavery in the nation’s capital distressed Abigail Adams, although a New England upbringing had not shielded her from its misery. Her father William Smith, a Weymouth clergyman, owned several slaves who were freed upon his death in 1783.“I wish most sincerely there was not a Slave in the province,” Abigail wrote to her husband in 1774, as demands for American liberty grew. A staunch antislavery advocate, Abigail was furious when the Declaration of Independence’s “most Manly Sentiments,” denouncing the slave trade, were, after debate, heavily struck from the final draft. Plain-spoken about the need for African-American freedom on paper, Abigail’s actions also merit a quick review. She employed her father’s former slave, Phoebe Abdee, to run the family farm. She educated African-American servants in her Quincy parlor. When a neighbor balked at Abigail sending one of her staff, James, to school, she argued for him in a letter to John: “The Boy is a Freeman as much as any of the young Men, and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? Is this the Christian principle of doing to others, as we would have others do to us?” Then Abigail pivoted to quash James’ toughest critic: “Tell them Mr. Faxon that I hope we shall all go to Heaven together. Upon which Faxon laugh’d, and thus ended the conversation. I have not heard any more upon the subject.” The question of James’ education was settled in 1797. Three busy years later, Abigail set out for the President’s House.

Abigail, a hardy traveler, took advantage of every panorama and every person she met. Given a new window on the world, Abigail used it. Barely a month into her D.C. stay, Abigail accepted an invitation to visit Martha Washington, now the General’s widow, at Mount Vernon. The rooms she found “small and low,” and the “greatest Ornament” to the visitor’s eye, Abigail decided, was a long piazza that knit together the Potomac’s gauzy blue-grey with lush green lawn. Signs of decay, the New Englander wrote, now threatened parts of the plantation’s beauty. Abigail’s unique summit with her old friend and colleague is worth a ponder. What did the two First Ladies discuss? We know one topic for certain: Slaves. Specifically, Abigail wrote to her sister Mary Smith Cranch on 21 December 1800, the deepening anxiety that Martha, “with all her fortune finds it difficult to support her family, which consists of three Hundred souls.” With 150 Mount Vernon slaves on the brink of emancipation, Abigail wrote that Martha was “distrest” for the fate of “Men with wives & young children who have never Seen an acre, beyond the farm. are now about to quit it, and go adrift into the world without house Home or Friend.”

 

This rich letter, held in the Adams-Cranch Papers here at the Massachusetts Historical Society, contains Abigail’s description of plantation life and underlines her antislavery creed. “If any person wishes to see the banefull effects of slavery. as it creates a torpor and an indolence and a Spirit of domination,” Abigail wrote, “let them come and take a view of the cultivation of this part of the United States. I shall have reason to Say. that my Lot hath fallen to me in a pleasant place. and that verily I have a goodly Heritage.” Mount Vernon gave Abigail another President’s House window from which to see America’s slaves, and the thorny road ahead. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 11:47 AM

Society and Scenery: The Travel Diary of Elizabeth Perkins Lee Shattuck

In May I traveled to Europe for the first time, keeping a travel diary throughout the trip. It was probably the longest run at journaling I've managed to keep, partly because I felt this experience was more noteworthy than my regular routine. More importantly, I didn't want to forget the details of what I experienced. Travel diaries, and diaries in general, allow us to record our daily lives, passing thoughts, and observations on any given day. Years from now, we can look back on what we wrote and experience that pesky yet pleasant sense of nostalgia (or, in the case of many a teenage-years journal, embarrassment).

To see how other travelers had journaled about the places I visited, I searched our online library catalog, ABIGAIL, to find women’s travel diaries of different kinds. Some are introspective; others read more like a daily log of events and observations. Many are text-only while others include drawings, watercolors, and ephemera. The travel diary of Elizabeth Perkins Lee Shattuck, for example, is accompanied by a sketchbook with scenes captured throughout the writer’s journeys between 1868 and 1870. Elizabeth Perkins Lee, daughter of Henry and Elizabeth Perkins (Cabot) Lee kept this diary during her travels in Italy, France, and England between January and May 1869.

 

In her diary Lee records daily activities, sights toured, and social visits. She takes particular interest in describing the art and sculpture in Rome, frequenting the Villa Borghese and the Sistine Chapel. Lee notes after a trip to the Vatican, “Michel Angelos’ Pieta grows up me each time I see it.” While in Rome she celebrated Carnival from a balcony trimmed with bouquets, met friends for tea, and attended the Apollo Theatre, which she describes as “quite jolly and funny.” After her time in Rome, Lee traveled by rail to Florence, then through Geneva, Lyon, and Dijon toward her final European stop of this travel diary, England. She toured Eton and spent time admiring the art at the National Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

 

 

Among the individuals mentioned in the diary are members of the Longfellow family, including Thomas Gold Appleton, Ernest Longfellow, and Hattie Longfellow; Lee’s uncle Francis L. Lee; her cousins Edward Perkins, Mary Perkins, and Charles Callahan Perkins; her future husband Frederick Cheever Shattuck; George Bemis; Frederic Crowninshield; and members of the Warren, Paine, Forbes, Curtis, Sewall, and many other families. A few entries discuss freedmen in America and the West Indies; American grievances against the British after the Civil War; and the Fifteenth Amendment.

While a large number of diaries in the MHS collections focus on Western European travels, others highlight trips to Cuba, New Zealand, Canada, and the Midwestern United States. If you're interested in learning more about nineteenth-century travel and society - of if you're simply in need of a vicarious vacation - visit the library for a closer look at Elizabeth Perkins Lee Shattuck's travel diary and sketchbook, as well as others:

(For a more complete list, see Women travelers—Diaries in ABIGAIL.)

 

Mary Gardner Lowell diaries, 1823-1853. Diaries of Mary Gardner Lowell of Boston and Waltham, Massachusetts, 1823-1853. Travel diaries describe a voyage to Cuba with her husband Francis Cabot Lowell and infant son George, 18 December 1831- 3 June 1832, including time spent in Havana, on the slave plantations of the Matanzas province. Entries describe travel conditions of the voyages and coaching, sights seen, social and cultural observations, friends visited, the weather, and social engagements.

Lorenza Stevens Berbineau diaries, 1851-1869. Three personal diaries kept by Berbineau, servant to the Lowell family, kept while on a trip to Europe with members of the family (1851-1852).

Anna Peabody Bellows travel diary, 1864. Travel diary of Anna Huidekoper Peabody (later Bellows), kept on a trip to England, France, and Switzerland, 16 March-14 August 1864. Entries describe the voyage via steamer from Boston, as well as sightseeing, shopping, social calls, and other activities in Paris and other cities and towns. Includes pencil sketches and watercolors.

Aimee Rotch Sargent travel diaries, 1874-1875. Diaries kept by Aimee Rotch Sargent, 1874-1875, while traveling from New York to England and through Europe with her husband, Winthrop Sargent, describe the ocean voyage, her constant seasickness, social gatherings and engagements with acquaintances, parks, museums, and other cultural institutions visited.

Ann Eliza Perkins Adams travel diary, ca. 1883-1884. Travel diary kept while on a trip by train from Boston to St. Louis and a voyage on the Mississippi River. Entries consist of short descriptions of sites seen from the train window; coach and carriage rides in St. Louis; and traveling on the Mississippi River, including sites seen from the boat, towns visited, events attended, and steamboats observed.

Jane Cummings diaries, 1902-1949. June-September 1911 travel journal records her voyage to Spain, Algiers, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, and England, describing cities visited, architecture, gardens, museums, cultural institutions visited, works of art, stories about fellow travelers, and the weather.

Martha A. Rapp travel diary, 1920-1921. Diary kept by Martha A. Rapp of Brockton, Mass. while on a voyage from Boston to New Zealand, 4 November 1920-7 May 1921. Martha traveled with her parents by train to Vancouver, British Columbia, then on the passenger ship Niagara to New Zealand. Her diary describes daily life at sea including games played with other passengers, storms; and various places visited in New Zealand.

 

 

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Friday, 22 July, 2016, 12:00 AM

Madame Marie Depage in Boston

From 14-16 April 1915, Dr. Samuel J. and Wilhelmina (Galloupe) Mixter had a special guest at their home at 180 Marlborough Street, Boston. Madame Marie Depage was in town to drum up support for Belgian Red Cross field hospitals. She’d been traveling across America on a whirlwind fundraising tour, speaking about the suffering of the Belgian people after the outbreak of World War I. Dr. Mixter served as treasurer of Depage’s Boston fund, and the Fay-Mixter papers here at the MHS contain some fascinating papers related to the visit, including original correspondence from Depage.

 

 

 

Depage was a popular and high-profile guest. Her husband, Dr. Antoine Depage, was director of the Belgian Red Cross, past president of the International Congress of Surgery, and personal surgeon to King Albert I of Belgium. The king and queen had officially delegated Madame Depage, a Belgian nurse, to undertake this trip, and her comings and goings were covered extensively in American newspapers.

Americans had been generous in their aid to Belgian civilians living under German occupation, but medical care to soldiers in the field was sorely lacking. An article in the Rocky Mountain News quoted Depage as saying, “The conditions are so terrible you cannot imagine them. […] No men in the world can fight more bravely than the men of my country.” She wrote to the sympathetic Dr. Mixter, “You know what proper and urgent care means – one life saved, one limb saved means a family out of trouble after the war.”

 

I was particularly interested in Depage’s statements about wounded German soldiers. The Red Cross field hospitals she worked to establish treated injured allies and enemies alike. According to another newspaper article, she said, “When they were sick I never felt any different toward them than toward my own countrymen. They were simply poor, wounded men. It was only when they recovered and came to me in their gray German uniforms to say good-by that I felt it hard to treat them the same, but wounded men have no nationality.”

Depage used her personal charisma and professional connections to great advantage. She was unmistakably passionate, but pragmatic. She asked Dr. Mixter before her arrival, “Now can you tell me if a visit in Boston shall pay? I must put it in a very plain business way; you know this is not a pleasure trip and I may not think of what I should like or not like.” She thought smaller meetings in the private homes of wealthy Bostonians would be more lucrative than large gatherings. An individual visit, she knew from experience, would flatter her host into giving more: “I suppose Boston is a smart town where society leaders have a great deal to say. I have experienced that in Washington: if it was smart to go and listen to me the people came…and paid!”

Depage also had a personal stake in the cause. Her oldest son Pierre was a soldier in the Belgian army. When she heard that her second son, a teenager named Lucien, was going to the front, she decided to sail back to Europe to say goodbye. Unfortunately, the ship on which she booked passage was none other than the RMS Lusitania. She drowned when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 7 May 1915.

 

Depage had been euphoric about her fundraising success. On the morning of the Lusitania’s departure, she bragged in a letter to Wilhelmina Mixter, “I have altogether collected about $115,000.00 [in] contributions and about $50,000 in supplies. Are you not proud of America? I am! And specially of my Boston friends.” She was sorry that Mrs. Mixter hadn’t received an earlier telegram and protested “that you could believe for one minute that I forgot you! Please never do that, whatever happens for it can never be true.” In a previous letter, she’d called the Mixters “the best friends in the world.”

 

Wilhelmina Mixter was also very active in World War I work. She served on the general committee of the Special Aid Society for American Preparedness (SASAP), a women’s group that promoted military preparedness and national defense. The Fay-Mixter papers include meeting minutes and newspaper clippings documenting the activities of this group, which met just down the street from the MHS at 601 Boylston Street. In addition to the SASAP, Mrs. Mixter was involved with Emergency War Relief and sent care packages and supplies to soldiers. Some of my favorite items in the collection are these McCall sewing patterns for hospital clothing.

 

 

The MHS holdings include many papers related to World War I relief work, so we hope you’ll visit our library to learn more.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 20 July, 2016, 12:00 AM

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