1737-2008; bulk: 1737-1938

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of papers of the Charitable Irish Society, a charitable organization founded in 1737 for the benefit of Irish Americans in Boston. Included are early record books; meeting minutes; secretary's papers (primarily correspondence); committee, membership, and financial records; printed matter; and other papers.

Historical Sketch

The Charitable Irish Society, the oldest Irish organization in North America, was founded in 1737 by "Several Gentlemen, Merchants, and Others, of the Irish Nation residing in Boston...for the Relief of Poor, aged, and infirm Persons, and such as have been reduced by Sickness, Shipwrack, and other accidental Misfortunes." This relief consisted largely of temporary loans to Irish immigrants in Boston, often for passage back to Ireland, and assistance to those needing work. The organization also promotes education about Irish history and heritage, honors the contributions of Irish Americans, and has been active in political issues from immigration to the Irish Home Rule movement. The Society was incorporated in 1809, and its constitution adopted in 1810. Although its administrative structure has varied over time, officers have generally included a president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, and Keeper of the Silver Key, whose duties consist of soliciting donations and encouraging membership. The Society holds its annual dinner on St. Patrick's Day, and many eminent individuals have served as keynote speakers, including sitting President William Howard Taft in 1912. Prominent members have included Robert Auchmuty, Patrick A. Collins, James Michael Curley, Patrick Donohoe, John F. Fitzgerald, James McGee, Daniel Malcolm, Hugh O'Brien, John C. Park, and Peter Pelham.


Burke, Charles T. The Silver Key: A History of the Charitable Irish Society. Boston: Charitable Irish Society, 1973.

"History of the Charitable Irish Society, 1737-1837." The Essex Genealogist. Vol. 23. Lynnfield, Mass.: Essex Society of Genealogists, 2003.

Collection Description

The records of the Charitable Irish Society include early record books; meeting minutes; secretary's papers (primarily correspondence); committee, membership, and financial records; printed matter; and other papers documenting the first 200 years of the organization's history. Among the earliest papers are eight volumes containing the Society's constitution and by-laws, minutes, votes, reports, treasurer's accounts, printed matter, and other papers dating from its founding in 1737. The bulk of the collection consists of the papers of the Society's long-time secretary John J. Keenan, who served from ca. 1910 to 1939. Keenan's papers include correspondence related to events, membership, appointments, and other subjects, as well as annotated copies of minutes and printed matter, financial records, notes, and other papers. Among the correspondents are officers and members of the Society and many eminent politicians, local officials, and businessmen. The collection also contains committee records, membership account books, reports from immigration agent Julia C. Hayes (1910-1917), newspaper clippings and other printed matter about the work of the Society, and records of related charitable organizations. Included are papers dealing with immigration, Irish nationalism, and other political issues.

Acquisition Information

Gift of the Charitable Irish Society of Boston, 1979, with later additions.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Administrative records, 1737-1938

A. Early record books, 1737-1912

This subseries consists of the records of Charitable Irish Society meetings, beginning with its founding, kept by the secretary in chronological volumes. The volumes contain meeting minutes; votes and resolutions; lists of members; copies of the Society's constitution, by-laws, and act of incorporation (Feb. 1809); treasurer's accounts, reports, and receipts; committee reports; secretary's reports; copies of correspondence, including a copy of a long letter from Theodore Roosevelt about religion and politics, 6 Nov. 1908; and, beginning in 1837, printed matter pasted in, including newspaper clippings about the organization's activities and copies of speeches. Included is information related to specific members of the Society and petitioners for charity.

Vol. 1
Vol. 2
Vol. 3
Vol. 4
Vol. 5
Vol. 6
Vol. 7
Vol. 8

B. Meeting minutes, 1910-1938

This subseries contains meeting minutes and copies of speeches, meeting notices, resolutions, correspondence, committee records, and financial and membership information. After 1920, minutes become sparser and include some gaps.

The secretary's papers (Series II) also contain occasional copies of meeting minutes, many with annotations by secretary John J. Keenan. For meeting minutes before 1910, see the early record books in Series I.A. For minutes of some committee meetings, see Series I.C.

Box 1
1910-Feb. 1915
Box 2
Mar. 1915-1917
Box 3
Box 4Folder 1-13

C. Committee records, 1837-1926

For additional committee records, see Series I.A., I.B., and II.

Box 4Folder 14
Committee of Arrangements records, Jan.-Mar. 1837

This small paperbound volume contains meeting minutes and votes of the Committee of Arrangements for the Charitable Irish Society's 100th anniversary dinner.

Vol. 9
Ball Committee and Anniversary Committee records, 1892-1894

Included are meeting minutes, votes, and lists of subcommittee members and invited guests.

Vol. 10
Anniversary Committee records, 1903-1916

Included are meeting minutes, votes, and lists of subcommittee members and invited guests. The volume also contains some minutes of Board of Directors meetings.

Box 4Folder 15-20
Building Fund Committee records, 1925-1926

The Building Fund was established in 1888 to build a permanent hall for the Society. In 1926, the funds were transferred to a general trust fund for use in "charitable, educational and other purposes," and the hall was never built. Records include notices of meetings, financial statements, agreements, extracts of records, and meeting minutes.

II. Secretary's papers, 1905-1978; bulk: 1910-1940

This series consists primarily of the incoming and outgoing correspondence of John J. Keenan, long-time secretary (and past president) of the Charitable Irish Society. Most of the correspondence relates to events and meetings; membership; committee appointments; financial matters; publications and fundraising; and the Society's charitable activities. The series also contains meeting minutes, printed matter, and other papers annotated by Keenan; memoranda and notes; drafts of minutes, correspondence, and announcements; copies of speeches delivered at events; financial statements, receipts, and checks; and applications for assistance by and on behalf of Irish immigrants, as well as notes and letters about individual cases.

The bulk of the papers relate to events of the Society, primarily the annual St. Patrick's Day dinners and Memorial Day celebrations. Included are many invitations and acceptances. Most of the letters between 1911-1912 deal with the 175th anniversary dinner and reception on 18 Mar. 1912, at which President William Howard Taft was the featured speaker. Other papers concern the Society's political activism on matters related to Ireland and the Irish in America, including the "National Origins" clause in the Immigration Act of 1924, quotas on Irish immigration, and deportation; the question of Irish nationhood and the Home Rule movement (ca. 1920s); unemployment and poverty among Irish Americans during the Great Depression; and patriotism, religion, and anti-Catholicism.

Correspondents include politicians, officials, and prominent businessmen; other Irish heritage and charitable organizations; and officers of the Society. Among the officers represented are treasurer Thomas F. Taff and presidents John B. Dore, Patrick O'Loughlin, Richard J. Lane, Bartholomew A. Brickley, John A. Kiggen, Patrick H. Crowley, John M. Harney, Daniel V. McIsaac, John J. Sullivan, James F. McDermott, James A. Dorsey, Charles S. Sullivan, Michael J. Carroll, Louis Watson, Charles J. O'Malley, James H. Carney, Joseph A. F. O'Neil, Francis Henry Appleton, Hugh A. Carney, Thomas M. Green, Edward W. Quinn, Charles D. Maginnis, Leo T. Myles, Michael H. Sullivan, Maurice J. Lacey, William J. Barry, Patrick A. O'Connell, Joseph Joyce Donahue, James T. Sullivan, and Benedict FitzGerald. The series also contains correspondence with David I. Walsh, Samuel Eliot Morison (1937), and Timothy A. Smiddy, first ambassador of the Irish Free State (1928-1929). Of particular interest are individual letters from Theodore Roosevelt, 24 Oct. 1910; Henry Cabot Lodge, 19 Feb. 1912; Herbert Hoover, 14 Jan. 1927; Alfred E. Smith, 22 Feb. [1928?] and 8 Jan. 1929; Helen H. Taft, 3 Apr. 1930; Franklin Roosevelt, 22 Nov. 1935; and Leverett Saltonstall, 24 Feb. 1939.

Also included are a few letters of David A. Keohan, who took over as acting secretary in 1939 when John J. Keenan became ill.

Box 5
1905-14 Feb. 1912
Box 6
15 Feb. 1912-Dec. 1912
Box 7
Box 8
Box 9
1918-Feb. 1921
Box 10
Mar. 1921-Mar. 1923
Box 11
Apr. 1923-Oct. 1924
Box 12
Nov. 1924-Oct. 1925
Box 13
Nov. 1925-Mar. 1926
Box 14
Apr. 1926-June 1927
Box 15
July 1927-1928
Box 16
Jan.-Nov. 1929
Box 17
Dec. 1929-1930
Box 18
1931-Jan. 1932
Box 19
Feb.-Dec. 1932
Box 20
1933-17 Feb. 1934
Box 21
19 Feb.-Dec 1934
Box 22
Jan.-Sep. 1935
Box 23
Oct. 1935-Apr. 1936
Box 24
May 1936-Jan. 1937
Box 25
Feb.-May 1937
Box 26
June 1937-Mar. 1938
Box 27Folder 1-13
Apr. 1938-1978

III. Membership and financial records, 1835-1939

The bulk of this series consists of account books, primarily recording the payment of membership fees. Some of the volumes list members' addresses, as well as the date an individual was proposed for membership and by whom. The series also contains an account book for a ball held 3 Jan. 1894 and annual financial reports, 1927-1939 (with some gaps).

Box 27Folder 14
Members proposed for admission, 1835
Vol. 11
Membership and treasurer's account book, 1835-1908
Vol. 12
Membership account book, 1837-1861
Box 27Folder 15
Irish bond certificates, 1866-1920
Vol. 13
Membership account book, 1882-1901
Vol. 14
Ticket account book, 1893-1894

This volume contains a list of people who purchased tickets for a ball held 3 Jan. 1894, a list of accounts settled, and newspaper clippings related to the ball.

Vol. 15
Membership account book, 1893-1904
Vol. 16
Membership account book, 1900-1919
Vol. 17
Membership account book, 1904-1910
Vol. 18
Membership account book, 1910-1915
Box 27Folder 16-20
Annual financial reports, 1927, 1931-1932, 1934-1939
Vol. 19
Membership account book, 1931-1937

IV. Immigration reports, 1910-1917

This series consists of reports by Julia C. Hayes, immigration agent for the Charitable Irish Society. Hayes' work involved helping Irish immigrants, primarily girls and women recently arrived at the Boston docks, to find jobs or reunite with family members. The reports were initially filed bi-annually, and then monthly. They contain details of specific cases (including deportations), expense accounts, and some annotations by the Society's secretary John J. Keenan.

For correspondence with Julia C. Hayes, see the secretary's papers (Series II).

Box 27Folder 21-25

V. Printed matter, 1858-2008; bulk: 1910-1938

Flyers, programs, etc., 1858-2008

Included are notices of meetings, programs for events, advertisements, brochures, pamphlets, newsletters, speeches, and other printed matter of the Charitable Irish Society, as well as other groups.

Box 28
Box 29
Box 30
Box 31
Box 32Folder 1-5

Newspaper clippings, 1908-1949

Included are clippings about members of the Charitable Irish Society and other prominent individuals; meetings and events, including William Howard Taft's speech at the Society's 1912 annual meeting; and matters of political and social interest for Irish Americans, including immigration quotas (primarily the "National Origins" clause in the Immigration Act of 1924), Irish nationalism, and anti-Catholic sentiment.

Box 32Folder 6-20
Box 33
Box 34
Box 35
Box 36
Box 37Folder 1-8

VI. Related papers, 1793-1987

Box 37Folder 9
Manuscript Gaelic dictionary, undated

This small paperbound volume contains Gaelic words, mostly related to plants and animals, and their English definitions. The author is unidentified.

Box 37Folder 10
Invitation to the funeral of John Lowell, 1793

This invitation to John Lowell's funeral, dated 4 June 1793, was sent to Samuel Norton by the Massachusetts Charitable Society, of which Lowell was a member. Signed by Nathaniel Noyes, secretary.

Vol. 20
Roman Catholic Youth's Society and Young Catholics' Friend Society record book, 1831-1842

This volume contains the records of two Catholic charitable societies in Boston. Included are the constitution and membership list of the Roman Catholic Youth's Society, an organization founded in 1831 "to aid in the erection of a Roman Catholic Church in the City of Boston"; and records of the Young Catholics' Friend Society, 1835-1842. The Young Catholics' Friend Society, founded in 1835, ran a Sunday School for boys and distributed clothes to the poor, among other charitable activities. Its records make up the majority of the volume and include meeting minutes and votes, resolutions and by-laws, reports, list of members, and financial records.

Box 37Folder 10
Papers related to the relief of the poor in Ireland, 1847-1987

Included is a list of subscribers of Wrentham, Mass., who contributed money "for the relief of the starving population of Ireland," 8 Mar. 1847, with correspondence about the donation of the document. Also included is a certificate appointing Captain Douglas William Parish Labalmondiere inspector under the Irish Poor Law, 2 Mar. 1849, signed by George William Frederick, Earl of Clarendon.

The certificate of appointment to Douglas William Parish Labalmondiere has been removed to Mss. Large.

Preferred Citation

Charitable Irish Society records, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Auchmuty, Robert, d. 1788.
Collins, Patrick A. (Patrick Andrew), 1844-1905.
Curley, James Michael, 1874-1958.
Donohoe, Patrick, 1836-1901.
Dore, John B.
Fitzgerald, John Francis, 1863-1950.
Hayes, Julia C.
Keenan, John J.
McGee, James.
Malcolm, Daniel.
Morison, Samuel Eliot, 1887-1976.
O'Brien, Hugh, 1827-1895
Park, John C.
Pelham, Peter, 1697-1751.
Taff, Thomas F., 1855-1916.
Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930.
Walsh, David I. (David Ignatius), 1872-1947.


Roman Catholic Youth's Society (Boston, Mass.).
Young Catholics' Friend Society (Boston, Mass.).


Boston (Mass.)--Societies, etc.
Charitable societies--Massachusetts--Boston.
Emigration and immigration law--United States.
Ireland--Emigration and immigration.
Ireland--History--Famine, 1845-1852.
Irish Americans--Massachusetts--Boston.
Irish Americans--Societies, etc.
Irish question.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to the MHS Photo Archives.

The following artifacts have been removed to the MHS Artifacts Collection: three ribbons, one from a reception to General Michael Corcoran, 29 Aug. 1862, the other two unidentified; a metal button reading "Community Chest - I Gave - 1930"; a Boston tercentenary medal with the name of the Charitable Irish Society, 1930; and two picture plates of poet Tom A. Daly, [11 Oct.] 1935.

The following printed items have been removed and cataloged separately: Constitution of the Charitable Irish Society (Boston: T. R. Marvin & Son, 1858) and Charitable Irish Society: Its Constitution and By-Laws (Boston: Charitable Irish Society, 1917).