Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection includes the account books, membership lists, meeting minutes, ephemera, and other records of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association in Boston, Mass. The Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association was organized to promote mechanical arts and provide charitable assistance to mechanical artisans.

Historical Sketch

The first members of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association (MCMA) met in Boston, Mass. in March 1795 to draft a constitution and elect Paul Revere as president. The meeting was called to address the problem of runaway apprentices and to draft a petition to the state legislature on this matter, but instead established the MCMA as an organization to promote the mechanical arts and provide funds for members' widows and families. The MCMA was later incorporated in 1806.

A similar organization, the Associated Housewright Society (AHS) in the City of Boston was established in August of 1804. The AHS sought to protect and promote housewright artisans, provide aid to members' widows, and ensure that the system of apprenticeship was not abused. Whereas the MCMA required proof of apprenticeship in any of the mechanical arts (e.g. silversmithing, carpentry, architecture), the AHS would only accept master housewrights or sons of housewrights as members. By the 1830s, many housewrights held memberships in both the MCMA and the AHS. Because of the costs, many opted to maintain only their membership with the MCMA. In 1837, the last meeting of the AHS was held, and the books and records of the AHS library were transferred to the Mechanic Apprentices' Library at the MCMA.

The Mechanic Apprentices' Library was established in 1820 by MCMA member William Wood. The books focused on the practical mechanical arts and served as a resource for young apprentices in their crafts. The library thrived until it was dissolved in 1892 and the books distributed throughout repositories in Boston.

In 1829, the MCMA established an evening school in the mechanical arts; it functioned until 1859. In 1900, the first classes of the MCMA Trade School began. The Trade School provided classes in electrical wiring, drafting, and carpentry, among many others. During World War I, the enrollment dropped substantially, and the school closed in 1917. Following this closure, the MCMA promoted classes held at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.

The MCMA organized exhibits of mechanical crafts held at various places in Boston, including a series of exhibits at Quincy Hall and the first Mechanics Hall (built in 1857 on Bedford and Chauncy St.). In 1880, a new Mechanics Hall was built by the MCMA on Huntington Ave. and West Newton St., which served to house yearly MCMA exhibits, as well as classes, traveling exhibits, and conferences.

Within the membership of the MCMA, a separate association was formed to revitalize interest and participation of past governing board members. The Paul Revere Association was composed of past governing board members who met annually to plan events and dinners. Often their events focused on historical topics related to the mechanical arts.

Following the sale of Mechanics Hall in the 1950s, the MCMA occupied many homes until finally settling in Quincy, Mass. in 1988. The MCMA is still functioning today as a charitable organization with funds established to promote the mechanical arts and support mechanic artisans.

Collection Description

This collection consists of 7 document boxes, 4 pamphlet boxes, 17 volumes in cases, and 5 oversize boxes containing unpublished and published records of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association (MCMA), 1791-1995 (series I-V and VII). The records of the Associated Housewright Society of the Town of Boston constitute their own series (VI) and are available on microfilm.

Series IV (Scrapbooks and ephemera, 1801-1955) contains the bulk of the collection and provides the most complete documentation of the organization's activities. This series reflects the functions of the MCMA through exhibit, class, dinner, and meeting announcements; class schedules; voting ballots; printed bylaws; tickets to events; and many other ephemeral items.

The collection also contains volumes of meeting minutes held by different committees of the MCMA. These volumes found in the first series (Association and committee records, 1832-1916) detail the different associations and committees of the MCMA, such as the Associated Library Committee, Paul Revere Association, and Trade School Executive Committee.

Statistical information of early members including birth, death and marriage dates, profession, and familiar ties within the organization can be found in the second series (Membership records, 1795-1872). Though information is not provided about early member Paul Revere, information about other early members was noted by Nathan Cotton in 1872. Cotton compiled notes on each member and recorded the year they joined the MCMA. He also annotated the membership lists with further information about these members.

The earliest document in the collection is a handwritten list of rules of order for meetings written in 1791 (series V). This document was used most likely by the early members as they organized the MCMA and referred to at the first official meeting in 1795. The latest record in the collection is a monograph on the history of the MCMA entitled The Quiet Philanthropy, published to mark an anniversary in 1995 (series VII).

Acquisition Information

The records were placed on deposit at MHS by the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association in October 1962. They were later returned to MCMA in 1991 during the preparation of Raymond J. Purdy's The Quiet Philanthropy. The records were again placed on deposit at the MHS in December 2001.


Lubow, Lisa Beth. Artisans in Transition: Early Capitalist Development and the Carpenters of Boston, 1787-1837. Ann Arbor: U.M.I. Dissertation Information Service, 1988.

Purdy, Raymond J. The Quiet Philanthropy. Boston: Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, 1995.

Quinan, Jack. "Some Aspects of the Development of the Architectural Profession in Boston Between 1800 and 1830" Annual Meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians. Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, 1977.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Association and committee records, 1832-1916

5 volumes in cases.

Volumes include proceedings of the Mechanic Apprentices' Library of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association (MCMA), 1832-1835; and minutes kept during meetings of the Paul Revere Association, 1891-1897, and Trade School executive committee, 1903-1916.

Vol. 1
Mechanic Apprentices' Library Association proceedings, 1832-1834
Vol. 2
Mechanic Apprentices' Library Association proceedings, 1834-1835
Vol. 3
Various committee meeting minutes, 1890-1897
Vol. 4
Paul Revere Association minutes, 1891-1897
Vol. 5
Trade School executive committee minutes, 1903-1916

II. Membership records, 1795-1872

4 boxes and 2 oversize boxes.

Membership records include lists of members and honorary members of the MCMA, a list of membership dues paid, a list of member deaths, a blank certificate of membership, and biographical notes compiled most likely in 1872 by member Nathan Cotton providing the year members joined, relatives also in the MCMA, and birth, death, and marriage dates.

The biographical notes were originally found wrapped in paper packets marked sequentially, "First" through "Nineteenth." The 19 packets roughly represent the years members joined the MCMA. The original packet order has been maintained while the biographical notes themselves have been arranged alphabetically within the original ordinal sequence.

Box 1Folder 1
Index to membership ledger, undated
OS Box 4
Membership certificate (oversize), undated
Box 1Folder 2
Membership list, 1795-1860
Box 1Folder 3
Membership list [photocopy], 1795-1860
Box 1Folder 4
Membership list, 1849-1865
Box 1Folder 5
Membership list, 1849-1872
Box 1Folder 6
Membership deaths, 1851-1871
Box 1Folder 7
Membership dues list, 1859
Box 1Folder 8
Honorary membership list, 1816
Box 1
Biographical notes "first"-"fourth"
Box 2
Biographical notes "fifth"-"ninth"
Box 3
Biographical notes "tenth"-"fifteenth"
Box 4
Biographical notes "sixteenth"-"nineteenth"

III. Special fund records, 1854-1896

2 folders and 1 volume in a case.

Included are account books recording funds received from members for construction of a Benjamin Franklin statue, 1854-1858, and to pay for a portrait bust of Paul Revere, 1896. Also included are the names and addresses of donors to the Mechanics Hall building fund in 1880, as well as the amount donated.

Vol. 6
Benjamin Franklin statue account book, 1854-1858
Box 4Folder 10
Building fund donor list, 1880
Box 4Folder 11
Paul Revere bust account book, 1896

IV. Scrapbooks and ephemera, 1801-1955

A. Scrapbooks, 1801-1955

3 boxes, 2 oversize boxes, and 6 volumes in cases.

The scrapbooks contain broadsides and other printed material reflecting the many functions of the MCMA, including meetings, exhibits, dinners, and building construction. They include meeting and event announcements; exhibit programs, catalogs, and tickets; school catalogs and class announcements at the MCMA and Wentworth Institute of Technology; voting ballots; association bylaws; newspaper clippings related to exhibits, buildings, and classes; and other memorabilia and ephemera.

A few of the scrapbooks have been disbound and placed in either folders or oversize boxes; many items have come loose from various scrapbooks over time and these items have been stored in separate folders.

Vol. 7
Scrapbook, 1801-1874
Vol. 8
Scrapbook, 1854-1866
Box 5
Disbound scrapbook, 1868-1904
Vol. 9
Scrapbook, 1884
Vol. 10
Scrapbook, 1884-1902
Vol. 11
Scrapbook, 1885-1888
Vol. 12
Scrapbook, 1902
Box 6
Disbound scrapbook, 1905-1923
OS Box 1-2
Disbound scrapbook (oversize), 1917-1937
Box 6
Loose material from scrapbooks, undated, 1812-1939
Box 7Folder 1-3
Loose material from scrapbooks, 1941-1955

B. Photographs, 1917-1924

2 folders.

Included are photographs depicting activities at the MCMA Trade School of men in drafting, carpentry, and wiring classes, ca. 1917; and a photograph of the Grand Stage of the Grand Hall during the 1924 exhibit.

Box 7Folder 4
Photographs of trade school, ca. 1917
Box 7Folder 4
Photograph of Grand Hall, 1924

C. Sketches and posters, 1880

1 oversize box.

Included are printed plans of the exhibit hall, most likely depicting the 1880 exhibit; and printed posters and sketches of the Mechanics Hall on Huntington Ave., Boston, Mass. as it looked in 1880.

OS Box 4
Printed exhibit hall plan, [1880]
OS Box 4
Printed sketch of Mechanics Hall, 1880
OS Box 4
Poster of Mechanics Hall, [1880]

D. Newspapers and clippings, 1857-1881

1 folder and 1 oversize box.

Included are folios and pages of Boston, Mass. newspapers containing articles related to the MCMA, such as the laying of a cornerstone in 1857 and the construction of Mechanics Hall, 1880-1881.

OS Box 3
Boston Evening Transcript, 14 Mar. 1881
OS Box 3
Daily Evening Traveler, 14 Mar. 1881
OS Box 3
Boston Daily Advertiser, 15 Mar. 1881
OS Box 3
Boston Daily Globe, 15 Mar. 1881
OS Box 3
Boston Post, 15 Mar. 1881
OS Box 3
Boston Herald, 15 Mar. 1881
OS Box 3
Boston Morning Journal, 15 Mar. 1881

V. Subject files, 1791-1906

5 folders and 1 oversize folder.

Subject files include handwritten rules for meetings written in 1791; a handwritten meeting announcement, 1809; a manuscript copy of an address given by Theodore Lyman at the founding of the Mechanic Apprentices' Library; a small notebook containing lists of members paying entrance fees to the exhibit hall in 1880, referred to by their membership number; and a transcript of remarks made by members at the 100th anniversary celebration.

Box 7Folder 7
Rules and regulations for meetings, 31 Jan. 1791
Box 7Folder 8
Meeting announcement, 1809
Box 7Folder 9
Theodore Lyman address at founding of Apprentice Library, 1820
Box 7Folder 10
Exhibit hall entrance list, 1880
OS Box 4
Evening Trade School broadside, [1900]
OS Box 4
Twenty-first exhibit broadside, 22 Sep. 1902
OS Box 4
Evening Trade School broadside, 1903
Box 7Folder 11
100th anniversary remarks [transcript], 1906

VI. Associated Housewright Society records, 1804-1837

5 volumes, 1 folder, and 1 oversize box.

Volumes contain a list of members in 1804; financial accounts, 1804-1837; and records of minutes held at meetings of the Associated Housewright Society in the Town of Boston from 1804 until it dissolved in 1837. Also included are sashes which were worn by members at rally for peace in 1815.

This series is available on microfilm, P-99 (1 reel).

Vol. 13
Constitution and member list, 1804
Vol. 14
Account book, 1804-1812
Vol. 15
Account book, 1812-1830
Vol. 16
Account book, 1829-1837
Box 7Folder 12
Items removed from account book, 1829-1837
Vol. 17
Meeting minutes, 1804-1837
OS Box 5
Peace rally sashes (oversize), 1815

VII. Monographs and pamphlets, 1844-1995

A. Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association publications, 1844-1995

2 pamphlet boxes.

This printed material was published by the MCMA or for MCMA events and exhibits. Included are histories of the MCMA, proceedings and bylaws, exhibit catalogs, addresses, and special committee reports and a video marking an anniversary.

Box 8
Address on the occasion of laying the cornerstone of a building..., 1857
Box 8
American College of Physicians technical exhibit, 1950
Box 8
Brief historical sketch of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic..., 1930
Box 8
By-laws of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, 1917
Box 8
Catalogue of the women's department of the twenty-first exhibition..., 1902
Box 8
Centennial anniversary address by Hon. Frederic W. Lincoln, 1895
Box 8
Fifth exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association..., 1847
Box 8
Fifty-seventh anniversary celebration of the Mechanic Apprentices' Library Association, 1877
Box 8
First exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association..., 1837
Box 8
Fourth exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Assn...., 1844
Box 8
Mechanics' Building : best known and most popular..., [193-]
Box 8
Proceedings of the annual meeting, 21 Jan. 1891 [3 copies]
Box 9
The Quiet philanthropy, 1995 [3 copies]
Box 9
Report of a special committee on the "Province of the association as an influence upon our industrial and social life", 1874
Box 9
"Who Knew" MCMA Bicentennial video, 22 Apr. 1995

B. General publications, 1848-1920

2 pamphlet boxes.

Included are publications related to Boston City government and the history of Boston in general. See box list for a complete list.

Box 10
Boston almanac and business directory, 1881, vol. 46
Box 10
Celebration of the introduction of water, into the City of Boston, 25 Oct. 1848
Box 10
Inaugural address of his honor Frederic W. Lincoln, Jr...., 1866
Box 10
[Map of United States by Gibbons], 1854
Box 10
Manual for the use of the general court..., 1881
Box 11
Municipal register: containing the City Charter and rules and orders of the City Council..., 1857
Box 11
Municipal register : containing the City Charter and rules and orders of the City Council..., 1880
Box 11
Organization of the City government of Boston..., 1881
Box 11
Proceedings at the dedication of the City Hall, 18 Sep. 1865
Box 11
Register of members of the Society of Sons of the Revolution..., 1897
Box 11
"St. Memim and his portraits," American magazine of art, vol. 11, no. 12, Oct. 1920

Preferred Citation

Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association 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.


Associated Housewright Society of the Town of Boston.
Mechanic Apprentices' Library Association.
Mechanics Hall (Boston, Mass.).


Associations, institutions, etc.--Massachusetts--Boston.
Exhibition buildings--Massachusetts--Boston.
Industrial arts--History.
Mechanics' institutes.
Trade associations--Massachusetts--Boston.