Guide to the Collection
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.
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.
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).
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, 1832-19165 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.
II. Membership records, 1795-18724 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.
III. Special fund records, 1854-18962 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.
IV. Scrapbooks and ephemera, 1801-1955
A. Scrapbooks, 1801-19553 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.
B. Photographs, 1917-19242 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.
C. Sketches and posters, 18801 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.
D. Newspapers and clippings, 1857-18811 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.
V. Subject files, 1791-19065 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.
VI. Associated Housewright Society records, 1804-18375 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).
VII. Monographs and pamphlets, 1844-1995
A. Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association publications, 1844-19952 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.
B. General publications, 1848-19202 pamphlet boxes.
Included are publications related to Boston City government and the history of Boston in general. See box list for a complete list.
Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association records, Massachusetts Historical Society.
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.