MHS News

A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams, 1883-1885

A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover AdamsIn May 1883, Clover Adams, a descendant of Boston’s Sturgis and Hooper families and the wife of the historian Henry Adams, picked up her camera and began taking photographs—of her husband, of afternoons at the beach on Boston’s North Shore, and of eminent friends who frequented the Adamses’ home on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., H. H. Richardson, Francis Parkman, George Bancroft, and John Hay. Examples of these photographs are on exhibit through 2 June at the MHS. Based on guest curator and MHS Fellow Natalie Dykstra’s book, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt this month, the exhibition showcases Clover’s striking photographs, many of which have not been seen before in a public venue. It also highlights Clover’s many letters and the notebook she used to record the chronology and technical aspects of her photographs, as well as Henry’s letters and other family materials.

Clover Adams came from privilege, married into one of America’s first families, and presided over a celebrated salon in Washington, D.C. She had, as a friend noted, “all she wanted, all this world could give.” With her photography, she began an exploration of visual beauty that she also imbued with questions about life’s meaning and a woman’s place in her culture, conveying what she thought and felt not with words but with expressive, vital images. Inspiration for the composition of her photographs came from fine art she had seen and collected, and while her pictures could be playful—her “dogs at tea” is a perfect example—she could also evoke an intense feeling of loss, as with her photograph of the Arlington graveyard.

Clover’s life began to unravel just as she became adept with this powerful new technology for recording it .  A recurrent undertow of dark moods gathered force until, on a Sunday morning in December 1885, Clover committed suicide by drinking from a vial of potassium cyanide. A chemical she needed to develop her photographs had become the means of her death.  

Clover’s story has long been shrouded in mystery, yet she left behind clues. Most eloquent are her revelatory photographs, which invite us to look beyond the circumstances of her death and to stand with her in the world where she lived.

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Recent MHS Acquisitions Span One Century and Three Wars

John Thomas DiaryThe MHS continues to acquire a steady stream of fascinating smaller collections covering a wide range of topics, and the last few months have been no exception. Among our recent acquisitions are four documents related to Indian affairs and the work of Indian agents in the colonies during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, 1754-1780. Included is a letter from Gen. Thomas Gage that refers to the “Happy While United” Indian peace medal, an item held by the MHS. These four documents were donated by John W. Adams in honor of MHS Curator of Art Anne E. Bentley.

Other recent acquisitions include a 1750 diary of Marshfield, Massachusetts, doctor John Thomas who would later serve with distinction in the Revolutionary War and rise to the rank of major general. This diary fills a gap in the collection of John Thomas papers, held by the MHS for over 100 years. Included are entries related to an enslaved girl named Philis and the building of a church loft for black congregants.

The papers of Union soldier Frederic Augustus James, given to the MHS in September 2011 by Gail Abbott, consist primarily of letters from James to his wife and young daughters from 1862 to 1864. James served on the U.S.S. Housatonic until captured by Confederate soldiers in 1863. He was subsequently held in several Southern cities, including the notorious prison in Andersonville, Georgia, where he died. This collection, which also contains a short diary, provides a fascinating account of life as a prisoner of war.

All of these items and collections are available in the Society's online catalog ABIGAIL.

Image: John Thomas diary, page 1, 1750


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New Environmental History Fellowship Opportunity

The MHS is pleased to announce a new short-term research fellowship established through the generosity of Cushing Academy, a private, coeducational college preparatory school located in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. The Cushing Academy Fellowship on Environmental History will support four weeks of research in the Society’s collections on any topic related to the field of environmental history.

The committee welcomes proposals dealing with all aspects of American environmental history including land use, water and waterways, climate and weather, the environmental consequences of transportation policy, public health, vegetation change, and natural disasters. Projects comparing the American experience with developments elsewhere in the world are also welcome. The committee invites submissions from every relevant scholarly field, including (but not limited to) anthropology, archaeology, botany, climatology, economics, engineering, geography, geology, history, medicine, political science, sociology, urban planning, and zoology.

The recipient will conduct research for at least four weeks at the Society and will teach a day of classes, interacting with members of the Cushing Academy community, sometime between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2013. The fellowship carries a stipend of $2,500. The deadline for submissions is 1 March. The MHS will automatically refer unsuccessful proposals to its other short-term fellowship competition. For more information  please visit, or contact Kate Viens at or 617-646-0568.

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The MHS Welcomes 13 New Fellows

The Fellows of the MHS approved the election of 13 new Fellows at a stated meeting on 2 November. The MHS welcomes its newest Fellows and looks forward to their involvement. Read more about these new Fellows below.

Andrew J. Bacevich, of Boston, is a professor of international relations and history at Boston University, where he has held an appointment since 1998.  Professor Bacevich is a graduate of the United States Military Academy.  While he was still in uniform, in 1982 he earned a Ph.D. from Princeton University in history.  He served as an assistant professor of history at West Point between 1977 and 1980, and following his retirement from the U.S. Army he held positions at Johns Hopkins University between 1993 and 1998.  He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of thirteen books, including, most recently, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (2010).  In February he was featured in a program in the Society’s Conversations series.

Lynne Zacek Bassett, of Palmer, is a scholar in the field of textile and costume history, specializing in textiles of early New England.  She graduated cum laude in American Studies from Mount Holyoke College in 1983 and earned an M.A. in Design and Resource management at the University of Connecticut in 1991.  Between 1990 and 2000 she held curatorial positions at Historic Northampton and Old Sturbridge Village.  Since 2001 she has been an independent scholar and consultant to museums and private collectors.  As a guest curator she has organized exhibitions at Historic Deerfield, the Mark Twain House & Museum, the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, and the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art.  She has published her research widely in periodicals, essay collections, and exhibition catalogs.

Paul Elias, of Cambridge, is a partner in J.M. Forbes & Co.  After graduate work in science at Harvard he moved into business management at a series of science-related service companies.  He completed mid-career coursework in accounting, finance, financial planning, and trusts, and was certified an investment advisor before joining J.M. Forbes & Co. in 2005.  He participates in the Boston Family Office Group and serves on several boards, including the Massachusetts Nature Conservancy.  As an active member or trustee of the J.M. Forbes Family Archives Committee, the Naushon Trust, and the Beech Tree Trust, Mr. Elias has played a key role in the deposit of Forbes family collections at the Society as well as in grants to support the processing of those holdings and other M.H.S. projects.  He has also participated regularly in the Society’s Boston Environmental History Seminar.

John A.D. Gilmore, of Cambridge, is a lawyer practicing in Boston.  A graduate of Harvard College, magna cum laude in American History and Literature, he earned the J.D. degree from Harvard Law School.  Before becoming a sole practitioner in 2007, he was an associate, partner, or member of the law firm of Hill & Barlow (1974-2002) and a partner of the law firm of DLA Piper US LLP (2003-2007).  Mr. Gilmore is a member of the Society.

Robert Hudspeth, of Claremont, California, is a research professor of English at the Claremont Graduate University.  After earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Texas and a Ph.D. at Syracuse University he taught at the University of Washington and at The Pennsylvania State University before becoming dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Redlands.  Professor Hudspeth has devoted most of his scholarly career to the Transcendentalists, and especially to Margaret Fuller.  He edited the standard six-volume edition of The Letters of Margaret Fuller as well as a one-volume selection, My Heart is a Large Kingdom.  He was the thirty-seventh president of the Thoreau Society and is in the process of editing Henry David Thoreau’s correspondence for the series published by Princeton University Press.  Professor Hudspeth took part in two of the Society’s scholarly conferences, on Ralph Waldo Emerson in 2003 and on Margaret Fuller in 2010.  His contribution to the Emerson conference appeared in the resulting essay collection; his presentation at the conference on Fuller is now in press as an essay in that program’s volume.

David Lambert, of Stoughton, has been a staff genealogist at the New England Historical and Genealogical Society for more than eighteen years.  In this capacity he has published articles in many of the most prominent genealogical periodicals, including the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The Mayflower Descendant, The New Hampshire Genealogical Record, Rhode Island Roots, New England Ancestors, and American Ancestors.  He is also the author, co-author, or compiler of five books.

Beatrice F. Manz, of Milton, is a professor of history at Tufts University, where she has taught since 1985.  She took her undergraduate degree at Harvard and an A.M. in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan before returning to Harvard for her Ph.D., which she received in 1983.  Professor Manz is an historian of the Middle East and Inner Asia; her major publications include The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane (1989) and Power, Politics, and Religion in Timurid Iran (2007).  As a member of the J.M. Forbes Archives Committee, Beatrice Manz has been instrumental in seeing that the Forbes family papers have been deposited at the Historical Society and supporting work on their preservation and access.

Timothy C. Neumann, of Deerfield, is the executive director of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association/Memorial Hall Museum, where he has worked since 1975.  He graduated from Wheaton College (Illinois) in 1973 and earned the Ed.M. at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in 1975.  As a candidate for the master’s degree he developed his own course of study focusing on cognitive development and its application in the museum environment.  A one-line version of his organization’s mission statement has guided Mr. Neumann since he assumed his present position: “We believe that understanding the past creates better citizens and a better world.” 

David J. Silverman, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an associate professor of history at The George Washington University, where he has taught since 2003.  Prior to his present appointment, he taught at Wayne State University from 2001 to 2003.  He took a B.A. in history at Rutgers University and an M.A. at the College of William and Mary before earning a Ph.D. in history at Princeton University.  A scholar of early America and the history of the American Indian, Professor Silverman is the author of many articles and two books, Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha’s Vineyard, 1600-1871 (2005), and Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America (2010).  His research fellowships include short-term grants from the Society in 1998 and 2010 and support from the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium in 2003.

John Fielding Walsh, of Cambridge, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, is the associate director for design and production at Harvard University Press.  In this capacity he has worked with the Society’s Adams Papers documentary editing project, overseeing production of dozens of volumes of this important series, since 1975.  In 2004, he worked with editors at the project to develop My Dearest Friend, a selection of the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams.  He also championed the Society’s project, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, to digitize the printed papers of the Winthrop and Adams families.  His contribution to this project included advising on contractors to convert the printed volumes to electronic format and working to assure the quality of the resulting text.  Harvard University Press resources that he found underwrote the conversion process.

Neil Longley York, of Provo, Utah, is a professor of history at Brigham Young University.  A graduate of BYU (B.A. and M.A.), he earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1978.  Professor York focuses his scholarship on the American Revolution, with particular attention to Massachusetts.  He is an editor, with M.H.S. Fellow Daniel R. Coquillette, of the five-volume Portrait of a Patriot: Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior, published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and editor of a second Colonial Society of Massachusetts documentary volume, Henry Hulton and the American Revolution: An Outsider’s Inside View.  His articles include “Tag-Team Polemics” The ‘Centinel’ and His Allies in The Massachusetts Spy,” in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society and “Rival Truths, Political Accommodation, and the Boston Massacre,” in the Massachusetts Historical Review.  Professor York is a member of the Society.

Mary Saracino Zboray, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a visiting scholar in the Department of Communication at the University of Pittsburgh and the co-author with her husband, Ronald J. Zboray, of four books and numerous essays on antebellum print culture and rhetoric.  She has been a research fellow at Georgia State University and at the Schlesinger Library.  She holds an M.A. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research and was a Smithsonian Fellow in the doctoral program in American Studies at The George Washington University.  A frequent researcher at the Society, she took part in two of the Society’s scholarly conferences, “Entrepreneurs: the Boston Business Community, 1700-1850” and “Transient and Permanent: The Transcendentalist Movement and Its Contexts.”  In each case, her contribution, co-authored with her husband, was published in the resulting essay collection.

Ronald J. Zboray, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a professor of communication at the University of Pittsburgh, his academic home since 2001.  Before assuming his present position at Pitt he taught at Georgia State University and the University of Texas at Arlington.  He also served as an editor at the Emma Goldman papers project.  Zboray received his undergraduate degree, summa cum laude in history, from the University of Bridgeport and his Ph.D. in American Civilization from New York University.  He is the author of A Fictive People: Antebellum Economic Development and the American Reading Public (1993) and the co-author, with his wife, Mary Saracino Zboray, of four books and many articles.  The Zborays have taken part in two of the Society’s conferences, each time publishing an article in the resulting essay collection.  Professor Zboray received a short-term research fellowship from the Society in 1994.

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The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862

The Purchase by BloodFollowing the surrender of Fort Sumter on April 13, 1861, Northerners rallied behind Pres. Lincoln’s call for states to send troops to preserve the Union. Opening October 7, the Massachusetts Historical Society’s exhibition The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862 follows a small group of officers—husbands, brothers, and friends of the first families of Massachusetts—through the first years of the Civil War. These young men, like so many, wanted to feel the glory of combat and enlisted with a sense of adventure and unquestioning patriotism. Not anticipated was the bloody aftermath of early conflicts—the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, the Seven Days Battle, the Battle of Cedar Mountain, the Battle of Antietam—and the horrifying loss of life and optimism. This exhibition showcases letters, photographs, broadsides, journals, and works of art surrounding one group of men as the cost of war is brought home to Massachusetts.

Intended as a “slight demonstration”, the battle of Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861, was a cruel baptism to war for the 20th Mass Infantry which would ultimately rank 5th out of 2000 Union regiments for losses suffered. The death of Lt. William Lowell Putnam came to symbolize the collective loss of innocence and new found horror at the sacrifices demanded by war. Born in 1840, Putnam was a law student at Harvard College when war broke out. At the age of 21 he was commissioned Second Lieutenant of Company E, 20th Massachusetts Infantry. Visitors can read Casper Crowninshield’s diary account of the battle which includes a description of Putnam’s death and see images of Ball’s Bluff from Sen. Baker’s Defense at Balls Bluff by John D. Baltz.

The Peninsula Campaign started slowly and without much bloodshed as the Union army successfully advanced up the James Peninsula. Starting on June 25, 1861 and lasting seven days, a series of punishing battles were fought. The 20th Mass Infantry was in the worst of the fighting. Whatever ground gained was given up as the Union Army retreated to protect its lines of supply. Wounded soldiers were evacuated onto hospital ships staffed with nurses and brought to New York or Boston for care. Washington, D.C. was the most immediate location for hospital care and nurses were recruited from across the Union. Louisa May Alcott volunteered for this service. She lasted only three months before returning to Boston with a form of typhoid. On display is a letter she wrote to Hannah Stevenson in December 1862 in which she comments, “Everything here strikes me as very odd and shiftless, both within and without, people, manners customs and ways of living, but I like to watch it all and am very glad I came as this is the sort of study I enjoy.”

Cedar Mountain, a minor battle early in General Pope’s Shenandoah Campaign, was a costly defeat. With the temperature at 98 degrees during the most intense fighting, more than 3,000 men fell in 90 minutes. Visitors can view the letter Robert Gould Shaw wrote after finding Richard Cary’s body on the field in which he states, “Cary was lying on his back with his face turned to the right and his hands crossed over his chest. He looked as if he had just fallen asleep in a comfortable position.” Others showed the effects of war as well: Stephen Perkins was shot three times in the head and James Savage, taken prisoner, lost both an arm and a leg. The incompetence of Generals Banks and Pope cost the Union dearly and helped to make McClellan’s incompetence on the Peninsula appear relatively benign.

September 17, 1862 was the bloodiest day of the Civil War and of all American wars. Though the Battle of Antietam raged for just one day, the losses are staggering. Of the long list of wounded and killed—23,000 casualties in all—it is the mortal wounding of Lt. Colonel Wilder Dwight that most shocked. Shot in the arm and thigh, his hip shattered to a degree that made moving him almost impossible, Dwight was soon trapped. For five hours he lay stranded on the Antietam battlefield, and during that time he took out a pencil and continued a note to his mother begun earlier in the day. Visitors can read this blood-stained letter displayed with his writing desk and several personal possessions. In the days following the Union victory at Antietam, Pres. Lincoln announced his intent to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.   

Throughout the first years of the war recruiting posters were used to entice men with patriotic appeals, promises of adventure, and offers of generous bounties. In Boston, a direct appeal was made to the Irish population promising that they could march into battle flying an Irish flag and assuring the men that the chaplain would be a man of “the old faith.” Several recruiting posters are on view including the 2nd Irish Regiment poster and the 1861 “Empire Course” poster that sets up the conflict as if it were a horse race at Saratoga Springs between Abe Lincoln and Jeff Davis.

By the end of the 1862, the toll of the dead and the sacrifices made for the cause of the Union had begun to shape policy and affect how soldiers and civilians understood the war. As soldiers began to question what is was that they were fighting and dying for, the Union war aim changed from a war to preserve the Union to a war for emancipation.

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