MHS News

Recent Discovery of Early Writings and Drawings by E. E. Cummings on Display at the Massachusetts Historical Society

Early childhood writings and sketches of poet E. E. Cummings uncovered at the MHS while organizing Cummings-Clarke Collection

E.E. Cummings Rhinocerous drawingBOSTON, JUNE 2013—Long before Edward Estlin Cummings became known as E. E. Cummings, one of 20th-century America’s most popular poets, he experimented with words and sketches that reveal a delightful childhood imagination. The Massachusetts Historical Society is delighted to display a selection of these writings and drawings in "Estlin Cummings Wild West Show" from June 13 through August 30. The items on display, dating from 1900 to 1902, showcase the poet's early experiments with words and illustrations. Uncovered while organizing and describing a large collection of Cummings family papers with support from the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, these are likely some of the earliest works by Cummings.

In a sketch of a rhinoceros and soldier completed about 1900, Cummings writes, "THIS. RHINOCEROUS. IS. YOUNG. MARCHING BY. A. SOLDIER. He TELLS-TALES TO-HIM". This youthful work displays one of the poet’s earliest uses of capitalization and punctuation, which would later become one of his trademarks. Fanciful drawings and writings, from when Cummings was about seven years old, illustrate his early fascination with the circus, wild west shows, and animals of all varieties. Those on display include a self-portrait entitled "Edward E. Cummings, the animal emperor, famous importer, trainer, and exhibitor of wild animals" as well as ink blots, watercolors, and sketches in pen and pencil of cowboys and Indians, wild west shows, locomotives, zoos, circuses, lions, and elephants. Among the writings is a November 1902 letter to his mother about life on Joy Farm, his family’s retreat in New Hampshire and a letter to his father from written in January 1900. 

The papers of Edward Cummings, a Unitarian minister and champion of social justice in early 20th century Boston, and his family have now been fully organized and described in a collection guide that is available on the MHS website. The large collection consists not only of the papers of Edward Cummings including his sermons, writings, and correspondence with family and his mentor Edward Everett Hale but also his wife Rebecca (Clarke) Cummings, and their children, Edward and Elizabeth. The Society received the Cummings-Clarke collection as a gift from the estate of E.E. Cummings in October of 1969, and from the poet’s sister, Elizabeth Cummings Qualey, between 1969 and 1973.  Although the collection had previously been available for research, the project to describe the collection in more detail has highlighted the importance of these childhood poems and sketches. 

E.E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Mass. in 1894. He attended the Cambridge Latin High School and received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1915, and his M.A. in 1916. Known for his poetry, Cummings was also an artist and author. He received a number of honors including two Guggenheim Fellowships, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Grant.

 

Artwork and text: Artwork by E.E. Cummings. Used by permission of the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust.

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Massachusetts Audubon Society Collection Guide Complete

The MHS is thrilled to announce that the newly processed records of the Massachusetts Audubon Society (MAS) are now available to researchers. More than 100 record cartons chronicle the organization from its founding in 1896 as the first Audubon Society in the country through the 20th century as it became a leader in environmental education and advocacy. On deposit from the MAS since 2008, the collection will continue to grow. 

The collection documents the administrative, educational, scientific, and environmental activities of the organization from its founding to 2011. Included are administrative and financial records, records related to individual sanctuaries, historical records, ornithological records, records of related organizations, printed material, photographs, and audio-visual material. "This has been a time-consuming and challenging project over several years, and we certainly appreciate all of the MHS’s many and varied efforts to bring us to this point, both safeguarding the original records and now making them available to researchers," states Bancroft R. Poor, Vice President for Operations/CFO, Massachusetts Audubon Society.

The MAS was founded in 1896 when Boston residents Harriett Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall formed a group to discourage "ladies of fashion" from wearing the brightly-colored feathers of non-game birds in their hats, a market that had caused the birds to be hunted almost to extinction. Recruiting leading ornithologist William Brewster as their first president, the group became the first state Audubon society in North America. Headquartered in Boston, it was instrumental in the passage of an 1897 Massachusetts law outlawing trade in wild-bird feathers and the 1900 Lacey Act, prohibiting interstate shipment of animals killed in violation of local laws. The Massachusetts organization, which remains independent, also helped to organize the National Association of Audubon Societies (incorporated in 1905), which later became the National Audubon Society.

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George Washington Letter Donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society

Washington thanks Lincoln for gift of cheese and cranberries in letter donated to the Society

Washington letterA letter Pres. George Washington wrote to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln on 5 February 1785 from Mt. Vernon was recently donated to the Society by Dr. Susan C. Scrimshaw in memory of her grandmother, Clara Crosby Ware Goodrich. The letter was published in The Papers of George Washington from a letterbook copy at the Library of Congress; however, the location of the original was not known. In the letter, Washington provides news of recent legislation in the assemblies of Virginia and Maryland regarding efforts to make the Potomac River navigable. Washington was instrumental in getting the legislation passed that led to the formation of the Potomac Company. He also thanks Lincoln for “two cheese’s, & a barrel (wrote thereon Major rice) of Cranberries.”

Dr. Scrimshaw, a Lincoln descendant, notes that the letter was passed down through the women in her family for eight generations. She recollects that it spent much of its time hidden in closets or drawers, and was taken out and admired for special occasions. As a scholar, Dr. Scrimshaw came to realize that the letter should be in a place where it could be cared for professionally and where it would be accessible to scholars. After consultation with her parents and siblings, and careful research on the best home for the letter, Dr. Scrimshaw made the decision to donate it to the MHS, which houses the Benjamin Lincoln Papers. Lincoln served with Washington in the Continental Army and as the first secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation.

“I feel relieved that the responsibility for the stewardship of a piece of our history is now in competent professional hands," explains Dr. Scrimshaw. "In addition, I found the Society a treasure trove of information on my New England ancestors. I know my grandmother would be pleased as well to know that future generations will have access to this letter, no longer a family secret.”

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Discovery of Early E.E. Cummings Works at the Massachusetts Historical Society

Early Childhood Writings and Sketches of E.E. Cummings Uncovered at the MHS while processing Cummings-Clarke Collection

EE CummingsThe MHS is delighted to announce the discovery of childhood correspondence and artwork by Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), better known as poet E.E. Cummings. The writings and sketches, dating from 1900 to 1914, showcase the poet's early experiments with words and illustrations. Uncovered while processing a large collection of Cummings family papers with support from the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, these are likely some of the earliest works by E.E. Cummings.

Among the writings found is a story about life on Joy Farm, his family’s retreat in New Hampshire, a 1907 report on “Our Visit to the Public Library,” and the 1914 poem “From a Newspaper.”  A sketch of a rhinoceros and soldier drawn about 1902 also includes several lines of text. Cummings writes, “THIS. RHINOCEROUS. IS. YOUNG. MARCHING BY. A. SOLDIER. He TELLS-TALES TO-HIM”*. Keepsakes include a self-portrait entitled “Edward E. Cummings, the animal emperor, famous importer, trainer, and exhibitor of wild animals”* and three penmanship exercise books from about 1902.  Other drawings and paintings include ink blots, watercolors, and sketches in pen and pencil of cowboys and Indians, boats, the “world’s tallest tower,” wild west shows, hunting expeditions, locomotives, zoos, circuses, elephants, and house plans.

The papers of Edward Cummings, a Unitarian minister and champion of social justice in early 20th century Boston, and his family have now been fully organized and described in a collection guide that is available on the MHS website: www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0367. The large collection consists not only of the papers of Edward Cummings, including his sermons, writings, and correspondence with family and his mentor Edward Everett Hale, but also those of his wife Rebecca (Clarke) Cummings, and their children, Edward and Elizabeth. The Society received the Cummings-Clarke collection as a gift from the estate of E.E. Cummings in October of 1969, and from the poet’s sister, Elizabeth Cummings Qualey, between 1969 and 1973.  Although the collection had previously been available for research, the project to describe the collection in more detail has highlighted the importance of these childhood poems and sketches. 

E.E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Mass. in 1894. He attended the Cambridge Latin High School and received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1915, and his M.A. in 1916. Known for his poetry, Cummings was also an artist and author. He received a number of honors, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Grant.

An exhibition highlighting some of these early writings and sketches will be on view in the Society’s Treasures Gallery 13 June through 30 August 2013.

*Used by permission of the Trustees for E. E. Cummings Trust.

Image: Charles Hopkins's 1898 pencil sketch of Edward Estlin Cummings

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In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry

The exhibition features some of the most exemplary types of mourning jewelry from early gold bands with death’s head iconography to jeweled brooches and intricately woven hairwork pieces

In Death Lamented - book cover

Mourning jewels, tangible expressions of love and sorrow, are the focus of In Death Lamented on view at the MHS 28 September 2012 through 31 January 2013. The exhibition features more than 80 objects representing some of the best examples of this type of jewelry. Drawn from the collections of the MHS and Guest Curator Sarah Nehama as well as loans from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Historic New England in Boston, and the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, exhibition highlights include the Society’s Adams-Winthrop commemorative seal ring containing the braided hair of John Quincy Adams and a gold memorial ring for Queen Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach from the collections of Sarah Nehama.

The jewelry included in the exhibition illustrates some of the most exemplary types, from early gold bands with death’s head iconography to bejeweled brooches and the intricately woven hairwork pieces of the Civil War era. Two examples in the exhibition are the Society’s double heart locket made to commemorate the death of Mary (Partridge) Belcher in 1736 and Sarah Nehama’s Jonathan Deare Brooch/Pendant from 1796. Displayed within the larger context of the mourning rites that our New England ancestors brought with them, these relics attest to the basic human emotion of grief and the need to remain connected to those gone before.

Guest Curator Sarah Nehama, a Boston jeweler and mourning jewelry collector, describes her personal connection to the exhibition: “I've been collecting mourning and sentimental jewelry since 2005, focusing primarily on examples from the 18th and early 19th centuries.” She continues, “My experience as a volunteer at the MHS photographing and cataloging its extensive mourning jewelry collection inspired me to propose this collaboration with the Society to showcase both collections and place them in a historical and cultural context.”

A full-color companion book, In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, available for sale at the MHS, will feature photographs and descriptions of all of the Nehama and MHS pieces, along with historical and stylistic backgrounds and essays pertaining to cultural practices around death and mourning in England and America.

About the Guest Curator and Author
Sarah Nehama is a designer/jeweler who works in precious metals and gemstones. She sells her work through galleries, at juried shows, and to private customers. Sarah has a degree in art history and studied jewelry making in Boston and New York. She is a collector of antique mourning and sentimental jewelry and currently resides in Boston.

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