Dead, Yet Living: A Look at Memorial Day Addresses of the Past

By Meg Szydlik, Visitor Services Coordinator

The Massachusetts Historical Society will be closed Saturday, May 25th and Monday, May 27th in honor of Memorial Day, so I thought I would look at some of the ways people have celebrated this day in the past. One popular way was by listening to speeches highlighting the importance of Memorial Day and why it mattered. Referred to as “Memorial Day Addresses” in our catalog, these speeches were a way to remind people exactly what the day was about. Memorial Day finds its origins in Reconstruction, the time after the Civil War. It was originally referred to as “Decoration Day” and centered around visiting the graves of loved ones who died in the Civil War and enjoying a picnic afterwards. This tradition was kept alive in the popular barbecues of my childhood, though without the graves. Traditions have certainly changed but it’s always interesting to look back at a snapshot of time and see what changed and what remained the same.

Cover of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ address. Cover is white and text is black. Text reads: DEAD, YET LIVING/An Address Delivered at Keene, N.H./Memorial Day, May 30, 1884/By Hon. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr./Reprinted from the Boston Daily Advertiser, by the author’s permission/Boston: Ginn, Heath, and Company, 1884.
Cover of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1884 address

While today Americans tend to associate Memorial Day with more modern wars with still living veterans, the addresses I looked at, from 1881 to 1904, tied the holiday explicitly to both the then-recent Civil War and to the American Revolution. Many of them linked back to what were considered the origins of the United States and the founding principles. Reading through the addresses, many speakers viewed the wars America had fought as part of a tradition of patriotism and strong morals. Nowhere is this more evident than in Frank Smith’s 1904 address in Dover, Mass., which outlines in almost excruciating detail every war or conflict the town had sent men to, from fighting the indigenous peoples to the Spanish American War, in 1898. The published speech also includes a list of the soldiers who had died and were buried in the Dover Cemetery, a demonstration of the honor Smith felt they deserved. The connection between war and patriotism is made over and over again in these addresses, despite ostensibly praising and honoring peace.

Page of paper with the heading: Soldiers buried in Dover Cemetery. This is followed by lists of names, divided by war they died in and covers the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. All black ink on a white page.
List of all Dover’s fallen soldiers, included in Frank Smith’s 1904 address

That patriotism covers more than just the Union itself though. Most of the speakers also strongly tie these actions to the character of the region. This pride in being New Englanders is a key part of the argument these speakers are making—that these wars demonstrate the superiority of American ideals and that nowhere are these ideals more truly upheld than here. This call to sacrifice includes both men and women, though in very different ways. The picture of the idealized soldier in most of the speeches is a striking one. He is brave, strong, and true, the perfect specimen, willing to die. And the women take care of the home, work in the jobs that are left behind, and mourn the men who die on the battlefield. The men die and the women suffer. These addresses remind listeners to do their duty and do it faithfully, regardless of the cost.

Cover of Thomas Crain’s address. Cover has red, white, and blue stripes diagonally across the cover, starting with red in the left corner. The text is in the center of the white stripe and is black. There is an image of an eagle holding an unfurled American flag that ends in the seal of the Grand Army of the Republic enclosed in a star behind the text. Text reads: Address of/Hon. Thomas C. T. Crain,/On Memorial Day,/Before Reno Post , No. 44,/Department N.Y. G.A.R.
Cover of Thomas Crain’s 1891 address

There is a somberness to these addresses, but that is tempered by the sense of how honorable it is to fight and die in a war. This view of war is contradicted in our own collections, however. Susan Martin writes here and here about veterans who disagreed with the way the Revolution was commemorated, an interesting counter to the lofty language and ideals expressed by the speakers even within a similar time period.

“I was married on the 10th of this month to the King” The Story of Elise

By Rakashi Chand, Reading Room Supervisor

Color photograph of a black and white photograph with a red tint to it. The subject is a middle-aged white woman with dark coiffed hair. She wears a dark dress with buttons running down the front and white lace at collar and cuff. She is looking off to the right.
Portrait of Elise Hensler, Slade-Rogers family photographs, [ca. 1905-1911], removed from Slade-Rogers family papers (Ms. N-2393)

Dear Gentle Reader, although you and I may have never heard of Miss Elise Hensler, a woman infamous in Milan for her operatic prowess, and her daughter born out of wedlock, she caught the attention of a King and is now a Countess! Young ladies may read her story and swoon, but it was not all a fairytale ending.

Elise was born in Switzerland, but her family moved to Boston when she was young. She received a stellar education in the arts and languages, excelling in both. As a young adult, it was apparent that her voice deserved a European education, and off she went to Paris, bidding her sister and parents a fond farewell. Elise embarked on a European adventure unlike any other. While her family received regular letters and visits from Elise, their own heartbeats increased as they heard details, and tales, of Elise’s life in Europe.  A gifted young opera singer, Elise joined the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Her lure was undeniable and at the tender age of nineteen Elise gave birth to her daughter, Alice. The bond between mother and daughter was lifelong, even as Elise’s own life was about to change dramatically.

Elise’s sister was Mina Louise Hensler, who married Daniel Denison Slade in 1856, a doctor of medicine, but was also an expert in horticulture and zoology.  Mina and Daniel had twelve children and lived in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The letters between Elise and her sister Mina are among the many letters in the Slade-Rogers Family Papers at the MHS. Nineteenth century life In Chestnut Hill was pleasant, but the letters arriving from Portugal must have been enthralling, and indeed everyone waited for word from Elise.

Black and white photograph of a gambrel-roofed three story home with a cross-hatched fence and several trees and shrubs in the yard. A horse and buggy with two figures in the buggy are moving from the driveway to the street.
Photograph of the D. D. Slade house in Chestnut Hill, MA

Starting in February of 1860, Elise performed at the Teatro Nacional Sao Joao in Oporto Portugal, followed by the Teatro Nacional de Sao Carlos in Lisbon.  On April 15th, 1860, Elise performed Guiseppe Verdi’s opera A Masquerade Ball, and captivated an audience member, King Ferdinand II of Portugal. Ferdinand was king-consort and widower of Queen Maria II, a prince of the royal house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, nephew to Ernest I and King Leopold I of Belgium. Ferdinand was known as the King-Artist, a patron of the arts and an artist himself, educated in music and drawing, and fluent in multiple languages.

Soon Ferdinand and Elise were unabashedly in love and shared common interests in language, architecture, gardening, painting, ceramics, sculpture, and arts.  Their courtship withstood the scrutiny of Portuguese society, and nine years later, the letter announcing their marriage finally arrived in Chestnut Hill.

On Saturday, June 30th Mina writes with great excitement to Grandma:

                                                                                                                Sat. June 30

Dear GrandMa,

                                                                We arrived safely I met Daniel at Waltham-With good news from my mother and sister. My sister was Married the tenth of June to the X King of Portugal–I wanted to tell you all about it, but as you were not alone, I could not. I have known about it for Years. & at last the Event has taken place. I feel very happy of course But [a bit] sad–How I Wish I could have been Present. Aunt Rogers drove up to see if it Were true–for I had not told any of them.

I feared something might Happen to prevent the Marriage–therefore kept Silent-I hope daily now to hear more particularly about it. They were Married first by the Priest And then by her Protestant Minister. I feel so glad at last …

Color photograph of a black ink handwritten letter on paper discolored with age.
Letter from Mina Slade to Grandma, 30th June 1869

And the very next letter in the folder, sent on June 12th, 1869 (received on July 5th in Chestnut Hill) were the particulars Mina was waiting to hear…

My dearest love,

Although you never answered a letter of mine which I wrote to you some weeks ago, I must think that you are most ill and that you are probably waiting for the great news. Here they are with a vengeance! I was married on the 10th of this month to the King Don Fernando of Portugal – in his Aunts’ Chapel the Infanta Donna Isabella de Braganza of Portugal. The ceremony was made only with the Priest and two witnesses – and in her presence of [court?]

It was her Royal Highness that arranged everything- for it’s not an easy matter for a King to marry a protestant when he is Catholic – now my dearest love I hope you and Daniel are satisfied! This act shows you what a noble hearted man is the King for I never [live] any acts of my life [from] [him] , and his thinking   and worthy of [his] makes me more happy than you can imagine  – you can easily imagine what the feelings of mother are! – how my dearest – Kiss Daniel for me  – and all your children.

I forgot to tell you that after the ceremony in the Catholic Chapel, was over, we returned to the [strong] Palace, and there we went through the protestant ceremony of marriage – you can have nothing to say to that now I hope – try and get well over you Family Way* andthen come and pay a visit to your sister, the Countess of Edla! This title was given to me by the Duke of Ernest of [ Caboung?] – [condrine] to the King, and [twas?] the head representative of the King’s family [(My king I mean?)]

I suppose you won’t resist the temptation to have this printed in the papers, but please do it simply, without my comments.

Mother is very happy- I hope you are  [so do?] when you read these news – write to me immediately – put you letter in an envelope addressed to me

My happiness

Would be so great

Could I kiss you – I hope

It may be soon-

Love me and believe me ever you affect sister

Elise D’Edla

Color photograph of a black-ink handwritten letter on paper discolored with age.
Letter from Elise to Mina June 12th, 1869

Because Elise was a commoner, she was given the title of Countess of Edla on her wedding day, allowing the King to marry her. The media tried to portray Elise poorly as a single mother in a 19th century European Court, but she was talented and capable, rising above the rumor mill.  However, she was never fully accepted as Ferdinand’s wife and was ostracized and scrutinized by the Portuguese Court. Elise fought endlessly with the media’s portrayals of her life, and unlike any fairytale, she was often lonely. 

King Ferdinand named Elise universal heir to his properties and estate, including the Royal Palace. When he died on December 15th, 1885, Elise was thrust into a years-long battle with the Royal family. Intimate details of the battle for the estates are found in the collection held at the MHS. In the end, Elise chose to live with her daughter, Alice, and her son in law, in Portugal, never to return to Boston. Her simple epitaph reads: “Here lies Elise Hensler, widow of His Majesty King Ferdinand II of Portugal, born in 1836 and died in 1929”.

What does modern Portugal and its tourism industry owe to Elise, the Bostonian, who could have claimed the Royal palace and all properties as her own? Over the years she worked to promote the arts and culture in Portugal, and as historians look back, her influence on modern Portugal is becoming more apparent. From benefactor of the Park of Pena to patron of Portugal’s modern masters, Elise continued to work towards the expansion of art, music and the preservation of architecture. Discredited, ostracized, criticized, but secretly admired, Elise was a Boston girl who fell in love with a king and his country. It is time for Elise to take her place.

Color photograph of a black ink handwritten letter with a green "E" monogram at the top of the page. The E is made of filigree vines and has a crown over the center line.
The stationery of the Countess of Edla

Visit the Library of the Massachusetts Historical Society to learn more about Elise and read about the battle over her inheritance.

Hopefully, the readers of this lurid tale of love, loneliness, and the trials of a Countess has entertained and delighted. Sincerely, Lady Chand.

Horsford’s Vikings of New England, pt. 1 

Hannah Goeselt, Reader Services

Commonwealth Avenue: that grand road snaking its way out of Boston and into the adjoining city of Newton, an eleven-mile stretch of boulevard from the Public Gardens to Auburndale-on-the-Charles, where it abruptly ends at the juncture of I-90 and I-95. At its head is Commonwealth Avenue Mall, a picturesque greenway home to an array of statues of historical figures leading up to the Garden’s entrance. 

Gazing dramatically into the shadows of an overpass, Leif Erikson, dressed in a short chainmail tunic straight from the nineteenth-century imagination, looks practically glamorous posed with fist planted on his hip, bronze locks billowing behind him. Originally marking the end of the Mall, the statue relocated to nearby Charlesgate in 1917, and a stone’s throw from the MHS. 

In our most recent podcast episode, “Events That Did Not Happen”, Peter Drummey and Dr. Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai sit down to discuss the origins of the statue, and how the MHS fits into its narrative. 

Photograph of bronze statue depicting a man on a stone plinth, taken from the backside view, surrounded by pink tulips. Behind the statue is an overpass with cars
Leif Erikson statue on Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

The Norsemen Memorial 

This all began in December of 1876, during a reception honoring the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull1, in which Rev. Edward Everett Hale proposed a tribute to Bull’s devotion to the city and the formation of a “committee of the Norsemen Memorial”. The goals of the committee were twofold. 1) to erect a monument commemorating the Norse discoverers of America, and 2) the preservation of Dighton rock (including briefly gifting it to Denmark)2. The committee was full of prominent Bostonians such as Governor Alexander Rice and Mayor Samuel Cobb, but the one that would come to be emblematic of this whole affair was Eben Norton Horseford (whose life is better outlined in the podcast), a former chemistry professor made wealthy by his patented Rumford baking powder. 

In 1880, Hale’s cousin, William Everett, brought the matter of the committee and the statue to the MHS: “I desire, sir, to call the attention of the members to a scheme which is assuming somewhat serious proportions; in which, if it is really judicious, the Historical Society ought to help; against which, if it is otherwise, it is our duty to protest. I mean the scheme for erecting a monument to some person called the first discoverer of New England; not, however, John Cabot, or Sebastian Cabot, or Verrazzano, but an indefinite Northman, to whom, if I may be allowed a very bad pun, it is proposed to put up a Leif statue.”3 

The next time the statue was mentioned was at the November 18874 meeting, at which time a committee was selected to have a final word on the validity of the statue, which had by then been unveiled with great celebration the previous month. By December, there was a verdict: “there is the same sort of reason for believing in Leif Erikson that there is for believing in the existence of Agamemnon. They are both traditions accepted by the later writers; but there is no more reason for regarding as true the details related about his discoveries than there is for accepting as historical truth the narrative contained in the Homeric poems.” 

Engraved map of Boston Harbor and surrounding Massachusetts towns, with an x mark next to the river in Watertown
“’river flowing through a lake into the sea” Vinland Map of the Northmen” from Problem of the Northmen (1889); image credit Internet Archive.

To be Continued… 


1 Bull was a strong proponent of Carl Christian Rafn’s theories of Vikings discovering America before Columbus, a theory which had been published earlier in the century to wide interest. Much of Bull’s feelings on the matter are expressed in his memoir written posthumously by his wife, Sara Chapman Bull, a resident of Cambridge (see pp.270-76 of the memoir for details of the statue committee’s creation). 

2 I first saw an account of this in the ‘preface to the new edition’ of Rasmus Bjorn Anderson’s America not discovered by Columbus, 1877, which proved to be interesting on its own, as this particular copy was also inscribed on the front flyleaf: “Mr. Mauk, from his devoted friend and admirer Ole Bull Cambridge Nov 1879”, with a second inscription made “To Francis R[ussell] Hart Esq. With kindest regards Olaf Olsen, Oslo 1930”. 

3 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society [First Series], vol. XVIII (May 1880), p.79-81. The pun, as best I can tell, is based on an archaic verb usage of the word “leif” to mean ‘willing’ or ‘glad’. 

4 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, vol. IV (November-December 1887), p.12, 42-44. 

“Preserve an honest Neutrality”

Sara Georgini, Series Editor, The Papers of John Adams

Huzzah for a new volume of The Papers of John Adams! Volume 20, which features Adams’ first term as vice president, is NOW available to read for free in the Adams Papers Digital Edition of the Massachusetts Historical Society website. In 301 documents, it offers a backstage pass to the drama of the first federal Congress, as George Washington and his cabinet shielded a fragile new nation pledging peace in a war-torn world. Maintaining “neutrality, as long as it may be practicable,” was the chief goal. For, as Adams advised Washington: “The People of these States would not willingly Support a War, and the present Government has not Strength to command, nor enough of the general Confidence of the nation to draw the men or money necessary, untill the Grounds, causes and Necessity of it Should become generally known, and universally approved.” Far from the national capital of Philadelphia, a sudden storm of events clouded the United States’ future. Volume 20’s spotlight on the understudied Nootka Sound crisis reveals how the violent interplay of imperial powers guided American prospects well after revolutionary soldiers laid down their arms.

A black and white drawing of a coastal trading post with a ship and a cloudy sky.
Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound [Wikimedia]

America attracted adventures and entrepreneurs flying various flags in order to pocket big profits. John Meares, a former British naval officer, set up shop in Canada’s Nootka Sound in 1788 by using a blend of British and Portuguese colors. Meares leveraged a key hinge in global economic power. Nootka Sound functioned as a fur trade hotspot and as a gateway to the fabled Northwest Passage. Meares’ establishment of a trading post simultaneously agitated long-held notions of Spanish dominion, British opportunity, and American neutrality. Spanish Navy commodore Don Esteban José Martinez retaliated the following spring. He seized four of Meares’ ships and arrested the crews, bolstering the Spanish claim to the region. Meares sent petition after petition to the British foreign ministry seeking aid, and Anglo-Spanish relations dipped to a new low. What began as a local brawl over trading rights escalated into a clash of European powers by June 1790. Like many Americans, Adams watched tensely. British and Spanish ministries ramped up fleets and threats.

The press hurled reports and misinformation at a dizzying pace, and the vice president’s worry grew. Maybe British militias were training in Detroit, Michigan. And Spanish Army officers planned to invade St. Augustine, Florida. Or William Pitt the Younger launched secret talks with Latin American revolutionaries, plotting full British control of the region’s gold and silver mines in the wake of a Spanish defeat. Americans, who had largely evaded the global conflicts that raged in the 1780s, eyed the Nootka Sound crisis with real fear. Would the British strike through French Louisiana? What if they sought safe passage across neutral American lands to quell the Spanish? Whatever the United States decided, how would the big choice play in Europe—treaties sunk, ministers recalled, trade lost for another generation or two? Washington needed to know. Adams was first and loudest to weigh in. He urged Washington not to permit the trespass of foreign troops, citing law of nations theory and using his diplomatic experience to sketch a few scenarios of the Anglo-Spanish dispute.

Then John Adams took one more step forward. While he prickled at the secondary nature of his government role, Adams relished the chance to let his statesmanship shine. So Adams pushed for the expansion of the American diplomatic sector, reasoning that greater crises loomed ahead. The United States needed to recruit and assign more ministers to foreign courts. “It is a Misfortune that in these critical moments and Circumstances, the United States have not a Minister of large Veiws, mature Age Information and Judgment, and Strict Integrity at the Courts of France Spain London and the Hague,” Adams observed. “Early and authentick Intelligence from those Courts may be of more importance than the Expence: but as the Representatives of the People, as well as of the Legislatures, are of a different opinion they have made a very Scanty Provision for but a part of Such a system. As it is, God knows where the Men are to be found who are qualified for Such Missions and would undertake them.” To learn about the final resolution of the troubles at Nootka Sound—and how Vice President John Adams perceived opportunities for national progress despite periods of deep diplomatic crisis—you can start reading Volume 20 of The Papers of John Adams here.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding for The Papers of John Adams is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Packard Humanities Institute.

Women’s Labor and Livelihood in 18th Century Boston Newspapers

Maggie Parfitt, Visitor Services Coordinator

I want you to imagine the work of an 18th century American woman. What is she doing? Is she sewing and cooking and cleaning? Does she leave her home for work?

Now I want you to ask yourself where that image came from—what conjured it in your mind?

In historical anthropological theory there’s a recognition of recency bias—our understanding of the past is informed by our assumptions about our present.  This is complicated in the West by our beliefs about linear “progress.” We’re apt to believe current Western society is “the best it’s ever been” and our modern inequities are deeply rooted in history—progress necessitates as such.

Working in public history I run into the same fallacy again and again, especially when discussing Western women’s lives in the 18th century and earlier. Believe it or not, most strict Western gender roles don’t come from centuries long history of labor separation. Instead, most are rooted in the late 19th and early to mid-20th century (recent, by history standards!). As a quick example: the average marrying age of English women during the first half of the 18th century was 26[1], in 1850 America it was 23[2], and in 1960 it was around 20.[2]  

Now that we’ve reset our assumptions, what can we learn about how and why women worked in 18th century Boston? Newspapers are a valuable tool, giving us a peek into daily 18th century life. Browsing the advertisements in the Harbottle Door Annotated Newspaper Collection reveals many examples of the ways 18th century women supported themselves, their families, and their community. While reading and sorting through clippings I noticed women earned money in roughly three ways: through entrepreneurship, wage work, or indenture.

While outnumbered by advertisements for male-operated businesses, it’s not uncommon to see women advertising their wares, often in their own shops!

Two clippings from the Boston Gazette and Country Journal showing advertisements placed by Rebeckah Walker and Mrs. Mecom for their businesses. Both advertisements include lists of available products.
Rebeckah Walker sells at “her Shop at the Bottom of Black-Horse Lane” a variety of imported seeds The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 8 March 1773, and Mrs. Mecom offers “Sundry Articles of Millenary” and “All sorts of Millenary Work done with Care and Expedition” The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 14 March 1774.

In her study of women’s labor in 18th century cities Karin Wulf found women were more likely to operate businesses relating to “domestic labor” like sewing or cooking. [3] Mrs. Mecom’s millenary business falls into this category. This is not to say that women were confined to gendered businesses—women like Rebeckah Walker operated all kinds of businesses in all kinds of fields. Neither were women limited to retail. Women frequently placed ads for their service-based businesses ranging from teaching to operating taverns and coffeehouses.

A clipping from the Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, where Abigail Stoneman “begs leave to acquaint the public…The Royal Exchange Tavern in King-Street, Boston, New-England, being now repaired and fitted for the Reception of Company, will be opened this day as a coffee-house by Abigail Stoneman from Rhode-Island.”
Abigail Stoneman reopens the Royal Exchange Tavern in King-Street as a coffee house. The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 10 December 1770.

Women most often came business after their husband’s death. Upon being widowed, if the husband’s estate was uncomplicated (which typically included those in the merchant class or lower) the sole ownership fell to their wife, who could then choose to carry on the business.[3]

A clipping the Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal. The advertisement reads “Hannah Watts, Widow of the late John Watts, Master, deceased, hereby informs the public that she carries on the said business as usual. Where all persons who send hams etc to smoke, may depend upon having the greatest care taken of them.
Hannah Watts, widow of John Watts, assures her customers she will carry on his business with the same care. The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 30 January 1775.

The second category of paid women’s work is wage work—what we would probably think of as regular employment or gig work, depending on the situation. Many but not all of these jobs also fell into domestic labor categories including household management, laundry, and wet nursing (which seems to be a whole separate industry![4]).

Three clippings from the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal of advertising four different jobs specifically requesting women. The first working in a tavern, the second and third as a wet nurse, and the fourth tending a shop.
Four separate advertisements from The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal (15 March 1773, 19 November 1770, 15 March 1773) advertising work for women in a tavern, wet nursing, and tending a shop. (Interesting to note the publishers Edes & Gill seem to be doing a lot of leg work facilitating advertisements. I imagine it gets busy in that print shop!)

The third category is by indenture, where women signed a contract and in exchange received wage, food, and lodging. While certainly not all rosy, Kent’s research on female domestic servants in 18th century London suggests some young single women preferred indentured contracts to other forms of wage earning. Women earned about 1/3 the amount a man would earn for day labor, and the pattern holds even when comparing skilled trades, like a mantua-maker (dressmaker) to a tailor (men’s suits and clothes). Non-indentured working women often barely made enough money to cover housing and meals. An indenture contract came with “diet and lodging” included, meaning indentures were one of the few ways women could earn disposable income.[1]

A clipping from the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. The advertisement reads “to be sold on board the sloop London Expedition, Nicholas Chevalier, Master, laying at Wibert’s Wharf, New-Boston. A Number of Indented [Indentured] Jersey Servants of both sexes: Likewise a quantity of cordage of all sorts, and hosiery.
“A number of Indented [Indentured] Jersey Servants of both Sexes” advertised for sale. The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 23 May 1774.

We can’t talk about the ways women provided for themselves without acknowledging the ways women were denied control of their own livelihood. You cannot look through an 18th century newspaper without directly confronting the flippancy of enslavement and the dehumanization of Black people, free and enslaved.

While beyond the scope of this blog post, I encourage you to learn more about enslavement in Boston by reading Dr. Jaime Crumley’s blog post on the enslaved parishioners of Old North and The City of Boston Archaeology Program’s “Boston Slavery” online exhibit. 

A clipping from the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. The advertisement reads “Wanted a maid and man servant. Negroes will do.”
Advertisements both selling and seeking enslaved people appear in almost every edition of 18th century Boston newspapers. While unclear if this ad is seeking enslaved workers or paid domestic workers, the advertiser’s racism is clear as day. The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 31 August 1772.

Married women, while part of a partnership, were still subject to the whims of their husbands.

Two clippings from the Boston Gazette and Country Journal. In the first Isaac Kingman “warn[s] all persons not to trust [his wife Ruth Kingman] on [his] account also to forbid all persons trading with her or purchasing any of my goods or chattels of her” in response to her “refus[ing] to remove and live with me as she ought to do.” In the second a husband forbids people from “trusting [his wife Sarah] on [his] account” as she “hath behaved in a vile manner, keeping company with wicked men.”
Husbands frequently placed advertisements asking for credit not to be lent to their wives, for reasons either vague or explicit. The Boston Evening-Post, 11 February 1771, The Boston Evening-Post, 27 August 1770.

While these ads paint a bleak picture, most of the time an 18th century husband was not the sole controller of the household, financially or otherwise. Karin Wulf calls the 18th century urban landscape one of financial “interdependence” rather than independence[3]. Both sides of the relationship entered a marriage with financial value, and both had to work to secure economic stability. Eliza Haywood wrote in 1743/44 London “You cannot expect to marry in such a Manner as neither of you shall have Occasion to work, and none but a Fool will take a Wife whose Bread must be earned solely by his Labour and who will contribute nothing towards herself.[4][1]”


[1] Kent, D. A. “Ubiquitous but Invisible: Female Domestic Servants in Mid-Eighteenth Century London.” History Workshop Autumn, 1989, no. 28 (1989): 111–28.

[2] Fitch, C., & Ruggles, S. (2000). “Historical Trends in Marriage Formation: Perspectives on Marriage and Cohabitation.” In L. Waite, C. Bachrach, M. Hindin, E. Thomson, & A. Thornton (Eds.), Ties that Bind: Perspectives on Marriage and Cohabitation (pp. 59-88). Aldine de Gruyter.

[3] Wulf, Karin. “Women’s Work in Colonial Philadelphia.” In Norton, Mary Beth., and Ruth M. Alexander (Eds). Major Problems in American Women’s History : Documents and Essays. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

[4] Shepard, Alexandra. “Working Mothers’ in Eighteenth-Century London”, History Workshop Journal, Volume 96, Autumn 2023, Pages 1–24, https://doi.org/10.1093/hwj/dbad008

The Case of the Redacted Husband

by Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

While processing the MHS collection of Huse family papers, the following letter caught my eye, for obvious reasons.

Color photograph of several black ink handwritten letters piled on top of each other. They have oval or rectangular ripped out sections, about the size of one word.
Letter from Elizabeth Sargent to Sarah Fuller, 30 May 1852

This letter was written by Elizabeth “Lizzie” (Fuller) Sargent to her mother Sarah Fuller. For some reason, everywhere Lizzie mentioned her husband Samuel, his name had been physically removed from the letter. “Hmm, that’s interesting,” I thought, and carried on processing. Then I noticed several more.

Color photograph of several black ink handwritten letters spread out in a messy layer. Each one has ovals or rectangles ripped out, the size of one word or one letter. The papers are folded, dirty, and discolored with age.
Letters from Elizabeth Sargent to Sarah Fuller, 1860

Something weird was definitely going on here. Nearly every letter from Lizzie to her mother got the same treatment. For example, “[?] sends his love with mine to you all”; “[?] has gone to meeting at the village this afternoon”; and “This is Saturday evening and [?] is oiling his harness and Sarah is rocking the cradle.” From context, it’s clearly her husband’s name that’s missing, and sometimes apparently just his initial!

I’ve occasionally seen words physically removed from letters, but only by a military censor or an aggressive autograph collector. This is obviously different. My first thought was that Samuel did something that landed him in the doghouse. It reminded me of cutting someone out of a photograph after a bad break-up. Had there been a divorce or separation?

Hoping to solve the mystery, I started researching the family, primarily using online genealogical resources. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find very much. Lizzie was born in 1827, the daughter of Sarah (née Austin) and Thomas Fuller, a Maine shoemaker. In 1849, she married Samuel Winthrop Sargent, who was twelve years her senior. They lived first in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and later in Searsport, Maine.

The Sargents appear to have been a typical 19th-century family. Samuel worked as both a brick mason and a farmer, while Lizzie stayed home with the children. Sadly, of their five children, only two—Sarah and George—survived to adulthood. On 1 July 1861, Lizzie wrote this passage after losing her third child.

It is with a sad and heavy heart that I write you, again. tears almost blind my eyes. Death has visited us once more, and taken our dear little Ella. she died this morning 25 minutes past 4. it seems as if I cannot be reconciled. O pray for me, that I may not lose my reason […] my home seems, desolate now.

As far as I can tell, Samuel and Lizzie never lived apart. He died in 1901, and she lived until 1903. They and several other relatives are buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Searsport.

The collection also contains correspondence from Lizzie’s brother and sister-in-law, Andrew and (yet another) Sarah. Their story is compelling. Andrew, feeling “discontented” and “miserable” and wanting a change, joined the California Gold Rush of 1849. During his absence, his wife was desolate: “There is an acheing void […] I wonder when I eat what he has got to eat and when I go to bed what he has got to sleep on.” Andrew apparently died out west sometime in 1851, but I couldn’t confirm the circumstances. His wife Sarah remarried a few years later—believe it or not, to a man named Samuel!

While I enjoyed learning these details about the family, in the end I found nothing that accounts for the redactions. I don’t even know who was responsible for them. Was it Lizzie? Her mother? Someone else entirely? Did they happen at the time or later? Muddying the waters more, in a few instances, the name of another person was also removed. Perhaps an archival colleague or intrepid researcher out there has seen this sort of thing?

Whatever the answer, these letters are a good example of manuscripts that are interesting not just for their content, but as historical artifacts in and of themselves.

Amelia Peabody

by Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

A recent researcher at the MHS told staff about an interesting page in one of Amelia Peabody’s (1890‒1984) volumes of photographs (yet to be digitized). The photos related to our excitement over the eclipse on 8 April 2024. Peabody’s images captured a viewing party for an eclipse on 8 June 1918, from Dover, New Hampshire. The pictures show several seated or standing white women holding viewers over their eyes. I was enchanted to see this scene from 106 years ago, and how it was much like our own viewing parties this early spring. I felt inspired to look up Amelia Peabody and discovered a fascinating person from Massachusetts history.

A collage of four, color photographs of four different black and white photographs, two side by side, two on top and two on bottom. From the top left, clockwise: A photograph of a black album page with four photographs on it, three are of the viewing party, one of a dark solar eclipse, there is white writing below the photographs. A photograph of the viewing party of six women mostly dressed in light colors, half are looking up to the sky either through viewers or a telescope, the other three are looking at each other or are turned away. A dark image with a small white flaring ring around a dark circle. A last picture of the viewing party, in this one all the women are holding viewers up to their eyes and are looking up at the sky.
Images from Amelia Peabody’s photograph collection. From top left clockwise: A photograph of a page from a photograph album with four photographs on it; women looking at the eclipse; the eclipse itself, and another of women looking at the eclipse.

Amelia Peabody was born to Frank Everett Peabody and Gertrude Bancroft Peabody (née Bayley) in 1890 and lived to be 93 years old. Her father was a partner at the brokerage firm Kidder, Peabody & Co. Her mother descended from Robert Gray, the American captain lauded as the first seaman to circumnavigate the globe and open trade with China. The family resided in a townhouse in Boston’s Back Bay and owned oceanfront property in Gloucester.

After her debut in 1909, Amelia studied sculpture at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts under Charles Grafly and became an accomplished sculptress. Her artworks have been displayed worldwide, from Paris to New York. Some of her work lives on in Massachusetts, notably at Mugar Hall, the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University.

A color photograph of a green metal statue. The statue is a figure of a woman holding a baby on her hip with one arm. She wears long billowy pants with six buttons at the top front and a striped, collared shirt, the stripes are textured. She is in a school building with tiled floors and plaques all around her, including above and behind her head which the viewer can see names the artist, Amelia Peabody, but it is too blurry to read the other words.
This statue was sculpted by Amelia Peabody and stands in Mugar Hall at Northeastern University in Back Bay, Boston. This photograph is courtesy ArtFan70 on Flickr.

Her father, Frank, died in 1918 after a brief illness. Her mother, Gertrude, then married a family friend, William Eaton. Because her older brother Everett Peabody died aged 15 in 1900, Amelia was the sole heir to her father’s fortune. She maintained her family home at 120 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, as well as Mill Farm, her residence in Dover, and Powisset Farm, also in Dover, with several other landholdings in that town.

As well as being an artist, Amelia was also a horsewoman, farmer, breeder, and philanthropist. Amelia had a wide range of interests and charitable causes, which included animal husbandry, the arts, veterans affairs, medicine, music, and scientific discovery. At her farms in Dover, she raised registered Hereford cattle, Yorkshire pigs, sheep, and thoroughbred horses. For many years, she was the chairman of the Arts and Skills Service of the American Red Cross, which promoted art therapy for wounded servicemen during World War II and continued to promote art therapy for hospital patients after the war.  She sat on the boards of various esteemed medical institutions in Boston. In her golden years, she volunteered at the front desk of the Massachusetts General Hospital. She supported a variety of engineering projects, including a solar home built on her Dover property and spearheaded by scientist and Hungarian immigrant Maria Telkes. She was a staunch advocate for education and scientific exploration and formed a strong relationship with the Museum of Science.

In 1942, Amelia put part of her fortune into what would become the Amelia Peabody Foundation upon her death. She died of natural causes in 1984, leaving the bulk of her vast estate to charity.

See Amelia Peabody’s photographs collection guide and papers collection guide online.

John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams: The Original Tortured Poets

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

With her 11th studio album, Taylor Swift introduced the world to her “Tortured Poets Department,” inducting like-minded artists to her fictional committee. After a week of assiduously studying the criteria, I have two new members to nominate. I hereby call this meeting to order.

I stand before my fellow members of the Tortured Poets Department with an application for two new members—John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams. I enter into evidence the following summary of my findings.

Louisa Catherine Adams. Oil by Charles Robert Leslie, 1816. Courtesy of Diplomatic Reception Rooms (Taylorized by the author)

Exhibit A: TorturedI love you. It’s ruining my life

That like the esteemed founder and chairwoman of the Department, Ms. Swift, Mrs. Adams found it difficult to balance her private life with her public demands.

In her Diary she wrote that it was “a very painful thing to me to be dragged into public notice, and made an object of debate in every company—but these are the penalties I must pay for being the Wife of a man . . . who by his real and extraordinary merits throws those who are more ambitious than himself into the shade.” (LCA, Diary, 21 Dec. 1819)

Her husband’s vocal political views on the gag rule and slavery alienated many of her loved ones in the South. “Every friend is turned into an enemy; and now the prospect terminates with the fear of losing the love, the friendship and the society of my own nearest and dearest connections.” (LCA, Diary, 21 Dec. 1835)

In private, she was tortured by the belief that her husband would have been better off married to someone else. “Few have laboured harder to correct the defects of their character than I have, or have studied their faults so keenly,” Mrs. Adams confided to her diary, “but there is a constitutional irritability about me of late years, trying to my friends and painful to myself, which is I know so disagreeable to all who live with me; it induces me to live much alone, that I may not burthen those, whose happiness I most desire in this life, and for whom I would willingly make any sacrifices to promote their welfare.”

Exhibit B: Poets
Straight from the Tortured Poets Department

That both Mrs. and Mr. Adams were lifelong poets. A catalog of their extant poetry is entered into evidence. “Could I have chosen my own Genius and Condition I should have made myself a great Poet,” John Quincy wrote on 16 Oct. 1816. “I have wasted much of my life in writing verses.”

John Quincy Adams. Oil by Pieter Van Huffel, 1815. Courtesy of the NPG. (Taylorized by the author)

Exhibit C: Independent Thinkers

I’ll tell you something about my good name
It’s mine alone to disgrace
I don’t cater to all these vipers

That like our esteemed chairwoman, Ms. Swift, Mr. Adams refused to be steered by the opinions of others or dominated by his reputation or the reputation of his illustrious father. As a young senator serving in the years immediately following his father’s loss to the new President Jefferson, John Quincy chose to follow his instinct rather than the party line of the Federalists who had supported his father.

On 20 Dec. 1803, Adams wrote to Joseph Hall, “When I accepted the station I hold, it was not with the expectation of giving satisfaction at all times to all my constituents.— I expected to be often censured & from various & opposite quarters.”

To his Diary, Adams declared, “I find myself of course in opposition to the federalists in general. . . . In this state of things my situation calls in a peculiar manner for prudence; my political prospects are declining, and as my term of Service draws near its close, I am constantly approaching to the certainty of being restored to the situation of a private citizen— For this Event however, I hope to have my mind sufficiently prepared— In the mean time I implore that Spirit from whom every good and perfect gift descends to enable me to render essential Service to my Country, and that I may never be governed in my public conduct by any consideration other than that of my duty.”

Exhibit D: Florida!!!
No one asks any questions here

That as Secretary of State, Adams negotiated the Adams-Onis (Transcontinental) Treaty, convincing Spain to relinquish Florida to the United States. Without this intervention, the chairwoman, Ms. Swift, would have nowhere to go when she “need[s] to forget” and to “bury” her “regrets.”

The above evidence is respectfully submitted to the Department.

Sincerely,

Gwen Fries

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding for the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary was provided by the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, with additional contributions by Harvard University Press and a number of private donors. The Mellon Foundation in partnership with the National Historical Publications and Records Commission also supports the project through funding for the Society’s digital publishing collaborative, the Primary Source Cooperative.

Letters from the Collections

By Hilde Perrin, Library Assistant

April is designated National Card and Letter Writing Month by the United States Postal Service, a month dedicated to the joy of writing and receiving correspondence. Here at the MHS, letters are in no short supply. With over 13 million documents in our collection, we have lots of correspondence ranging from famous figures like the Adams family to regular friends writing to friends. I asked a few of our library staff members to share some of the fun letters they have come across in our collections.

Library Assistant Grace Doeden chose a letter written by O.R. Howard Thompson to Ruby V. Elliot in 1917. Grace is currently working with the Ruby V. Elliot Bookplate collection, a compilation of bookplates that Elliot collected from friends and acquaintances. Thompson sent this letter to Elliot, along with his bookplate, joking that he did it because her brother told him to, stating that “I always do what I am told.” The bookplate that accompanies the letter features a cat lounging on an armchair, and a quote in German attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Sieh, das Gute liegt so nah” or “Look, the good lies so near.”

Left: Letter written by O.R. Howard Thompson to Ruby V. Elliot, 26 February 1917, Ruby V. Elliot Bookplate collection. Right: Bookplate of O.R. Howard Thompson, Ruby V. Elliot Bookplate collection.

Associate Reference Librarian for Rights and Reproductions Hannah Elder picked a rather endearing letter, written by a child named Freddy. Here’s what she has to say about it:

“I first came across this letter while making reproductions from the Horatio R. Storrer papers [hyperlink: https://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0001] a few years ago. I snapped a quick picture of it with my phone and have been enchanted ever since. It is a birthday greeting written to “Carrie Gilmore,” Caroline Augusta Gilmore, by an unidentified child (“Freddy”) at an unknown date. We so rarely see the letters of children and this one is so very sweet. It’s fun to see Freddy’s emerging handwriting – note that he puts serifs on almost all of his letters. I especially love the stick figure drawn on the back of the letter. Is it a snowman? A dapper gentleman? Only Freddy knows.”

Transcription: Dear Carry

I want to see you very much. I hope you will come home soon.

Charles has given me a ship, it is very pretty. Much love & a happi birthday. Freddy

Letter from Freddy to Carrie Gilmore, Horatio R. Storrer papers

The letter I chose for this spotlight is a postcard from the Charles Cornish Pearson papers. Pearson served in France during World War I, and the majority of the collection is made up of the letters he wrote home to his family. While he wrote page-length letters to his parents and siblings, he often opted to send short postcard messages to his aunt, Florence Pearson. Not only do these postcards contain short messages of what he had been up to, they also feature fun images of the places Pearson was visiting during his time in France. This missive was written while visiting Paris and features an image of the tomb of Napoleon, with the caption explaining his impression of Paris. He writes:

“Just a line from gay
Paris. Some town &
mighty glad to get a
chance to visit it.
Some wonderful sights &
all quite different from
everything in the States.
C.C.P”

Postcard from Charles Cornish Pearson to Florence Pearson 10 August 1918, Charles Cornish Pearson papers

Take inspiration from the letters in the MHS collection in this final week of National Card and Letter Writing Month to send your own letters and postcards. You never know, they might end up in an archive!

“Unto the Least of These”: Animal Welfare in the 1930s

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist 

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) was founded in March 1868 by George Thorndike Angell. (You might recognize his name from the Angell Animal Medical Center.) That same year, he and his prominent backer Emily (Warren) Appleton were instrumental in getting the first anti-animal cruelty law passed in Massachusetts.

The MHS holds a number of printed items related to the MSPCA, but today I’d like to focus on a small manuscript volume we acquired a few years ago: the records of the Winchester (Mass.) Women’s Auxiliary of the MSPCA. What’s interesting about this volume is how we can see the mission of the state organization applied to local issues.

Records of the Winchester Women’s Auxiliary, MSPCA

The Winchester Auxiliary was founded in 1931, and these records document its first seven-plus years. The organization’s work consisted of fundraising via fairs, food sales, and other events; support for animal facilities and services; education on the humane treatment of animals, including Be Kind to Animals Week every spring; and lobbying for animal-friendly legislation.

Most meetings were held at the home of Marion Munroe (Rice) Taylor, the group’s founder and president, at 137 Mount Vernon Street. Her sister Carolyn B. Rice served on the Work Committee. Sometimes there were guest speakers, among them Edith Washburn Clarke and Francis H. Rowley, and members routinely spent time during meetings preparing surgical dressings for veterinary hospitals.

Local concerns addressed by the group included: the lack of an animal clinic or qualified veterinarian in town, conditions at the dog pound, and the summer watering of horses. One member successfully appealed to Eugenia Parker, scion of the wealthy Parker family of Winchester, to allow drivers to water their horses on her property at 60 Lloyd Street during the hot summer months.

Speaking of horses, the auxiliary also participated in the annual MSPCA Horses’ Christmas. Every holiday season, the MSPCA collected and distributed free food to working horses in Boston. One year, Winchester residents donated “fifteen and a half bushels of grain, about four bushels of carrots, several pounds of loaf sugar and many bags, large and small, of apples.” As the secretary wrote, “although the number of horses in the State is now so much smaller than before the days of the automobile, the records show that of the cases of cruelty handled by the Society in the past three months, 50% were for cruelty to horses.”

The organization also advocated for legislation that ran the gamut, from laws against steel traps, animal experimentation, and exploitative and abusive roadside zoos and pet shows, to the protection of coastal waterfowl from pollution by oil-burning ships. In particular, the auxiliary fought for a ban on “setting up” horses’ tails, a practice which, as expert Sandra Tozzini explains, included removing or cutting bones, muscles, or tendons for purely cosmetic purposes.

I was impressed with the initiative and the ingenuity of these women and the variety of their activities. Wherever they saw a need, they took action. At the end of one meeting, the chairperson quoted from Matthew 25:40: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.”

As word got out, membership in and donations to the group increased. Marion Taylor became the go-to person for complaints about animal abuse or neglect in Winchester. She offered advice, referred matters to the authorities, and even took animals into her home. In one ten-month period, she “personally cared for 78 cats, 4 pigeons, 5 baby squirrels, 2 baby owls, and 9 dogs.”

Mrs. Taylor wasn’t the only person celebrated by the Women’s Auxiliary. Also recognized were “the brave Winchester girl, Miss Dorothy Goodhue, who jumped into the icy water of the Aberjona River to save her dog,” as well as “the lineman who, while working recently in Winthrop, rescued two tiny puppies from an ashcan where they had been abandoned.”