Remarkable Women in MHS Collections

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist 

I’d like to use the blog today to highlight two manuscript collections that recently crossed my desk, collections that document the work of two very impressive and accomplished women.

The first is the papers of social workers Dina D’Alto Malgeri and Francesco P. Malgeri. During the early and mid-twentieth century, the Malgeris, both immigrants from Italy, devoted themselves to the Italian immigrant communities in their adopted homes of Boston and Chicago. The collection consists mostly of papers of Dina Malgeri, who survived her husband by 49 years.

Image of a yellowed newspaper clipping. There a large text title at the top with two columns of text and an image of the upper body of a woman in an oval. The woman has dark hair, and is wearing a large necklace and a collared top.
Clipping from vol. 2 (image 57), Dina D’Alto Malgeri and Francesco P. Malgeri papers, 30 April 1937

Dina Malgeri worked tirelessly to help immigrants access educational and employment opportunities, government and medical assistance, and recreational activities. She taught English, Italian, and citizenship classes; organized clubs for children and adults; translated and interpreted; led cultural tours and outings; delivered lectures; and even wrote and directed plays. It seems wherever she saw a need, she stepped up.

One of the nice things about the Malgeri papers is that the MHS’s crack digital team has digitized the collection in its entirety, and you can access these images through our collection guide. There you’ll find papers of many of the associations with which Dina was affiliated, as well as papers documenting her efforts to help individuals arrange medical care, straighten out legal matters, and become U.S. citizens.

Literally the same day I cataloged the Malgeri papers, I also cataloged the papers of M. Virginia Morrissey McDermott of Medford, Mass., a women described in her obituary as “a pioneering lawyer, businesswoman and activist for women’s equality.” After graduating second in her high school class, McDermott told her parents she wanted to attend law school. As she described in a 2007 newspaper article, “My father stared out the window for 10 minutes. Then he said, ‘Well, if you want to, I think you have the brains. Go do it.’” In 1939, she proved him right by graduating second in her class again from Portia Law School, now the New England School of Law.

McDermott was the first female secretary of the Newspaper Guild union, treasurer and president of the Newman Club, president of the Massachusetts Federation of Business and Professional Women, nominating committee chair for the National Foundation of Business and Professional Women, member of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, and Boston’s Woman of the Year. And this is only a partial list. She not only achieved personal success, but devoted her professional life to boosting other women. She fought for the Equal Rights Amendment and was still working as a lawyer in her nineties.

When asked why she didn’t marry until the age of 50, she explained,. “I was just too busy doing everything else to think about it.”

Her papers at the MHS consist mostly of printed matter related to her professional activities. However, the collection ended up having an unexpected personal connection to yours truly. Leafing through miscellaneous clippings from the 1950s and ‘60s, I noticed one in particular that made me stop.

Image of a yellowed newspaper clipping showing a picture of three women with a text caption. The women are positioned side by side. The person in the middle holds a piece of paper and the women on the sides look down at it.
Clipping from the M. Virginia Morrissey McDermott papers, [January 1953]

The woman in the middle is Virginia McDermott. The woman on the left is my great-aunt Beatrice Corliss!

“A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March”

By Emily Petermann, Library Assistant

If your name is Gaius Julius Caesar (and it’s 44 BC…and you’re the tyrant of Rome) you may want to stay home today. For everyone else—are you ready for the Ides of March?

The Ides is the 13th or 15th day of the month in the Roman calendar. It is the third of three named days in the Roman month: the first is the kalends, or first of each month, and the second is the nones, the 5th or 7th day of each month. The Ides of March is a particularly famous Ides—it’s the day the tyrant died. On thisday in 44 BC Julius Caesar was assassinated by 22 Roman senators. You may know his final words—according to Shakespeare—as “et tu, Brute?” or “and you, Brutus?”

To celebrate this year’s Ides, I decided to look through our holdings for Caesar and for Latin related items.

The first item that drew my attention was this 1826 volume of Shakespeare’s Works, which has some beautiful engravings. The engraving pictured below appears at the beginning of the play Julius Caesar and depicts that fateful Ides in 44 BC.

Image of a page from a book. There is a name at the top of the page and text at the bottom. In the middle is a black and white image of several standing male figures and one person lying on the ground.
The grisly final moments of Caesar, taken from this 1826 edition of “The dramatic works of William Shakespeare,” published by C. Whittingham. This volume is from our Dowse Library, which you can read more about here!

We also hold quite a few non-Shakespearean works related to Julius Caesar. The most relevant is written by Caesar himself: the MHS holds a few editions of his work Hoc uolumine continentur haec. [C. Iulij Caesaris] Commentariorum de bello Gallico...”  The title translates to “These chapters contain G. Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War…” This volume is Caesar’s account of multiple wars that he was involved in, with the most famous being the Gallic War.

Color image of a book spine and the hand holding it. There are book shelves in the background.
A small edition of Caesar’s “Commentaries,” published by the Aldine Press in 1519. This book is the perfect size to hold in your hand!

Pictured above is an edition of Caesar’s work published by the Aldine Press, a company started by Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer responsible for creating the italic typeface. Manutius also notably put out small and affordable editions of Latin and Greek texts, like our copy of Caesar’s work, which is the perfect size to hold in your hand.[i] Open this copy of “Commentariorum de bello Gallico…” and you can use the map of part of Western Europe to follow Caesar’s campaign through Gaul as you read!  

Image of a book open to a map that spans both pages.
A map of ‘Gaul’ printed in 1519.

We also hold quite a few (55!) Latin primers and readers: books intended to teach Latin to students. Quite a few of them claim to teach in new and innovative ways. I’ve taken several years of Latin, so I’m always looking for “new” ways to learn the language. My favorite of the primers is titled “A Demonstration How the Latine Tongue May be Learnt With Far Greater Ease and speed then Commonly It Is.” This primer was published in London in 1669 by Arthur Brett. Brett begins his primer with a complaint that the “older” ways of teaching Latin negatively affected student’s health. He said of the old way: “Least pouring on hard Rules should crack their brains, impair their health, and make them to nauseate all kind of knowledg[sic].”

Image showing two pages of a pamphlet. Text fills both pages.
Pages 2 and 3 of Brett’s 6—page pamphlet on the ‘best’ way to learn Latin.

To the modern eye, Brett’s Latin is also likely to crack our brains – he expected students to know to write “What wouldst thou have” (“What would you like?” in 17th century English) as “Nihil moror quid objicis,” instead of the apparently obviously incorrect “Quid tibi vis?” (which he translates as “What wilt thou to thee?”) It took me a few passes to figure this sentence out, thanks to 354 years of language changing- I’m glad I wasn’t learning Latin from Mr. Brett!

Finally, I thought I would look for some familiar Latin phrases-like “et tu, Brute?”- in the collection. I was excited to find  a volume titled, “Adagiorum chiliades Desby Erasumes Desiderius, which contains Latin adages and explanations for those adages broken down by the century they were common in.

Image of a hand pulling an old book from a shelf. There are two similar books to the right.
The “Adiagorium” is a large volume, sitting on the shelf. Unlike Caesar’s “Commentarium” this is a two-handed sort of book

One of my favorites from this collection is “Elephantum ex musca facis” or “you are making an elephant out of a fly.” This adage sounds a lot like our contemporary phrase, “you’re making a mountain out of a molehill!”

If you’re not supposed to stay inside today (looking at you, Caesar), consider visiting the Reading Room to check out some of our materials on Caesar and the Latin language. You can find out more about visiting the Reading Room here, and can request an appointment here.

[i] Kuiper, Kathleen, “Aldus Manutius” in Encyclopedia Brittanica, updated Feb. 2, 2023.

A Keen Eye Towards Literary Figures: Annie Adams Fields and Her Descriptions of Authors – Part 1

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

Annie Adams Fields (1834‒1915) was an author and social reformer who made her home at 148 Charles Street the center of literary Boston. Her circle of friends included authors published by her husband, James T. Fields, of Ticknor & Fields, as well as European writers visiting Boston. The MHS holds Annie Fields correspondence, travel and other diaries, translations, and a scrapbook on Charles Dickens.  

Image of a black and white photograph surrounded by a gold frame. The woman's back is toward the viewer and she has her head turned in profile. She has dark hair that is pulled back and is wearing a lace collar and a dark dress.
Annie Fields, 1853, the year before she married to James T. Fields. Daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes.

Fields made a number of literary friends during her travels in Europe, 1859‒1860, and these writers later came to her salon in Boston along with New England and other US authors. What makes these friendships of particular interest today are Fields’s descriptions of the writers, penned with a keen eye. For example, she hosted a dinner on 21 November 1867, that included Charles Dickens. Afterward, she wrote about Dickens in her diary:

“Dickens bubbled over with fun & I could not help fancying that Holmes bored him a little by talking at him. I was sorry for this because Holmes is so simple and lovely but Dickens is sensitive, very. He is fond of Carlyle, seems to love nobody better and gave the most irresistible imitation of him. His queer terms of expression often convulsed us with laughter and yet it is difficult to catch them as when in speaking of the writer of books always putting himself, his real self in ‘which is always the case,’ he said ‘but you must be careful of not taking him for his next door neighbor.’”

Many visitors found Fields to be a sympathetic listener and confided in her, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne. After his visit with Fields on 6 December 1863, following a funeral, she wrote this passage about him:

“As the sunset deepened Mr Hawthorne talked of his early life. His grandfather bought a township in Maine and at the early age of eleven years he accompanied his mother and sister down there to live upon the land. From that moment the happiest period of his life began and lasted until he was thirteen when he was sent to school in Salem. While in Maine he lived like a bird of the air so perfect was the freedom he enjoyed. During the moonlight nights of winter he would skate until midnight alone upon the icy face of Sebago Lake with all its ineffable beauty stretched before him and the deep shadows of the hills on either hand…. All the long summer days he roamed at will, gun in hand through the woods and there he learned a nearness to Nature and a love for free life which has never left him and made all other existence in a measure insupportable. His suffering began with that Salem school and his knowledge of his relatives who were all distasteful to him. He said, how sad middle life looks to people of erratic temperaments. Everything is beautiful in youth—all things are allowed to it.”

Fields also observed Hawthorne on his way to the funeral on 4 December 1863, and wrote, “He says in it ‘pleasure is only pain greatly exaggerated’ which is queer to say the least if not untrue. I think it must be differently stated from this. He was as courteous and as grand as ever—and as true. He does not lose that all saddening smile, either.” This last sentence leads the reader to surmise that Hawthorne always had a “saddening smile.”

The descriptions Fields wrote about her literary friends were used by her husband to create essays on Hawthorne and Dickens, published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1871 and in his book Yesterdays with Authors in 1872.

You can read Fields’s transcribed diaries in the online edition of The Brownings’ Correspondence.

Wompatuck’s Lease: Tribute, Tobacco, and Land in Colonial Massachusetts

By Nathan Braccio, Assistant Professor, Lesley University

“A pound of Tobacco yearly to be paid.” Starting in 1657, for the next one-hundred years, this is what Richard Thayer and his heirs owed the Massachusetts sachem, Josiah Wompatuck. The payment was due on “the first or second day of the first month.” 

Image of six lines of handwritten text on sepia-toned paper.
JosiahWompatuck, Thomas Thayer, [Lease of Land to Richard Thayer], 1657, A.E. Roth Collection, MHS. The deed was likely written by Thomas Thayer or John Niles, who signed it. 

These lines were neatly written within a 1657 “deed,” now part of the A.E. Roth Collection of the MHS. Strikingly, Wompatuck was not selling land, but leasing it to Thayer with a number of stipulations. While stories, many true, often present manipulative colonists as cheating Indigenous people out of their land, Wompatuck was no naive negotiator and this was not his first land deal. 

Image of a sepia-toned page of handwritten text.
JosiahWompatuck, Thomas Thayer, [Lease of Land to Richard Thayer], 1657, A.E. Roth Collection, MHS. While this is a clerical copy of the original deed, it contains reference to some of the history of the document. This includes a “confirmation of this my lease” by Wompatuck and his “wise men.”

Josiah Wompatuck was a sachem (leader) of the Massachusetts people. Like his predecessor Chickabut, he was an ally of the colonists and over his life gradually sold settlement rights to colonists in the area that today makes up metropolitan Boston. Today, a state park in Hingham bears his name. A man who lived within twenty miles of the heart of the English colony of Massachusetts Bay for the majority of his life and regularly negotiated with the settlers was not likely to be duped by their machinations to seize land. 

Instead, in this deed and others, Wompatuck carefully worked to ensure that the document reflected a negotiation between aggressive colonial demands and the interests of his community and himself. Here, while Wompatuck did ultimately provide the colonists the land they sought for farming and settlement, he ensured that Richard Thayer produced a document acknowledging Wompatuck as his “land lord.” If Thayer, or his heirs, ever failed to pay, the lease would be “void and of none Effect.” This document, combined with the payment, created an unambiguous record of Wompatuck’s retention of political authority over the land. Sachems in New England had an established practice of collecting tribute from their people in exchange for rights to farm or hunt on land. The tribute was generally paid annually, and often in deer skins. This established a reciprocal relationship between sachem and subject, reflecting the authority of the sachem. While not paying in deer skins, Thayer’s payment of tobacco fits into this Algonquian practice of tribute. Ultimately then, Thayer in this “deed” became a subject of the sachem Wompatuck and his heirs. In Algonquain political culture, Thayer’s ability to occupy the land relied on the continuation of Wompatuck’s sovereignty.

This is not to say that Wompatuck, like so many other skilled New England Indigenous leaders, was not a victim of colonial chicanery. Both during and after his life, colonists over decades slowly and steadily took land, reneging on agreements across New England when it suited them. Still, Wompatuck and other sachems creatively resisted and found ways to navigate a rapidly changing world. Wompatuck not only convinced colonists to acknowledge his rights in English documents, he made agreements with the English that benefited his community. For example, in the 1630s, he and his predecessors established an alliance with Massachusetts Bay in a long-running struggle with Narragansett sachems. Wompatuck’s deed stands as a testament to the persistent authority and importance of Indigenous leadership in 17th century New England.

The Backbone of the Collection: Bindings, spines, and wastepaper

By Klara Pokrzywa, Library Assistant

Like probably pretty much anyone that works in an archives, I love looking at old books and their lovely bindings! We have plenty of pristine old bindings here at the MHS – but just as interesting are the bindings in various states of wear and tear. Today I wanted to take a look at some books that are showing their age in one particular way: exposed wastepaper bindings.

An image of four old books on a shelf. The spine of one book has peeled away to reveal a binding lined with printed paper.
This book spine is starting to disintegrate, exposing the printed material originally used to reinforce the binding.

Wastepaper has been used in book bindings for centuries – essentially, it’s the practice of using scraps of used paper to reinforce or mend the bindings of newer texts. Most of the scholarly work on wastepaper bindings deals with fragments of medieval manuscripts, which are hand-scribed and generally produced on parchment. Atlas Obscura has a fascinating article on how researchers try to identify and reconstruct manuscripts found in the bindings of other texts. And if you’re interested in seeing some examples of what it looks like when a beautifully decorated manuscript is used as a binding, Princeton Libraries has a blog post with some very cool pictures. Finding a fragment of a medieval manuscript is a pretty big discovery, however, and it’s much more common for bindings to be reinforced with more modern printed paper. That doesn’t mean that these printed materials aren’t interesting!

An image of a book spine covered with cracked paper printed with English language text.
The spine binding has peeled off entirely on this book, fully exposing the page of text used to bind it. Note the title at the top and footnotes near the bottom!

Our copy of Volume 1 from The works of John Adams, written by his grandson Charles Francis Adams, is one such example of printed wastepaper. The series was published between 1850-1856. As you can see above, under the leather of the binding, there are scraps of printed English language text on paper. If you look closely, you can see that this paper is actually a page from another book, complete with footnotes at the bottom.

This one is interesting because only the first volume in this series has the binding paper exposed. Perhaps the first volume was bound less securely than the rest, or perhaps it saw more use over the years than the later volumes! If the spines on the other volumes ever disintegrate (which they hopefully won’t!), it would be interesting to see if they were all bound in paper from the same source.

It’s frequently difficult to read binding fragments, because the narrow strips of paper mean you only ever get a few consecutive words, and never a full sentence. In this volume especially, the binding paper has separated out into even narrower little scraps, which makes it even harder! From what I can tell, the binding here looks as though it’s a history text – I think the text at the top where the title of a book or chapter would be says “American Evolution,” and some of the body text talks about food, turkeys, and agriculture.

An image of a book spine covered with a strip of paper printed with German words in a gothic font
The exposed spine of our copy of Platonis dialogi is bound with the margins of a page from another book in German

This next book has only the edge of a page in its binding. There’s enough complete words to determine that it’s a German language text, which makes sense, seeing as this copy of Platonis dialogi : Graece et Latine (Platonic dialogues in side-by-side Greek and Latin) was published by the Berlin publisher Bekkeri. It dates a little earlier than the Adams text, likely between 1816-1818. Let’s take another view of the binding:

An image with a different perspective of the same book spine
Another view of the spine

I love the slightly Gothic font! There are also a few numbers in this text, which look as though they might be dates, although they don’t correspond with the dates of publication. I can’t read German, so it’s difficult for me to tell anything further than this – although I think one of the words I managed to identify was “murden,” German for “murder,” which piqued my curiosity. If anyone can make more sense of this, let me know!

A book spine with an exposed binding covered in a strip of newspaper advertising.
Read about American commerce and find a solution for chapping, chafing, and itching all in one place!

The last binding I want to talk about is from a book called A statistical view of the commerce of the United States of America : its connection with agriculture and manufactures; and an account of the public debt, revenues, and expenditures of the United States, by Timothy Pitkin. This was published in New York in 1817; I took a look inside while photographing it, and to be honest, it’s kind of slow reading! But the contrast between the very dry text of the actual volume and the commercial, upbeat tone of the binding is a little amusing to me, because as you can see, it’s bound with an advertisement for dandruff products.

These bindings are interesting because of the contrasts they occasionally draw with the content of the volumes they hold together, as with the Pitkin tome here, but also because it can tell us about what publishers did and didn’t value – these aren’t called wastepaper bindings for nothing! And while perhaps it isn’t particularly surprising that an old newspaper advertisement for dandruff cream was seen as waste, there’s also a tension here: it’s precisely because these scraps of paper were designated as disposable that they have survived.

“Liberty for Each, for All and Forever”

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

The Guardian, “America’s greatest race journal,” was a Black-owned newspaper published in Boston. The paper was founded in 1901 by businessman William Monroe Trotter and librarian George Washington Forbes. The MHS collection of Garrison family papers includes one full issue of The Guardian, dated 16 December 1905, the bulk of which is dedicated to commemorating abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison on the centennial of his birth. It’s also a fascinating snapshot of Black activism during the Jim Crow era.

Image of a page from a newspaper with the title at the top followed by a block of text spanning the page. Following the block of text, the rest of the page has images of people interspersed with text.
The Guardian newspaper, 16 Dec. 1905
Black and white image of a man's head and shoulders. It is a 3/4 view. The man has short hair and a moustache and is wearing a jacket and tie.
William Monroe Trotter, co-founder of The Guardian

The Guardian offices were located first on Tremont Row, but in 1907 moved to 21 Cornhill Street, the same office from which Garrison had published his famous Liberator. Trotter idolized the abolitionist, and that certainly comes through in his flowery prose. The masthead even features a Garrison quote: “Liberty for Each, for All and Forever.” But Trotter also didn’t pull punches when it came to those he opposed: segregationists and white supremacists, of course, but also Black accommodationists like Booker T. Washington.

On the 10th and 11th of December 1905, citizens of Boston paid tribute to Garrison with ceremonies, prayers, and concerts. This 12-page issue of The Guardian includes details of these events, transcriptions of speeches, and photographs of a number of the participants. I’d like to highlight a few of them here, but I encourage you to click on this link to see the whole issue, which includes about 40 more and has been beautifully reproduced by the MHS digital team.

Black and white image of a woman's head and shoulders. She has dark hair.
Pauline Hopkins, page 1

Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859-1930) was an author, editor, and lecturer whose ancestors fought at Bunker Hill. When she spoke at Faneuil Hall, she declared, “I am a daughter of the Revolution, you do not acknowledge black daughters of the Revolution but we are going to take that right.”

Black and white image of a man with short, dark hair and a moustache. He is wearing a jacket and tie.
Clement G. Morgan, page 4

Attorney Clement Garnett Morgan (1859-1929) was the first African American to receive both an A.B. and an LL.B. from Harvard. The list of his academic honors and achievements could fill up a blog post of its own! At a speech in 1890, he declared, “I am glad to be a Negro […] I mean to be a Negro. On the bottom of my heart is written Negro.”

Black and white image of the head and shoulders of a woman. Her hair is styled in an up do with a large curl in the center of her forehead.
Nellie B. Mitchell, page 8

Nellie Brown Mitchell (1845-1924) was a classically trained singer and voice teacher who performed throughout New England, including at both Black and white churches, as well as the west and south. She performed at Garrison’s funeral in 1879 and at the centennial.

Black and white image of a man's head and shoulders. He has dark hair and is wearing a jacket and bow tie.
J. Nathaniel Butler, page 8

J. Nathaniel Butler had worked with William Lloyd Garrison at the Liberator. He is described as “venerable” and “aged” in 1905, so he was probably the same man who had assisted at an attempted rescue of freedom seeker Anthony Burns 51 years before.

Other photographs in the paper depict clergy, artists, military men, individuals affiliated with the Niagara Movement, and many more. Among them are Mark R. DeMortie, Wesley J. Furlong, Eliza Gardner, Byron L. Gunner, Martin L. Harvey, Reverdy C. Ransom, William L. Reed, William H. Richardson, Hannah C. Smith, and John J. Smith.

Francis Jackson Garrison (1848-1915), the youngest child of William Lloyd Garrison, delivered a rousing speech that tied racism to other societal harms, including sexism, xenophobia, imperialism, and political corruption. If his father were still alive, he said, he would not only see the wholesale disenfranchisement of African Americans, but also…

He would find Negroes excluded from juries, from all town, city and state governing bodies, denied legal intermarriage with whites, restricted to Negro galleries in the theatres and Negro cars on the trains, subjected to excessive penalties for violations of law […] He would find women denied their full political rights in all but four states of the Union, and the Chinese […] still excluded as outcasts. He would view with amazement the spectacle of the United States seizing distant lands, slaughtering their people by tens of thousands, and establishing colonial government.

For a detailed blow-by-blow of the commemorations that took place on 10-11 December 1905, see The Celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of William Lloyd Garrison, published the following year.

Apart from Garrison-related material, this issue of The Guardian contains several other items of interest. For example, multiple articles relate to the resignation of John Gordon as president of Howard University. Under Gordon’s leadership, the curriculum of the school had been changed to one focusing more on “industrial education.” Students considered this change an insult to their academic abilities and protested, eventually forcing Gordon out. One protest involved as many as 400 students.

Another article rails against a vagrancy law in Macon, Ga. that would allow police to arrest any Black person they deemed to be “loitering” or “idle.” According to the article’s author, some Black men had achieved a level of relative comfort that enabled their wives not to work. Chief Conner of Macon, to help the “suffering [white] housewives […] issued orders for all idle Negro women to be rounded up, and unless they can show that they have employment they will be sent to the chain-gang, there to cook without pay and clothed in stripes.”

Finally, I’ll draw your attention to this eye-popping headline: “Negro Has Legal Rights. Court Rules He Is Entitled to Protection Under Law Against Lynching—Great Decision.” This brief bulletin refers to the case of Thomas M. Riggins v. United States. Riggins had participated in the lynching of a Black man named Horace Maples, but argued that he had committed no crime because the protections afforded by the Constitution simply did not extend to African Americans. The Supreme Court ruled against him.

The Guardian closed up shop in either 1955 or 1960 (sources differ). I hope you’ll take some time to read through this fascinating newspaper or visit the MHS to check out the rest of the Garrison family papers.

An American Prince in London: John Quincy Adams Meets Prince Saunders

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

Prince Saunders (or Sanders, c. 1775–1839) was an author, educator, and statesman whose work took him to Britain and Haiti. Saunders spent his early life as a teacher in New England. His words and influence provided the necessary funds to build the Abiel Smith School, the oldest public school in the United States built for the sole purpose of educating African American children and now the Boston location of the Museum of African American History.

In 1815, Saunders and Baptist minister Thomas Paul sailed for London to meet with abolitionists William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson. While on board, Saunders befriended two young men—14-year-old George Washington Adams and 11-year-old John Adams II, the two elder sons of the U.S. minister to Britain, John Quincy Adams.

A week after their arrival in London, Saunders visited his young friends. “Mr Saunders, a black man, who has been some years a Schoolmaster at Boston, and who came from America in the same vessel with my sons, called and paid me a visit this morning,” John Quincy Adams recorded in his diary on 2 June 1815.

Black and white image. Portrait of a Black man. His left arm is resting on some books on a table and his hand is resting against his face.
Prince Saunders, from the “Haytian Papers”

Saunders became a frequent visitor to the Adams home throughout the following years. He regularly took the boys to church with him, and they passed intellectually inspiring evenings at his lodgings. A teacher to his marrow, Saunders took the boys—including seven-year-old Charles Francis Adams—along on many educational field trips, including to the Foundling Hospital in London and to Lt. John Clarkson’s estate in Purfleet for a meeting of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. On 22 July 1815, John Quincy Adams recorded, “Mr Sanders came back with our three boys, very much gratified with their visit to Mr John Clarkson at Purfleet— Mr Sanders dined with us.”

Saunders often stayed for dinner, deepening his relationship with John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams. On 26 July 1815, Saunders came to the Adams residence in Ealing to speak to John Quincy Adams. He “asked my opinion, and advice, about his project of going to St: Domingo— The primary object is to introduce the systems of schooling according to the plans of Bell and Lancaster, into that Island— Petion has sent over here to request that some person should be sent out to his part of the Country, for that purpose— Christophe, is represented, as equally earnest for the establishment of schools within his territory.”

Adams refrained from advising Saunders, perhaps not wanting to influence any international schemes in the name of the United States government. Nevertheless, Saunders continued to socialize with the family.

On 17 April 1816, Prince Saunders took a walk with John Quincy. “I had much Conversation with him upon the subject of his visit to Hayti, as he calls it, or St: Domingo, and found he was in the highest degree delighted with his new connection there, with king Henry (Christophe) of whom he spoke in high terms of praise and admiration; but he was very reserved, with me, in speaking of his own present Mission, and of his future views.”

George, John, and Charles spent the next few days in London with Saunders. On 20 April 1816 they returned home “much gratified with their visit.” John Quincy noted that, “Mr Sanders has been much more communicative with them about his Mission to Hayti, than he was to me. He is to be ordained a Priest of the Church of England; and then to be consecrated a Bishop of Hayti, according to the rites of the Church of England. He is also to be made Duke of Cape Henry.”

Image of a painting in a gold frame. The painting depicts a Black man dressed in a black and red Court dress of Haiti.
William Armfield Hobday, Portrait of Prince Saunders, c. 1815, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Saunders had an incredible talent for bringing together luminaries—aristocrats, abolitionists, authors, botanists, chemists, generals, politicians, professors, patrons, artists, editors, and musicians. John Quincy and Louisa Catherine were invited to several soirees at Saunders’s home on Everett Street. On 27 July 1816, the Adamses encountered “a Portrait of Mr Sanders, in a splendid fancy dress, or the Court dress of the kingdom of Hayti, hung up over the Sopha. It had been brought home from the Painters while we were at dinner.” Adams recorded in his diary that “Mr Sanders is to embark for Hayti the tenth of next Month; but is to return here again next Winter.”

Adams gave his final mention of Saunders on 13 October 1818: “On returning to my lodgings I found there Mr Prince Sanders the black man; who has returned from his establishments in the kingdom of king Henry of Haÿti. I asked him if he intended to return thither, to which he did not think proper to give a direct answer. . . . He appeared to be labouring however with the project of colonizing Hayti from the free people of colour in the United States. He admitted that the Government of King Henry was of rather an arbitrary character, and in respect to personal liberty and security was susceptible of some improvements. He spoke however very guardedly and with great reserve. I gave him my opinion of king Henry’s government very freely. Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the hour for my departure—”

John Quincy, Louisa, and their sons were leaving to return to the United States so that Adams could take up his appointment as Secretary of State. That interrupted conversation was to be their last. Prince Saunders spent the rest of his life traveling between England and Haiti, dying in Port-au-Prince in 1839.

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.

The 19th-Century Creation of Spectacle: Part I

By Evan McDonagh, Library Assistant

In 1889, visitors to the present location of the MHS would find themselves confronted by a most unusual sight: a fairground adorned in towering white tents and colorful flags. A decade before the Society came to 1154 Boylston Street, this corner of the Fenway neighborhood of Boston hosted Phineas Taylor Barnum’s Circus. Barnum entertained his audiences with the absurd and created spectacle out of the strange.

Framed painting showing a large white tent with flags and a brick building to the right.
Painting by Walter Gilman Page of P. T. Barnum’s Circus along Parker Street, 1889

For 19th-century Bostonians, the circus represented just one means of finding entertainment in spectacle. Anything outside the norms of American life – particularly people, animals, and objects that did not conform to notions of Western civilization and classification – could be exoticized and transformed into an exhibit. In the 1800s, naturalists toured the United States and charged Americans to view their curiosities and collections. The below broadside, saved by Boston resident Ezra S. Gannett in his 1845 diary, announced the presentation of a mastodon skeleton (“the antediluvian monster!”) by “an eminent Naturalist and Physician of [Boston]” for citywide enjoyment.

Broadside announcing the presentation of a complete mastodon skeleton in Boston, 1845

Naturalists and archaeologists similarly exhibited artifacts and items appropriated from imperialist ventures at home and overseas. The popular image of the mummy, a ubiquitous representation of Ancient Egypt and archaeology in modern times, has its roots in these 19th-century curiosity shows. In 1825, the New England Museum displayed three mummified Egyptian bodies, promising lurid sights with an additional 25 cent admission fee. Desecration accompanied exhibition as the museum removed the wrappings from these already disturbed bodies.

Image of a broadside with three mummies depicted at the top. Printed text appears as a title at the top of the page, vertically between the mummies, and at the lower half of the page.
Broadside announcing the exhibition of three mummified bodies from Egypt at the New England Museum, 1825

The unwrapping of a mummy could be a highly publicized affair. For instance, an 1850 event held by Boston naturalist Geo. R. Gliddon promised not only lectures on Ancient Egyptian embalming practices, but the unwrapping of a mummy before an audience and the submission of the body, wrappings, and its belongings for their inspection.

Image showing a yellowed sheet of paper. There is text at the top and lower 2/3 of the page. There are two silhouette images of mummies towards the top of the page in between the blocks of text.
Broadside announcing the unwrapping of a mummified body from Egypt and three lectures by Mr. Geo. R. Gliddon, 1850

Popular fascination with absurd practices and bodies dovetailed with a growing fixation on spiritualism and the occult. Occultists like the below Professor Baron claimed access to secret knowledge and abilities beyond the pale of Western knowledge and science, often stemming from exoticized interpretations of non-Western cultures. The appeals of mysticism and otherworldly answers answered the popular appetite for spectacle.

Image of a broadside with text and a depiction of a man, a table tipping over, and an urn sitting on a piece of furniture.
Broadside announcing the presence and services of “Professor Baron,” a claimed clairvoyant and astrologer, 1800s

The broadsides accompanying this blog post represent just some of curiosity shows and exhibitions that visited Massachusetts during the 19th century. They tell a story not just of contemporary entertainment, but also the commodification of those deemed absurd: prehistoric and unusual animals as well as artifacts, corpses, and beliefs of outside cultures. Part II of this blog post series will focus on people and the rendering of non-European bodies as curiosities.

Item Spotlight: Lydia Gutheim’s Air Raid Warden Helmet

By Susanna Sigler, Library Assistant

A confession: I spent way too long trying to come up with a catchy opener for this blog post. After several stops and starts, I came to the conclusion that sometimes you just want to talk about a cool item.

On the off chance that anyone has been following closely, my last few posts have been about WWII-related collections here at the MHS. This is no coincidence, as I’ve been gathering information about WWI- and WWII-related collection to start work on a subject guide to help future researchers. Read posts here, here, and here.

Rather than an account of overseas duty and combat, I wanted to look at something related to the home front and the experiences of civilians. Lydia Gutheim’s helmet, sitting in the “civilians” tab of my spreadsheet, seemed like a promising choice.

The term air raid warden might conjure images of WWII as it took place in Great Britain rather than the United States. While the contiguous United States never became the target of a sustained bombing campaign during the war, civilian defense preparations were widespread and organized by multiple government offices on the federal and state levels. Being an air raid warden was advertised as one way that civilians could contribute to the war effort. One booklet of instructions, digitized by the Museum of Flight, shows how air raid wardens and other neighborhood leaders were told to view themselves as being in an army, albeit one in civilian clothes.

In person, Lydia’s helmet is rather nondescript. Made of steel and painted white, it has a series of interior straps and fasteners meant to properly place the helmet on the head of the wearer. It is accompanied by a canvas belt with multiple pockets holding first aid supplies. Before looking at it, I assumed the helmet would have some kind of insignia, but it has no markings, aside from a dent near the top. Inside is a small slip of paper attached to one of the straps, bearing Lydia’s name and address in Cambridge, Mass.

Color image of a white helmet sitting on top of a red piece of cloth on a table. Towards the front of the image is a lumpy, rectangular piece of off-white canvas.
Lydia Gutheim’s air raid warden helmet and belt.

My questions revolved around Lydia herself – who was she, and why did she volunteer to be an air raid warden?

The Boston Globe was able to help answer these questions. Lydia, in her mid-fifties by the time the war began, was married to Herman Gutheim, Fire Chief for the city of Cambridge. One clipping from 1942 conjures a strong image of wartime Boston, detailing Chief Gutheim’s orders for an upcoming practice blackout. Two years prior, he is named as organizing a new “Civilian Unit” at the Cambridge Fire Department “as part of the national defense.” It makes sense that Lydia, his wife, would herself take a role in this initiative.

Boston Globe clipping from December 1940.

While this information was illuminating, I didn’t feel any closer to knowing more about Lydia other than in relation to her husband. There was more available on her and Herman’s daughter, Dr. Marjorie Frye Gutheim. Among other accomplishments, Dr. Gutheim was an associate editor here at the MHS, transcribing the Winthrop papers and creating a guide to MHS proceedings.

I wondered how Lydia felt about her duties, and if she worried about having to put her training into practice. It might seem unthinkable now, the idea of blackout drills and preparations for enemy firebombs. Even though that probability decreased as the war went on, the fear was still very real. Lydia’s helmet is a reminder not just of how Boston mobilized during the war, but also how it affected the city on a civilian level. Lydia Gutheim, like many women, is unfortunately most often only mentioned in the context of her husband – “Fire Chief and Mrs. Herman Gutheim.” This helmet is a reminder of how she too is part of this history.

Lydia Gutheim’s air raid warden helmet can be viewed at the MHS.


Advance instructions to air raid wardens, block leaders, neighborhood leaders. Date unknown. 2014-00-00-20_text_010_01. Box 1, Folder 1. World War II Air Raid Warden Materials. Digital Collections. Museum of Flight. Tukwila, Washington.

“Events in Greater Boston: Cambridge.” The Boston Globe, 2 December 1940.

A Special Telegram

By Hannah Elder, Assistant Reference Librarian for Rights & Reproductions 

Do you remember last month, when I told the blog that my family had visited and viewed some documents? Well, I have a story to tell about one of them that makes me appreciate it even more. But first, some back story.

The first time I came to the MHS, it was on a secret mission. In one of my graduate school classes I had been assigned to visit an archive as a researcher, use the collection without telling them I was studying library science, and report back on the experience. I chose the Massachusetts Historical Society, hoping to learn more about my family’s Massachusetts roots.

Looking through ABIGAIL before my visit, I was able to identify an item in the miscellaneous manuscripts collection that caught my eye: a telegram sent from Anna C. M. Tillinghast to Edith B. Wilcox, dated 1 November 1924. I knew there were Wilcoxs in my family tree, so I requested it. The day of my visit, I checked in, was cleared, and got an orientation on how to use the library from Rakashi, who is now a beloved colleague. In the reading room, I took this picture of the telegram:

Color image of a yellowed piece of paper with text at the top and lines of handwritten text in the lower 2/3.
Telegram sent from Anna C. M. Tillinghast to Edith B. Wilcox, 1 November 1924.

The telegram reads:

Mrs Edith B Wilcox,

Don’t phone

Royalston, Mass.

               Congratulations for your splendid work. Republican victory on Election day now depends on you and your committee to get out the vote. We are fighting for the preservation of constitutional government. Request that the American Flag be displayed on Tuesday from homes and places of business as evidence of patriotism.

Anna Tillinghast

Chairman Women’s Division, Republican State Committee

After my visit, I told my family about the telegram, but we weren’t sure how its recipient, Edith Wilcox, was related to us. Once I started at the MHS I placed another request for the telegram, thinking I would look at it again and maybe research it further, but I never went back to it, caught up in the wonders of having so many documents at my fingertips.

Fast forward to last month, when my family came to visit. I pulled the telegram along with some other items that I knew they would find interesting. I retold the story of how I first viewed the telegram and we read it together, taking pictures of it before viewing other fabulous items.

The Elder family viewing the telegram

A few weeks later, we were all at my parents’ house for the holidays and hosting my grandmother. We told her about the visit and showed her pictures of everything, including the telegram. When she saw the telegram, she said in surprise, “Edith? That’s my grandmother!” It turns out that the recipient of this telegram is my great-great-grandmother! Grammie shared stories of growing up across the street from Edith and it was a special moment of sharing family history across generations.

I’m not sure how the telegram ended up here at the MHS. According to our records, it was donated by Jane Smith in February of 2013, but we don’t know anything about the 89 years that transpired between its creation and its donation. Regardless, I’m happy we have it and happy that this object, just a single page among the millions in our collection, has gained many layers of meaning.

I encourage you to visit the library and show off your finds. You never know what you’ll discover!