The Nathaniel T. Allen Papers and Photographs
By Susan Martin, Collections Services
I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about two terrific collections available for research at the MHS, the papers and photographs of Nathaniel T. Allen of West Newton, Mass. The Allens were a truly remarkable family. Nathaniel, his wife Carrie, and their three daughters (as well as many other relatives) were educators and reformers of the 19th and 20th century, and these fascinating collections are a very welcome addition to our library. I processed the photographs, and my colleague Laura Lowell processed the papers.
This cabinet card photograph (Photo. #247.311), taken in 1882, is my favorite of the Allen family. Seated are Nathaniel Topliff Allen (1823-1903) and his wife Caroline Swift (Bassett) Allen (1830-1915). Standing behind them, from left to right in reverse age order, are their three children: Lucy Ellis Allen (1867-1943), Sarah Caroline Allen (1861-1897), and Fanny Bassett Allen (1857-1913). A son, Nathaniel, Jr., had died as a child.
Nathaniel Allen was the founder and principal of the West Newton English and Classical School (familiarly known as “the Allen School”) from 1854 to 1900. The school was progressive, co-educational, and integrated, and its student body included African-American, Latino/a, and Asian boys and girls, as well as international students. It was also one of the first schools to incorporate physical education into the curriculum. Nathaniel’s wife Carrie worked with him to run the school and look after the students, many of whom boarded in various Allen family homes. Several aunts, uncles, and cousins also served as teachers and administrators.
This photograph (Photo. #247.874) of the Allen School at 35 Webster Street, West Newton, dates from 1886. Carrie is seated in the middle wearing a light-colored shawl, with Nathaniel immediately to her right. You can also see some exercise equipment in the yard.
After Nathaniel died in 1903, his oldest and youngest daughters, Fanny and Lucy, opened the Misses Allen School for Girls at the same location. Their middle sister Sarah, unfortunately, had died in childbirth in 1897 at the age of 36.
Laura and I processed the papers and photographs concurrently, and I think our work really benefited from the collaboration. We arranged the collections to mirror each other, for the most part, with separate series of family and school material. This division was trickier than it sounds, because many family members were also teachers and students. I frequently had to move photographs from one section to the other as I figured out who everyone was. (For more information about how we process photographs at the MHS, see my earlier Beehive post.)
The photograph collection contains 1,030 photographs, primarily individual and group portraits of Allen family members and students spanning almost 100 years. While Laura got to know the Allens from their letters, diaries, and other writings, I got to know them from their faces. The collection was completely disorganized when it came to us, but by the end I’d gotten pretty good at identifying people and could even distinguish baby pictures of the three sisters!
It was a lot of fun to share information and compare impressions with Laura as we worked. When she came across a particularly interesting person, she was curious to see what he or she looked like. I also went to her to learn more about the people who intrigued me. For example, I loved the way Lucy, the youngest Allen, usually smiled directly into the camera while other subjects looked stiff or coy with a slightly averted gaze.
The story of the Allens has so many fascinating threads to follow that we hope these collections will be of interest to a wide variety of researchers. For example, Edwin and Gustaf Nielsen were two brothers who, through the intervention of the poet Celia Thaxter, were taken as wards into the Allen home and became de facto members of the family. There’s also Fanny Allen’s decades-long friendship with Pauline Odescalchi, Princess of Hungary. Not to mention the fact that the Allens played an active part in the anti-slavery, suffrage, temperance, peace, and educational reform movements, rubbing elbows with the likes of William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Horace Mann, and Lucy Stone.
Nathaniel and Carrie Allen had no surviving grandchildren. Fanny and Lucy never married, and Sarah’s only daughter died two days after she did in 1897. But this family of teachers clearly had a profound and far-reaching influence on the thousands of boys and girls who attended the Allen School and Misses Allen School. Among them were future writers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, activists, soldiers, at least one actor, and a Supreme Court justice. In my next post, I’ll tell you more about them.
| Published: Friday, 13 July, 2018, 12:00 AM
The Adams Papers Digital Edition Turns Ten!
By Amanda M. Norton, Adams Papers
On July 1, 2008, the Massachusetts Historical Society launched the Founding Families Digital Editions, the home of the Adams Papers Digital Edition. This resource converted 45 years’ worth of published material, comprising 32 volumes and three generations of Adamses, and made them more accessible than ever with keyword searching, a cumulative index, and hyperlinked cross references on a freely available website. This massive multi-department undertaking took three years, financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Harvard University Press, as well as technical support from Rotunda, the electronic imprint of the University of Virginia Press. Using a defined subset of the Text Encoding Initiative, an XML-based tagging language designed for the digital markup of various kinds of texts in the humanities, the website retains the editorial standards of the original letterpress volumes, while making the presentation more flexible for the digital environment. As originally conceived, this Founding Families project was to house both the Adams Papers and the seven volumes of the Winthrop Family Papers; however, over time, the projects were separated and the Founding Families page was renamed to simply the Adams Papers Digital Edition.
Over the last ten years, the website has only increased in its value to scholars and the public as thirteen more volumes have been made available, additional search and browse features were added, and displays were updated.
This summer we are pleased to announce that to celebrate its tenth anniversary, the Adams Papers Digital Edition has undergone a complete redesign. The all new web platform enhances not only its readability but also its usability, with more tailored search options, the ability to save your most recent search, and a better mobile experience. Last, but certainly not least, the relaunched website benefits from the addition of a new volume, Papers of John Adams, Volume 17. This volume includes a momentous occasion for both the Adamses and the nation—John Adams greeting King George III as the first minister from the newly independent United States. John’s detailed account of this dramatic meeting, written in code to the secretary of foreign affairs, John Jay, is just one highlight from a volume that also includes the first substantial correspondence between Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the beginnings of treaty negotiations with the Barbary States of North Africa.
While some of the Adams Papers volumes are also available on both the National Archives’ Founders Online and Rotunda’s Founding Era sites, only the Adams Papers Digital Edition website includes all of the historical documents and editorial content from all of the digitized volumes in one place; and the Adams Papers Editorial Project with the Massachusetts Historical Society is committed to continuing to expand its digital offerings. Visit our new site at www.masshist.org/publications/adams-papers.
| Published: Friday, 29 June, 2018, 12:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
- Monday, 25 June, 12:00PM : Jean Franzino of Beloit College presents this week's first Brown Bag talk, titled "Dis-Union: Disability in the U. S. Civil War." Franzino's project examines the emerging legal category of "disabled" American at the end of the nineteenth century in relation to the construction of disability in Civil War literature, broadly conceived. In texts ranging from hospital newsppaer poetry to mendicant narratives sold for veterans' financial support, representations of Civil War injury engaged shifting understandings of disability: from individual condition to evolving social class.
This talk is free and open to the public. Pack a lunch and come on in!
- Tuesday, 26 June, 6:00PM : Stephen Bush of Brown University is on-hand to discuss his new book, William James on Democratic individuality. William James advocated a philosophy of democracy and pluralism that emphasizes individual and collective responsibility for our social arrangements, our morality, and our religion. In James’s view, democracy resides first and foremost not in governmental institutions but rather in the characteristics of individuals and in qualities of mind and conduct. It is a philosophy for social change, counseling action and hope despite the manifold challenges facing democratic politics, and these issues still resonate strongly today. Stephen Bush explores how these themes connect to James’s philosophy of religion, his moral thought, his epistemology, his psychology, and his metaphysics.
This talk is open to the public, registration required with fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders).
- Wednesday, 27 June, 12:00PM : Judith Harford of University College Dublin leads the second Brown Bag talk of the week, and it is called "The Gendering of Diaspora: Irish American Women Teachers and the Rise of the Irish American Elites, 1880-1920." This talk examines the education, professional training and wider public activism of first-generation Irish American women teachers during the peak of Irish emigration to the United States.
This talk is free and open to the public.
- Friday, 29 June, 2:00PM : Guest curator and American furniture specialist Clark Pearce leads visitors through the current exhibition with this Gallery Talk: Entrepreneurship & Classical Design in Boston’s South End, identifying highlights while giving deeper context to the life and work of two extraordinary Massachusetts craftsmen, Isaac Vose and Thomas Seymour.
This event is free and open to the public.
- Saturday, 30 June, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Entrepreneurship & Classical Design in Boston’s South End: The Furniture of Isaac Vose & Thomas Seymour, 1815 to 1825.
- Saturday, 30 June, 3:00PM : As a doctoral student at Boston University’s School of Theology, Martin Luther King, Jr., spent some of his formative years walking the streets of Boston and living in the South End. His life in Boston was King’s first immersive experience outside of the segregated South and while he experienced the de facto racism of the North he also enjoyed the acceptance of the BU and Boston area communities. The Martin Luther King Jr. in Boston Walking Tour will guide visitors through areas of Boston where King lived and socialized, where he met and courted Coretta Scott, and where he returned later at the height of the Civil Rights Movement to deliver powerful speeches on the struggle for racial and economic equality.
This event is open to the public, registration required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows or EBT cardholders).
| Published: Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 12:00 AM
A Little Free Library @ MHS!
By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services
The next time you are in the neighborhood, we invite you to stop to check out the Little Free Library we have installed to the left of our front steps. One of many such book exchanges in Boston, the Little Free Library maintained by Massachusetts Historical Society staff will be filled with books that are free for the taking! If you take a book, also consider leaving a book in its stead so that another reader may have a chance to enjoy it.
While you’re pausing to browse the current selection of free books, be sure to check out our upcoming events on the calendar to your left -- many of our events are free and open to the public.
Of course, the Massachusetts Historical Society is, itself, a big free library -- we welcome researchers into our reading room Monday through Saturday to work with our non-circulating collections of manuscripts, rare print materials, art, artifacts, and photograph collections. More information about planning a visit to work with our collections may be found on our website.
| Published: Monday, 11 June, 2018, 12:00 AM
Massachusetts Historical Review : Its Origins and Legacy
By Katheryn Viens, Research
To most MHS members, the Massachusetts Historical Review is the annual publication that appears in their mailboxes every autumn, with a glossy, colorful cover and intriguing historical content. Few members know its rich history or visualize its exciting prospects for the future. As we typeset the forthcoming issue and develop essays for future volumes, this seems a good time to reflect on the MHR’s heritage and legacy.
In 1859, the members of the MHS decided to launch a new publication. Since 1792, the year after the Society’s founding, members had been “multiplying the copies” of items in the archives by issuing Collections volumes. Now, as the country approached a civil war, Boston was growing dramatically, from a town of fewer than 20,000 in 1790 to a city of almost 180,000. The Society’s collection, too, had ballooned with the 1857 acquisition of the more than 4,600 volumes in the library of Thomas Dowse. The men who made up the Society now represented a wider range of interests, and they decided to apply the best practices of corporate business to the conduct of the MHS.
A new publication would document the Society’s “proceedings” and include an annual report. It would contain transcripts of the lectures that members offered when they gathered for meetings. A commitment to publish these talks could have resulted in a series of dry volumes—but what a roster of historians would appear in the pages of the Proceedings! Over nearly 140 years, until 1998, the deep leather chairs, madeira, and slanting sunlight of the Society’s afternoon meetings yielded the wisdom of Henry Adams, Oscar and Lillian Handlin, Edmund Morgan, and Bernard Bailyn, to name just a handful of the illustrious historians represented in the Proceedings’ pages.
Enter the 1990s. Computers and the internet transformed the way in which the MHS related to the outside world. Alongside our expanding research programs, including fellowships, conferences, and seminars, the Proceedings came to feel constrained. The MHS made the decision to end its publication and invite the wider possibilities of an annual journal that would accept outside submissions and, in its design, serve as an ambassador of the Society’s vibrant mission. The Massachusetts Historical Review was born.
Two decades later, the MHR features scholarship on all historical periods, from across the country and overseas. This takes the form of essays, photo-essays, historical documents, and review articles authored by both eminent scholars and those new to the field. There have been themed issues and a recent special issue on the occasion of the Society’s 225th anniversary, “Massachusetts and the Origins of American Historical Thought.” The forthcoming issue will include essays on the Harlem Renaissance artist Cloyd Lee Boykin, who taught in Boston, colonial Massachusetts Governor Thomas Pownall, and the 1975 Edelin manslaughter trial. Essays demonstrate the influence of Massachusetts across the nation and around the world.
As with the Proceedings, the Research Department acquires and develops the content for the MHR, while the Publications Department handles the copyediting, design, and indexing. Throughout this process, the MHS staff maintains a commitment to scholarly excellence. They send each essay to at least two peer reviewers in a “double-blind” process, and the editors and authors work together to revise and edit the contributions.
Now available online (as are the Proceedings), the MHR has a wider reach than ever before. It takes its place comfortably among a range of professional journals in major research libraries. And it offers a pleasant read in a comfy chair on a quiet afternoon, perhaps alongside a little glass of good madeira.
| Published: Friday, 8 June, 2018, 1:15 PM