History of the MHS

The Founding

 

On 24 January 1791, the Rev. Jeremy Belknap invited nine like-minded Bostonians to join him in creating what they would call simply, "The Historical Society," now the Massachusetts Historical Society, the oldest organization in the United States devoted to collecting materials for the study of American history.

As he envisioned it, the society would become a repository and a publisher collecting, preserving,and disseminating resources for the study of American history. Through their pledges of family papers, books, and artifacts from their personal collections, the founding members made the Society the nation's first historical repository by the end of their initial meeting. With the appearance of their first title at the start of 1792, they also made the MHS the nation's first institution of any description to publish in its field.

In the absence of any other American historical repositories in the 1790s, the MHS took on a broadly national role, one still apparent in both its collections and its publications. As other historical institutions were founded elsewhere, including the New York Historical Society in 1804 and the American Antiquarian Society in 1812, the Society started to direct special attention to Boston, Massachusetts, and New England. The continuing legacy of its early years as the nation's only repository of American history, however, is a program of collections and activities of national and international importance.

The Society Today

In the two centuries since the founding of the MHS, its mission has remained constant: to collect, preserve, make accessible, and communicate manuscripts that promote the study of Massachusetts and the nation. The institution today encompasses five programmatic areas: Library, Publications, Research Programs, The Adams Papers, and Education and Public Programming. The MHS is a member of the Independent Research Library Association (IRLA).

Through exhibitions, online presentations, publications, and documentary television programs and films, important historical materials from the Society's collections reach local, national, and international audiences. Now in its third century as a publisher, the Society has brought hundreds of books into print, most of them drawn from or reflective of the archive's holdings. The MHS also lends its materials, including paintings and manuscripts, for exhibitions at museums, libraries, and other nonprofit cultural and educational institutions. The Society holds public lectures and hosts five seminar series as well as other special events. See over our Events Calendar for details.

Top

Top