The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

“He has been the great landmark of my life”: CFA on JQA’s death and legacy.

On a drizzly February morning in 1848, Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams, walked into his Boston office. As he reached his desk, Adams noticed a telegraph that communicated that his father “whilst in his seat at the House of Representatives at half past one o’clock was taken in another fit of paralysis and that it was not thought he could survive the day,” CFA wrote in his diary. Adams was on the next train south.

Charles Francis Adams, Photogravure, from "Portraits of American Abolitionists," MHS.


Delays prevented Adams from making his connection to Philadelphia. As he waited for the next train, Adams began reading the book his wife had sent with him, Jane Eyre. That night, February 23rd, he anxiously read a newspaper that had reports from 11 p.m. on the 22nd that John Quincy “lingered.”

The next morning, while on the train to Baltimore, Charles Francis opened that day’s paper.

The first thing I saw was the announcement that at a quarter past seven last night my father had ceased to breathe. . . . Here then it is in all its reality— I have no longer a Father.

After another short layover in Baltimore, Charles Francis reached his parents’ home in Washington, D.C. He went straight upstairs to comfort his mother, Louisa Catherine. Charles Francis sat with her until it was time to go to bed.

She then told me she had no place to put me in but his room— And I went to it, just as he had left it on Monday morning: Yes there was his table and chair, his papers and writing materials, his bed and all his materials for his late sick life. And the animating spirit was not there and I was.

Charles Francis got little sleep.

The next day, his mother was “in a low, fainting state all day, and utterly unable to say any thing.” After a morning of greeting acquaintances and thanking them for their condolences, Charles Francis traveled to the House. He was ushered through crowds to the coffin, where he was left alone. “And here I was to take my last look upon one to whom for forty years I had been looking for support and aid and encouragement!” Charles Francis studied his father’s face through a glass pane and considered his future responsibilities. Poignantly, Adams reflected that he was “alone in the generation,” as his two older brothers and younger sister had all already passed away. He shed a few tears before returning to the committee room to discuss arrangements “until every nerve in me quivered.”

His mother being too unwell to attend, Charles Francis represented his family at the funeral. As he stood on the steps of the Capitol waiting for his carriage, he felt acutely the curious eyes of gawkers and resolutely stared ahead, reflecting on his father’s influence. “He has been the great landmark of my life,” Charles Francis wrote. “My stay and companion.” As he descended the stairs and climbed into the carriage, Adams prepared himself to become the Adams patriarch. “For the future I must walk alone and others must lean on me.”


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 23 February, 2018, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

The Society is CLOSED on Monday, 19 February, for Presidents Day. 

It is a holiday-shortened week but there is still plenty of action happening here at the Society. Below are details for what we have on tap.

- Tuesday, 20 February, 6:00PM : Kendra Field's epic family history, Growing Up with the Country, chronicles the westward migration of freedom's first generation in the 50 years after emancipation. Fields traces the journey of her ancestors out of the South to Indian Territory, where they participated in the development of black towns and settlements. When statehood, oil speculation, and segregation imperiled their lives, some launched a back-to-Africa movement while others moved to Canada and Mexico. Interweaving black, white, and Indian histories, Field's narrative explores how ideas about race and color powerfully shape the pursuit of freedom. 

This talk is open to the public. Registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows or EBT cardholders). Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the program at 6:00PM. 

- Wednesday, 21 February : All K-12 educators are invited to register for Yankees in the West, an all-day teacher workshop. Using the Society's current exhibition as a guide, participants will investigate how writers, artists, and photographers sensationalized the frontier experience for eastern audiences and conceptualized the West for Americans who increasingly embraced the nation's manifest destiny. 

Registration is required for this program with a fee of $25 per person. 

- Wednesday, 21 February, 12:00PM : "Billets & Barracks: The Quartering Act & the Coming of the American Revolution" is a Brown Bag talk with John McCurdy of Eastern Michigan University. The arrival of British soldiers in the 1750s forced Americans to ask “where do soldiers belong?” This project investigates how they answered this question, arguing that it prompted them to rethink the meaning of places like the home and the city, as well as to reevaluate British military power.

This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Thursday, 22 February, 6:00PM : After the Civil War, artists and writers from Boston faced a question that haunted America: what’s next? For cultural leaders like Charles Eliot Norton and Isabella Stewart Gardner, Reconstruction left them feeling directionless and betrayed. Shunning the Whig narrative of history, these “Boston Cosmopolitans” researched Europe’s long past to discover and share examples of civil society shaped by high ideals. "For the Union Dead: Bostonians Travel East in Search of Answers in the Post-Civil War Era" is a public talk with Mark Rennella.

This program is open to all, free of charge, though registration is required. Click on the link and look for the Register button. 

- Saturday, 24 February, 9:00AM : The second teacher workshop this week examines how the personal and political philosophies of Justices John Marshall, Roger B. Taney, and Joseph Story influenced their proslavery positions. In "Slavery & the U.S. Supreme Court," Paul Finkelman, President of Gratz College, will discuss why these three influential justices upheld the institution of slavery and continued to deny black Americans their freedom. Participants will connect these federal rulings to local court cases, as well as antislavery and abolitionist efforts to undermine these unpopular decrees. 

This program is open to all K-12 educators. Registration is required with a fee of $25 per person. 


There is no public tour this week.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 18 February, 2018, 12:00 AM

When the Harlem Renaissance Meets Jim Crow

Your reference to the southerners regard, or rather, disregard of the Negro [--] I experienced a rather amusing incident a few weeks ago.




This passage comes from a letter written by African-American artist Meta Warrick Fuller on 5 January 1928 and recently acquired by the MHS. Fuller’s correspondent was Marion Colvin Deane, a white Canadian woman who worked at Virginia’s historically black Hampton Institute. Deane was an avid collector of autographs, particularly those of famous black writers, artists, educators, intellectuals, and activists. She wrote to Fuller, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Walter F. White, and many others soliciting autographs for her collection.

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968) was an accomplished and acclaimed black sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance, though her work spanned the decades both before and after that era. Born in Philadelphia, her early artistic promise was nurtured by her family, and she studied art in Philadelphia before traveling to France in 1899 to attend the Académie Colarossi and the École des Beaux-Arts. In France, she met and was mentored by Auguste Rodin. Her work was exhibited alongside older and more established contemporaries like John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt, and she would go to win many commissions and awards over her lifetime.

In 1928, when Marion C. Deane wrote to her, Fuller was living in Framingham, Mass. with her husband Solomon Carter Fuller and their three sons. She worked in her own private studio behind the house.

Fuller began her reply to Deane by apologizing for her handwriting and thanking Deane for “the kind interest and regard – may I be worthy of them.” Then, in response to a comment by Deane on Southern racial animosity, she described a recent “amusing incident” on a Framingham bus. Returning from a shopping trip and finding the bus crowded, Fuller opted to sit in the back, although for her this was “contrary to custom.” From there, she overheard “a youngish sort of woman”—a white woman presumably visiting from the South—talking to a friend.

I could still hear the conversation – she spoke of how strange it seemed to see colored people mingling with white people – in schools – restaurants and the like – she would go out if one sat down at a table with her – it didn’t seem right.


And what was Fuller’s reaction? Maybe not what you’d expect.

It all impressed me as very funny – and mischief got the better of me – I wrote on a slip of paper ‘God made man of one flesh[.]’ I rolled it up, and as I passed on my way out dropped it in her lap. I was convulsed at the expression of surprise when she saw what I had done, but I left the car before she had time to read it. I have not since seen the woman with whom she was talking but I am curious to know what she did after reading it.


The MHS currently holds no other papers of Meta Warrick Fuller, so this letter is a very welcome addition to our collection. It’s also a fascinating record of racial attitudes in the years between the Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” decision and the height of the civil rights movement in America.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 February, 2018, 9:48 AM

Barbara Hillard Smith’s Diary, February 1918

Today we return to the 1918 diary of Newton teenager Barbara Hillard Smith. You may read our introduction to the diary, and Barbara’s January entries, here:


January | February | March | April

May | June | July | August

September | October | November | December


We will be following Barbara throughout 1918 with monthly blog posts that present Barbara’s daily life -- going to school, seeing friends, playing basketball, and caring for family members -- in the words she wrote a century ago. Here is Barbara’s February, day by day.


* * *


FRI. 1                          FEBRUARY

School. Took care of sonny. Gas froze. Pegs over night.

SAT. 2

Worked. Took care of Polly Godfrey. Seminary with Mother

SUN. 3

Sunday School. Hung around

MON. 4

School. Dentist. Dr. Ashland engaged.


School. Bitterly Cold, “Sick.” Rosa Allen’s

WED. 6

School. Took care of sonny


School. Rosa Allen’s. Took care of sonny

FRI. 8

School. Took care of sonny.

SAT. 9

Got my dress. Burton Holme’s Lecture. Sailor’s Dance. Met Mr. Wood

SUN. 10

Church. Sunday School. Aunt Mable’s. Met Sailor at the Station

MON. 11

School. Took care of sonny

TUES. 12                    LINCOLN’S BIRTHDAY

School. Basket Ball. Mother went to New York

WED. 13

School. Took care of Sonny

THUR. 14

School. Mrs. Moody to Basket Ball. Mother came home

FRI. 15

School. Took care of Sonny. Swimming

SAT. 16

Hung around. Over to Pegs. Plays at the Seminary

SUN. 17

Sunday School. Dr. Scott teacher. Studied

MON. 18

School. Took care of the Baby.

TUES. 19

School. Basket Ball. Papa sick. Sessions with the Doctor

WED. 20

Stayed to look after papa. Mrs. Reed’s

THUR. 21

Took care of papa. Took care of sonny. Red Cross play.

FRI. 22                                    WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY

Mrs. Reed’s in the morning. Home in afternoon. Masquerade

SAT. 23

Babys in the morning. In town in the afternoon

SUN. 24

Helped Mother. Studied

MON. 25

Toothache. Dentist. He goes to hospital soon. Married probably in Aug. Papa better. Sonny.

TUES. 26

Toothache again. Dentist can’t do anything about it. Mrs. Reeds.

WED. 27

Got class pins. Subscribed to Newtonian. Mrs. Reeds. Papa out. Tooth still at it.

THUR. 28

School. Basketball. Papa seems much better.

* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person in our library or have other questions about the collection, please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.


 *Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original. The catalog record for the Barbara Hillard Smith collection may be found here.



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

At the Society this week, we'll be talking about capitalists and fishermen, as well as hosting our building tour. Read on for more information. 

- Tuesday, 13 February, 5:15PM : Francis Sargent was a Cape Cod fisherman-turned-public servant. In his positions as Director of Fisheries, head of Public Works, and eventually, governor of Massachusetts, Sargent bridged the gap between working-class fishers and government. The seminar this week comes from the Environmental History series and is called "Governor Francis W. Sargent: Fisheries Manager." This paper, presented by Benjamin Kochan of Boston University, examines Sargent's ability to speak directly to fishermen, arguing that his post-1974 disengagement from public life robbed fishermen of an ally who might have soothed tensions created by late-1970s federal regulations. To RSVP: email or call (617) 646-0579.

Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Thursday, 15 February, 6:00PM : Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of American Wealth & Populism in America's First Gilded Age is the title of a recent work authored by Noam Maggor of Queen Mary University, London, and is the subject of this author talk. The work explores how they moneyed elite of Boston mobilized to reinvent the American economy in the aftermath of the Civil War, traveling far and wide in search of new business opportunities following the decline of cotton-based textile manufacturing and the abolition of slavery. They found these opportunities in the mines, railroads, and industries of the Great West, leveraging their wealth to forge transcontinental networks of commodities, labor, and transportation leading the way to the nationally integrated corporate capitalism of the 20th century. 

This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows or EBT cardholders). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

- Saturday, 17 February, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led tour through the public rooms here at the Society. The tour is free and open to the public with no need for reservations for individuals or small groups. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Yankees in the West

Please note that the Socety is CLOSED on Monday, 19 February, for Presidents' Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 20 February. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 11 February, 2018, 12:00 AM

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