The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Margaret Russell's Diary, March 1916

Today, we return to the line-a-day diary of Margaret Russell. If you have missed previous installments of the diary you can find January (along with a brief introduction to the series) and February in the blog archive. In contrast to her busy travel schedule in February, Margaret Russell remained in Boston throughout the month of March. The weather continued to be quiet wintery, with Margaret often noting snow and “blowing” wind. Her days were spent socializing with friends, charity work, and cultural activities such as visits to the museum and attendance at lectures.

One of the things that can be most jarring or haunting about reading a line-a-day diary is the way in which meaningful events are sandwiched within otherwise mundane entries. For example, on March 5th Margaret writes that “Henry Curtis is dead” between noting where she ate lunch and how “fine” the Wagner concert she attended that day was.


And even though Margaret spent the month of March in Boston, she was not wanting for high-profile performers and speakers; among the lectures she attended was a speech by former President William Howard Taft and among the concerts she attended were two performances by pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) who three years later would become prime minister of Poland.


* * *

March 1916

1 March.* Wednesday - Mrs. Ward’s lecture. Lunched at Club. Art Museum talk. Home to rest. Second lecture of coal by Prof. Jeffrey with Miss A--.

2 March. Thursday. M.G.H. Meeting. Walked down to see Miss Cannon. First [illegible words] England - Individualism. Skating Carnival with Parkman.

3 March. Friday. To Mrs. Dalton’s on C.D. business. Beautiful concert. To hear Pres. Taft speak at Red Cross in the evening.

4 March. Saturday - Mrs. Tyson’s reading. Paid calls & went to musical at Miss Mason’s.

5. March. Sunday - Walked to Cathedral with Miss A. Lunched at HGC’s. Henry Curtis is dead. Fine Wagner concert. Family to dine.

6 March. Monday. Hospital meeting. [illegible word]. Went to Mt. Auburn with CPC for funeral. Botany lecture.

7 March. Tuesday - snowing again. Lunched at Mrs. Mattey’s. Went to hear Mrs. Dupriez on Belgium. Very painful.

8 March. Wednesday - Church. Chilton. Had lunch at Miss Lamb’s. Art museum. Snowing hard.

9 March. Thursday - Chilton meeting. Am back as Gov. Lunch club at Mrs. Hunnewell’s. Power lecture. Dined at Mrs. Crafts.

10 March. Friday - Snowing again. Mrs. W. Charles came to play. Concert with Paderewski. Had dinner of 22 for Ellen at Chilton. Dancing class afterwards.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski

11. March. Saturday. Mrs. Tyson’s reading. Mama sick so stayed at home with Mama. Mrs. Sears to concert as Paderewski played.

12 March. Sunday. Church. Lunched at HGC’s  Family to dine.

13 March. Monday. Errands - [illegible word] - lunched at Marian’s. Botany lesson. Thawing.

14 March. Tuesday. Ear & Eye visit in the A.M. Tuesday Club at M. Ware’s. Red Cross discussion. Had ten people to dine. Seemed pleasant.

15 March. Wednesday. Ward lecture. Lunched at Chilton. Art museum class - Snowing hard & blowing.

16 March. Thursday. Walked down town errands & church. After lunch went out to see Aunt E. Last [illegible word] lecture.

17 March. Friday - Fine day. Walked down town. Mrs. Chandler came to play. Lunch at Mrs. Jack Peabody’s. Drove out to Riverside, road good.

18 March. Saturday - 4 [illegible word] this A.M. - Mrs. Tyson’s. After lunch went down to Swampscott. Badly drifted in places but we did not suffer.

19 March. Sunday - Church to see Parkmans. Lunched at H.G.C’s. Paid calls. Found Mary R. who looks very ill. Family to dine.

20 March. Monday - Mrs. Norcross from [illegible word] Com. came by to see me & I liked her very much. Botany lesson at Cambridge. Was lecture at Mrs. Sears.

21 March. Tuesday - Eye & Ear through the A.M. Dined at the H. Burrs. Streets in awful condition.

22 March. Snowing hard & blowing again. Went out to Fogg museum where Ed. Forbes showed us the [illegible word] pictures.

23 March. Thursday - Walked for errands. Mrs. Charles to play. Lunch club at Jessie’s. Went out to see Aunt Emma.

24 March. Friday - Down town to buy typewriter & to church. Miss Ruelker to lunch & to go to concert. Went to Cambridge to see [illegible word].

25 March. Saturday - Mrs. Tyson’s reading.

26 March. Sunday Church. Lunched at Horatio’s. Family to dine. Went to see Mary Russell but there had been a sudden change.

27 March. Monday - went to walk for errands. Lunch at Marian’s. Visited the Eye & Ear.

28 March. Tuesday - Colonial Dames annual meeting but to Cambridge to lunch at Edith’s. Back to hear Miss Holinau speak at the Allens.

29 March. Wednesday - Interesting lecture from Pres. Taft. Lunched at Mrs. Allen’s with Miss Holinau. F. O. & Mrs. Hay & F. D. Cambridge concert in evening.

30 March. Thursday - Mrs. Charles to play. Went out to see Aunt Emma & there to dine. Mary Russell has had [illegible word].

31 March. Friday - Service at cathedral. Lunched at Chilton’s. Had Miss Reulker & Mrs. Bell, Mrs. Sears E & J. All went to concert. Dined at Georgie’s.


* * *

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.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

After a lack of programming last week, we are back this week with a slew of public events to satisfy your hunger for history. Be sure to keep an eye on our monthly calendar in the coming weeks as April has a lot going on! Here's what's on as we leave March behind:

- Tuesday,  29 March, 5:15PM : The War on Butchers: San Francisco and the Making of Animal Space, 1850-1870, is a part of the Immigration and Urban History Seminar series. In this paper, Andrew Robichaud of Boston University examines some of the challenges of urban animal life (and death) in cities, while tracing the evolution of animal regulations in San Francisco between 1850 and 1870. Harriet Ritvo of MIT provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 30 March, 12:00PM : Pack a lunch and come in at noon to hear Margaret Newell, Ohio State University, talk about her current research project, "William and Ellen Craft and the Transatlantic Battle for Civil Rights in the Nineteenth Century," a dramatic story of escape from slavery in Georgia on to a life of anti-slavery activism in Boston and London. This Brown Bag talk is free and open to the public, no registration required. 

- Wednesday, 30 March, 6:00PM : Join us for a public author talk presented by Andrew Lipman of Barnard College, recipient of a 2016 Bancroft Prize. The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast examines the previously untold story of how the ocean became a "frontier" between colonists and Indians. Registration is required for this event with a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM.

- Friday, 1 April, 2:00PM : Stop by the MHS at 2:00PM for a free gallery talk, "Jefferson and Slavery." Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, yet he also owned people as slaves. His experimental farm and garden and his architectural tests were made possible through the uncompensated labor of hundreds. While Jefferson and slavery is not the primary focus of our exhibition, it is present in every room. The curator of the show ,Peter Drummey, will explore this subject.

There is no public tour scheduled for Saturday, 2 April. Please check back next week!


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 27 March, 2016, 11:24 AM

This Island, Cuba

After President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some MHS material related to the island and its history. We hold a number of collections touching on the subject, including the papers of Boston-area merchants engaged in the U.S.-Cuba sugar trade during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Foremost among these merchant families was the Atkins family. Our popular collection of Atkins family papers spans from 1845 to 1950 and consists almost exclusively of the business papers of Elisha, Edwin F., and Robert W. Atkins, as well as the records of E. Atkins & Co. The Atkins family owned a sugar plantation called the Soledad estate on the southern coast of Cuba near Cienfuegos. By the end of the 19th century, under the leadership of Edwin F. Atkins, the prosperous Soledad had grown to enormous proportions, encompassing about 12,000 acres. Five thousand acres were planted with sugar cane.


Edwin F. and his wife Katharine W. Atkins, from their Cuban passport, 1917


The Atkins family papers came to the MHS with hundreds of photographs depicting life on the estate, as well as scenes of Cuban cities and seaports. It’s difficult to choose from so many terrific images, but here are a few of my favorites. (All of the photographs below are unfortunately undated.)




An outing










A big tree!


The MHS website features a digital exhibit of select items from the Atkins family papers, or you may just want to search our website for Cuba material. Other collections related to Cuba include the papers of the Foster, Morse, and Dabney families. Bay Staters also traveled to the island as tourists, and we hold many letters and diaries written during these trips. We hope you’ll visit our library to see what we have!


comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 March, 2016, 4:42 PM

This Week @ MHS

The calendar is empty this week with the exception of our Saturday tour:

- Saturday, 26 March, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a docent-led walk through the public spaces in the Society's home on Boylston Street. 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

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition. The exhibition galleries are open to the public free of charge, Monday-Friday, 10:00AM-4:00PM.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 20 March, 2016, 12:00 AM

Archivist as Detective, Part II: The Mysterious Woman in John Albee’s Life

I hadn’t expected to have the opportunity to indulge in another “investigation” so soon after my last one, but I caught a lucky break. Just a few weeks ago, the MHS acquired a diary of John Albee (1833-1915) that contained an intriguing mystery—the identity of the young woman with whom he shared a passionate, but ultimately unsuccessful, romance. He wrote about her often in his diary, but used her initials: L.A.



I was particularly motivated to solve this mystery because I knew from my research that John Albee—first a Unitarian minister and later a Transcendentalist author—counted among his friends Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and the Alcott family. I wondered if L.A. might be, in fact, Louisa May Alcott. Though she never married, Alcott did have suitors, and she was just about John’s age.

As I looked through John’s diary, kept mostly in Cambridge, Mass. between 1853 and 1861, I found a few clues that seemed to support my initial guess. He referred to some verses written by L.A.—was she an aspiring author? He also slipped up a few times and called her “Lou” and “Louise,” but this was such a common name at the time, I still couldn’t be sure. He didn’t divulge many specific details about her, even the first names of family members.

He did, however, write quite passionately about her. This is one of my favorite passages: “While she listened I could talk, but when she left the room I became silent. The best thoughts of my life came to me to say to her.” His entry of 7 October 1857 recounts a dramatic event. When L.A. declined his invitation to a concert, apparently under pressure from her mother, he went dejected to the hall and tried to enjoy himself, without much success. Then… (cue the music!) looking into the crowd, he saw her there. His “little elf” had raced through the streets to catch up with him.

The diary contains many scenes like this. There’s the couple’s accidental (and symbolic) meeting on West Boston Bridge at a turning point in their relationship. There’s the embarrassing gossip of friends. And of course, there’s a rival for L.A.’s affections. John transcribed into the diary his letter to the other man, J.B.K., which reads in part: “I do not know your sentiments towards L.A. I do not know hers towards you, nor towards myself, and we are all mixed up, and it is a maze.”

The break in my “case” came when I found an entry pairing the names of L.A. and Mrs. Appleton. The context seemed to indicate that L.A. was a member of that family. John also mentioned the related Haven family, as well as Portsmouth, N.H., the home of the Havens and Appletons.

Voila! Sophia Louisa Appleton, who went by her middle name Louisa, was born in 1836. She worked at the Harvard College library in the late 1850s, while John was a student in the Divinity School. She was also an aspiring author and wrote an opera in 1865. And John occasionally mentioned L.A.’s mother in his diary, but not her father. (Charles J. Appleton had died years before, while the other Louisa’s father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was still very much alive.)

I searched other Appleton family papers at the MHS and saw nothing to confirm my identification beyond a reasonable doubt, but I feel fairly confident I’ve found L.A. The MHS holds a few photographs of the woman in question, including this lovely carte de visite from the Haven-Appleton-Cutter family photographs.



December 1859 was full of emotional encounters, romantic angst, and introspection for John, as he and Louisa had split but couldn’t seem to stay apart. He described quarrels, saying to her: “I love you. […] But I can hate too.” However, he concluded the whole affair philosophically: “Life is too much, one must soon see, for any man to undertake seriously. Keep a jester in your house if you would prevent matters from coming to extremities.”

Louisa Appleton married Charles William Bradbury in 1864 and lived into her nineties. John Albee married twice, first in 1864 to Harriet Ryan (1829-1873), then again in 1895 to Helen Rickey (or Ricky). He had four children, but survived them all, dying in 1915. Can you guess his youngest daughter’s name? Louisa.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 11:20 AM

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