The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

The Ides of March have come and gone and life at the MHS continues. This week is a busy one with plenty of public programs to satisfy your craving for history. First up, on Monday, 17 March, beginning at noon is an author talk with Emily Lodge. While the biographies of the Lodge patriarchs have been well-documented, the stories of the influential Lodge women have never been authoritatively chronicled. From the earliest days of the American colonies, through the Gilded Age, and into the first years of the 21st century, The Lodge Women, Their Men, and Their Times traces the family’s remarkable history through its female figures. This event is free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, 19 March, join us for a Brown Bag lunch talk presented by Katie Moore of Boston University. "'Dam all pumpkin states': King Williams War in the North and Colonial Legitimacy" examines the collapse of the Dominion of New England in the spring of 1689, brought about when provisional authorities in Boston and New York seized power. How did Puritan divines and a German militia captain use war with the French to legitimate their authority to colonists, colonial leaders, and Native American allies? How did they justify strategy, finance, and diplomacy? Stop by at noon to learn more about this fascinating project. Brown Bag lunch talks are free and open to the public. [This event has been rescheduled from February 5 when it was postponed due to snow.]

Also on Wednesday is a special event for members of the Jeremy Belknap Giving Circle. "An Evening at the Bostonian Society" begins at 6:00PM and features Brian LeMay and Nat Sheidley discussing ongoing plans for the Society and leading a tour of the building, including the tower with its resident ghost, with a reception to follow. The Bostonian Society is located at 206 Washington Street in Boston. To register, please call 617-646-0543 or e-mail For access to these special events, join an MHS Fund Giving Circle today!

Then, on Thursday, 20 March, is the next event in the New England Biography Seminar series. Stop by at 5:30Pm for "The Days of Their Lives: Using Diaries, Journals, and an 'Almanack' to Recover the Past." Moderated by Susan Ware, General Editor of American National Biography, this program will feature a conversation with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard, who is using diaries (men's and women's) in her broader study of Mormon history; Louisa Thomas, an independent scholar and the author of "Conscience" (about her grandfather Norman Thomas), who is writing a biography of Louisa Catherine Adams; and Noelle Baker, Editorial Consultant to The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, who is preparing a digital edition of Mary Moody Emerson's diary. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

And on Saturday, 22 March, come by at 10:00AM for The History and Collections of the MHS, a 90-minute tour of the Society's public rooms led by a docent or MHS staff member and touching on the history of the Society, and the art and architecture of building at 1154 Boylston Street. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information, please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

Also, do not forget to visit the MHS to see the current exhibition, "Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus-Saint Gaudens' Shaw Memorial." This exhibit, created in cooperation with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, is open to the public Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, through 23 May.





comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 16 March, 2014, 12:00 PM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 31

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Tuesday March 1st 1864

We have, I regret to record, news of a defeat in Florida. In other parts of the South, the spring operations appear thus far to be successful.

Monday March 7th, ‘64

Public affairs; Kilpatrick’s gallant raid to the gates of Richmond.

Tuesday March 15th

Public news. Gen. Grant’s appointment as Lieut. General. The military affairs of the country are now it is understood, under one competent military head.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 14 March, 2014, 8:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

As the days lengthen and start to warm, consider stopping by the MHS this week for a one of our public programs or to peruse our exhibits. Currently on display is "Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial." This exhibition, organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, celebrates Saint-Gaudens' magisterial Shaw Memorial and seeks to make real the soldiers of the 54th represented anonymously in the work. It brings together vintage photographic portraits of members of the regiment and of the men and women who recruited, nursed, taught, and guided them. The exhibit is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10:00AM to 4:00PM.

On Tuesday, 11 March, join us for "The Galveston Spirit: How a Hurricane Remade American Politics." In this Environmental History seminar, Summer Shafer of Harvard University address the political economy of the Galveston "Great Storm" of 1900, still considered the deadliest natural disaster to date. Those who failed to protect the island by taking preventative action utilized the post-disaster environment to take control of vital municipal functions. Imagery of triumph over the storm played a powerful role in progressive politics as the "Galveston Spirit" seized the American imagination and helped to remake urban politics nationwide. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. Program begins at 5:15PM.

Then, on Wednesday, 12 March, join us at 5:30PM for a public program, "Created Equal: The Abolitionists & Slavery by Another Name." During this screening clips of the two films will be shown, and both films can be viewed in their entirety at The Abolitionists brings to life the struggles of the men and women who led the battle to end slavery. Slavery by Another Name is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon and tells the stories of men, charged with crimes and often guilty of nothing, who were bought, sold, abused, and subjected to deadly working conditions. Discussion of these films will be facilitated by Joanne Pope Melish, Associate Professor of History at the University of Kentucky and visiting scholar in American Studies at Brown University. She is the author of Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England, 1780-1860. Registration is required at no cost. To reserve, call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560, or click here to register online. Program begins at 5:30PM.

Finally, on Saturday, 15 March, drop by the Society at 10:00AM for The History and Collections of the MHS, a 90-minute tour of the Society's public rooms led by a docent or MHS staff member and touching on the history of the Society, and the art and architecture of building at 1154 Boylston Street. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information, please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or








comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 9 March, 2014, 12:00 PM

Memoirs of an Adams Transcriber

For three years I worked as a transcriber for the Adams Papers. Future editors, responsible for checking and publishing my transcriptions of the Adams family’s letters, will rue this fact—as my colleagues at the time must have, I’m sure. Oh, those carefree days poring over priceless manuscripts!

One of the best parts of being a transcriber is coming across surprising passages. Novel turns of phrase, hilarious absurdities, powerful expressions of grief—that kind of thing. Occasionally I would find something so weird I needed to share it with the rest of the Adams Papers editors in a group email. Here is one such email—published in full for the first time!—about a poetic outburst I found in a John Adams letterbook.

Subject: JA, existentialist

This John Adams fragment from a 9 April 1813 letter to Benjamin Waterhouse is like a freight train barreling over the epistolary countryside bearing a cargo of bad attitude.

“Since there is Nothing in human Life but Brimborions, that is magnificent Nothings, pompous Bubbles, Sounding Brass tinkling Cymballs, phantastic Non Entities, airy Gossamours, idle dreams delirious Visions &c &c &c...”

About the subject line: I realize now that the sentiment Adams expresses is as much in line with any number of religions as it is with existentialism—maybe more so. Never mind that, though.


Brimborion, of French origin and meaning “a thing of no value,” is a word I had never seen until that day and that I haven’t seen since unless I’ve Googled it. Its printed use in English dates back to at least the 1650s. The word, in its look, sound, and sense, sets the stage for the torrent that follows it. From the energy and raucousness of the passage you might get the sense that John Adams was the original Allen Ginsberg. I wouldn’t be so bold as to make an assertion one way or the other.

You, too, can engage with the writings of the Adamses, and you can start by visiting the Society’s landing page for all things Adams.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 7 March, 2014, 8:00 AM

"Imposed Planning STOPS HERE": Fenway in the 1970s

My last post for the Beehive explored the creation, destruction, and potential renewal of Charlesgate Park in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. In my continued exploration of the Society’s 20th-century urban history collections, I stumbled across this handmade flyer from the early 1970s calling on residents of the Fenway to protest what they experienced as "imposed planning" in the then-struggling neighborhood.

Fenway Residents broadside

"Fenway Residents, We Ask You One More Time" (Broadsides Collection, [1970] Nov. 3, MHS)

The gathering was organized by the housing task force of the Fenway Interagency Group (FIG), a loose coalition of grassroots social services organizations based in the Fenway neighborhood. What, exactly, were they protesting?

Though tentatively dated 1970, it is likely the flyer was distributed during the spring or summer of 1971, as the Christian Science Plaza was taking shape and the neighborhood around the plaza was filling with new development. A newspaper clipping dated April 1971 and preserved in a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) scrapbook describes the construction in positive, neighborhood-friendly terms:

The first housing development is now under construction along the Church Center perimeter. This project, known as Church Park will be the largest apartment house in Boston. It is planned as a mixed use building with 526 units of housing plus parking and retailing. ...In this low and middle income development, 25 percent of the units will go to low income families and the balance will go to middle income families at rents ranging from $110 to $360 per month.

The article goes on to describe the "Wasserman Site," where the FIG flyer invites citizens to protest, as "320 units of middle income housing plus parking and retailing." This official story stands in contrast to the flyer’s claims that the development represents "imposed planning," a "disregard of residents," and "housing residents can’t afford."

Which story won the day? The Church Park building and what became Greenhouse Apartments were both constructed and remain standing today. Leasing at prices between $2500-$5000 per month, the units are now two or three times higher than the BRA considers the maximum affordable rent for median-income Boston residents.

Church Park

Church Park from the intersection of Edgerly and Norway Streets (March 2014)

Over forty years after the FIG protest was held, economic inequality remains a central theme in Boston city politics, and the BRA role in neighborhood planning continues to prove controversial as Bostonians debate how to bring economic investment into the city without pushing lower-income residents and workers out of the urban core.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 5 March, 2014, 8:00 AM

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