The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Research Published

New on our Shelves: Hannah Mather Crocker's "Reminiscences" Published

One of the newest additions to the Society’s bookshelves is a volume more than 180 years in the making. Written by Hannah Mather Crocker in the 1820s and edited by Eileen Hunt Botting and Sarah L. Houser in the 2000s, Reminiscences & Traditions of Boston (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2011) has finally made its way to publication. 

Hannah Mather Crocker was an author and early feminist. She was the granddaughter of renowned Puritan minister Cotton Mather, author of the Biblia Americana (another long awaited publication), and niece of Thomas Hutchinson, Jr., the royal governor of Massachusetts. Born in 1752, she lived through and participated in some of the most tumultuous and significant times in United States history. In her final years she wrote two versions of Reminiscences, combining personal anecdotes with a narrative history of Boston from the colonial era to the early 19th century. The manuscript touches on various elements of Boston history including religion, economics, gender, and foreign relations. Crocker also includes an extensive appendix of historical documents containing a large number of her own poems. 

Crocker began writing Reminiscences believing she would publish it in the near future. Unfortunately, she passed away in 1829 before she could make that happen. In the years after her death, her Reminiscences disappeared until John Wingate Thorton, a founder of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), acquired it for his own personal collection. Upon his death in 1878, Thorton bequeathed the manuscript to the NEHGS, where it remains today.

Botting and Houser create a fully annotated documentary edition of Hannah Mather Crocker’s Reminiscences & Traditions of Boston. This edition includes an informative introduction that provides background for Crocker, the manuscript, and the publication including a guide to how to read the two versions. It is fully indexed and includes a biographical directory, a poetry index, and a bibliography. In their attempt to remain true to Crocker’s original writing, the editors include Crocker’s original pagination, original spellings, and original notes. This volume will allow a wider audience to analyze, interpret, and understand the lives of residents and events that took place in Massachusetts from 1620 to the early 19th century.  

Sarah L. Houser is the Jack Miller Center-Veritas Fund Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy at Georgetown University. Eileen Botting is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Notre Dame. Botting received the 2009-2010 Colonial Society of Massachusetts Fellowship which she used her to research on Hannah Mather Crocker’s and her Reminiscences at the MHS and a number of other New England research institutions. In January 2010 Botting presented some of her findings at a brown-bag lunch program at the MHS.   


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 14 October, 2011, 8:00 AM

New on our Shelves: "Revered Commander, Maligned General" by Michael Shay

Continuing our blog series on recent publications based on research conducted at the MHS, I offer a look at Michael Shay’s newest publication, Revered Commander, Maligned General: The Life of Clarence Ransom Edwards, 1859-1931 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011).

During the summers of 2008 and 2009 Shay and his wife Marilyn visited the MHS and thoroughly examined the extensive (43 document boxes, 10 volumes) Clarence Ransom Edwards Papers.  In large part the result of that work, Revered Commander, Maligned General is the first in-depth full-length biography of Edwards, and it is the only substantial work written about Edwards since the early 20th century. 

Edwards, a career military man, was trained at Brooks Military Academy in Ohio and at West Point in New York.  In 1899 he departed the United States as a major to serve in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. In 1900, back in the United States, Edwards, now a lieutenant colonel, was named chief of the Division of Customs and Insular Affairs (later the Bureau of Insular Affairs) in the War Department.  By 1915 Brigadier General Edwards was responsible for planning and organizing the defense of the Panama Canal Zone, and with the start of World War One he was given the command of the 26th (“Yankee”) Division of the New England National Guard with orders to fight in France.  It was on the front in France that a conflict between Edwards and his superior, General John J. Pershing, developed, ending with Edwards’ disgraceful dismissal just a few weeks before the end of the war. 

In this volume Shay, who previously authored The Yankee Division in The First World War: In The Highest Tradition (College Station: Texas A&M University Press,  2008), provides a complete view of Edwards’ life and military career, shedding new light on his relationship with Pershing and the events leading up to his dismissal in 1918.

Revered Commander, Maligned General: The Life of Clarence Ransom Edwards, 1859-1931 is now on sale through the University of Missouri Press. Visitors to the MHS library can peruse our copy, currently on display in the library. Ask one of our friendly library staff members for assistance.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 May, 2011, 8:00 AM

Discovering the New England Watch and Ward Society

One aspect of working at a research library that I enjoy immensely is seeing the fruits of our researchers’ labor in the form of published works. I recently had the pleasure of reading historian Neil Miller’s recently published history Banned in Boston: The Watch and Ward Society’s Crusade against Books, Burlesque, and the Social Evil (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010). This slim volume chronicles the activities of the New England Watch and Ward Society, a private organization with considerable political influence in the Boston area and throughout the region, between 1878 and 1967.

Part of Miller’s research took place here at the MHS, where we hold the Godfrey Lowell Cabot Papers. Cabot was a prominent member of the Watch and Ward, to which he began donating funds in the early 1890s. He joined the Watch and Ward in 1900, served as treasurer from 1915 to 1940, and remained active into the 1950s [1]. Of the 73 boxes of material in the Godfrey Lowell Cabot papers, only two boxes are directly related to the Watch and Ward Society between 1913 and 1921. Yet those two boxes offer researchers a wide range of documentary evidence concerning the Watch and Ward’s activities during this period. My own perusal of the collection this week turned up a few documents that hint at some fascinating stories.

For example, there is an invoice from The Morgan-Boylston Detective Agency for expenses related to “Case 1172” during the fall of 1917. These expenses included taxi hire, car and boat fares, a railroad trip from Boston to New York City, room at a hotel, and unspecified “entertainment.” $10.00 in cash was also paid out to a Mr. H.

A more descriptive report from the same case is found in another folder, and it becomes clear that the investigators are seeking out information concerning the activities taking place at a certain hotel where “it is claimed many high jinks times used to occur.” The author of the report (“Operative #38”) observes, “I attended a banquet on business one night in almost the same room pointed out by Mrs. Moore, if not the same one, when girls in pink skin tights danced the ‘Hoochy Koochy’ on the dining table.”

The Watch and Ward was not only interested in illegal activities, but also in monitoring the efforts of “good people” and institutions involved in public health. On 16 April 1918, J. Frank Chase, the secretary of the Watch and Ward, wrote a letter describing his visit to the Old Army Medical Museum in Washington D.C. for a screening of “Fit to Fight,” a propaganda film that was part of the military’s attempt to combat “the Social Diseases.” While he approved of the general effort, Chase was critical of certain aspects of the film:

Realizing the difficulties of the subject and how mistakes are inevitable and the diversity of opinion even among good people as to the details and the methods of doing this necessary work, I am loathe to criticize the work accomplished. Yet, I must urge one criticism of the method. It concerns the unwisdom [sic] of putting on exhibition at the very beginning or at all the picture of a nude woman of full front view, as is done in this film.

While he acknowledges the “nude” is, in fact, a statue of Venus, he argues that its manner of display is troubling. It “does not declare itself as a statue until after such a time as gives the mind a chance to conclude ‘Here is the picture of a naked woman,’ and to gasp at the boldness.”

It is unclear from the existing correspondence whether anyone in the War Department was similarly offended by the film, or whether Chase’s objection to it had any effect on future screenings.

These are just a few examples of the primary source materials to be found in the Cabot papers related to Watch and Ward efforts. You can read more about the Watch and Ward in Miller’s new book, Banned in Boston. The Geoffrey Lowell Cabot papers are open and available for research in the Library’s reading room.

[1] Neil Miller, Banned in Boston, 47.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 February, 2011, 8:00 AM

New on our Shelves: American Insurgents, American Patriots

It's no exaggeration to say that you could fill a shelf with books coming out this fall which draw on collections or publications of the MHS. I'll be highlighting some of these in a series of posts, beginning with this one.

T.H. Breen's American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (Hill and Wang, 2010) uses as the centerpiece of one very interesting chapter the "Correspondence in 1774 and 1775, Between a Committee of the Town of Boston and Contributors of Donations for the Relief of the Sufferers by the Boston Port Bill," published in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 4th Series, Volume IV (1858), pp. 1-279. This volume of the Collections can be read online via Google Books (here) or of course you're welcome to read the volume here in the library. The original Boston Committee of Donations letterbooks remain in our collections as well; you can see the catalog record for those here.

Stay tuned for more of this fall's new books, and of course watch our events calendar for all the upcoming author talks and discussions.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 17 September, 2010, 1:10 PM

Just Published: Mather's "Biblia Americana"

We received a long-awaited and much-anticipated package in today's mail: a copy of the first volume of Cotton Mather's Biblia Americana, just published by Mohr Siebeck/Baker Academic. This volume (of ten) marks the first publication of this weighty and important work, edited by a team of extremely dedicated editors headed up by Reiner Smolinski, Professor of English at Georgia State University.

The manuscript of Mather's Biblia Americana, which comprises some 4,500 pages over six volumes, is in the collections of the MHS, so understandably we're thrilled to see this project bear its first fruits in this volume, which covers Mather's commentary on the book of Genesis. It and the future volumes will certainly be a great help to us here in the library as well as to the scholars around the world who will now have access to a well-edited, carefully-annotated version of the text.

Mather's work is, as Smolinski describes it in his erudite and thorough introduction to the volume, "the oldest comprehensive commentary on all the canonical books of the Bible to have been composed in British North America" (p. 3). It "represents one of the great untapped resources in American religious and intellectual history," Smolinski writes, as Mather's "scriptural interpretations reflect the growing influence of Enlightenment thought in America as well as the rise of the transatlantic evangelical awakening."

This is hardly your run-of-the-mill biblical commentary. Mather poses rhetorical questions about the verses he annotates, and uses a stunningly broad range of source texts to explore the topics at hand. As Smolinski notes, this often leads Mather far beyond "the more conventional concerns of biblical philology and academic theology," as he tackles questions of natural philosophy and particularly topics of specific interest to American readers (such as religious customs, cultural practices, and medicinal treatments). Having sifted through "literally hundreds of different tomes" (a list of which Smolinski provides), Mather intended his work to be a "clergyman's personal encyclopedia (in the absence of a college library), a one-stop shop where educated readers could interface with Pagan antiquity, Newtonian science, and Old-Time Religion" (p. 6).

Alas, and despite years of trying, Mather never found a publisher to take on the project, though certainly not for lack of effort on his part (a process recounted ably by Smolinski in his introduction).

A hearty congratulations to Reiner Smolinski and his team for their hard work on this volume (and on those to come)!

If you're interested in the editorial project, you can learn more at the project website.

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 2 September, 2010, 4:31 PM

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