Serendipity in the Archives
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
I recently processed a manuscript collection that contains some terrific material related to the Boston Lyceum for the Education of Young Ladies, a school founded by Dr. John Park (1775-1852) in 1811. I'd never heard of the school before, but in a matter of weeks, very similar papers cropped up in two other collections here at the MHS, like an archival version of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
John Park had been a physician in the West Indies from 1795 to 1801, then a newspaperman in Newburyport and Boston, Mass., before founding his Lyceum. The school gave girls a classical academic education rather than lessons in the usual “feminine accomplishments.” Classes were held at Park’s home in Beacon Hill, and he did all the teaching himself. He was, by all accounts, a gifted and enthusiastic teacher, respected and loved by his students.
Sarah Bryant (1812-1887) was one of the many daughters of prominent Boston families who attended the school. The Fay-Mixter collection contains several small (approximately 3 ¾ x 2 ½ inches) “report cards” filled out by Dr. Park, 1827-1829, recording her marks in arithmetic, composition, parsing, history, geography, Latin, French, Italian, and other subjects. Park felt ranking his students and rewarding high achievers with “medals” promoted healthy competition. Sarah Bryant earned medals for good composition and good improvement, as well as a whopping seven Eye of Intelligence awards, “the highest honour ever conferred in the Lyceum.”
Dr. Park also wrote personal remarks on most of the cards. He described Sarah as “one of the best writers in the Lyceum,” “correct and bright,” with “powerful natural talents” that were being “successfully cultivated.” Park was “highly gratified” with her academic work, but unfortunately she had one bad habit that frustrated him: leaving her seat to socialize with other students. He wrote: “Miss Bryant has quick powers and holds a high rank.[…]I have only to regret her being so frequently out of her seat, conversing with those who do not sufficiently value their time.” On another card, he described her as “very capable, but too much like Hamlet’s ghost ‘hic et ubique.’” (Translation: here and everywhere.) His advice? “Steady habits would perfect the scholar.”
Another student (and another Sarah) who attended the school just before Miss Bryant was Sarah Loring (1811-1892). The MHS holds several of her report cards, ca. 1824-1827. Although she earned a few medals for good composition and good improvement, as well as one Eye of Intelligence award, she ranked lower in the class, and Dr. Park’s remarks were more mixed. On the plus side, she was “full of zeal,” “faithful,” “amiable, studious,” “attentive,” and “indefatigable.” However, she displayed an exasperating lack of discipline. She talked too much (“If I did not hear Miss Loring’s voice so often, she should have great praise.”), arrived late (“Exercises begin at 8.”), and disrupted lessons (“Still interrupts me sometimes.”). She was often marked for disturbance, and one card includes the ominous warning: “Beware of another week.”
But no matter how difficult the pupil, Dr. Park almost always mitigated his criticism with encouragement. He frequently assured Sarah that she wrote well, even though he was disappointed by her “dreadful” handwriting: “Your Composition has improved much; you want more care in the execution.” He also complained that her essays were too short: “You write well. Do write longer.” But what Miss Loring needed most, he thought, was confidence. When she wasn’t intimidated by her lessons, she showed great skill. For example, he described her Latin work as “excellent. Was afraid of Horace, but acquits herself well.” And after one impressive composition, he praised her for making “scarcely an error. Courage give the same freedom to your mind, when you take your pen, that it has at other times, & you will find no difficulty.”
Even earlier papers related to the Lyceum are located in the Rogers-Mason-Cabot family papers. This collection includes a book of essays written by Hannah Rogers (1806-1871) when she was a student of Dr. Park’s between 1822 and 1824. Subjects include friendship, education, religion, etc., and many of the essays won gold medals and medals for literary ambition and rapid improvement. Dr. Park carefully corrected Hannah’s grammatical errors, but added other comments that reveal his affection for and pride in his student. In spite of “small inaccuracies,” he wrote, Hannah’s “powers are vigorous, and your style very much to my taste. With a very little more practice, you will rank among my best in composition.” And her essay about happiness and misery provoked this thoughtful response:
Though there are some small errors in the execution, (particularly the want of periods, where the sentence is completely ended) this is one of the ablest exercises you have produced. Though a sombre view of mankind, it contains strong and just observations, which show a discriminating and reflecting mind.
The Boston Lyceum for the Education of Young Ladies was open for 20 years. One of its most prominent students was Margaret Fuller, who attended from 1821 to 1822. For more information on Fuller’s studies and the school, see Charles Capper’s 1992 biography or Megan Marshall's Pulitzer Prize winning biography, published in 2013.
| Published: Thursday, 22 January, 2015, 12:24 PM
This Week @ MHS
The Society is closed on Monday, 19 January, in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
On Wednesday, 21 January, join us as the Boston Saxophone Quartet performs a selection of songs that take the audience through the musical landscape of World War I. "Here Comes America" begins at 6:00PM with a reception beginning at 5:30PM. This event is open to the public at a cost of $10 (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617-646-0578 to register.
Calling all history teachers! On Saturday, 24 January, the Society will host a teacher workshop co-sponsored by the Abigail Adams Historical Society. "John & Abigail: A Life in Letters" is a hands-on workshop that (re)introduces participants to the famous couple and their rich correspondence. This program is open to all K-12 educators, as well as history enthusiasts. The workshop begins at 9:00AM. Regsitration is required with a fee of $50. For more information, or to register, contact the education departpment at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-646-0557, or, complete this registration form.
Also on Saturday, 24 January, beginning at 10:00AM, is the History and Collections of the MHS, a 90-minute docent-led tour of the public spaces at the Society. The tour is free and open to the public with no reservations required. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or email@example.com.
Finally, this week is your last chance to see our current exhibition before it closes. "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country" is open this week every day, 10:00AM-4:00PM, ending on Saturday. Be sure to see if before it's gone!
| Published: Sunday, 18 January, 2015, 11:57 AM
The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution
After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.
The 18th amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by Congress on 18 December 1917. About thirteen months later, on 16 January 1919, Nebraska signed on as the 36th state approving the amendment, thus ratifying it as law. For the next 14 years, the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol was illegal in the United States.
The calls for prohibition and temperence were nothing new. In fact, Massachusetts already had experience dealing with prohibitory laws. In 1855, a law passed that forbade the sale of all intoxicating liquors (including beer, wine, and cider) as a drink or medicine, except when sold by certain agents of the State. Appeals for a more lenient license law were constant until 1875 when the new Governor Gaston recommended repeal of the law. As it turns out, not everyone was strictly abiding by the law while it was in place, a problem that was endemic during the national prohibition decades later
Here at the MHS, we have documents relating to these issues going back a century before the 18th amendment became law. Much of the material here is in support of prohibition and is pro-temperance. In some cases, women involved in the suffrage movement tried to combine forces with the temperance movement, encouraging suffrage so that the temperance movement could have more votes. Francis Parkman, a temperance advocate, disagreed with the strategy:
However, among all the 19th century voices condemning the consumption of alcohol, there were still those opposed to full prohibition, even some that were members of the clergy:
After just a few years, there were claims that Prohibition and the 18th amendment were already failing. One such example comes from Joseph Curtis who wrote a pamphlet simply titled Prohibition is a Failure in 1924. Prompted by an article stating that stricter enforcement of the law was soon to come (embodied in the Volstead Act), Curtis recounts reading a statement by Dr. C.W. Eliot calling for such enhanced enforcement and how he felt that his "life, liberty and happiness, and that of every other american citizen was going to be imperiled if Dr. Eliot's views should prevail. For without liberty and happiness, life isn't worth living..."
To find out what else the MHS has regarding temperance and prohibition, try searching the terms in our online catalog, ABIGAIL. Then raise a glass to the liberty and happiness of Mr. Curtis which make life worth living!
| Published: Friday, 16 January, 2015, 4:17 PM
Learning the Ropes: High School Students Research at MHS
By Kathleen Barker, Education Department
As our teaching collegues head into the second half of the school year, I paused to reflect back on all the Education Department accomplished this fall. In doing so, I realized that November was a busy month for student workshops at the Society. Two programs in particular highlight the ways in which education and library staff members collaborate to make our collections accessible to audiences beyond academics. On November 10, students from Needham High School returned to the MHS for a program on the coming of the American Revolution in Boston. They analyzed propaganda from the 1760s and the 1770s, including this entertaining newspaper article encouraging colonists to boycott goods imported from Britain. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of Needham teachers and MHS staff, students were able to search for and request specific items to view during their visit. For many students, this was their first opportunity to examine original manuscripts and rare printed materials in a research library setting!
On November 19, we welcomed students from Concord Academy. This excited group of young researchers examined documents related to slavery, abolition, and the African Americans in the Civil War in order to help select topics for an upcoming project. Students then discussed the messages promoted in abolitionist propaganda such as these cotton banners from the 1840s, and considered the role that African Americans like the men of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment played in securing an end to slavery. Since these students were just beginning their research efforts, they also took a tour of the library and learned more about specific research tools like ABIGAIL and our collections guides.
If you would like to learn more about field trip opportunities for K-12 classes, please contact our education department!
| Published: Thursday, 15 January, 2015, 8:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
It is the return of the seminars this week at the MHS. Up first, on Tuesday, 13 January, from the Environmental History series is "The Rise and Fall of the Texas Longhorn." This talk, given by Joshua Specht of Harvard University, explores the crossroads of economics and biology in the evolution of the cattle ranching industry. Comment provided by Beth LaDow, author of The Medicine Line: Life and Death on a North American Borderland. The talk begins at 5:15PM. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
On Wednesday, 14 January, stop by at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk given by Kate Culkin of Bronx Community College, CUNY. "The Emerson Sisters' Correspondence: A Record of Daily Life in the Emerson Home and Nineteenth-Century Concord" explores the changing world of the nineteenth century through the correspondence of two daughters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. This event is free and open to the public.
Another seminar takes place on Thursday, 15 January, this time from the Biography series. The panel, moderated by Caroly Bundy, will discuss "Biography, the Visual Artist, and the Story Behind Public Art." This seminar begins at 5:30PM. Please RSVP. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
Finally, once again there is a free tour taking place on Saturday, 17 January, at 10:00AM. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led tour through the public spaces of the Society's home at 1154 Boylston Street. The tour is open to the public at no charge. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
| Published: Tuesday, 13 January, 2015, 8:25 AM