The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Margaret Russell’s Diary, January 1916

After receiving positive feedback on last year’s serial documenting a journey up the Nile by an anonymous diarist, I decided to repeat the format in 2016 but with a very different type of diary from the MHS collections.



Between 1913-1922, Margaret Russell kept track of her activities in Ward’s line-a-day diaries pre-formatted to accommodate five years worth of daily records. As historian Molly McCarthy documents in her history of the daily planner, these standard blank books rose in popularity toward the end of the 19th century. The Samuel Ward Company of Boston, Massachusetts copyrighted their format in 1892, offering a “condensed, comparative record for five years” with the tagline, “nulla dies sine linea (not a day without a line).” Russell’s volume, which she began filling in 1913 at the age of fifty-five, offers prefatory instructions for the inexperienced diarist:



Russell appears to have found satisfaction in keeping her line-a-day record, because three years later in January 1916 she is still diligently writing daily in her Ward’s volume. The first month of the year is punctuated by poor weather and ill-health, as well as a full slate of social activities. While brief, in aggregate form the diary entries grant us view of daily life for a white, upper middle-class woman in middle age, living in Boston in the second decade of the twentieth century.


1 Jan. Saturday. Snowing & raining. Ear & Eye hosp. & errands. Went to Cambridge to see Katey & Aunt E--. Concert with Mrs. Schelling & Mrs. Sears.*

2 Jan. Sunday - Church - Lunched at H.G.C.’s. Family to dine & then to Slater musical. Gov. W-- very prominent.

3 Jan. Monday - Hosp. meeting. [word] lunch at Marian’s. Botany lecture & drove to Swampscott. Very heavy roads.

4 Jan. Tuesday - Paying bills - walked downtown to Dr. Crockett for third time about my ear. Lafayette Fund show with Georgie.

5 Jan. Wednesday - dancing - Ward lecture. Throat sore again. Going to [word] I put up car.

6 Jan. Thursday. Felt poorly with [word] cold. Went to tableaux with Marian R. A beautiful show.

7 Jan. Friday Walked for errands & Dr. Crockett who says I better go to Woodstock to have [word]. Stayed at home all the afternoon.

8 Jan. Saturday. Mr. Surette’s first lecture very interesting. Went to Ellen’s dancing school. Meant to go to assembly but throat prevented.

9 Jan. Sunday - Felt feverish so stayed in all day. Family to dine.

10 Jan. Warm & rainy. Drove to Cambridge with Miss A-- for botany lecture with slides. Much depressed by my ignorance.

11 Jan. Monday-Felt very poorly. Dr. C.sent me home & I passed the P.M. on my couch with pleasure. Gave up dinner at Burr’s. 

12 Jan. Wednesday - In the house all day this is the fourth sustained attack I have had.



13 Jan. In the house - better.

14 Jan. In the house. Sat in the window for a short time.Miss A- sent for as sister has pneumonia but she died before Miss A- got there.

15 Jan. So cold I gave up going out but sat in the window in the warm sun. Susan Bradley came to see me.

16 Jan. Sunday - did not go out. Mr Fenno came to call & family came to dine.

17 Jan. Monday - very cold & windy but drove to May R.’s birthday lunch and back .Botany lesson here. Ellen & teacher to play here.

18 Jan. Tuesday - lovely cold day.Feel better at last. Sat in the open window & went to Swampscott in P.M. Roads very good.

19 Jan. Wednesday. Went to Mrs.Ward’s lecture.Llunched at Chilton. Lecture at Art [word] & tea for Emily [word] at Mrs. T. Motley’s.

20 Jan. Thursday - Errands but began to snow and then rain so stayed at home in the P.M. Feeling better.

21 Jan. Friday. Went to concert & took Mrs.Hadder

22 Jan. Saturday Went to Mrs.Tyson’s in the P.M. did not feel so well.

23 Jan. Sunday Stayed in bed till dinner time & felt better. Family to dine.

24 Jan. Monday. Stayed in bed in the morning. Botany lesson & then rested.

25 Jan. Monday. Sat in the window & after lunch went to drive. Really warm. Gave up Lyman dinner.

  26 Jan. Wednesday.Drove morning & afternoon & feel better.

27 Jan.Thursday. Drove in the morning & went to bank. Lunch club at [word]. Went to see Dr. Balch who says I must be careful.

28 Jan. Friday - [word] not get up in the A.M. Lunched at Bell’s - took a drive & feel better.

29 Jan.Saturday-Mrs.Tyson’s in the A.M. To see Dr. Balch who called in Dr. W.D. Smith in consultation. Both say be careful.

30 Jan. So tired after yesterday’s performance that I stayed in bed until P.M. Lucy Bradley & Jessie came to call. Family to dine.

31 Jan. Monday -Feel better. Had my hair washed. Lunch at Marian’s & home for botany lesson. Rested. Mrs. McL-- called home.


Join me once a month throughout the year as we continue to follow Margaret Pelham Russell’s daily activities as she recorded them one hundred years ago.

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: 1 | permalink | Published: Friday, 29 January, 2016, 1:49 PM

This Week @ MHS

It's hard to believe that the end of the month is here already but we have a big exhibit opening to round out our January programs. More on that down the page. Here's what is on tap at the MHS this week:

- Tuesday, 26 January, 5:15PM : This week's lone seminar is part of the Immigration and Urban History series. This time around, Cristina Groeger of Harvard University presents "Laborers, Servants, and Schools: Aspirations of Mobility and the Reproduction of Inequality in Boston, 1880-1940." John McClymer of Assumption College provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers

- Wednesday, 27 January, 12:00PM : Pack up a lunch and spend an hour here at the Society so you can hear short-term research fellow Alisa Wade, The Graduate Center - CUNY, present her Brown Bag talk: "'Prepared to do Businessy with Many': Elite Women's Investment in Early National New York City." This project traces, among other things, women's participation in New York's transition to market capitalism in the early republic. The talk is free and open to the public. 

- Thursday, 28 January, 6:00PM : "'The Private Jefferson' Preview Reception." SOLD OUT This special member event gives visitors a sneak peak at the Society's newest exhibition before opening to the public. Remarks by Peter S. Onuf begin at 6:00PM, and the reception and preview begin at 6:30PM. 

This event is sold out. If you would like to be placed on the waiting list, please call 617-646-0518 or click on the RSVP link to submit your name online.

- Friday, 29 January, 9:00AM : The Private Jefferson, Special Breakfast PreviewMHS Fellows and Members are invited to a special breakfast preview. For those who are unable to attend the preview the night before, we will open the galleries at 9:00 AM. Stroll through the galleries and talk to MHS Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey before the doors open to the public. Coffee and pastries will be available. 

- Friday, 29 January, 10:00AM : The Private Jefferson opens to the public. This exhibit is open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, free of charge until 20 May 2016. 

- Saturday, 30 January, 10:00AM : "The History and Collections of the MHS" returns! Stop by for a free tour of the Society. This docent-led tour is open to the public, free of charge. While you're here you can also take in the current exhibition (see above). 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 24 January, 2016, 12:00 AM

Guild Library Discoveries

As I mentioned in a previous Beehive post, there are all kinds of interesting discoveries to be made when exploring MHS collections. This time around I will be talking about a collection of books that I came across almost by accident while navigating through ABIGAIL, our online catalog.  I found a link to a book on Norse mythology, written by Rasmus Bjorn Anderson, which intrigued me quite a bit.  Working in an institution with a clear focus on Massachusetts history, I admit I was confused when I found an item on Scandinavian antiquities.  I put in a request for the title, and when it came to me, it was in a large record carton with a number of other books. 

To my surprise, when I opened the carton there were ten volumes inside, only one of which was the book by Rasmus Bjorn Anderson.  Of the other nine, all were written by different authors, with the exception of a two volume edition of Evelina, by Fanny Burney.  In addition to Anderson’s Norse Mythology are included an English edition of Goethe’s fable Reynard the Fox and Edward B. Lytton’s historical novel The Last Days of Pompeii.  Why was Anderson’s volume on the mythology of ancient Scandinavia housed with these other intriguing yet disparate works?  The books are all part of the Guild Library, an eclectic private collection which is one of several such private collections gifted to the MHS throughout our institutional history consisting of books on a truly broad range of topics.  The library belonged to Curtis Guild, Jr., Governor of Massachusetts and MHS member, and was donated to the MHS under the terms of the will of his wife Sarah Louisa Guild in April of 1949 (MHS Proceedings, vol. 69).  Below are a few of the works I found particularly interesting, and just a taste of what the Guild Library has to offer.


Rasmus Bjorn Anderson, born in 1846 to Norwegian parents in Wisconsin, heavily promoted the Viking exploration of the New World and also originated Leif Erikson Day.  In his bookNorse Mythology, Anderson celebrates the linguistic and literary heritage of the Scandinavian countries, as well as that of Germany and England.  Anderson praises the efforts of nineteenth century scholars who promoted the study and spread of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse literature.  He then goes on to provide a preface to some of the major poems and written works that have survived in Old English and Old Norse, mainly from England and Iceland. 



The copy of Reynard the Fox has been translated from Goethe’s German into English verse by Thomas James Arnold.  Arnold, a nineteenth-century English barrister and magistrate, was known for his translations of Goethe and other German writers.  In addition to Reynard the Fox, Arnold translated Goethe’s Faust and Friedrich von Schiller’s ‘Song of the Bell’ into English.  Reynard the Fox is an epic verse adaptation of the story of Reynard the Fox, the central character in a cycle of fables dating to the Middle Ages, mainly from England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.  The main character, Reynard, is a trickster figure whose adventures involve a number of other animal characters including Bruin the Bear, Sir Isegrim the Wolf, and Noble, the King of Beasts.  The stories surrounding Reynard’s exploits seem to parody the political and religious institutions of the Middle Ages, as a number of characters are clearly modeled on such familiar positions as the monarch, the priest, and the soldier. 


The Last Days of Pompeii, written by Lord Edward Bulwer Lytton in 1834, is a work of historical fiction focusing on events in the city of Pompeii leading up to the fateful eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  The novel was popular throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century, although today its popularity has severely waned.  The plot centers on a number of the city’s inhabitants.  The principal characters include a Greek aristocrat, an Egyptian sorcerer, an enslaved noblewoman, and a Christian persecuted for his faith.  The novel has been adapted to a variety of other mediums, including opera, film, and television.  Notably, the 1959 film version, directed by Sergio Leone, is considered a standard of the “sword-and-sandals” epic genre.  The cover is beautifully decorated with an image of townspeople fleeing as Vesuvius erupts, as well as with gilding and patterning along the borders. Throughout the book are intricate illustrations of scenes from the novel, though the illustrator’s name is not included.  The book is a perfect read for those hoping to learn more about nineteenth century printing, historical fiction, or romanticized memories of classical antiquity.

My curiosity about a book on Norse mythology would lead me to a number of other exciting discoveries.  I never thought that I would find a translation of a Goethe poem or a copy of a nineteenth-century historical fiction novel in the MHS collections, let alone boxed together with Anderson’s text.  The Guild Library collection covers a number of other topics as well, including African exploration and big game hunting in the nineteenth century.  There are all sorts of interesting items for the steadfast researcher or the inquisitive reader.  I can personally attest that hoping to examine just a single item, namely Anderson’s Norse Mythology, led me down a literary rabbit-hole I would not have thought existed.  Yet another example of what can happen while just browsing through MHS collections (  


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 22 January, 2016, 4:07 PM

“He has so damnd himself to everlasting Infamy”: Alexander Hamilton and Abigail Adams

Between the $10 bill and a smash-hit musical, everybody seems to be talking about Alexander Hamilton. January marks not only the anniversary of Hamilton’s birth, and his resignation as Secretary of the Treasury in 1795, it also marks the anniversary of the most famous, or infamous, insult hurled Hamilton’s way. It was on 25 January 1806 that John Adams memorably referred to Hamilton as the “bastard brat of a Scotch Pedler.”

John Adams’s hostility toward Hamilton late in life is well known and is usually attributed to the role Hamilton played in the Election of 1800, attacking Adams and contributing to his defeat. But the Adamses, both John and Abigail, had expressed distrust of Hamilton long before then, and Abigail was just as colorful as John was. In 1794 when opponents of his economic proposals condemned Hamilton, Abigail noted that while some of the criticism was unwarranted, it was not entirely unfounded. Alluding to William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Abigail cautioned John, “I have ever thought with respect to that Man, ‘beware of that spair Cassius.’”

The next few years did nothing to improve Abigail’s opinion. Hamilton was widely believed to have unsuccessfully meddled in the 1796 Election, attempting to keep Thomas Jefferson out of the vice presidency, even, or perhaps, especially, if it meant sacrificing John Adams’ candidacy. Hearing of Hamilton’s interference in December 1796, Abigail wrote, “I have often said to you, H——n is a Man ambitious as Julius Ceasar, a subtle intriguer. his abilities would make him Dangerous if he was to espouse a wrong side. his thirst for Fame is insatiable. I have ever kept My Eye upon him.”

The revelation of Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds in 1797 was a breaking point for Abigail, leading to some of her most vitriolic comments. As the Quasi-War with France was building and the United States formed a new army, Abigail could not understand those who wanted Hamilton to be commander-in-chief. “That man would in my mind become a second Buonaparty if he was possessd of equal power,” she wrote to her cousin in July 1798. By January 1799, Abigail was increasingly heated. Learning that her son Thomas Boylston Adams who had been in Europe was to return to the United States on board the ship Alexander Hamilton, Abigail sneered, “I dont like even the Name of the ship in which he is to embark” and in letters written to John on 12 and 13 January, she railed against Hamilton. Abigail firmly believed that Hamilton’s failure to uphold his private marriage vow inevitably made any public vow he made suspect. In a Biblical allusion to King David, she warned that with Hamilton in charge of the army, “Every Uriah must tremble for his Bathsheba.”

While John’s acerbity is well known, Abigail Adams was no more timid in her remarks. Throughout the 1790s, Alexander Hamilton was on the receiving end of her barbs, even though Abigail maintained that she saw no “breach of Charity” in her observations.

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 20 January, 2016, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

Please note that the MHS is CLOSED on Monday, 18 January, in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 19 January.

This week we have two seminars on tap to sate your historical appetite. They are

- Tuesday, 19 January, 5:15PM - Join us as Sara Georgini from the Adams Papers Editorial Project presents "The Providence of John and Abigail Adams," which asks what it meant for the Adamses of Massachusetts to be "raised" Christian in America. Chris Beneke of Bentley University provides comment. This talk is part of the Early American History Seminar series. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Thursday, 21 January, 5:30PM - "Biography, Inc.: Two Writers Talk about the Trade." Join Christopher Benfey, Mount Holyoke College, and Megan Marshall, Emerson College, in a wide-ranging conversation moderated by Susan Ware of American National Biography about teaching, reviewing, and writing biography. This seminar is part of the New England Biography seriesPlease RSVP, this event is free.

There is no Saturday tour this week.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 17 January, 2016, 12:00 AM

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