The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

This week's events round-up is a bit top-heavy with four events in three days. Kicking things off on Monday, 14 July, is a Brown Bag lunch talk that begins at noon. Stop by with your lunch and listen as Jonathan Koefoed presents "Cautious Romantics: The Dana Family of Boston as the Interpretive Key to a Larger Discourse." With this project, Koefoed hopes to provide a fuller picture of the way that European Romantic texts functioned in American intellectual, cultural, and religious history by highlighting a group of "Cautious Romantics" that emerged as an alternative and conservative Romantic religious tradition in America between 1800 and the late 19th century. The program focuses on how the Dana Family functions as a critical lens through which one can view the large Cautious Romantic discourse. This program is free and open to the public.

On Tuesday, 15 July, is another Brown Bag lunch talk, this time presented by Mark Thompson of the University of Groningen. "Land, Liberty, & Property: Surveyors and the Production of Empire in British North America" examines the land surveyor as a key figure in early America - instrumental in everything form makring colonial boundaries to measuring the smallest parcel of a farmer's land. Adapting European methods to American conditions, surveyors drafted a "creole science" that served the demands of imperial authorities and common settlers alike. Together they transformed land into liberty, property, and territorial empire. This talk begins at noon and is free and open to the public. 

Also on Tuesday is a rare summer evening event. "'What is Focus?' Margaret Hall's Battle Country" is an author talk featuring Margaret R. Higonnet, editor of the forthcoming MHS publication Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: The World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall. Higonnet is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut, an affiliate at Harvard's Center for European Studies, and has published extensively on gender and World War I. Providing comment during the talk are Susan Solomon and Suzanne Diefenbach. Solomon, of Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, will comment on her research into the life and photographs of Hall. Diefenbach, great niece of Margaret Hall, will share recollections of "Aunts" and life with her at Paradise Hill Farm in Hull, Massachusetts. This event is open to the public but registration is required at no cost. Register online or call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560. Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. 

The next day, Wednesday, 16 July, there is a third Brown Bag lunch talk. In this installment, Laurie Dickmeyer, University of California, presents "Americans in Chinese Treaty Ports: Trade and Diplomacy in Nineteenth-Century U.S. - China Relations." With this project, Dickmeyer explores the changing texture and relationship of trade and diplomacy between American and Chinese traders and diplomats from 1784 to the 1860s. This talk will present an overview of the project but will focus on findings from traders' records at the MHS. The talk is open to the public and begins at noon. 

And on Saturday, 19 July, is another free public tour. Beginning at 10:00AM, The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led tour of the Society's historic building and touches on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Society. The tour is free and open to the public and no reservations are 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

Finally, remember that our current exhibition is open to the public free of charge. "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War" features photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia related to Margaret Hall and Eleanor (Nora) Saltonstall, Red Cross volunteers in France. This exhibit commemorates the centennial of the outbreak of World War I and celebrates the forthcoming MHS publication Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: The World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall. The exhibit is open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM until 24 January 2015. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 13 July, 2014, 12:00 PM

Margaret Hall’s WWI Memoir: The Book, the Talk, the Exhibition

I’ve posted on the Beehive a few times about Margaret Hall, a Massachusetts woman who volunteered with the American Red Cross in France during World War I. So you may know (and if you didn’t, now you do!) that her memoir and selected photographs from her war experience will be published for the first time in the Society’s forthcoming book, Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: The World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall. The MHS will publish the volume on 14 July 2014.

Come celebrate the release of Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country on Tuesday, 15 July 2014, when the volume’s editor, Margaret R. Higonnet, will give a talk titled “‘What is Focus?’ Margaret Hall’s Battle Country.” The program will run from 6:00 to 7:30 PM following a pre-talk reception at 5:30 PM. This event is free but requires an RSVP. Register online or call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560.

And while you’re in the Society’s 1154 Boylston Street building, you can take in our current exhibition, Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War. Until then, you can get your Margaret Hall fix from July’s Object of the Month.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 11 July, 2014, 8:00 AM

Guest Post: Searching for the Federalist Party in Massachusetts

I plan to be a professional historian, but I had this nagging worry that sifting through a bunch of historical documents could be a mind-numbing slog that would turn me off of the subject I love so much. Thanks to the Massachusetts Historical Society, I now know I’m in this for the long haul. I had so much fun looking through old letters, speeches, and newspaper publications. Every text seemed to be an appeal from the long-dead author, saying, “Hear me! Know my story!” It was a thrilling experience to hear the perspective of contemporaries and draw my own conclusions.

Once I was shown around the building and told how to navigate the collection, I felt right at home. There is such a welcoming atmosphere, and I really felt the satisfaction of learning from the material, rather than simply completing an assigned project. I could assign real value to my work, and I wasn’t treated like a child. I really enjoyed working on my own investigation, alongside like-minded people, in an environment in which I felt completely at ease. During my visits I was delighted to see other young people doing the same kind of thing. The staff always took me seriously, and was always ready to help if I had a question. Until now I had never used microfiche, but within two minutes the reference librarian had me set up and I knew all I needed to know to use it. I could even take pictures of the old documents and email them to myself so I could do work at home.

My project was an investigation of just what happened to the Federalist party after the Revolution of 1800, the first major turnover of power in our government’s history. Usually we are taught that this defeated party, woefully out of touch with public opinion, faded into obscurity quickly after being defeated by Thomas Jefferson, apparently the dashing savior of the republic. The sources I looked over showed a very different story of a party that raised its standard against what they saw as misgovernment and staged a strong, if brief, political comeback.

My most invaluable resource was a collection of the letters by the arch-Federalist Harrison Gray Otis in the aftermath of the disastrous Hartford Convention. I actually came upon it by accident while looking through a collection of Massachusetts letters for a specific speech. The letters form a plea by Otis to posterity, people like us, to not let the name of Massachusetts be blackened by the misrepresentation of its conduct by the rest of the country. After watching a rival get elected governor and listening to that man’s denouncement of his own state during the War of 1812, he laments:

Hereafter it will be too late to blot out the blot made by His Excellency upon the historic page, by alleging that his speech was intended merely to chime with the slang of the day. It will be answered … that the accused party in the Legislature quailed under the pungent rebuke from the chair, and that members of the Convention continued to be dumb as sheep before their shearer … will not the rising generations of this State burn with shame and indignation when it shall constantly be thrown in their teeth by the rising generations of other States, that their base blood has crept to them through ancestors who silently admitted themselves to be stigmatized as outlaws from the “American Family!”

It was the discovery of documents such as this that helped me to develop a real connection to the project, unearthing old misconceptions and hearing age-old voices as directly as I possibly could. The MHS archives gave me a wonderful opportunity to experience historical research first hand. Even now that my fellowship is over I intend to go back and continue my research. We are so lucky to have access to these documents in Massachusetts and this organization, and I hope other people will take advantage of them as I did.


**The MHS has awarded the John Winthrop Student Fellowship since 2013. This fellowship encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the Society in a research project of their choosing.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 8:00 AM

“Use the Elevated!”: The Boston Elevated Railway Promotes its Services in 1926

On July 1st, riders on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) rail and bus system saw fare increases that brought the cost of a single local bus ride to $1.60 and a single rapid transit (“T”) ride to $2.10. In light of this change, and the ongoing discussion within the Boston metropolitan area -- as well as across the country -- about the place of mass transit in the fabric of our lives, I thought it would be timely to look back at the history of Bostonians transit options.

The history of “mass” transportation in the Boston area actually begins much earlier than one might assume, with the commencement of stagecoach service between Boston and Cambridge in 1793. The nineteenth century saw an expansion of horse-drawn omnibuses and railcars, then a conversion to electric trolley lines in the late 1800s. This shift came about in part due to organized opposition to the harsh treatment of the working horses. The 1890s also saw the construction of the first subway tunnel in the United States, Boston’s Tremont Street Subway completed in 1897. By the 1920s there were hundreds of miles of streetcar, elevated, and subway tracks wending their way through Boston, many of them run by the Boston Elevated Railway Company. In 1926, the Elevated issued a Guide and Information Book for riders which offers us a glimpse at what public transit was like almost a century ago.

In 1926 the fare for a single ride on the local rail and bus lines in Boston was ten cents, or $1.30 in today’s currency (adjusted for inflation). As today, the company struggled to make needed improvements in service on the income these fares produced. In a section of the pamphlet titled, “USE THE ELEVATED,” the company exhorted Bostonians to use the railway “operated by the public and for the public.” According to the company’s 1925 ridership statistics, the average resident rode the railway less than once per day. Their faith in the public’s civic engagement is admirable as they proceed to provide a line-item budget for needed improvements and suggest that “If the population served had traveled an average of once a day per capita … revenue would have increased by $7,800,000”! Would that Bostonians of today responded to such fiscally-minded challenges to “use it more”!

With a network of railways and bus routes that trace similar routes to modern-day transit lines, then, as now, “the railway [offered] a solution for traffic congestion.” Even before the highway and automobile boom following World War Two, Bostonians wrestled with the problem of congested streets and long commutes. “At Governor Square and Kenmore Station in the … period between 5.30 to 5.45 P. M.,” the Guide reports, “there were 30 elevated units comprising 78 cars transporting 4178 passengers [while] 1204 automobiles [carried] 2057 passengers.” One pictures earnest civil engineers standing on each corner, pencil and notebook in hand, scribbling away.

The Guide also offers visitors to Boston a useful list of cultural and historical sites of interest, including our very own Massachusetts Historical Society (“Subway--Ipswitch Street car”). “To the resident or visitor,” the Guide concludes on the final page, “Boston offers an inexhaustible variety, whatever his [sic] inclination may be”:

If it be historical, here he may find the scenes of the events which shaped the early development of our country. If literary and education, its churches, libraries, schools and colleges; if artistic, in its galleries, museums and concerts halls where the world’s best of art and music may be seen and heard. … for amusement there are its theatres, skating rinks, baseball parks, boating and canoeing, trolley rides, automobile rides, and nearby all the delights of the seashore, salt water bathing, and excursion trips.

Such boosterism would definitely make modern-day Boston’s promoters proud.

Interested in exploring the history of Boston’s transportation network further? For a live-action tour through the history of Boston street cars, check out Civil Engineering student Gil Propp’s twenty-minute documentary film “Streetcar Tracks” available to stream at his website Boston Streetcars. And of course, researchers are always welcome to stop by the Massachusetts Historical Society (Green line T--Hynes Convention Center) to explore our holdings!



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 9 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

With the first full week of July the MHS events calendar is filled with public programs for the month. So, without further ado, here is what is on tap.

Starting things off on Wednesday, 9 July, come in for a Brown Bag lunch talk presented by Jordan Watkins of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "Slavery, Sacred Texts, and the Antebellum Confrontation with History" explores biblical and constitutional debates over slavery in the antebellum era and argues that the developing slavery crisis fueled the move to understand both the Bible and the Constitution as historical texts. Watkins also contends that the emphasis on contextual interpretation among biblical scholars in the first few decades of the nineteenth century informed a similar reading of the Constitution in the decades before the Civil War. The project demonstrates that these overlapping developoments cultivated an awarenedss of the historical distances that divided Americans from their favored biblical and Revolutionary pasts. This talk is free and open to the public and begins at noon. 

Then, beginning on Thursday, 10 July, is a two-day teacher workshop. "Symbols of Liberty: The Magna Carta, the Liberty Bowl, and the American Revolution" takes place in conjuction with the exhibition Magna Carta: Cornerstone of Liberty at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This professional development workshop, offered by the MFA and the MHS, is aimed at teachers in grades K-12 and provides an introduction to the rich collections of 18th century documents and objects at both institutions. The workshop will include lectures, hands-on activities in the classroom, and gallery explorations using primary source documents and original art objects related to the founding of the United States. Registration is required for this event at a cost of $100. Registration covers admission to the MFA, lunch both days, and materials. Participants can earn one graduate credit from Framingham State University for an additional fee. Visit the MFA website to register. Contact for more information. 

And on Friday, 11 July, there is another Brown Bag lunch talk scheduled. This time, Rachel Trocchio, University of California, Berkely, presents "Form and Failure: American Puritanism, Quantification, and the Way of All Grace." From its foundations in the diagrammatic habits of sixteenth-century England to its intercourse with the new science of infinity, Puritanism applied a series of quantitative strategies for understanding an arbitrary God and the perfection of his decrees. This program argues that, simultaneously as these quantifications failed, their very failure inspired the imaginative leap between sensory and intelligible things that Puritanism made requisite for knowledge of God and one’s grace.

Finally, on Saturday, 12 July, there is a free building tour at 10:00AM. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led tour that explores all of the public space in the Society's home at 1154 Boylston Street and touches on the history, collections, art, and architecture of the building. This tour is free and open to the public. No reservations required for individuals and small groups. However, groups of 8 or more should contact art curator Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 6 July, 2014, 12:00 PM

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