The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

From Medicine to Music: #8 The Fenway

Around the Neighborhood - #8 the Fenway

These days, the Historical Society is hemmed in by institutions devoted to the study of music. Our neighbor to the east on Boylston Street is the Berklee College of Music. Around the corner to our southwest the New England Conservatory occupies several buildings. But, in looking through some old photos recently, I found that a very different group once rubbed shoulders with the MHS on the Fenway.

The second iteration of the Boston Medical Library was founded in 1875, thanks mainly to the efforts of the then 30-year-old Dr. James Read Chadwick with tremendous support from the older Dr. Henry Ingersoll Bowditch. Beginning in December 1874, these two men and many other prominent Boston doctors held several meetings and published circular letters to gain support for the founding of a new medical library in the city. Once there was enough support, Chadwick drew up a constitution and by-laws for the new library and, in October of 1875, the Boston Medical Library opened in two rooms at No.5 Hamilton Place in downtown Boston. It would take only three years for the rooms to become inadequate for the Library’s needs.

In February, 1878, the Boston Medical Library Association began making appeals for help in acquiring a new space. The property they purchased was located at 19 Boylston Place, previously both the home of Dr. Samuel G. Howe and a boardinghouse. This spot served as the Library headquarters for the next 23 years until the space was outgrown once again. In his History of the Boston Medical Library¸ Dr. John Farlow noted that “There was no doubt that No.5 Hamilton Place was outgrown in 1878, and No. 19 Boylston Place was outgrown in a still greater degree in 1900. How the library ever continued to exist and serve its members in the overcrowded quarters, seems more or less of a wonder, as we look back on it.”[i]

In May 1899 members of the Library were asked to decide between two parcels of land on which to construct a new building. At the meeting, a committee presented brief statements advocating for either a lot at St. Botolph and Garrison Streets or a lot on the Fenway. Regarding the lot on the Fenway, the committee stated:

On the Fenway we can buy two (or three) lots facing west by south, and next the Historical building. The western light will be very strong on the front. We can build fifty feet front by one hundred deep. The rear is tolerable, but not attractive. The front view is unsurpassed. It will be quiet, clean, bleak. It will appreciate in value of land. We cannot build a symmetrical building, without wells and irregularities. We are limited to seventy feet in height on the front. We may be allowed to carry the rear higher for a book-stack. We must buy a third lot, and keep it wholly or partially unoccupied for side windows and for future growth. We shall have a building twice as long as it is wide, and with a dark centre, unless we have plenty of side windows.[ii]

With a vote of 53 for and 19 against, the Association decided in favor of the Fenway lots. A building committee composed of Drs. John Collins Warren, James Read Chadwick, and Farrar Cobb selected Shaw and Hunnewell as architects. In November 1899, the committee awarded the $86,000 contract for erecting the building to the McNeil Brothers. They also gave contracts for heating, bookstacks, wiring, and an elevator well with room for the machinery. By 12 January 1901, the Library opened to the public with a dedication occurring that evening, just two years after the completion of the MHS’ home at 1154 Boylston Street.

The Boston Medical Library in 1919 at 8 Fenway. A portion of the MHS is seen on the left. What do you think happened to the planned side windows? ("Boston Medical Library" Unknown Photographer, 1919. From the Massachusetts Views collection. Massachusetts Historical Society.)

The Boston Medical Library remained at #8 Fenway for 64 years until the Library closed its doors on 14 June 1965. Over the next two all of its holdings were removed and merged with the collection of Harvard’s newly built Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. On 16 June, the Countway opened to readers.

On 15 January 1964, the Boston Medical Library trustees agreed to sell their building to the neighboring Boston Conservatory of Music for the price of $300,000. The actual sale did not occur until after the move to the Countway in July 1965, and the Library did not officially vacate the property until 2 September.[iii]

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of the Boston Medical Library you can search our online catalog, ABIGAIL, to see what materials we have relating to it. In addition to several printed volumes relating to the Library, the MHS holds significant collections of materials related to many early members of the Library, including Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Collins Warren, and Charles Pickering Putnam.

[i] Farlow, John W., The History of the Boston Medical Library, Norwood, Mass.: The Plimpton Press, 1918.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Garland, Joseph E., The Centennial History of the Boston Medical Library, 1875-1975, Boston: Trustees of the Boston Medical Library, 1975.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 4 April, 2014, 4:21 PM

Perry-Clarke Collection Guide Online

The guide to the Perry-Clarke collection is now online! Originally acquired by the MHS back in 1968, this collection has been available for research since then, but the old unwieldy paper guide needed a major overhaul. We hope this streamlined, fully searchable online guide will bring even more researchers to these wide-ranging and important materials.

Primarily the papers of Unitarian minister, transcendentalist, author, and reformer James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) and his family, the collection consists of 64 boxes of correspondence, sermons, lectures, journals, notebooks, and other papers and volumes. Included are papers of Clarke's wife Anna (Huidekoper) Clarke and members of the Huidekoper family, who were involved in the establishment of Meadville Theological School in Meadville, Pennsylvania, as well as papers of James and Anna's children, Lilian, Eliot, and Cora. Much of the collection documents the family's interest in social reform movements.

The Perry-Clarke collection may be best known to our researchers as the home of the 1844 journal and commonplace-book of Margaret Fuller, a close friend of the family. But I found many other items equally interesting. For example, one small manuscript diary entitled “Notes of a Nile voyage by S. A. Clarke, 1873.” S. A. Clarke was James's older sister Sarah Anne, better known, it turns out, by the name she adopted later, Sarah Freeman Clarke (1808-1896). She was an accomplished artist, teacher, and philanthropist, and her Nile diary is that of a well-educated, well-traveled, late-Victorian American woman in an unfamiliar country.

Here's an excerpt from 22 Dec. 1873:

We left Alexandria at ten o’clock A.M. The way was of perpetual interest. The camels pleased us particularly, walking along the embankment. They walk with their long necks stretched out, and their heads well up. They are ugly, but most picturesque, and one never tires of watching their solemn stride. They carry wonderful burdens. Four or five large building stories bound together with ropes, on each side, and which must bruise them at every step, is a common burden. They are the most patient of laborers, and with their backs piled with burdens, and an Arab on the top of all they make a most sketchable mass.

And about two months later inside one of the temples at Karnak:

In the room next to that where is a portrait of Cleopatra, I unfold my easel to make a sketch of some Sphinx heads which lie there. The sun glares in at the door and the noise of the Arabs without is distracting. I close the door and the place is now lighted only from some holes in the roof. There is light enough for me, but if I move the dust rises in clouds. Is this the dust of the Ptolemaic or the Pharaonic dynasty? It is very choky. The flies are also tormenting. They are the direct descendants of the flies that Moses procured to plague Egypt. […] As I sit there working alone the spirit of the past comes over me with much power. I have never been so near the old Egyptians as at this moment. […] I get a Sepia sketch of this suggestive corner. There is no time for more. The door opens, the Arabs scream, my friends come to look me up and we must go on. But I have added something important to my gallery of memories, and also to my portfolio of sketches.


Sarah Freeman Clarke sailed the Nile in a dahabeah like this one (from the Perry-Clarke collection)

To learn more about James Freeman Clarke, Margaret Fuller, and the Clarke and Huidekoper families, see ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the MHS.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 3 April, 2014, 11:26 AM

Are We All Created Equal?

In the introduction to his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk; Essays and Sketches W.E.B. Dubois argued that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” Is that problem still with us today, or do twenty-first-century Americans face a different challenge with respect to race and social justice? This is just one of the intriguing questions we will discuss next Wednesday, 2 April, at the final session of our film & discussion series, “Created Equal.” Facilitated by Joanne Pope Melish, author of Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England, 1780-1860, this series was made possible through funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

These public programs center on four nationally-acclaimed documentary films that address various aspects of the long Civil Rights movement. (Visit the Created Equal website to learn more about each film, including how to view it online.) Our first event, on 12 February, explored the issue of marriage, and the laws that regulate who can marry whom. In 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were married in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the couple lived in Virginia, where it was technically illegal for them to live as a married couple because Mildred was of African American and Native American descent and Richard was white. The Lovings’ case, which was eventually heard by the Supreme Court of the United States, raised many issues—in the 1950s and in our discussion—about the definition of rights and how the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does (or does not) protect certain rights.

On 12 March, we moved backwards in time to discuss the abolitionist movement using the three-part PBS film The Abolitions. Participants enjoyed debating the methods used by filmmakers to bring this era to life. A fruitful discussion about the film, its intended audience, and “traditional” narratives of American history took up most of the evening. Why, for example, was Frederick Douglass the only back abolitionists mentioned? Here in Boston and New England we recognize the important contributions made by African Americans such as Lewis and Harriet Hayden, and William Cooper Nell.  Participants were distressed to find that these local protagonists were left out of the narrative! We ended the program with this provocative inquiry: were the abolitionists successful?

Our last event will address two important post-Civil War issues. We will watch clips from Slavery by Another Name, which describes the huge system of forced, unpaid labor, mostly affecting Southern black men, that lasted until World War II. We will also view segments of Freedom Riders, a film that celebrates the Freedom Rides of 1961, and the often terrifying conditions faced by black and white volunteers as they attempted to desegregate public spaces in the Deep South. It’s not too late to join us! Contact the Education Department ( to register, or visit our web calendar  to learn more about the program.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 31 March, 2014, 8:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

March draws to a close, finally seeming to trade its lions for lambs. As April arrives we have a slew of programs at the Society this week. So, let us waste no time and get right to it.

Kicking things off on Tuesday, 1 April, stop by at noon for a special author talk with Larry Ruttman who will discuss his book American Jews & America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball. Ruttman's talk will look at the four main subjects of his work: baseball, American Jewish life in the United States over the last century, American history, and the revealing personal lives of people involved with the game. This talk is free and open to the public.

And on Tuesday evening, beginning at 5:15PM, is the latest in the Early American History Seminar series. In this edition, Jeff Perry of Purdue University presents "From 'Disturbers' to Protectors of the Peace: Baptist Church Discipline and Legalities on the Trans-Appalachian Frontier." In his paper, Perry considers how the instability engendered by the missionary movement and the rise of competing religious sects impacted individual churches' visions of their own authority and their role in regulating their wider communities. In so doing, he speaks to the constantly changing nature of secular and religious authority in the United States. Comment provided by Stephen A. Marini, Wellesley College.  Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

At noon on Wednesday, 2 April, pack a lunch and come by for a Brown Bag talk. This time, long-term research fellow Chris Cameron, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, presents part of his research for "Liberal Religion and Slavery in America, 1775-1865." His talk explores the disparate ways that liberal ministers engaged with the institution of slavery, whether as pro-slavery thinkers, colonizationists, or radical abolitionists. Cameron also examines the theological underpinnings of liberals' views on slavery, as well as the differences between Unitarian, Universalist, and Transcendentalists' engagement with the institution. This event is free and open to the public.

That evening, beginning at 5:30PM, is a film screening and discussion, part of "Created Equal: America's Civil Rights Struggle," a series made possible through a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of its Bridging Cultures initiative, in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. "Created Equal: Slavery by Another Name & The Freedom Riders" will feature clips from two films, one based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name, and the other based on Raymond Arsenault's 2007 book Freedom Riders. Both films can be viewed in their entirety at Joanne Pope Melish is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Kentucky and a visiting scholar in American Studies at Brown University. She is the author of Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860, and she will facilitate the discussion for the evening. Registration for the event is required at no cost. To Reserve: Click here to register online or call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560.

The second seminar of the week will take place on Thursday, 3 April, and is part of the History of Women and Gender series. Beginning at 5:30PM, "'Talents Committed to Your Care': Reading and Writing Antislavery" explores the historically contingent identities and the material texts that men and women produced in and through their engagement with a remarkably rich transatlantic literary culture. In looking not only at the cultivation of individual identities but also at the establishment of collective ties, it will be measuring the degree to which gender played a foundational role. Mary Kelley, University of Michigan, will present the material while Elizabeth Maddock Dillon of Northeastern University will provide comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Finally, on Saturday, 5 April, 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, organized by the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C., is open to the public Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, through 23 May.





comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 12:00 PM

"Feat of strength – not of skill": George Preble's Description of Sumo Wrestling in Japan, 1854

"While we were looking at [150-pound sacks of rice] & I was thinking of getting them off to the ships a procession of fifty athletes filed before us," wrote Lt. George Henry Preble of the U.S.S. Macedonia in a journal of his voyage to China and Japan on 24 March 1854. "Without being tall, these men were giants of bone and fat & muscle – weighing from 200 to 400 lbs each. As we had seen nothing of the kind before, we received them with exclamations of surprise. They were entirely naked except that they wore a stout silken girdle or sash about six inches broad about their loins concealing what modesty should not expose. At a given signal each of these "strong men" for that is the English translation of their Japanese name, seized two packages of the rice, and holding them above their heads carried them with apparent ease to a place beyond [Commodore Matthew Perry] and deposited them in another pile ready for embarkation."

George Preble drawing of

Preble's impression of sumo wrestlers, or Japanese "strong men," caught my attention as I was reading the George H. Preble diaries in search of material pertaining to the Treaty of Kanagawa, 31 March 1854. In this display of culture and resources just days before the signing of the treaty, the Japanese gifted the Americans with Imperial presents including rice, brocades, silk, lacquered furniture, and a small box of toys. In return, the Americans set up a working example of miniature railroad engine, car, and working telegraph line. In a rather condescending note, Preble thought that the American gift of The Birds of America by John James Audubon was worth more than all the Japanese gave. In the same tone, he recounted a detailed description of a sumo match:

The Japanese invited us to the rear of the [Treaty House] and introduced again their strong men this time as wrestlers. … two of our naked & fat friends disrobed of their gay aprons entered and squatted down in the center of the circle. Then they rubbed themselves under the arms & thighs, with the loose black earth, … they then planted themselves firmly on their feet with their hands on their hips – next locked arms, and struggled. The one striving to push the other outside the circle. It was a simple endurance of breath, and feat of strength – not of skill. There was no attempt at tripping with the feet, or what we call wrestling. … At first the exhibition was interesting but it soon grew tedious from repetition. I was glad to be summoned from it …

George Preble was a difficult man to impress. Many of his assumptions about Japanese culture stem from his assessment that the Japanese at the time were technologically, politically, and socially 300 years behind the progress of the Western world, especially due to the Japanese emphasis on isolationism. While I generally disagree with Preble's values in his assessment, his description of a sport, which endures in Japan, is enjoyable nonetheless. Today, the rikishi (wrestlers) still wear the keshō-mawashi (apron) and mawashi (loincloth) in the dohyō (circular ring). The match is won by pushing the opponent outside of the circle or forcing the opponent to touch the ground with any part of his or her body other than the feet. George Preble missed the similar culture of discipline and ceremony between the Japanese wrestlers and his sailors in his quick tedium of the event.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 8:00 AM

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