The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Mysteries of the Elisha W. Smith, Jr. Logbook: Part III

Research is a nonlinear process rife with search strategies and dead ends. While researching the inside front cover note and the scrapbook engravings of the Elisha W. Smith Jr. logbook, I remained curious about the scrapbooker’s identity. Several clues exist within the logbook to identify the individual. The efforts of penmanship practice garnishes the pages with the initials “E D F” and the names “Elbridge” and “Freeman.” While this clue offered a name as a place to start, I still found myself running into dead ends.

 

A plethora of physical and digital resources exist to help researchers locate genealogical information. I started with a physical resource research strategy that proved unsuccessful. I searched through family histories Freeman Genealogy and Genealogy of the Freeman Family for “Elbridge Freeman” and “William Freeman.” I assumed that the ship’s name, the schooner William Freeman, referred to a relative of Elbridge Freeman. I also surmised that Elbridge Freeman was born in the late 1850s to early 1860s because the scrapbooker pasted Gleason’s Literary Companion engravings in the volume. Gleason’s Literary Companion ran in publication from 1860 to 1870 so the individual who read the juvenile literary magazine was young. These names and time frame narrowed my search, but these criteria also narrowed my results to zero.

Moments of revelation for researchers occasionally come from other researchers’ insight or suggestion. I found a lack of answers in the physical resources, but Librarian Elaine Heavey utilized online databases to find Elbridge D. Freeman’s birth certificate from FamilySearch, a free, online tool for genealogists. Elaine provided the document that put all the pieces together!

William D. Freeman sailed with supercargo Elisha W. Smith Jr. on the schooner William Freeman to Jacmel, Haiti in 1857. Both men and the schooner originated in Wellfleet. William Freeman later served as acting master of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Navy yard. On 31 July 1861 William D. Freeman and Harriet A. Freeman welcomed their first born son Elbridge D. Freeman into the world. Somehow the logbook ended up in William Freeman’s hands after the voyage of the schooner William Freeman. Young Elbridge turned one of his father’s possessions, Elisha W. Smith’s logbook, into an eccentric scrapbook in the late 1860s.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 4 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

Marion’s Hidden Curriculum: Sexuality Education in the 1930s (Part Two)

In my last post, I highlighted the curriculum for a mid-twentieth-century course on “the family” located in the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. Family Papers. The young woman who attended the course was eighteen-year-old Marion Howe, whose diaries from the period elliptically document her questions and anxieties about sexual desire. These diaries, read in counterpoint to the formal curriculum on family life, suggest a hidden curriculum of social constraint that shaped Marion’s experience of her body, her emotions, and the choices she would face in forming adult relationships.

As an adolescent in the newly-constructed American youth culture, Marion’s experience of heterosocial was shaped by the social norms and expectations of her high school peers. Consider these snippets from the winter of 1934:

Johnnie snubbed me, and he and Charlie had another ‘argument.’ Gosh, I don’t know what to do. I like Charlie, I like Johnny, and I like Joe -- and I’m in love with one of them, and I don’t know who. I wouldn’t want to give up any of them -- Gee, I guess I must be awfully selfish. … I know I’m going to be called a ‘two-timer,’ but what on earth can I do about it? (3 January)

 

I can’t love Charlie. I might -- ! Wotta life! I wrote a note to Johnny, but I haven’t the courage to give it to him. But when I do, I’m gonna ask him if he’s going ‘steady’ with Elie. Gee, how I hate her, even tho’ I don’t know her! (5 January)

 

Got up rather late after raising Cain in bed with Shrimp and Dutch this morning. … Shrimp and I had a talk last night before going to sleep -- and we decided C, J, and I should all have an understanding. … I don’t know what Shrimp means when she says I haven’t learned my lesson yet. (13 January)

 

I guess I’m fickle, but as long as I’m gonna be an old maid, it’s okay. (23 February)

 

Charlie came up. Joe asked me if I would go to the movies. Though I liked Johnny. G[eorgie] G[lebus] asked me for a date. Helped prepare Ma’s party at church tomorrow. Cooked 100 or so cakes. (14 March)

As historian Beth Bailey has documented in From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), mid-twentieth-century youth culture differentiated between dating and “going steady.” Dating was nonexclusive and embedded one’s peer network whereas “going steady” meant exclusivity and a more serious intention to consider engagement or marriage. Yet in practice, where did one slide into the other? It’s clear in these diary entries that Marion is caught up in the pleasure of dating and fantasizing about the relationship potential of the young men who appear to be competing for her attention. Yet she also worries about being read as a “two-timer” for refusing to “give up” Charlie, Johnnie, or Joe. But Johnnie might be “going steady” with Elie -- and thus out of bounds for a casual date? Maybe it’s better just to be an “old maid” rather than navigate these uncertain waters.

Dating, and going steady, also meant negotiating physical intimacies -- something that Marion expresses a deep ambivalence about. Consider the entry from 1 April 1934:

After church at night Joe and I went for a ride. He let me drive. I’m glad he doesn’t try to get mushy. That’s the greatest trouble of boys of this age. Whenever they take you in their car, they expect you to start petting; and if there’s one thing only in this world that is sickening, it’s petting and the like. (Maybe it’s all right with the right boy.)

Is Marion’s “sickening” displeasure at getting “mushy” due to her own discomfort with relational sex, her disinterest in Joe (whom she will marry two years later), or tension borne of her social role as gatekeeper? It’s impossible to know -- likely a combination of all three. 

By her late teens, a job-seeking high school graduate whose parents resist her interest in attending college, Marion’s adolescent dating relationships take on a greater degree of seriousness and urgency as the year moves on. In August 1935 she writes of a flirtation with Jim, a lifeguard she has had a crush on, and then a series of entries are cut out of the volume. When the diary resumes, it seems clear she has had some sort of unsettling or violating sexual experience:

Got up about 8. All I could think of was what Jim would be doing. … I’d get thinking of Jim and then lose the sequence of the plot. I hate myself for falling for him. … [her close friend] Shrimp wanted to know more of the Experience Monday, so to oblige her, I told her some of it. The rest she doesn’t know, and so I won’t hurt her. At night it hurts most to remember. And I can’t forget, much as I try. (28 August)

Whatever lessons she has had about human sexuality have not helped her feel confident making sense of her the situation. Several days later, she reports that she’s “had the talk with Shrimp today about generation [and] realize how completely ignorant I have been” (1 September 1935). The details relayed by Shrimp, however, fail to relieve the anxiety she feels about sexual intimacy, and the following spring -- shortly after she and Joe commit “the indiscretion” together -- she screws up her courage and seeks medical advice:

I went to see a doctor, not so much because I’m afraid but because I am curious, and would like to end this lethal ignorance that always leads to worry. My greatest misery, however, lies in the fact that HE DOESN’T CARE if I worry…

The rest of the entry is ripped out, leaving the question of what constituted Marion’s worries unanswered, though we can make our educated guesses.

Diaries such as Marion’s shed invaluable light on the experience of Depression-era teens exploring their sexuality and emerging adulthood in an era where reliable sexual health information was often difficult to come by -- particularly for young women. If you are interested in exploring Marion’s story further, the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. Family Papers are open for research and can be requested from offsite storage by contacting the reference department.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 3 October, 2014, 12:00 AM

Just Launched! Nine Fully Digitized Civil War Collections

Reading handwritten letters and documents by men who experienced Civil War battles and military life can be a riveting experience.  Nine collections of Civil War manuscripts are available at the Massachusetts Historical Society's website as complete online collections.   You are invited to examine digital facsimiles of over 9,000 pages including letters from a surgeon (Charles Briggs) serving in the 54th Regiment, letters from a 16-year-old drummer (Edward Peirce, who later served as a private) describing routine life within a military unit, and warm and informative letters from a Captain (Richard Cary) in the 2nd Regiment to his wife.

The following collections are available on our website:

Charles E. Briggs letters

This collection primarily contains letters by Dr. Charles E. Briggs, assistant surgeon with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1862-1863, and surgeon with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, 1863-1865. 

Richard Cary letters

Captain Richard Cary served in the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.  Unfortunately he was shot during the battle at Cedar Mountain in Virginia and died a short time later.  This collection includes the letters he sent to his wife, as well as condolence letters she received after her husband’s death.

Norwood Penrose Hallowell papers

Hallowell began his service in the Civil War in the 20th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and then later served as lieutenant colonel of the 55th  Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the second Black regiment in the state.  This collection contains letters and a large number of clippings assembled in scrapbooks. These materials relate to a wide variety of Hallowell’s activities—from his time as a student at Harvard College, through his years serving in the Civil War, to his activities as a Boston businessman.

Frederick Newman Knapp papers

Knapp was a clergyman and teacher from Plymouth, Massachusetts. He wasn’t a soldier, but he held the position of superintendent of the Special Relief Department, U.S. Sanitary Commission.  The focus of this commission was to assist sick and wounded Union soldiers.  This collection includes Knapp’s personal and professional letters as well as a manuscript of a history of the Sanitary Commission.

Francis William Loring papers

This collection contains letters Loring wrote to his mother and sister while he served in a variety of military units.  Loring was a sergeant major in the 24th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; first lieutenant and adjutant in the 38th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; and aide-de-camp for Gen. William H. Emory of the 19th Corps.

Edmund Miles papers

Miles was a lieutenant in the 41st Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, later renamed the 3rd Regiment of Cavalry Massachusetts Volunteers.  This collection includes letters Miles sent to his family describing his activities in the Civil War, and letters he received from his family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Charles F. Morse papers

This collection contains letters (some with drawings) written by Lieutenant Colonel Morse of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, who saw action at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Resaca, and the Siege of Atlanta in 1864. The collection also includes some correspondence relating to his post-war activities in the railroad business.

Edward Burgess Peirce letters

Peirce was a drummer and a private in Company F. of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery, from July 1863 to September 1865. This collection includes letters he wrote to his parents in Lowell in which he described many aspects of day-to-day activities as an enlisted soldier including accounts of camp life and troop movements.

Stephen Minot Weld papers

This collection contains letters written by Weld who was promoted several times during the four years he served in the Union Army. Weld was a second lieutenant and then captain in the 18th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1863, and later was lieutenant colonel and then colonel in the 56th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1864-1865.

Please explore and read these collections from any location where you have a web browser and access to the Internet!

Funding for the digitization of the nine Civil War manuscript collections that enabled both the creation of preservation microfilm and the online version of the collections was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 2 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

October arrives this week and with it comes a slew of public programs at the Society. Here is what is on tap this week: 

First, on Wednesday, 1 October, there is a Brown Bag talk starting at 12:00PM. Come by to hear Sean Moore of the University of New Hampshire present "Reading Locke on the Plantation." This examines the well-known paradox of early Americans asserting their desire for freedom while, at the same time, enslaving others. The project examines how the African diaspora underwrote the dissemination of British books of literature and philosophy while considering the political theory of Locke. This talk is free and open to the public. 

Also on Wednesday is "The Trials of Old New England Towns in a New Nation," an author talk featuring independent scholar Mary Babson Fuhrer. In this talk, Fuhrer will discuss the remarkable stories of conflict and transformation that reshaped local communities in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Her research with various diaries, letters, and account books form the basis of her recent book, Crisis of Community: Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848. This talk is open to the public with a $10 fee (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617- 646-0560 or click here to register. There is a pre-talk reception at 5:30PM and the program begins at 6:00PM.

On Thursday, 2 October, is this season's first edition of the History of Women and Gender seminar series: "Enslaved Women and the Politics of Self-Liberation in Revolutionary North America." This paper, presented by Barbara Krauthamer of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, examines enslaved women's strategies for gaining freedom through escape, focusing on their escape from bondage and their concomitant movements to various sites in the Americas. Comment is provided by Kate Masur, Northwestern University. This talk takes places at Harvard's Schlesinger Library, begins at 5:30PM, and is free and open to the public, RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

And on Saturday, 4 October, join us for a free tour through the public space in the Society's building at 1154 Boylston Street. The tour is free and open to the public and begins at 10:00AM. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

 

 

 

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 28 September, 2014, 12:00 PM

This Week @ MHS

Hard to believe that we are already in the last week of September, but so it is. With the closing of the month comes the dawn of seminar season here at the MHS, and while there are only a couple of programs this week, it signals the coming of a much busier October. Here is what's on tap:

On Tuesday, 23 September, come by for this year's first installment of the Immigration and Urban History seminar series, "The Importance of Place and Place-makers in the Life of a Los Angeles Community: What Gentrification Erases from Echo Park, 1950s-Present." In this talk, Natalia Molina of the University of California - San Diego, examines and discusses the history of the Los Angeles neighborhood, Echo Park, shaped by its Leftist, Communist, and gay residents. Ms. Molina's project asks what the role of history is in the neighborhood's evolving identity. Comment provided by Judith Smith, University of Massachusetts - Boston. The talk begins at 5:15PM and is free and open to the public, though RSVP is required. You can also Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. 

Also on this week is the final event in a series of teacher workshops called "Old Towns/New Country: The First Years of a New Nation." This edition of the workshop takes place at the Framingham History Center on Friday and Saturday, 26 and 27 September. Please complete this registration form and send it with your payment to: Kathleen Barker, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215. There is a $25 charge to cover lunches both days; program and material costs have been generously funded by the Richard Saltonstall Charitable Foundation. 

And on Saturday, 27 September, is another free tour at the Society, "The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society." This 90-minute docent-led tour is free and open to the public and begins at 10:00AM. There is no need to make reservations for individuals or small groups, but 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 abentley@masshist.org. While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I." This exhibit is open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, free of charge. 

As always, be sure to keep an eye on our online events calendar to see what other programs are coming up at the Society. We hope to see you here soon!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 20 September, 2014, 3:46 PM

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