The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From Our Collections

Madame Marie Depage in Boston

From 14-16 April 1915, Dr. Samuel J. and Wilhelmina (Galloupe) Mixter had a special guest at their home at 180 Marlborough Street, Boston. Madame Marie Depage was in town to drum up support for Belgian Red Cross field hospitals. She’d been traveling across America on a whirlwind fundraising tour, speaking about the suffering of the Belgian people after the outbreak of World War I. Dr. Mixter served as treasurer of Depage’s Boston fund, and the Fay-Mixter papers here at the MHS contain some fascinating papers related to the visit, including original correspondence from Depage.




Depage was a popular and high-profile guest. Her husband, Dr. Antoine Depage, was director of the Belgian Red Cross, past president of the International Congress of Surgery, and personal surgeon to King Albert I of Belgium. The king and queen had officially delegated Madame Depage, a Belgian nurse, to undertake this trip, and her comings and goings were covered extensively in American newspapers.

Americans had been generous in their aid to Belgian civilians living under German occupation, but medical care to soldiers in the field was sorely lacking. An article in the Rocky Mountain News quoted Depage as saying, “The conditions are so terrible you cannot imagine them. […] No men in the world can fight more bravely than the men of my country.” She wrote to the sympathetic Dr. Mixter, “You know what proper and urgent care means – one life saved, one limb saved means a family out of trouble after the war.”


I was particularly interested in Depage’s statements about wounded German soldiers. The Red Cross field hospitals she worked to establish treated injured allies and enemies alike. According to another newspaper article, she said, “When they were sick I never felt any different toward them than toward my own countrymen. They were simply poor, wounded men. It was only when they recovered and came to me in their gray German uniforms to say good-by that I felt it hard to treat them the same, but wounded men have no nationality.”

Depage used her personal charisma and professional connections to great advantage. She was unmistakably passionate, but pragmatic. She asked Dr. Mixter before her arrival, “Now can you tell me if a visit in Boston shall pay? I must put it in a very plain business way; you know this is not a pleasure trip and I may not think of what I should like or not like.” She thought smaller meetings in the private homes of wealthy Bostonians would be more lucrative than large gatherings. An individual visit, she knew from experience, would flatter her host into giving more: “I suppose Boston is a smart town where society leaders have a great deal to say. I have experienced that in Washington: if it was smart to go and listen to me the people came…and paid!”

Depage also had a personal stake in the cause. Her oldest son Pierre was a soldier in the Belgian army. When she heard that her second son, a teenager named Lucien, was going to the front, she decided to sail back to Europe to say goodbye. Unfortunately, the ship on which she booked passage was none other than the RMS Lusitania. She drowned when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 7 May 1915.


Depage had been euphoric about her fundraising success. On the morning of the Lusitania’s departure, she bragged in a letter to Wilhelmina Mixter, “I have altogether collected about $115,000.00 [in] contributions and about $50,000 in supplies. Are you not proud of America? I am! And specially of my Boston friends.” She was sorry that Mrs. Mixter hadn’t received an earlier telegram and protested “that you could believe for one minute that I forgot you! Please never do that, whatever happens for it can never be true.” In a previous letter, she’d called the Mixters “the best friends in the world.”


Wilhelmina Mixter was also very active in World War I work. She served on the general committee of the Special Aid Society for American Preparedness (SASAP), a women’s group that promoted military preparedness and national defense. The Fay-Mixter papers include meeting minutes and newspaper clippings documenting the activities of this group, which met just down the street from the MHS at 601 Boylston Street. In addition to the SASAP, Mrs. Mixter was involved with Emergency War Relief and sent care packages and supplies to soldiers. Some of my favorite items in the collection are these McCall sewing patterns for hospital clothing.



The MHS holdings include many papers related to World War I relief work, so we hope you’ll visit our library to learn more.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 20 July, 2016, 12:00 AM

Margaret Russell’s Diary, July 1916

Today, we return to the line-a-day diary of Margaret Russell. You can read previous installments here:







One hundred years ago, the month of July was “very hot,” “close & hot,” and “fearfully hot,” broken occasionally by “very bad storm[s]” that turned the streets into rivers, thunder, and hail. Margaret Russell remained in Swampscott at the family estate, though her diary records nearly daily excursions throughout the region: North Andover, Revere, Lynn, Beverly, Arlington, South Natick, Nahant, Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Baldpate Mountain in Maine.

Aunt Emma will be a familiar figure in these diary entries to those of you who have been reading since January. On July 6th we learn that Aunt Emma is living in a “pleasant room” at a convent. A bit of digging in the diary reveals that the convent where Emma was located was in Arlington, and potentially the Episcopal order Sisters of St. Anne-Bethany, established in 1910.



“Mrs. Ward’s lectures” or “classes” have come up repeatedly in the diary and I did a bit of investigation on Mrs. Ward. Mary Alden Ward (1853-1918) was an author, lecturer, and leader in the women’s club movement in the Boston area and beyond. She wrote biographical sketches of historical figures such as Dante and Plutarch, as well as a book of New England history: Old Colony Days (1896). Mary Ward was married to William G. Ward, a professor of English literature at Emerson College. On a sad note, she was killed a mere eighteen months after this diary was penned, in January 1918, when an electric streetcar collided with the automobile in which she was riding to one of her speaking engagements.


* * *

July 1916*

1 July. Saturday - Lunched at N. Andover with the H.G.C’s. Lovely day. Miss McLuade gone on her vacation.

2 July. Sunday - Very hot. Walked to church and back. Rested after lunch. Edith & C. - only for dinner.

3 July. Monday - To town. Very close & hot. Very bad storm on Revere Beach coming home. Streets rivers & lots of hail. Saw Dr. Smith.

4 July. Tuesday - Stayed home all day. Rained. Telephone came that Richard had got home.

5 July. Wednesday - To town in the morning & back to lunch. Rested in P.M. dined at Beverly to see Richard.

6 July. Thursday - To see Aunt Emma at the convent. She seemed very happy & has a pleasant room.

7 July. Friday.

8 July. Saturday - Hot. Went to S. Natick for lunch with the H.G.C.’s. On to see Mrs. Hodder home by Weston & Waltham.

9 July. Sunday - Walked to church & back. Family to dine C. & R. both back.

10 July. Monday - Town for errands. Lunched with Marian. Went to Eye & Ear.

11 July. Tuesday - Nahant for Ward lecture.

12 July. Wednesday - Went to call on Miss Jewett at Nahant & on Mrs. Howe at Manchester. Very hot.

13 July. Thursday - Very hot. Went to Nahant to see F. Prince. Thunderstormed in. P.M.

14 July. Friday - Cool so went to town for E. & E. to see Dr. Washburn. Good Sam. & to Aunt Emma. Lunched at Chilton.

15 July. Saturday - Blais [illegible] so went with the H.G.C.’s to lunch at Baldpate & a drive. Lovely day.

16 July. Walked to church & back. Boat sailed race to Portsmouth & got 1st prize. Family to dine much pleased with day. Ellen & Nellie at Wareham.

17 July. Monday - Town for errands. Lunched with Marian. Home early.

18 July. Tuesday - Lynn errands in A.M. Mrs. Ward’s lecture. Sallie was brought over to see Mama.

19 July. Wednesday - Went to Hay Herbarium & home through Middlesex Fells.

20 July. Thursday -

21 July. Friday - Took Hattie L- over to call on Mrs. John Phillips.

22 July. Saturday - Went to Lawrence to call on Mary Parkman but did not see her. Then to N. Andover & lunched there. Hot & muggy.

23 July. Sunday - Raining hard. Walked to church & had a call from Margaret Swain afterwards. Family to dine - Monday [24 July] went to town.

25 July. Tuesday Mrs. Ward’s class. Miss A. came for me & went to Salem.

26 July. Wednesday - Marian & Sallie came down to lunch. I sent for [illegible] & sent them back. Walked with Miss A- to Phillip’s Marsh.

27 July. Thursday - To town to lunch with Susy Bradley who is in town working on M’s wedding announcements.

28 July. Friday - To Nahant to see F. P. after lunch Miss A- & I went for long drive hunting flowers with success.

29 July. Saturday - Lunched at Georgetown with the H.G.C.’s to Rowley afterward but did not find Paulie.

30 July. Sunday - Walked to church & home through the woods. Family to dine.

31 July. Monday - Fearfully hot. Took my trunks to town & spent night at Chilton. After thunderstorm comfortable night. Went to see Aunt E. in the P.M.


* * *

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: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 15 July, 2016, 12:00 AM

Fathers of the American Navy: John Paul Jones and John Adams

On July 6, 1747, John Paul Jones was born in Scotland. He is widely credited as the father of the American Navy for his successful campaigns as a captain during Revolutionary War. It would be fair, however, to say that John Adams might deserve a share in that title as well. From his role in drafting the original rules for the Continental Navy in 1775 to his organization of the newly created Department of the Navy as president in 1798, Adams had been a strong advocate of “Floating Batteries and Wooden Walls” as the primary system of war and defense for the young nation.

Jones and Adams got to know each other in the late 1770s while Adams was in Europe, and no one who is familiar with the Adamses will be surprised to learn that both John, and later Abigail, formed strong opinions about Jones.

John Adams noted his impression in his diary entry for May, 13 1779: “This is the most ambitious and intriguing Officer in the American Navy. Jones has Art, and Secrecy, and aspires very high. . . . Excentricities, and Irregularities are to be expected from him— they are in his Character, they are visible in his Eyes. His Voice is soft and still and small, his Eye has keenness, and Wildness and Softness in it.”

Abigail met Jones when she joined John in Europe after the war had ended, but he was nothing like she had imagined the naval hero to be: “Chevalier Jones you have heard much of. He is a most uncommon Character. I dare Say you would be as much dissapointed in him as I was. From the intrepid Character he justly Supported in the American Navy, I expected to have seen a Rough Stout warlike Roman. Instead of that, I should sooner think of wraping him up in cotton wool and putting him into my pocket, than sending him to contend with Cannon Ball,” she wrote. “He is small of stature, well proportioned, soft in his Speach easy in his address polite in his manners, vastly civil, understands all the Etiquette of a Ladys Toilite as perfectly as he does the Masts Sails and rigging of a Ship. Under all this appearence of softness he is Bold enterprizing ambitious and active.”


While they did not become close friends, John Paul Jones did offer JA his bust, and to the end of his life, JA remembered Jones as intelligent, a good letter writer, and “gentlemanly in his dress & manner.” As both men regarded the American Navy as central to the success of the nation, Adams never failed to respect Jones’ naval ability or the “glorious success” of Jones’ famous capture of the British frigate Serapis, for which the Continental Congress awarded Jones a medal, the first to commemorate a naval victory. A restrike of that medal is housed within the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 6 July, 2016, 12:00 AM

The Lynn Shoemakers’ Strike of 1860

The MHS just acquired a letter written by an eyewitness to the historic shoemakers’ strike in Lynn, Mass. in 1860. I decided to dig into the story and, as usually happens, learned much more than I anticipated. It’s remarkable how much history can be represented in a single document.



Moses Folger Rogers (1803-1886) was a Quaker living in Lynn. Most of his 6 March 1860 letter to John Ford of Marshfield, Mass. is dedicated to the biggest story in town, the shoemakers’ strike then underway. Lynn was a major center for the manufacture of shoes. Labor unrest in that industry had been growing for many reasons—increased mechanization, market glut, the economic crisis of 1857—all of which resulted in record low wages.

Workers took to the streets on George Washington’s birthday, 22 February 1860, and the strike lasted for several weeks. Newspapers covered it extensively, and many historians have written about it, but it’s hard to overstate the value of first-hand accounts like this one.

Rogers was not pleased. He lamented the “agitated & excited state of this community.” A week before, it had appeared “that it might be thought necessary to call out the malitia to quell the mob, but with the additional Police force, which came from Boston, order & quiet were restored without the aid of the malitia, a fact for which I feel very grateful, for I feared there might be blood shed – every thing here is now very orderly & quiet, though the ‘Strikers’ continue to hold on, to the number of from 2500 to 3000 persons and what will be the final result remains to be known.”

There had been some violence, including clashes with police and seizures of goods. But it subsided after the first few days, and the rest of the strike consisted of meetings, marches, rallies, and other demonstrations of peaceful solidarity. It was the largest strike in American history up to that time, spreading across New England and involving tens of thousands of workers.

But it wasn’t just the possibility of bloodshed that worried Moses Rogers. He was also dismayed by the active involvement of women in the uprising. In fact, the Lynn strike was notable for the vital role women played in both planning and execution. It makes sense—women were integral to the shoemaking industry. They worked at home as “binders,” or hand stitchers, or operated sewing machines in factories. In his book Class and Community, Alan Dawley wrote: “Without the action of women, it is questionable whether the strike would have occurred at all, and certainly without them it would have been far less massive in its impact.”

But Rogers described these developments in a horrified tone with lots of outraged underlining: “In addition to the above number there is a strike amongst the Ladies, who I understand propose parading the streets tomorrow to the number 2000.” The march did happen, and in dramatic fashion. Thousands participated, including 800 women, in the midst of a snowstorm. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper published an illustration.


Rogers finished his diatribe with a flourish: “I will not undertake to give an account of the disgraceful & shameful deeds enacted in this city since the Strike commenced, suffice it to say that I never witnessed anything in my life which appeared so appaling & fearful.” His response to the strike was not atypical, judging by newspaper accounts. But the strikers had substantial support from townspeople, Lynn’s Bay State newspaper, and even Abraham Lincoln, who was campaigning for president at the time. (The shoemakers’ demonstrations, protest songs, and slogans were infused with antislavery rhetoric.)

Although the Lynn strikers had some temporary political success, ousting most of the city government in the next election, they ultimately failed as negotiations fell apart and workers’ differences proved insurmountable. When the Civil War broke out a year later, attention shifted away from the issue, and war-time demand for manufactures accelerated. However, the Lynn shoemakers’ strike was a watershed moment in American history, remarkable for its size and scope, a clash of old and new systems that foreshadowed labor disputes of the next 150 years.


Select sources:
- Dawley, Alan. Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976.
- Faler, Paul G. Mechanics and Manufacturers in the Early Industrial Revolution: Lynn, Massachusetts, 1780-1860. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1981.
- Juravich, Tom, William F. Hartford, and James R. Green. Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.
- Lewis, Alonzo and James R. Newhall. History of Lynn, Essex County, Massachusetts: Including Lynnfield, Saugus, Swampscot, and Nahant. Boston: John L. Shorey, 1865.
- Melder, Keith E. “Women in the Shoe Industry: The Evidence from Lynn.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 115.4 (October 1979): 270-287.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 29 June, 2016, 12:00 AM

Retail and Romance: Boston's First Department Store

Behind this façade
lies a story – the romance of a great
New England institution
It is worth telling. It should be
worth reading
In the hope that the public 
may find it so, it is
here set down


In reading this verse and examining the accompanying sketch, you may be surprised to learn that the “great New England institution” referenced is, in fact, a department store. Strange as it might seem today, department stores were highly influential in shaping urban spaces and changing how the consumer industry was run in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. By incorporating an unprecedented variety and quantity of apparel, home goods, and entertaining diversions, and showcasing these items in vast, high-ceilinged and well-lit halls, department stores lent glamour to the middle-class shopping experience.

The above inscription is an excerpt from the book, Retail and romance, which recounts the history of Jordan Marsh & Company, the first, and for a long time, the most prominent department store in Boston. Struck by the intriguing title and the compelling case made by its author, Julia Houston Railey, I decided to explore the history of Jordan Marsh.


Railey’s story begins in 1841, when Eben Jordan, the founder of Jordan Marsh, established his first store at the age of 19. At this time, Jordan also conducted his first sale, which consisted of “one yard of cherry colored hair ribbon,” sold to Louisa Bareiss, a young girl, who, according to Railey, was just as breathless with excitement over the purchase as Jordan himself (9). This story is depicted pictorially in this publication as well as the centennial Tales of the Observer by Richard H. Edwards, published in 1950. Jordan’s famous sideburns are present in both imaginings.

In 1851, Jordan partnered with Benjamin L. Marsh and in 1880, they established Jordan Marsh’s Main Store at 450 Washington Street, where it would remain for the next 100 years. An 1884 article in the Boston Post referred to this establishment as “the most colossal store the world ever saw, surpassing by far anything that had been attempted either in New York or Philadelphia” (The story of a store, 4).

Railey’s book also discusses the continued philanthropic efforts of the Jordan family, particularly those of Jordan’s son, Eben Jordan, Jr., who was particularly active in the arts community. Jordan, Jr. built the Boston Opera House, founded Jordan Hall for the New England Conservatory, and installed art exhibits at the Main Store on Washington Street (22).

Whereas Retail and romance focuses on the romantic aspects of Jordan’s humble beginnings and subsequent charitable endeavors, The story of a store, published by the Jordan Marsh Company in 1912, captures the glamorous nature of early department stores. This publication is filled with glossy black-and-white photos and descriptions of the innumerable goods contained in each department of Jordan’s store.


This set of images showcases several large glass display cases in the women’s department, containing from top to bottom: handkerchiefs, gloves, laces, and neckwear. However, commodities of all kinds were sold at Jordan Marsh. To name a few: umbrellas, children’s apparel, jewelry, silverware, eyeglasses, toiletries, books, leather goods, upholstery, rugs, stationary, luggage, kitchen goods, hardware, garden tools, and toys.

Like some of the best department stores of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Jordan Marsh also offered a variety of services for patrons, including store credit (a new concept at the time), personal services like a Post Office, Telegraph and Cable Station, and Waiting Rooms, complete with “easy chairs, writing materials, newspapers, check-rooms, lavatories, and other necessary conveniences for customers” (28)


Today, 450 Washington Street, formerly the site of Jordan Marsh’s Main Store, is occupied by Macy’s. Although the Jordan Marsh Company continued to thrive and expand throughout much of the twentieth century, it was eventually bought out and replaced by the larger company entirely by 1996.

This story is not an uncommon one in the business world. Massachusetts Historical Society has a number of records that provide insight into the former business and commercial world of Boston. Perhaps you may discover a former company or store, similarly overlooked or forgotten today.




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 24 June, 2016, 10:28 AM

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