Part of the Process (ing)
By Dan Hinchen, Reader Services
In many archives, staff numbers are so low that all members must perform many different functions, from accepting new donations of material and housing the material for storage, to arranging and describing (processing) and providing reference assistance. Often, there is even much more on top of this (think: budgeting, fundraising, outreach, etc.). In past jobs I had the opportunity/necessity of donning these different hats.
Here at the MHS we are extremely fortunate in that we have several different departments that are all responsible for carrying out these functions, not in isolation but with focus and a degree of specialization. All of this results in the smooth operation of the organization as an archive.
As someone who works (and very much enjoys) working on the public side of things, being part of a dedicated reference staff is great. I am able to focus much of my attention on the researchers, both in-person and remote, who want to utilize the collections we hold. However, this means that I run the risk of growing rusty with other archival functions. Thankfully, this is a collaborative organization and we get the chance to work with other departments to varying degrees at different times.
In the past year, I had the opportunity to take part in the re-processing of the George Bancroft papers. This collection of papers from the 19th century historian/diplomat relates to his time as a student - both at Harvard University and at Georgia Augusta University in Gottingen, Germany – as a schoolmaster, poet, historian, and diplomat. Bancroft’s writings and correspondence correlate to myriad events in American history during the 19th century and are a vital source of information for his lifetime.
Bancroft at work in his later years
(from the Marian Hooper Adams photographs, MHS)
Until now, this large collection (60+ boxes, 50+ volumes) was only given a basic level of description in our online catalog, ABIGAIL. While the material has been arranged and accessible to researchers, there was very little information forthcoming about the content of the papers and volumes. With that in mind, the Society decided to revisit the collection and give it a bit more attention in the hopes that more researchers will find their way to it.
While the MHS’ Collection Services department carries out our normal processing activities, we in Reader Services are occasionally able to get a hand in so that we can keep our non-reference skills sharp. The Bancroft papers were my opportunity to get into the process.
I was tasked with going through the 50+ volumes in the collection in order to get a grasp on the general types of volumes they are (i.e. diaires, journals, memoranda books, account books, etc.) and to get some idea of the content therein, then to house the material appropriately, and then to provide descriptions of the various volumes, along with a biographical profile of the man, for inclusion in a new online finding aid.
What this means for me is that I not only learned a great deal about Bancroft’s early life as a student in Germany, but also that I got to practice my processing. This was a bit of a reeducation for me since I have not been in a position to process materials for a few years now.
Aside from re-housing all of the material in the collection (new boxes for loose papers, cases for many volumes, etc.), the major deliverable item from this project is the new online finding aid for the Bancroft papers. Unlike the catalog records in ABIGAIL, our online finding aids are discoverable via web searches using search engines like Google. Our hope is that now many more people from near and far can more easily learn about what the collection holds and perhaps come to the library to dig in even deeper.
Are you interested in learning more about Mr. Bancroft and his milieu? Take a look through the guide and then consider Visiting the Library!
| Published: Friday, 6 May, 2016, 12:00 AM
“Big city life at its very best”: Urban Renewal, Vice, and Adult Entertainment in 1970s Boston
By Brendan Kieran, Reader Services
During the 1970s, Boston’s Combat Zone, a (now former) adult entertainment district located around lower Washington Street, was at the center of urban renewal plans. After looking through the finding aid for the Park Plaza Development Project records, I decided to dig in and see if I could unpack attitudes toward the Combat Zone during this period. I largely focused on a group of reports produced during the planning period by the Park Plaza Civic Advisory Committee (CAC), a citizen’s group formed in response to the plans of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) for the project. These records provide insights into the shifting attitudes toward regulation of adult entertainment and vice in Boston during the 1970s, and also shed some light on the goals of urban renewal projects, the physical and social geography of the city, and desired models for maintaining order in the city.
The BRA’s plans for the Park Plaza project called for the demolition of parts of the Combat Zone. In a May 1973 report, the BRA discusses the impacts of this demolition on adult entertainment in the city. The report mentions the prior demolition of Scollay Square and its impact on adult entertainment. Businesses did not move from the Square to the Washington Street area when it was demolished; rather, the Washington Street adult district already existed. This implies that when the Combat Zone is destroyed, adult businesses from the Washington Street area will not move elsewhere, and the businesses in other areas will not be impacted. The report then states the City of Boston’s desire to increase surveillance and management of “remaining adult entertainment,” utilizing “new street lighting, public mini-parks, sign control, expanded police enforcement, continued police ‘visibility’, and possible additional control under various regulatory measures.”
The “Combat Zone” area is to the left in this photo.
The BRA met resistance to this plan, however. Writing in July 1974, CAC member Daniel J. Ahern criticizes the demolition plan, and writes about proposals to preserve the district. His report represents a different view than the earlier one taken by the BRA; he suggests that containment of adult entertainment in that district is necessary for the well-being of the city. Ahern makes his views on the matter clear in Appendix A of his report, a memo dated 1 May 1973. In the memo, he is very critical of the “earthy” forms of entertainment in the Combat Zone that he thinks certain people “associate with big city life at its very best.” However, he argues that the best approach is to maintain it in that location, invest in it, and keep it available for people who want it while protecting other parts of Boston from those forms of entertainment.
Along these lines, an Entertainment District Subcommittee of the CAC was formed to work on these issues. Connections were formed between the CAC and business owners in the area, who wanted to privately invest in plans for improvements to the area. Additionally, both the CAC and the business owners expressed interest in working with the BRA to implement new plans. The BRA, however, while expressing a willingness to work with the CAC and business owners, was fairly uncooperative. As of Ahern’s writing in July 1974, and at least as late the release of a February 1975 CAC newsletter, the demolition plan was still in place.
These discussions about vice and urban planning took place within a broader context of urban renewal in 1970s Boston. The Park Plaza reports call for revitalization of underutilized areas, and predict an influx of newer, wealthier residents and customers into the area. According to a March 1974 Department of Community Affairs report, over three-quarters of the new housing proposed as part of the Park Plaza project were for “middle and upper income residents.” The influence of big developers and the lack of affordable housing in the proposal serve as points of contention for some people. This suggests room for analysis of class dynamics and who would have benefited from the developments.
As I only looked at this small group of reports, it’s safe to say that I haven’t come close to unpacking the whole story. For example, I’m interested in the roles that race and gender may have played in these discussions and developments. If you’re interested in conducting some investigations of your own, the Park Plaza Development Project records are open for research here in the library at the MHS.
| Published: Wednesday, 4 May, 2016, 12:00 AM
Harriet the Spy
By Susan Martin, Collections Services
Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman will be featured on the new $20 bill, becoming simultaneously the first African American and the third woman (after Pocahontas and Martha Washington) to appear on our federal paper currency. An escaped slave, “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, Union scout, armed raider, humanitarian, suffragist: the more you learn about Tubman, the more fascinating she becomes. John Brown called her “General Tubman.” I decided to search the MHS collections for material related to this remarkable woman.
Unfortunately (but perhaps unsurprisingly) I didn’t find much. We do have three photographs of Tubman in our collection of Portraits of American Abolitionists, one from 1886 and two taken in 1906, when she was in her eighties.
We also hold a copy of Sarah H. Bradford’s 1886 biography, Harriet, the Moses of Her People, a second edition and revision of Bradford’s 1869 Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. Both books were written from personal interviews with Tubman, who was, by all accounts, illiterate all her life.
But when I looked at manuscript collections, I turned up only two passing references to Tubman, neither of which mention her by name. Both appear in the correspondence of John A. Andrew, the famous Civil War governor of Massachusetts. Sparse in content, these particular letters are important and intriguing primarily because of context.
First, some background. According to Bradford, “In the early days of the war, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, knowing well the brave and sagacious character of Harriet, sent for her, and asked her if she could go at a moment’s notice, to act as spy and scout for our armies, and, if need be, to act as hospital nurse, in short, to be ready to give any required service to the Union cause.” (pp. 93-94)
It looks like the two letters in our collection document Tubman’s trip south from Boston as she embarked on this espionage mission. Both were written by Col. Frank E. Howe in New York, formerly a member of Gov. Andrew’s staff. The first dates from 10 January 1862 and begins: “Colored woman arrived & is cared for.”
On 21 January 1862, Howe wrote to Andrew again, this time marking his letter “Confidential.” After discussing other matters, he said: “I have a letter from Washington informing me that the colored underground woman did not sail in the Baltic, but her luggage did – will send a pass on for her – & its all I can do.”
Subterfuge may have been the reason Howe didn’t use Tubman’s name. Presumably, she was traveling through New York and Washington to points south. Abolitionist Franklin B. Sanborn later confirmed: “In 1862, I think it was, she went from Boston to Port Royal, [S.C.] under the advice and encouragement of Mr. Garrison, Governor Andrew, Dr. Howe, and other leading people.” (Bradford, pp. 136-137)
I’d be surprised if there weren’t more references to Harriet Tubman buried in other manuscript collections here at the MHS, but unfortunately item-level subject access to our vast holdings is impossible. I found these two letters in Andrew’s papers because of an index to the collection created 35 years ago and encoded as part of the online guide. We hope our intrepid researchers will uncover more!
| Published: Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 11:11 AM
Margaret Russell's Diary, April 1916
By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services
Today, we return to the line-a-day diary of Margaret Russell. You can read previous installments here:
April of 1916 continues to be cold, with Margaret Russell reporting snow and cold temperatures throughout the month -- although on an April 25th drive to Swampscott she notes “things coming up well.” Indeed, the messy spring weather does not seem to curtail Margaret’s mobility as she drives to Swampscott, Rowley, and Fairview, walks in the Arnold Arboretum, and takes a short trip to New York City by train.
April is also marked by more domestic matters. Margaret notes attendance every Sunday at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Paul, on Tremont Street overlooking the Boston Common; during the week leading up to Easter Sunday she attends additional services every evening at five. Margaret’s April also sees a sobering number of deaths: “Mary Russell died at three,” “To see Annie whose brother Egerton W- died yesterday,” “Mrs. Wentworth’s funeral at 10.” Perhaps because of this steady stream of passings, Margaret also takes care to note more happy life events: “Went to see Perry to hear about wedding yesterday,” “Minnie Ames engaged to L. Frothingham.”
In the midst of these briefly recorded yet significant transitions in others’ lives, Margaret also continues her intense social schedule of club activities, musical performances, botany lessons, and lectures on unidentified topics. Shortly after Patriot’s Day (“holiday”) she attends a performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, “splendidly given” by a cast that included soprano Johanna Gadski (1870-1932) and Johannes Sembach (1881-1944), both on tour from Germany.
With a view across the first four months of the year, as readers of Margaret Russell’s diary it is becoming steadily clearer exactly how deeply embedded in the upper crust of Boston’s elite society Margaret was.
* * *
1 April. Saturday - Walked for errands. Lunched early & went out to see Mrs. Haddes. Lovely warm day.
2 April. Sunday - Early service. Miss A- & I walked through Arboretum & back to Brookline. Lunched at H.G.C’s. Mary Russell died at three. Family to dine.
3 April. Monday - Hospital meeting - [illegible] lunched at Marian’s. Went to see Aunt Emma & Mary Amory.
4 April.Tuesday - Drove Miss Lamb out to funeral which was at the farm. Not many people & all arranged like Harry’s.
5 April. Wednesday - Mrs. Ward’s lecture.
6 April. Thursday - Meeting of M.G.H. Comm. Went for errands. Lunch club at Annie’s. To Dr. Crockett. Out to see Ellen at R[illegible].
7 April. Friday - Went to Swampscott in A.M. Concert - [illegible] - To see Annie whose brother Egerton W- died yesterday.
8 April. Saturday - Went to N. Y. at 10. Morning did errands - Kate is at Colony Club & we dined together.
9 April. Sunday - Snowing. Went to hear Dr. Parkes. After lunch tried to see Annie Lew. Dined at Mrs. West Roosevelt ^also [illegible]. Went to Mahler symphony. Very nice.
10 April. Monday - Mrs. Wentworth’s funeral at 10 [illegible] chapel. Walked back to club. Home on 10 o’clock. Found Mama very well.
11 April. Tuesday - Walked downtown. Interesting talk at Chilton by Miss Burke. Lunched at Marians. Went to Cambridge & saw Mary Amory.
12 April. Wednesday - Went to see Annie. Took 12.25 for Rowley in time for lunch.
13 April. Thursday - Lovely spring day with lots of birds. Elizabeth & I met to walk. After lunch drove to Fairview & bought a lot of things.
14 April. Friday - E & I met to walk & see the chickens. Raining & then heavy snow. Home after lunch. Still snowing.
15 April. Mrs. Tysen’s reading - drove to Swampscott.
16 April. Sunday - Church at Cathedral with Miss. A- lunch at H.G.C’s - Went to see Perry to hear about wedding yesterday. Edith & E. Ballantine.
17 April. Monday - Dressmaker - Mary - Lunch with Marian. Botany lesson & a drive. Church at five.
18 April. Tuesday - To see Dr. Haskell. Church at five. The Rev. George Douglas is preaching this week.
19 April. Holiday - Went to see Mrs. Bell & S. Bradley. Botany lesson & to see Aunt Emma. Church at five.
20 April. Thursday - Dentist. Miss Harman to play. Lunch club at Rosamund’s. Lecture on Jap. gardens. Church.
21 April. Friday - Church. Concert.
22 April. Saturday - Took flowers to Mt. Auburn & Forest Hills. Mrs. Tysen’s. Went to hear Meistersinger with Edith. Splendidly given. Gadski & Sembach.
Johanna Gadski (1872 - 1932), German opera singer, soprano
23 April. Easter - Raining and cold. Church & to see Parkmans. Lunched at H.G.C’s. Family to dine.
24 April. Monday - Meeting of the CD’s [Colonial Dames] going to Wash. Mary. Lunch with Marian. Botany lesson at Cambridge. Still raining.
25 April. Tuesday - Went to Swampscott, things coming up well. Mr. Gibson’s funeral at Mt. Auburn. Back to Tuesday Club. Minnie Ames engaged to L. Frothingham.
26 April. Wednesday - Mrs. Ward’s lecture & then Botany lesson. Mayflower [illegible]. meeting. Musical at Emily Morison’s. Mary Parkman’s reception.
27 April. Thursday - Eye & Ear to see Eliz. Murray & then Errands. Took a drive & went to concert at H. Bigelow’s new house. Nice day but cold wind.
28 April. Friday - Snowing hard.
29 April. Saturday.
30 April. Sunday.
* * *
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.
| Published: Friday, 22 April, 2016, 12:00 AM
"Thomas Jefferson Survives": The Last Letters of Jefferson and Adams
By Amanda Norton, Adams Papers
As we celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s 273rd birthday today, we also celebrate his renowned friendship with John Adams. Revolutionary partners turned bitter political enemies, they reconciled in their retirement, and their final words to each other, written just months before their coincident deaths on July 4, 1826, serve as a fitting capstone to a correspondence that has so justly become famous.
Writing to “Ex-President Adams” on March 25, Jefferson introduced his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who would deliver the letter when he visited Boston, noting that Randolph “would think he had seen nothing were he to leave it without having seen you.”
In this final letter, Jefferson poetically contrasted the present age with the one he and Adams had lived through:
“Like other young people, he wishes to be able, in the winter nights of old age, to recount to those around him what he has heard and learnt of the Heroic age preceding his birth, and which of the Argonauts particularly he was in time to have seen. it was the lot of our early years to witness nothing but the dull monotony of Colonial subservience, and of our riper ones to breast the labors and perils of working out of it. theirs are the Halcyon calms succeeding the storm which our Argosy had so stoutly weathered.”
Replying on April 17, Adams opened with his characteristic good-natured humor:
“Your letter of March 25th. has been a cordial to me, and the more consoling as it was brought by your Grandsons Mr. Randolph and Mr. Coolidge. every body connected with you is snatched up, so that I cannot get any of them to dine with me, they are always engaged— how happens it that you Virginians are all sons of Anak, we New Englanders, are but Pygmies by the side of Mr. Randolph.... Your letter is one of the most beautiful and delightful I have ever received.”
Adams, however, was never quite as optimistic as Jefferson was and did not entirely concur with the characterization of the present age as “Halcyon calms.” Seeing the attacks levelled on his son John Quincy’s presidency, Adams viewed the political landscape cynically: “Public affairs go on pretty much as usual, perpetual chicanery and rather more personal abuse than there used to be.... Our American Chivalry is the worst in the World. it has no Laws, no bounds, no definitions, it seems to be all a Caprice.”
Adams could only be so pessimistic, however. In spite of the wide differences between the men, the friendship between Adams and Jefferson had endured, as had the independence they fought for. And on that Jubilee when both Adams and Jefferson passed, John Quincy Adams recorded in his diary that his father’s last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
Adams was without a doubt correct that Jefferson would survive as a monumental figure for the nation. If you want to learn more about the Jefferson that survived beyond the statesman, there’s still time to experience The Private Jefferson here at the MHS.
| Published: Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 12:00 AM