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Beehive series: From Our Collections

Margaret Russell's Diary, March 1916

Today, we return to the line-a-day diary of Margaret Russell. If you have missed previous installments of the diary you can find January (along with a brief introduction to the series) and February in the blog archive. In contrast to her busy travel schedule in February, Margaret Russell remained in Boston throughout the month of March. The weather continued to be quiet wintery, with Margaret often noting snow and “blowing” wind. Her days were spent socializing with friends, charity work, and cultural activities such as visits to the museum and attendance at lectures.

One of the things that can be most jarring or haunting about reading a line-a-day diary is the way in which meaningful events are sandwiched within otherwise mundane entries. For example, on March 5th Margaret writes that “Henry Curtis is dead” between noting where she ate lunch and how “fine” the Wagner concert she attended that day was.


And even though Margaret spent the month of March in Boston, she was not wanting for high-profile performers and speakers; among the lectures she attended was a speech by former President William Howard Taft and among the concerts she attended were two performances by pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) who three years later would become prime minister of Poland.


* * *

March 1916

1 March.* Wednesday - Mrs. Ward’s lecture. Lunched at Club. Art Museum talk. Home to rest. Second lecture of coal by Prof. Jeffrey with Miss A--.

2 March. Thursday. M.G.H. Meeting. Walked down to see Miss Cannon. First [illegible words] England - Individualism. Skating Carnival with Parkman.

3 March. Friday. To Mrs. Dalton’s on C.D. business. Beautiful concert. To hear Pres. Taft speak at Red Cross in the evening.

4 March. Saturday - Mrs. Tyson’s reading. Paid calls & went to musical at Miss Mason’s.

5. March. Sunday - Walked to Cathedral with Miss A. Lunched at HGC’s. Henry Curtis is dead. Fine Wagner concert. Family to dine.

6 March. Monday. Hospital meeting. [illegible word]. Went to Mt. Auburn with CPC for funeral. Botany lecture.

7 March. Tuesday - snowing again. Lunched at Mrs. Mattey’s. Went to hear Mrs. Dupriez on Belgium. Very painful.

8 March. Wednesday - Church. Chilton. Had lunch at Miss Lamb’s. Art museum. Snowing hard.

9 March. Thursday - Chilton meeting. Am back as Gov. Lunch club at Mrs. Hunnewell’s. Power lecture. Dined at Mrs. Crafts.

10 March. Friday - Snowing again. Mrs. W. Charles came to play. Concert with Paderewski. Had dinner of 22 for Ellen at Chilton. Dancing class afterwards.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski

11. March. Saturday. Mrs. Tyson’s reading. Mama sick so stayed at home with Mama. Mrs. Sears to concert as Paderewski played.

12 March. Sunday. Church. Lunched at HGC’s  Family to dine.

13 March. Monday. Errands - [illegible word] - lunched at Marian’s. Botany lesson. Thawing.

14 March. Tuesday. Ear & Eye visit in the A.M. Tuesday Club at M. Ware’s. Red Cross discussion. Had ten people to dine. Seemed pleasant.

15 March. Wednesday. Ward lecture. Lunched at Chilton. Art museum class - Snowing hard & blowing.

16 March. Thursday. Walked down town errands & church. After lunch went out to see Aunt E. Last [illegible word] lecture.

17 March. Friday - Fine day. Walked down town. Mrs. Chandler came to play. Lunch at Mrs. Jack Peabody’s. Drove out to Riverside, road good.

18 March. Saturday - 4 [illegible word] this A.M. - Mrs. Tyson’s. After lunch went down to Swampscott. Badly drifted in places but we did not suffer.

19 March. Sunday - Church to see Parkmans. Lunched at H.G.C’s. Paid calls. Found Mary R. who looks very ill. Family to dine.

20 March. Monday - Mrs. Norcross from [illegible word] Com. came by to see me & I liked her very much. Botany lesson at Cambridge. Was lecture at Mrs. Sears.

21 March. Tuesday - Eye & Ear through the A.M. Dined at the H. Burrs. Streets in awful condition.

22 March. Snowing hard & blowing again. Went out to Fogg museum where Ed. Forbes showed us the [illegible word] pictures.

23 March. Thursday - Walked for errands. Mrs. Charles to play. Lunch club at Jessie’s. Went out to see Aunt Emma.

24 March. Friday - Down town to buy typewriter & to church. Miss Ruelker to lunch & to go to concert. Went to Cambridge to see [illegible word].

25 March. Saturday - Mrs. Tyson’s reading.

26 March. Sunday Church. Lunched at Horatio’s. Family to dine. Went to see Mary Russell but there had been a sudden change.

27 March. Monday - went to walk for errands. Lunch at Marian’s. Visited the Eye & Ear.

28 March. Tuesday - Colonial Dames annual meeting but to Cambridge to lunch at Edith’s. Back to hear Miss Holinau speak at the Allens.

29 March. Wednesday - Interesting lecture from Pres. Taft. Lunched at Mrs. Allen’s with Miss Holinau. F. O. & Mrs. Hay & F. D. Cambridge concert in evening.

30 March. Thursday - Mrs. Charles to play. Went out to see Aunt Emma & there to dine. Mary Russell has had [illegible word].

31 March. Friday - Service at cathedral. Lunched at Chilton’s. Had Miss Reulker & Mrs. Bell, Mrs. Sears E & J. All went to concert. Dined at Georgie’s.


* * *

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: Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 12:00 AM

This Island, Cuba

After President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some MHS material related to the island and its history. We hold a number of collections touching on the subject, including the papers of Boston-area merchants engaged in the U.S.-Cuba sugar trade during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Foremost among these merchant families was the Atkins family. Our popular collection of Atkins family papers spans from 1845 to 1950 and consists almost exclusively of the business papers of Elisha, Edwin F., and Robert W. Atkins, as well as the records of E. Atkins & Co. The Atkins family owned a sugar plantation called the Soledad estate on the southern coast of Cuba near Cienfuegos. By the end of the 19th century, under the leadership of Edwin F. Atkins, the prosperous Soledad had grown to enormous proportions, encompassing about 12,000 acres. Five thousand acres were planted with sugar cane.


Edwin F. and his wife Katharine W. Atkins, from their Cuban passport, 1917


The Atkins family papers came to the MHS with hundreds of photographs depicting life on the estate, as well as scenes of Cuban cities and seaports. It’s difficult to choose from so many terrific images, but here are a few of my favorites. (All of the photographs below are unfortunately undated.)




An outing










A big tree!


The MHS website features a digital exhibit of select items from the Atkins family papers, or you may just want to search our website for Cuba material. Other collections related to Cuba include the papers of the Foster, Morse, and Dabney families. Bay Staters also traveled to the island as tourists, and we hold many letters and diaries written during these trips. We hope you’ll visit our library to see what we have!


comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 March, 2016, 4:42 PM

The New Look of Science....260 Years Ago

Between 1752 and 1756 in Paris, Jaques Fabien Gautier, or Gautier d'Agoty (1717-1785) published a six-volume, 18-part set titled Observations sur l'histoire naturelle, sur la physique et sur la peinture... While such publications were not uncommon at the time, what set this one apart was that it contained plates printed in color, the first science periodical to ever do so. He employed a well-established intaglio printmaking process known as mezzotint, a method of engraving in tone.1 

The Society holds two volumes in one of d'Agoty's Observations sur l'histoire naturelle. In addition to observing specimens of natural history, like plants, mammals, birds, and humans, d'Agoty also included obeservations on physical science as well as art and painting. Below are some of the striking images that appear in the work. Enjoy!

[Disclaimer: If you got squeamish when dissecting a frog in high school, be aware that there are a couple of images of internal anatomy of humans and animals.]











1. Osborne, Harold, The Oxford Companion to Art, Oxford University Press, 1970.

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 5 March, 2016, 3:45 PM

“The most exquisitely drawn tragical character in the whole compass of the drama”: John Quincy Adams’ love of Hamlet

In an 1839 letter, John Quincy Adams stated his view that Shakespeare’s Hamlet was “the Master Piece of the Drama ... I had almost said the Master Piece of the Human Mind.” He then gave an analysis of the play sufficiently scholarly and insightful that his letter and his correspondent’s reply were published as a pamphlet in 1844. A copy of this item is among the holdings of the MHS.

The front page of John Quincy Adams’ published interchange of correspondence with James Hackett, regarding the character of Hamlet.

While this publication may be the culmination of John Quincy’s preference for Hamlet, it is certainly not the only evidence of it: his admiration for the play is long-standing.

According to his diary, he saw the play at least seven times, and recalled the productions well enough to contrast the performances of different actors in the leading role. He wrote entries about attending performances on 16 May 1790; 30 November 1792, when the lead actor was “superior to my expectation”; 21 April 1794; 5 October 1797; 18 October 1799, when the lead acted “not well”; 17 April 1809, when the lead actor had “the promise of great powers”; and 13 August 1822, when he judged that the lead actor played Hamlet “indifferently.”

It is notable that the April 1809 Hamlet was the first play that John Quincy and Louisa Catherine took their sons George and John to see, at ages eight and six respectively. A challenging play for children to understand, it is not surprising that the boys had many “remarks and questions” during the performance.

Later that same year, John Quincy and his family took a tour of the Baltic, and he created the following ink and watercolor picture of Cronburg Castle–better know as Shakespeare’s Elsinore.

Kronburg Castle, Helsingør, 2 October 1809, ink and watercolor picture in John Quincy Adams, Miscellany 5, Adams Papers.

It is unclear at what age John Quincy himself first saw Shakespeare on stage, but he had already read some of the works by the time he was ten. An avid reader, he reported to John Adams in October 1774, “I read my Books to Mamma.” While reading aloud was presumably for educational benefit at this point, in adulthood it was instead a form of entertainment—and what better to read than Hamlet? John Quincy Adams noted in his diary that he read Hamlet aloud in 5–6 October 1799, 3–9 August 1802, 16–18 January 1804, and 3–4 March 1823. As the date ranges show, these play readings would extend over several nights, like a mini-series. Twice John Quincy was the only reader, but in 1799 and 1823, he was one of two readers. One wonders how he would have reviewed his own performance...



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 2 March, 2016, 12:00 AM

Second to None: Secondary Sources and a Well-Rounded Research Process

I usually like to employ my blog space to share newly discovered (by me) primary sources from our manuscript, pamphlet, photograph, or artifact collections. I focus heavily on visually  intriguing or mysterious pieces, striving to draw connections  between discoveries, or explore an element of American history about which I previously knew little.

But this week I’m going to do something a little different.

When sitting down to write this post, I realized that all I wanted to share were these fascinating secondary sources I had had my nose buried in all week. After banging my head against a wall  trying to track down primary sources that would give me an excuse to wax poetically about these more...contemporary publications, I caved and re-focused my efforts.

While none of these books will appear in the Society’s 225th celebratory MHS Madness bracket, or be displayed in our image gallery of 225 Items from our Collections, they nonetheless help to broaden the understanding of our more acclaimed collections’ people, places, and historical context.

Much like winning the Tour de France, the study of history is often an independent endeavor that can only be achieved with the help of a team. Our understanding of the past is shaped by the creative exploration of primary sources and vigorous debate about those sources with other historians. This discussion, refutation, and revision plays out in journal articles, monographs, and edited anthologies, and perusing those publications is an integral part of the research process.

It’s also just plain fun.

So here is what has captured my attention lately:


Women Who Kept the Lights: an Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers, by Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford (2000).


I discovered this book while answering an (unrelated) reference question and it was the impetus for this blog post. Hundreds of women are documented as operating lighthouses from 1776-1947, including Hannah Thomas, who took over the Gurnet Point Light Station at the entrance to Plymouth Harbor from her husband when he enlisted to fight in the Revolutionary War. (While we hold the records of Hannah’s husband, John Thomas, Hannah’s place in the collections is described only as the recipient of his letters.) This book follows the careers of 32 of these women and includes some wonderful manuscript, photographic, and cartographic sources from local and national archives throughout the United States.


Shipping & Craft in Silhouette, by Charles G. Davis (1929).


Coincidentally, I found this at the same time as Women Who Kept the Lights and it was actually related to a reference question that had driven me to the V section of our library stacks. Though Shipping & Craft ultimately proved unhelpful in answering the question, I thought the unique use of the silhouette style to identify vessels deserved a wider audience.



I may have stumbled upon the seafaring...fare, listed above, but I actively went searching for this final work.


U.S. Women Writers and the Discourses of Colonialism, 1825-1861, by Etsuko Taketani (2003).


My historical interests tend heavily towards the intersection of female and colonial identities and Taketani’s book is one of the few secondary sources in our library dedicated to that particular Venn diagram. Building off of work I have done examining German women’s expressions of colonial identity (both with and without the physical colonies in which to play out those identities), I was interested to see how American women articulated and shaped similar ideologies.

While admittedly not planned, the three works I chose to share here demonstrate the versatility of secondary sources within the research context. Sometimes you seek them out to inform your understanding of a historical discussion; sometimes you stumble upon them and they catch your eye for a moment; and sometimes they send you careening off on an entirely new path of inquiry. Regardless of purpose or happenstance, secondary sources are worth a primary place in your research process.

You can explore our library collections in greater depth by searching for a favorite topic in our online catalog, ABIGAIL, or by stopping in for a visit

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 1 March, 2016, 9:41 AM

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