The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Around MHS

Visiting Dyer Memorial Library

In “The McKay Stitcher,” I presented a letter from Henry H. Warden of the Russell & Company trade firm in Shanghai to colleague John Cunningham about potential shoe business in China. In response to my post, Joice Himawan, Director of the Dyer Memorial Library in Abington, Mass., kindly invited me to see an early wooden model of the McKay machine held there. Abington resident and inventor Lyman Blake created this particular model.  

  

The Georgian architecture of the Dyer Memorial Library really caught my attention with its pleasing symmetry and order. The building, a trove of genealogical and historical information of the residents of Old Abington (modern day towns of Abington, Rockland, and Whitman), sits atop a slight hill on Center Street. Though this elevation makes the two-story building appear perhaps imposing, I enjoyed how the centered five-bay façade threshold with aligned windows drew in my eye and invited my curious mind to enter.

Boy, was I curious! I learned that the library opened its doors to the public in 1930 by the will and trust of resident inheritress Marietta White Dyer (1853 – 1918). Her uncle Samuel Brown Dyer (1809-1894) amassed quite a fortune as an international banker in France and bequeathed this inheritance to his niece, Marietta White Dyer.  As part of her will, Dyer established the Dyer Fund to construct and maintain the Dyer Memorial Library, leaving $80,000, land, and personal estate to the fund upon her death in 1918. Today the library collection focuses on local history with a concentration on materials by and about people connected to the area known as Old Abington.

As Old Abington's history deeply involved the 19th century shoe industry, the inclusion of Lyman Blake's early model of the McKay shoe stitcher to the library's collections makes perfect sense. I would like to thank Joice Himawan of the Dyer Memorial Library for the invitation to visit. What a great gem of 19th century shoe production history!

The library is free and open to the public. I encourage all readers to plan a visit this special library.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 30 May, 2014, 1:00 AM

Symbiosis at the Society: Fellows and Librarians Learn Together

A few weeks ago the Beehive featured an item about the 2014-2015 Fellowship recipients and their research projects for the coming year. This great opportunity for scholars to come and do funded research also is an opportunity for the MHS librarians to expose ourselves to subjects and collections that we otherwise do not interact with.

Each year, the reference librarians here look at the projects to be undertaken by the incoming research fellows and divide them up so that we can serve as individual liaisons for the various fellows. We choose which fellows to liaise with based on our own interest and background knowledge of the projects. This benefits the fellows by providing a specific person to contact if they have trouble navigating our collections or just need someone to bounce ideas off.  

Over the next year, I will be liaising with at least eleven different fellows to help them utilize the resources here at the MHS. The projects cover a wide range of subjects, including alcohol production, throat epidemics, Revolutionary War campaigns, antislavery texts, and religious reform. They also cover a long span of time, from the earliest days of the English colonies to the dawn of the Civil War.

This presents two challenges for me: to help fellows access materials they already identified using our catalog and to help them discover additional material in our collection that they missed. Perhaps I am familiar with a collection that they did not find in their search; maybe I can show them resources that are not available via our online catalog; in some cases, I can suggest another institution whose collections complement the Society’s.

Again, this exchange benefits both the fellows and the MHS staff. I know already from reading through some project descriptions that I will be exposed to topics that are completely new to me or that the fellow is looking at in a new way. And with some relevant materials already identified by the research fellow, I will learn more about the collections we have here. As I scour our catalog to find more resources for the fellow, I learn more about our holdings and about strategically searching our collections, information that will certainly come in useful down the road.

Back in January I wrote a piece for the Beehive about using the Researcher as Resource. Working with our research fellows each year is another way for our librarians to expand their knowledge and to learn even more about the collections here at the MHS. 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 May, 2014, 3:00 PM

“Long Sleeps Last Night for Both Sophias”: A New Mother’s Diary from 1910

As one of our staff prepared to depart on maternity leave this fall, I took the opportunity to delve into the print and manuscript materials in our collection related to pregnancy and childbirth, parenting and childhood. The MHS has a wide variety of print, manuscript, art and artifact materials related to the history of parents and children, from Cotton Mather’s Help for Distressed Parents, Or, Counsels & Comforts for Godly Parents Afflicted with Ungodly Children (1695) to the children’s health diaries of Helen C. Morgan (in the Allen H. Morgan Papers), who kept tidy notes on her children’s growth, eating habits, childhood illnesses, and medical treatments from their infancy through their college years (1923-1951).

One of my favorite discoveries was the diary kept by Sophie French Valentine during the first months of her daughter’s life. Perhaps in anticipation of her daughter’s birth, Sophie purchased a page-a-day Standard Diary for 1910. In the days before Internet-based social media was our platform of choice for documenting the everyday, Standard Diaries offered a way for many Americans to keep account of their own comings and goings with “status updates” that continue to resonate with intimate immediacy for future generations.

Sophie Valentine’s 1910 diary remained blank until the page for Saturday, July 23, on which she wrote simply, “She came. 8 pounds 7 ounces, 21 inches. Thoroughly healthy. abt 11.42 a.m.”

While her infant daughter was healthy, Sophie was not. On August 2nd she had to undergo an operation (unspecified), that necessitated separation from her daughter and several days’ sedation with “narcotics.” Sophie wrote on the page for August 2nd, “I nursed the baby every three hours up to this time - but just before the operation it was decided best to take her from me!”

As the summer waned, Sophie recovered from her surgery and chronicled the comings and goings of her household, as well as the growth of her daughter (also christened Sophia). Several weeks after the birth, the family doctor paid a visit and pronounced “the little one…sound and vigorous.” Three days later, infant Sophie “went out in the bassinette in front of the house” for the first of what would be many afternoons in the fresh air with her mother. Sophie’s husband, a diplomat, appears to have been away during much of his wife’s convalescence, but a steady stream of female friends and relatives populate the pages of Sophie’s diary. On August 14th, for example, the day “the little one” was baptized Sophia French Valentine, she “had pictures taken with Harriet, Charles, Aunt Martha, Auntie May; and Elizabeth and Lucy,” as well as with her mother and Aunt Caroline (“who held her and talked to her lots”). Later she was visited by “Theodore, Mrs. Graves, and Auntie Beth.”

By Thursday of that week the social whirl may have worn thin for both mother and daughter: the entry for August 18th reads simply, “Long sleeps last night for both Sophias.” A heartfelt status update that will no doubt resonate with many new parents generations hence.

The Sophie French Valentine Papers are part of the Robert G. Valentine Family Papers and available for use by researchers in the reading room of the MHS library.

 

 

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 1:00 AM

Coming Soon: Massachusetts Historical Review, Volume 15

Fractious centennial commemorations reveal ethnic and socioeconomic tensions in Boston!

Daguerreotype of “white slave girl” rocks the North, stirs antislavery fervor!

Radical agrarian thumbs nose at Knox, describes self as “Plaintive worm”!

Real cause of Cape Cod salt industry decline EXPOSED!

So we begin in media res with my unofficial headlines for the four research articles that make up the meat of volume 15 of the Massachusetts Historical Review, a rich and satisfying historical meal with all the trimmings followed by a dessert of three book review articles. But first, readers will enjoy an invigorating apéritif in the form of distinguished professor and writer Gordon S. Wood’s “Remarks on Receiving the John F. Kennedy Medal,” which makes plain his views on the current divide between academic and popular history writing.

“Claiming the Centennial: The American Revolution’s Blood and Spirit in Boston, 1870–1876,” by Craig Bruce Smith

The 1870s—the decade in which Boston held celebrations to commemorate key events of the American Revolution—was fraught with conflict. Classes, lineages, races, and sexes raged in the press, in the streets, and in the meeting venues of Boston for the assumed right to “claim the centennial.”

 

“The Real Ida May: A Fugitive Tale in the Archives,” by Mary Niall Mitchell

In the mid 1850s, a daguerreotype of a young girl named Mary Botts—a freed slave so light-skinned she “passed” for white—caused a sensation. The image shocked its audience into a kind of empathy for slaves (and generally for African Americans and Africans under the Fugitive Slave Law) that many might not have felt otherwise. Botts’s story and others related in this essay illustrate the power of the early photographic image to speak to hearts and to change minds.

 

“‘Persecuted in the Bowels of a Free Republic’: Samuel Ely and the Agrarian Theology of Justice, 1768–1797,” by Shelby M. Balik

Follow the adventures of Samuel Ely, a New England minister and agrarian radical who never missed an opportunity to stir up trouble in the name of divine justice. The outspoken Ely railed against what he saw as the unfair distribution of land patents. Eden, he argued, “was a garden containing six acres only, . . . not a Patent, thirty miles square, nor seventy miles long.”

 

“The Making and Unmaking of a Natural Resource: The Salt Industry of Coastal Southeastern Massachusetts,” by William B. Meyer

The Cape might be coveted real estate today, but before the 20th century, it held very few economic opportunities. One of them was the production of salt by the solar evaporation of seawater. Domestic saltmaking was viable because of heavy tariffs on imported salt—for a time, the duty was the federal government’s main source of revenue. This essay tells the fascinating story of the industry’s rise and decline and offers keen analysis that will make you think twice before using the term “natural resource.”

 

The MHR is a benefit of MHS membership. Those who are not yet members can learn about subscription to the MHR or order individual copies here.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 1 November, 2013, 1:00 AM

MHS Hosts Wiki-edit-a-thon

On Tuesday, 22 October, the MHS held a Wikipedia edit-a-thon as part of the Open Access Week 2013. The goal of the MHS edit-a-thon was to create and/or improve Wikipedia articles related to philanthropy and philanthropists in Massachusetts in the 19th century. The MHS's first foray into the edit-a-thon world attracted a small but very enthusiastic crowd of aspiring Wikipedia editors.  

Adam Hyland, a developer with Bocoup in Boston, presented an introduction to Wikipedia. He explained the Five Pillars of Wikipedia to the newest Wikipedians, emphasizing that anyone can edit Wikipedia! He also encouraged the group to start with small edits to familiarize themselves with the Wiki markup language. Adam’s passion, wit, and knowledge clearly energized the session and gave the new editors confidence. 

  

During the MHS session, the Wikipedians made minor text edits and added links to several articles, including Timeline of Boston history, Forbes family, Massachusetts Humane Society, and Charitable Irish Society of Boston. A new page was created for the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture. You can view the results from our event page. By the end of the session, the group had successfully edited several pages pertaining to Massachusetts philanthropic history during the 19th century and the MHS staff and volunteer editors had an excellent adventure in Wikipedia editing. 

Interested?  The MHS hopes to hold future Wikipedia events to encourage the use of our collections and the sharing of information! Stay tuned for more information.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 October, 2013, 8:00 AM

older posts