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Book Review: "Not A Catholic Nation"


New England is perhaps not the first region in which twenty-first century readers place the Ku Klux Klan.  Yet, in Not A Catholic Nation: The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England in the 1920s, Mark Paul Richard thoroughly dispels the notion that the infamous secret society had no substantial presence in New England or the northeast.  Richard, Professor of History and Canadian Studies at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, focuses on the tensions between the KKK and Catholic immigrant populations throughout New England in the 1920s.  Of particular interest to Richard is the resistance to KKK influence by Franco-American populations in the northeast borderlands regions.  French-speaking Catholic groups in all six New England states were at the forefront of anti-Klan activity in the 1920s.

Richard closely examines the rise and fall of the 1920s Klan in New England using newspapers, state government records, and court proceedings as his source material.  Through this research Richard sheds considerable light on the sentiments both for and against the Klan during the 1920s.  Formally re-founded in 1915, the second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan spread well beyond the southern states where the original Klan had operated.  Building on a structured hierarchy, the Klan of the 1920s functioned as something like a fraternal and civic organization, espousing the need for Anglo-American Protestants to unite in the face of waves of Catholic immigrants in addition to Jews, African-Americans, and other minorities.  Espousing Nativist ideals, the Klan sought to disenfranchise entire groups of Catholic immigrants from politics and business.  While Klan-affiliated groups in New England remained in agreement with the national Klan with regards to their views on minorities including Jews and African-Americans, Catholic immigrants generally made up much larger portions of the population in New England states and were thus seen as a more immediate threat to be dealt with.  Among their biggest targets were the Franco-American populations in New England.  In the 1920s, Franco-Americans made up a huge portion of both the immigrant and the Catholic populations of New England states.  They would clash with the Klan in their newspapers, in the streets of New England cities and towns, and in the halls of state government.

Richard’s book showcases the efforts of ethnic Catholic groups to dispel the Klan’s exclusionary notions of Americanism.  Furthermore, Richard demonstrates that Franco-Americans in particular acted as their own agents in their ideological struggles with the Klan.  Although Irish-American politicians in New England such as James Michael Curley railed against the KKK, Franco-Americans resisted the influence of the KKK largely through their own efforts.  Richard examines the use of French-language newspapers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and elsewhere in exposing the contradictions and hypocrisy inherent in KKK ideology. 

In addition to earlier scholarship focusing on the struggles of Irish-American politicians against the Klan,  Richard shows that Franco-Americans were often a favorite target of Klan members and Nativist sympathizers and that they effectively discredited the Klan in New England through their own avenues including French-language newspapers and open protest.  Richard’s book is an excellent read for students of immigration issues in the early twentieth century, as well as of the struggles of Catholic populations against Nativist bigotry.  Scholars of the Franco-American experience in the northeast in the twentieth century will find Richard’s book to be an invaluable tool. 

Below are some materials relating to issues of immigration, race, religion, and civil liberties in Massachusetts from our collections:

Ursuline Convent Trial Notes, 1834.  Call Number: Ms. N-1698.  Shaw, Lemuel, 1781-1861.  Massachusetts Historical Society.

John E. Gilman Scrapbooks, 1885-1890.  Call Number: Scrapbooks 051.  Gilman, John E., 1844-1921.  Massachusetts Historical Society.

Massachusetts Public Interests League records, 1919-1929.  Call Number: Ms. N-514.  Massachusetts Public Interests League.  Massachusetts Historical Society.

American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts records, 1920-2005.  Call Number: Ms. N-2257.  American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.  Massachusetts Historical Society.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 4 January, 2017, 12:00 AM

Gertrude Carter’s Diary: An Introduction

Gertrude Carter with her husband Gilbert and son John, 1916

(Library of Congress, Public Domain)

Following the serialization of the 1915 travel diary of an anonymous Boston woman who journeyed down the Nile, and the 1916 line-a-day-diary kept by upper-class Bostonian Mrs. Margaret Pelham Russell, I am continuing to explore the personal narratives contained in the MHS collections in 2017 with the 1917 illustrated diary of Boston-born artist Gertrude Codman Carter.

Born in 1875 to Frank Parker and Mary Codman, Gertrude grew up in a comfortably upper-middle class family that had made its wealth in the textile industry before and during the Civil War [1]. Encouraged in artistic pursuits, young Gertrude was an accomplished artist and studied at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts during the 1890s and traveled abroad to Italy and France to refine her work as a painter and illustrator [2]. In her late twenties she became the second wife of Sir Gilbert Thomas Carter, a British colonial officer who served as Governor in The Bahamas and Barbados and, briefly, in Trinidad and Tobago.

Gertrude and Gilbert began the year 1917 living in Barbados at Ilaro Court, a residence that Carter had designed herself, with their young son John (pictured above with his parents). Though an ocean away from Europe, the long shadow of WWI hangs over the household even as the activities of white British Colonial society carries on. Beginning in January 2017 we will be following Carter through her year to learn what her diaries can tell (and show) us about the life of a female artist, mother, and white British colonial was like one hundred years ago.

Do you have specific questions about Codman’s life or diaries? Leave a comment below! Throughout the year, I will be exploring Codman’s biography and context, and will be happy to take requests.

If you are interested in viewing the diary yourself, 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.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 30 December, 2016, 11:45 AM

The Bostonian and the Bard

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is an organization in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England which oversees the historic home in which the William Shakespeare was born. Through the centuries, millions have visited this 16th century abode in order to pay their respects to the Immortal Bard. 

A few weeks ago, I was greeted one morning with a reference question from the staff of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The question focused on the oldest guestbook that the Trust holds in their archives. The item dates to the year 1812 and the first recorded visitors are a TH Perkins of Boston, and Joseph Curwen of Philadelphia.

DR185/1 Shakespeare's Birthplace Visitors' books, Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

 

The question coming from Stratford was whether this TH Perkins is Thomas Handasyd Perkins, a prominent Boston businessman and successful merchant of the China trade. Here at the MHS we hold the Thomas Handasyd Perkins papers, 1764-1854 and the folks at the Shakespeare Birthplace were looking for confirmation that these were the same person. So, I started digging to see what I could find about Mr. Perkins' travels in the early 19th century.

Within the collection is a “Journal of Reminiscences of England and Wales, 1 July 1812,” which seemed promising for answering this question. I scrolled through the microfilm looking for keywords that would jump out at me and, sure enough, about thirty frames in I saw mention of Stratford, so I slowed down and started paying attention. As I read, more and more pieces slid into place.

Altho’ I had before visited Stratford, yet it gave me great pleasure to have an opportunity of passing a few more hours here…

When here before, I went to the house, and into the room where the Poet was born, but as Mr. Curwen had not visited this place before, I passed thro’ the town with him and visited, both the house and the church with him…

Perkins then goes into some detail about the people residing in the house

It is now occupied by a Butcher, who hangs up his mutton at the windows of the front room, and whose wife who is a very loquacious sort of a woman, shows you all the Relics which are said to have been the property of the bard.

He continues to describe some of the rooms in the house, making special mention of some walls which were whitewashed and then covered over in the penciled scrawling of visitors, signing their names and leaving messages to show their passage through.

When I was here before, I asked the woman why she did not keep a Book, in which persons who came to visit the house might subscribe their names, as the walls were full. She said she had frequently thought of getting one, and had been often asked if she had one, but that she had no one to prepare it for her; at that time I was much hurried, but determined that if I ever again passed thro’ Stratford I would purchase one and give it to the woman. I now put my resolution into execution by buying a quarto blank Book containing about four quires of paper, and giving to be applied to his purpose I ruled it, making a column for the date, another for the name and a third for the Residence__and having written in the beginning of it “Tribute of Repsect to the Memory of the Bard of Avon” and furnished the woman with an ink stand and some pens, I subscribed my name, and wished her to deliver the Book when filled to the Librarian of the town, who is to deposit it in the Library, and furnish another blank Book in its stead.

 

When taking on this reference question I was fairly confident that the "TH Perkins" in the guestbook would be the same as the man whose papers we hold. However, I was tickled when I read this passage and learned that our Perkins was actually the person who purchased and inscribed the guestbook, even going so far as to provide instructions for its preservation. Perhaps in another life this businessman will make a good librarian.

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Friday, 23 December, 2016, 12:00 AM

An Anxious Christmas

Christmas 1798 was an anxious one for the Adams family. President John Adams faced a new congressional session and the continued threat of war with France, a presidential cabinet of unknown loyalty, and a fiercely partisan Congress. The situation in his personal life was scarcely more cheery—John marked the day alone in Philadelphia as his dearest friend, Abigail, recuperated from a life-threatening illness in Quincy, and winter weather making her joining him unsafe. Moreover his youngest son, Thomas Boylston, was overdue to arrive in a winter voyage across the Atlantic home to the United States after over four years in Germany.

John had already written to Abigail once on Christmas morning, but picked up his pen a second time later in the day. While the upcoming volume of Adams Family Correspondence will include the first of these letters as it is more detailed and substantial, this second letter will be omitted. In his brief second letter, he told her about the ride he took through what he describes as a picturesque winter wonderland around Philadelphia on a sunny day. He also tried to reassure Abigail from afar that there was no need to worry if no news of their son’s arrival had yet reached her:

I have rode in the Coaches with Mr [William Smith] shaw over Grays Ferry and round by Hamiltons Woodlands over the Upper Ferry home, about ten miles [James] Kiggin says. more beautifull Slaying never was seen. The snow not as with you excessively deep, but enough to cover all the Earth and deep enough to afford a very smooth path and beautifully white as Innocence itself. Yet the sun melts the snow and it runs from the Roofs and fills the air with a Chilly Vapour which destroys the Comforts as well as beauty of Winter in this place.— How soon a warm rain and thorough Thaw may happen to break all up & make the Roads impossible, none can tell.

Christmas is arrived but I dont hear of T. B. Adams’s Arrival at Newbury Port. I hope you have before this: but if you have not dont be anxious—long Passages very long are very frequent at this season.

Although the Adamses did not celebrate Christmas the way it is commonly celebrated today, it was still a day that brought a short respite from work if not from worry with an eye toward an approaching new year.


 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 21 December, 2016, 12:00 AM

“A fearful time for old Boston”: The Great Fire of 1872

It was with extreme surprise and pain that I learned on going out onto the street yesterday morn of the extensive conflagration sweeping th[r]o the business part of Boston. It seemed impossible that fire could get such headway among those solid granite buildings which one would think were almost fire proof.

This passage comes from a letter in the new MHS collection of Hatch family papers. It was written by Charles H. Hatch in St. Paul, Minn. to his brother Edward on 12 November 1872, two days after the Great Boston Fire devastated much of the city’s financial district. Edward worked for Allen, Lane & Co., dry goods commission merchants on Devonshire Street. He wasn’t hurt in the fire, which broke out shortly after 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday night, but Allen, Lane & Co. lost $250,000.

Here’s a map of the affected area from The Story of the Great Fire, published by Shepard & Gill in 1872, and an artist’s rendering from Russell H. Conwell’s History of the Great Fire in Boston (1873).

 

 

 

 

Charles Hatch was suffering from an unspecified illness, possibly consumption, and had only recently left Boston for the Midwest. He regretted being so far away from his older brother Edward, affectionately nicknamed “Boz.”

The fire & its results form the chief topic of conversation here and all manifest the deepest sympathy for suffering Boston and take the greatest interest in the reports as they come. […] I wish I had been there during the fire Boz and wish I was even now. It must have been a grand and terrible sight.

Eager for news and frustrated by “somewhat conflicting and very vague” accounts, Charles wrote again at 8:00 a.m. the following day.

Dear Boz I can hardly realize that the best part of the business centre of Boston is a pile of smouldering ruins. The news comes so contradictory and uncertain that I scarce know what to believe. It is a terrible blow to Boston and it must take a long time for her to recover from it. […] I am waiting most anxiously a letter from you to know how and to what extent you will be affected by it.”

Other MHS material related to the Great Fire includes letters in the Higginson family papers II. On 10 November, James J. Higginson in New York wrote to his father George, “I scarcely know what to say to you in face of the horrible tidings that the news-boys are shouting in one’s ears.” The next day, he complained, “The most alarming rumors were spread around here yesterday, and even late in the evening very little seemed known accurately.”

Some of the most detailed descriptions of the fire and its aftermath come from the journals of merchant William Gray Brooks. Unlike Charles Hatch and James Higginson, he wrote as a first-hand witness to what he called “a fearful time for old Boston.” His entry for 16 November 1872 reads: “One week this evening since the great fire. What a week! The ‘burnt district’ is still smouldering and smoking and the walls are being taking [sic] down.”

 

(These three photographs are taken from the Wigglesworth family photographs II. The third depicts Devonshire Street, the street on which Edward Hatch worked. See also our before-and-after stereoviews of Pearl and Washington Streets.)

While laborers worked to clear the rubble and relief efforts got underway, residents feared the fire’s return. In fact, two additional fires did break out, one on 19 November near the Custom House and another the next day in Cornhill, very close to Brooks. He wondered in his journal if Boston was a “doomed city.” However, the streets thronged with visitors, and the financial district was soon rebuilt.

On 26 November 1872, Mayor William Gaston appointed a commission to investigate the cause and management of the fire, as well as factors contributing to its spread. The commission’s report begins:

The fact is painfully familiar, that on the 9th of November last, on a calm and mild evening, a fire broke out in the building numbered 83 and 85 Summer Street, and raged without control till the afternoon of the following day, spreading through the best business portions of Boston, covering sixty-five acres with ruins, destroying 776 buildings, assessed at the value of $13,500,000, and consuming merchandise and other personal property estimated at more than sixty millions of dollars. (p. iii)

Unfortunately…

To the more important question how the fire began, no answer can be given. There is no evidence whatever criminating any of the occupants of the building, nor is there anything to show that it caught from the furnace or the boiler, except the fact that it began in that portion of the building. (p. iv)

Brooks probably spoke for many Bostonians when he wrote in his journal on 30 November 1872, “The last day of November, a month that will mark an era in the history of Boston. What a different city it is since the beginning of the month.”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 14 December, 2016, 12:00 AM

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