MHS News

God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill Opens at the MHS on 27 February

Immerse yourself in the tumultuous times leading to revolution with an exhibition of letters, diaries, political cartoons, newspapers, maps, artifacts, and portraits.

Boston Massacre engravingTo tell the story of the coming of the American Revolution in Boston, God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill follows the evolution of colonial thought and political action through the letters and diaries of men and women caught up in the conflict, together with political cartoons, newspapers, maps, artifacts, and portraits. The exhibition is on display at the Society February 27 through September 4, Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

The story of the coming of the Revolution in Boston is found not only in records that tell us the views of political opponents and military leaders; it also appears in letters and diaries that indicate what events meant to the ordinary men and women who experienced them. Along with celebrated Sons and Daughters of Liberty, this is the story of forgotten patriots who died for a country-to-be, brothers who served against each other in the courtroom, propagandists and war profiteers, merchants whose enterprise was threatened by political chaos, young lovers divided by battle lines, and a teenage African American poet who had to sail to England to secure her freedom.

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MHS Announces Publication of What's New About the "New" Immigration? Traditions and Transformations in the United States since 1965

What's New about the BOSTON, January 2014—As debates over immigration reform echo from local communities to the halls of Congress, the Massachusetts Historical Society is pleased to announce the publication of What's New about the "New" Immigration? Traditions and Transformations in the United States since 1965, co-edited by professors Marilyn Halter of Boston University, Marilynn S. Johnson of Boston College, and Director of Research Conrad Edick Wright and Research Coordinator Katheryn P. Viens of the MHS. The book is available from the publisher Palgrave MacMillan.

Through the ten essays in this collection, readers will discover a wide range of experiences that will inform their understanding of immigration today. Newcomers share the stuff of daily life as they cope with teenagers, worship together, and maintain long-distance family ties using new social media. In other instances, their experiences have been marked by the passage of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, which ushered in the current immigration system. In this new context, the men and women in these pages eke out a living below minimum wage, or practice a profession and contribute to political campaigns. They seek asylum through the federal bureaucracy and navigate the meaning of citizenship. They are Bosnian, Chinese, Mexican, Asian Indian, and Nigerian. They reside in Boston suburbs, the Nuevo South in Georgia, affluent Dallas suburbs, and the heart of Los Angeles. But they are representative of newcomers to communities throughout the United States.

What's New about the "New" Immigration? presents the work of recognized immigration scholars. It is the latest in a series of essay collections based on conferences held at the Society. Founded in 1791, the MHS is an independent research institution that promotes the study of the history of Massachusetts and the nation. It strives to enhance the understanding of our nation’s past and its connection to the present, demonstrating that history is integral to our daily lives. The MHS collections, which include more than 12 million manuscripts and several hundred thousand books, are particularly well-known for extensive holdings of personal papers from three presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Moreover, the MHS offers many other ways for the public to engage with history, including its publications, exhibitions, and an extensive range of programs including public lectures, tours, academic seminars and conferences, brown-bag lunch talks, and teacher workshops.

What’s New about the "New" Immigration? Traditions and Transformations in the United States since 1965. Marilyn Halter, Marilynn S. Johnson, Katheryn P. Viens, and Conrad Edick Wright, eds. (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014. x, 306 pp. Maps, tables, index. $90.00.) ISBN 978-1-137-48386-7

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The Father of His Country Returns to Boston Opens at the Massachusetts Historical Society on October 24

An exhibition of paintings, accounts, and other memorabilia assembled to commemorate the 225th anniversary of George Washington’s visit to Boston


George Washington portrait by GullagerTwo hundred twenty-five years ago, during his first year in office, Pres. George Washington embarked on a month-long tour of New England including a ten-day visit to Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Historical Society is commemorating this visit with the exhibition The Father of His Country Returns to Boston, October 24, 1789. The exhibition is open in the Treasures Gallery of the Society through December 31, 2014.

In Boston, the president was met by a great procession that paraded beneath a triumphal arch designed by Charles Bulfinch. Young John Quincy Adams observed the great excitement of people everywhere: “At the present moment they indulge themselves in sentiments of joy, arising/resulting . . . from the gratification of their affection in beholding personally among them, the friend, the benefactor, the father of his Country.” To set the scene, the exhibition includes a map of Boston, an engraving by Samuel Hill showing the triumphal arch, and a broadside describing the welcoming procession along with a painting of State Street in 1801 by James Brown Marston.

Featured in the exhibition is one of six portraits of Washington housed in the Society’s collections. The portrait is a life study by Christian Gullager painted during the New England tour. Gullager began his portrait of the president in October, 1789.  Jeremy Belknap, the minister of Federal Street Church in Boston and founder of the MHS, noted Washington's visit and Gullager's effort to portray him in his diary: "While he was in the chapel, Gullager, the painter stole a likeness of him from a Pew behind the pulpit." Belknap added, "Gullager followed Gen W to Ports[mouth] where he sat for 2 – hours for him to take his portrait wh[ich] he did & obtained a very good likeness after wh[ich] he laid aside the sketch wh[ich] he took in the Chapel wh[ich] however was not a bad one."

Also on display are designs of copper buttons made to celebrate Washington’s inauguration, the Bowdoin Bishop Cup from which Washington is said to have drunk punch, a lock of hair that Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton, and a walking stick presented to George Washington by Gov. James Bowdoin. Martha Washington returned the cane to the Bowdoin family after her husband’s death in 1799.

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Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country Opens at the Massachusetts Historical Society on June 12

An exhibition of letters, photographs, and other memorabilia assembled to commemorate the centenary of the first World War

Photograph of Margaret Hall and a soldierTo commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I, the MHS has organized the exhibition Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War, focusing on two of the hundreds of women from the Commonwealth who went to France as members of the U.S. armed forces, the Red Cross, and other war relief organizations. From the Society’s extraordinary collection of women’s remembrances, this exhibition features photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia related to Margaret Hall and Eleanor (Nora) Saltonstall, Red Cross volunteers in France. Both women were keen observers of the climactic months of the war and depicted what they witnessed in vivid detail. The exhibition is open at the MHS June 12, 2014 through January 24, 2015.

Nora Saltonstall was 23 when she sailed for France in October 1917 to work in Paris with the Bureau of Refugees and Relief, a division of the American Red Cross, which provided lodging for refugees. In November, she transferred to an American Red Cross dispensary in Paris and, after the new year, to Mrs. Charles Daly's Auto-Chir No. 7, an American Red Cross hospital unit attached to the French army. The Auto-Chir was a mobile hospital which followed the troops, serving as the primary medical unit after the first aid station. Later, she was the chauffeur while the Auto-Chir served along the western front in France, the site of the German offensives in the spring of 1918.  It was for this service that she earned the Croix de Guerre that is on display in the exhibition along with a selection of her letters home and a portrait of Nora by Frank Weston Benson.

In August 1918, a Massachusetts-born woman named Margaret Hall boarded a transport ship in New York City that would take her across the Atlantic to work with the American Red Cross in France. The year she spent abroad was eye opening. When she returned stateside, she compiled a typescript narrative from the letters and diary passages that she wrote while overseas and illustrated it with roughly 275 photographs and illustrative items. Her words offer a first-hand account of life on the Western Front in the last months of the war while her photographs depict the soldiers, canteens, and extensive destruction following the war. That narrative, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country, 1918-1919," is a manuscript in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) and will be on display. The exhibition will highlight a selection of Hall’s large-format photographs of the battlefront on loan from the Cohasset Historical Society.

About the publication

The MHS will publish Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: The World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall on July 14, 2014, as part of its commemoration of the beginning of World War I. Modern readers will be transported by this first-person account of a woman’s life in the Great War. The book augments Hall’s written story with several dozen of her striking and never-before-published photographs, selected from those she included in the archived typescript.

Margaret Higonnet, the volume’s editor, opens up the text for readers with a suite of supporting materials: an introduction, headnotes on key related topics, a biographical key identifying the people who appear in the text, a geographical key of significant locations, a timeline of relevant World War I events, and glossaries of period and French terms.

About the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Massachusetts Historical Society is one of the nation’s preeminent research libraries, with collections that provide an unparalleled record of the vibrant course of American history. Since its founding in 1791, the MHS has fostered research, scholarship, and education. With millions of pages of manuscript letters, diaries, and other documents, as well as early newspapers, broadsides, artifacts, works of art, maps, photographs, and prints, the MHS offers a wide-ranging perspective on the United States from the earliest beginnings of the nation to the present day. Exhibition galleries are open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

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David McCullough to Receive John F. Kennedy Medal

The MHS is pleased to present its highest award to award-winning author and historian David McCullough at a celebratory event at the Society on 7 May, 2014.

Kennedy MedalOn 7 May, the Society will present the John F. Kennedy Medal to MHS Fellow, Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning historian David McCullough. Awarded to persons who have rendered distinguished service to the cause of history, it is the highest award given by the Society. Shortly after President Kennedy’s death, the MHS received several gifts designated to perpetuate his memory as an active member of the Society and a great friend of historical scholarship. A medal was created in his name, and eminent artist and MHS Fellow Rudolph Ruzicka was commissioned to design it. The following historians have received the Kennedy Medal: Samuel Eliot Morison (1967), Dumas Malone (1972), Thomas Boylston Adams (1976), Oscar Handlin (1991), Edmund S. Morgan (2002), Alfred DuPont Chandler, Jr. (2003), Bernard Bailyn (2004), John Hope Franklin (2005), Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (2006), Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (2009), and Gordon S. Wood (2012).

MHS President Dennis Fiori remarked, "the Kennedy Medal was created to honor those who have rendered distinguished service to the cause of history. As an award-winning historian, popular author, and a great champion of history education, David McCullough has dedicated his career to the cause of history. It gives us great pleasure to bestow this award upon such a great friend to the Society and to add his name to the list of prominent recipients."

David McCullough has been widely acclaimed as a "master of the art of narrative history," "a matchless writer." He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize and twice winner of the National Book Award, and, he has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. 

Mr. McCullough’s most recent book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, the number one New York Times best seller, has been called "dazzling," "an epic of ideas . . . history to be savored." His previous work, 1776, has been deemed "a classic," while John Adams remains one of the most praised and widely read American biographies of all time. Mr. McCullough’s other books include The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, The Path between the Seas, Mornings on Horseback, Brave Companions, and Truman. His work has been translated and published in 15 countries around the world, and, in all, more than 10,000,000 copies are in print. 

A gifted speaker, Mr. McCullough has lectured in all parts of the country and abroad, including at the White House. He is also one of the few private citizens to speak before a joint session of Congress. He is presently working on a biography of the Wright brothers.

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