The Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society’s Lectures and Entertainment Events in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries

By Dr. Kristof Loockx, Centre for Urban History, University of Antwerp

On a Sunday afternoon in 1920, the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society invited Professor Elizabeth F. Fisher (1873-1941) to deliver an illustrated lecture on petroleum at the Mariner’s House on 11 North Square.[1] Born in Boston, Fisher was a renowned scientist who graduated from MIT and held a permanent position as Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Wellesley College. Like many other lecturers of that era, she most likely presented findings from her recent book.[2] In it, she offered educational insights into the geographical distribution of various natural resources, such as oil, and their industrial applications in the US. The book featured a rich variety of illustrations, such as geological maps and images of industrial uses of petroleum, that were likely used at the time of her lecture.[3] The seamen’s society had acquired a stereopticon in 1894, which marked a significant change in the programming of the organization’s lecture and entertainment series, as it enabled presenters to enrich their talks with illustrated projections on a wall.[4]

Black and white photograph of an interior scene. The room has a window to the left with light coming in, framed portrait paintings on the back wall and cabinets on the right wall. In the center are four columns decorated with ribbons and greenery. Around the columns are chairs all facing towards the back wall. The end of the room by the back wall is raised like a stage with a piano on the right, and a chair to the left.
Photograph of the Chapel at the Mariner’s House on 11 North Square where the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society organized lectures and entertainment events, c.1905. Source: BPSAS, MHS, Annual Reports, 1832-1977, Report of the Managers, 1906, 26-27.

我在MHS的研究探讨了海事历史的一个相对未知的方面:海员的社会在组织教育和娱乐活动的作用,以影响临时海员的生活. This focus aims to illuminate the broader implications of such organizations beyond merely providing room and board. Organizations like the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society increasingly engaged in promoting cultural programs to foster education, community, and self-improvement, which was part of a broader strategy to instill Christian values and counteract the exploitation of seafarers while ashore. 这些努力还通过对那些被资本主义边缘化的人进行再教育,解决了工业化与航海技术恶化之间的假定关系.[5]

By exploring the rich archival records of the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society at the MHS, I aim to reveal the nuances of how lectures and entertainment events were planned, executed, and received by their intended audiences. This research will provide a more comprehensive picture of the seafarer’s urban and social world, which is all too often reduced to prostitution, gambling, and drinking.[6] The study also demonstrates that seamen’s organizations were an integral part of the broader, flourishing lecture and entertainment circuit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, echoing the principles of the lyceum movement, which was instrumental in promoting adult education through public lectures, debates, and concerts.[7] Furthermore, the prominent role of figures like Elizabeth F. Fisher highlights the integral part women played in these educational endeavors, as was the case for women who led concerts, delivering musical performances that enriched these gatherings.

Color photograph of an open book with black ink print on white paper. The heading on the page on the left, page 16, is "Lectures."
Overview of the lectures and entertainment events hosted by the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society in 1920, including the illustrated lecture by Prof. Elizabeth F. Fisher. Source: BPSAS, MHS, Annual Reports, 1832-1977, Report of the Managers, 1921, 16-17.

While not all lectures, entertainments, and religious gatherings were illustrated, the incorporation of technology like the stereopticon, as well as the employment of instruments during performances, 后来使用电影放映机放映无声电影——通常伴随着现场音乐——与更广泛的巡回演讲相一致,采用创新的方法来增强学习和记忆, making complex subjects accessible and engaging to a wide audience.[8] Additionally, seamen’s organizations also fostered a sense of camaraderie and joy through singing religious hymns and singalongs, with the latter often accompanied by the projection of song names to facilitate participation.[9] This use of projection technology highlights seamen’s societies’ aims to blend education with essential social interaction.

波士顿港和海员援助协会对海员福利和教育的承诺的持久遗产仍然证明了社区和知识的持久价值. MHS丰富的档案材料不仅揭示了海事历史中被忽视的一面,而且强调了教育推广在赋予个人应对时代挑战方面的永恒意义. By delving into the past, we gain insights into the methods and motivations that shaped lives, offering lessons that remain profoundly applicable in today’s ever-evolving societal landscapes.

Link to Multimedia Resources

To give readers a taste of the atmosphere during entertainments at seamen’s organizations like the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society, links to a typical song and film from this era, enjoyed during the singalongs and screenings of silent films, are included below. These examples not only reflect historical tastes but also enrich our understanding of seafarers’ social lives during the period.

Music: I Just Roll Along Having My Ups and Downs (1928)

Film: Hold ‘em Yale (1928)


[1] Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society records (BPSAS), MHS, Annual Reports, 1832-1977, Report of the Managers, 1921, 16.

[2] Robert R. Shrock, Geology at MIT, 1865-1965: A History of the First Hundred (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977), 400.

[3] Elizabeth F. Fisher, Resources and Industries of the United States (Ginn and Co: New York, 1919).

[4] BPSAS, MHS, Annual Reports, 1832-1977, Annual Report of the Managers, 1895, 7.

[5] For a general overview of the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society’s history, see: Patrick M. Leehey, A History of the Mariner’s House (Boston: Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society, 1995).

[6] The Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society records at the MHS consist of 69 volumes and other records in 17 record cartons (Ms. N-366) and 3 reels of microfilm (P-717), spanning the years 1829-1977.

[7] For the lyceum movement, see, for instance: Tom F. Wright (ed.), The Cosmopolitan Lyceum: Lecture Culture and the Globe in Nineteenth-Century America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).

[8] Margo Buelens-Terryn and Kristof Loockx, ‘Bringing the World into View: Explorations and the Illustrated Lecture Circuit in Early Twentieth-Century Antwerp and Brussels,’ in: J. Happel, M. Hussinger, and H. Raupach (eds.), Expeditions in the Long Nineteenth Century: Discovering, Surveying, and Ordering (New York: Routledge, 2024), 244-245.

[9] Seamen’s Church Institute’s Digital Archives, Outreach Text and Images, Song-Hit Slides.

Pride in Massachusetts

by Meg Szydlik, Visitor Services Coordinator

May 17, 2024, was the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state, the first state in the nation to do so. To celebrate such an important landmark, as well as Pride month, I wanted to look at some LGBTQIA+ representation in our archives. I found out that we have the papers of Gerry E. Studds, the first openly gay US Congressman, and decided to explore them. I had never heard of him before, so it was fascinating to learn about this piece of history as someone who did not grow up in Massachusetts. Outed after a male ex-page reported having a consensual sexual relationship with Studds when he was 17, Studds chose to acknowledge and claim his sexuality rather than hide behind a veneer of heterosexual respectability. His bid worked. He would go on to serve in Congress for more than a decade after the scandal broke. Representing the 10th District including Cape Cod and the South Shore, he was committed to addressing marine and environmental concerns and maintained a strong anti-war stance throughout his time in Congress. I would love to explore his other activist focuses eventually, but for this blog I want to focus on his AIDS advocacy and support for gay rights.

Small black and white image of a white man with thinning hair wearing a white shirt with a dark tie. He is wearing large glasses on his face and is frowning.]
Gerry E. Studds, from the Congressional Archive.

I remember learning about AIDS as a child, but by the time I learned about it, it was no longer a death sentence the way it was in the 80s when Studds first spoke up about it. In his papers, he continually pointed out how HIV/AIDS was a deadly infection. He heavily critiqued his fellow representatives for not considering groups affected, such as gay men and intravenous drug users, as worthy of protection. In his view, it was a serious disease and a health crisis. Studds不同意里根对艾滋病不干预的做法,其根源在于他的观察:“似乎今天整整一代年轻同性恋男女的主要社会活动是参加同样年轻的朋友的葬礼。.他还明确地将支持改善医疗保健系统与改善艾滋病患者的预后og体育官网起来,并公开呼吁为艾滋病护理提供更多资金, treatment, and research.

Sheet of paper with a blue heading for Gerry E. Studds’ Congressional office and a date of January 24th, 1995. The statement that follows notes Studds’ doubt for a productive hearing on gay and lesbian issues and his concerns that it would fuel more violence.
Studds’ concerns about anti-gay violence were well-placed. Matthew Shepard was murdered 3 years after this statement, in 1998.

He does not only care about AIDS, however. Studds is vocal about other gay issues, like military service. He objects to the anti-gay rules in the military, including what became known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and calls for gay military members to be able to serve openly and “with dignity,” pointing out that “you cannot blackmail someone who has nothing to hide.” It was not until 2011 that the policy was repealed and LGBTQ people could serve openly in the military without threat of being discharged. 他认为,“对同性恋的恐惧很大程度上是基于一种滋生无知的无知”,而将同性恋正常化是创造一个欢迎和关心LGBTQ人群的社会的关键.

Sheet of paper with a blue heading for Gerry E. Studds’ Congressional office and a date of November 15, 1993. The statement that follows addresses the importance of open gay representation in politics.
Today there are 12 openly LGBTQ members of Congress, which surely would have thrilled Studds.

It’s striking to read these documents and see just how recent many LGBTQ gains are. Studds came out in 1983. Gay marriage was legalized federally in 2015. The US Supreme Court upheld that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in 2020. These are all well within living memory. Civil rights are living, breathing, developing laws and policies, and the reality is still very far from rosy. As Gerry Studds said, “we will continue the struggle until the final chapter has been written and everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”

Asian American and Pacific Island History at the MHS 

By Rakashi Chand, Reading Room Supervisor

The MHS held a special event featuring Asian American and Pacific Islander history to mark Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month on 28 May 2024. The event began with a reception to bring together guests from various communities, institutions and organizations, followed by two special guest speakers, Representative Tackey Chan, of the Second Norfolk District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Dr. Paul Watanabe, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  

Color photograph of three people in a wood-paneled room with art on the walls and a cannon in the background, with a decorative rug on the wooden floor. There are two men, one older, one middle-aged, and a middle-aged woman, all three are Asian of different backgrounds. The man to the left is wearing a white shirt with black pants and leans onto a cane while listening and holding a beverage. The man in the middle is wearing a black suit jacket and pants with a blue collared shirt and multicolored tie. The woman on the right is wearing a yellow dress with pink filigree and is holding a black clipboard while speaking and gesturing to the man on the left.
From left to right: Dr. Paul Watanabe, Rep. Tackey Chan, and Rakashi Chand, MHS.

Rep. Chan and Dr. Watanabe both spoke about the need to bring Asian American histories and people into sight, as the stories and voices of AAPI peoples have been historically ignored or removed from the narrative. Representative Chan discussed the many incidents of mistreatment, discrimination, exclusion and hate crimes committed against Asian Americans through the centuries. Both spoke about the importance of being seen and the importance of teaching and learning the history of AAPI people.  

This was followed by a beautiful dance performed by members of the Newton Chinese Language Teachers Club, mesmerizing attendees and filling the MHS with music. 

五名亚洲女性的三张彩色照片,她们穿着黄色和粉色的服装,白色的长袖垂在舞者的手上. Their hair is half up or all up with a decorative hat with colorful dangling decorations on them. In each photograph the women are dancing a different part of a dance.
Photographs captured of the Newton Chinese Language Teachers Club dance

Rakashi Chand, Reading Room Supervisor, then welcomed the crowd to the MHS, along with Peter Drummey, Chief Historian & Stephen T. Riley Librarian, and kicked off the multi-case interpretation featuring collection items related to Asian American and Pacific Islander history at the MHS. 

Items featured throughout the building for the event included: 

Banquet to the Ambassadors of Japan, by Members of the Boston Board of Trade: Bill of Fare 

这张精美的手绘丝绸菜单是为纪念日本外交官和技术顾问在访问美国7个月后举行的告别晚宴而印制的. Among the visitors were key figures in the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the new imperial regime. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered speeches that evening.   

“Mess Hall, Bathroom, Barracks. Japanese Relocation Center. Heart Mt. Wyoming.” 

This watercolor painting by Estelle Ishigo depicts the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, one of ten internment camps established for Japanese Americans during World War II. Ishigo was recruited as a “Documentary Reporter” for the War Relocation Authority and recorded the internment experience in illustrations, line drawings, oil, and watercolors. 

金山日新录.  Kim Shan Jit San Luk (Alternative title: Golden Hills’ News) Newspaper, 22 April 1854 

The first print of the first Chinese-language Newspaper in America.  

Letter from Pandita Ramabai from the Judith Walker Andrews Correspondence, 1887-1911, 包括Pandita Ramabai的信件,描述了她在Sharada Sadan和Mukti Sadan照顾和教育儿童寡妇的工作以及其他信件和帐户. 

Convention of amity and commerce with Kingdom of Siam, [manuscript copy, 1833.] 

First trade agreement with Thailand. In Thai; accordion folded scroll.  

Key to the city of Seoul, South Korea, presented to Henry Cabot Lodge. Bronze, gold leaf. 

And many more items!  

The event was well attended and enjoyed by an appreciative audience, many of whom attended for the first time. The MHS features material and scholarship related to Asian American and Pacific Islander History every May in honor of AAPI Heritage Month. Check the events calendar to attend next year. 

If you are interested in viewing these or other Asian American and Pacific Islander collection items at the MHS please use the online catalog, Abigail, to request items in the Library. Everyone is welcome to use the library and conduct research in the Reading Room. If you are interested in donating items to the collection, please see the webpage on Donating to the Collection.  

Archivist as Detective: He’s Been Working on the Railroad

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

The MHS, like all archives, holds a number of manuscripts that are unidentified for one reason or another. Of course, we try to identify the authors of these materials whenever possible, but if we can’t, they can still be cataloged by subject, location, time period, etc.

Recently I was tasked with identifying the author of an anonymous diary in our collections. I always enjoy these “investigations,” and I’ve written about a few of them here at the Beehive. So let’s dive in!

Color photograph of a hardback volume lying open showing two pages of diary entries in black-ink handwriting dated 8 March 1896 to 16 March 1896.
Anonymous diary, 1895–1899

The diary is a thin hardbound volume measuring 5 ½ x 7 inches. The leather binding is suffering from red rot and separating from the text block, but the paper itself is in good shape. Only about a third of the pages contain any writing, and the handwriting is, well, challenging. So my first hurdle was just figuring out what the diary says.

The entries date from 24 April 1895 to 19 July 1899 and describe a number of separate trips from Boston to the Midwest and Northwest U.S., as well as Mexico, Jamaica, and Europe. The author was apparently a man traveling on business of some kind, visiting places like factories, stockyards, and other properties. He wrote a lot about railroads, and the front of the volume contains detailed itineraries of each trip. At the back is a pencil sketch signed “M.A.A.” Could these be the initials of our author?

Color photograph of a pencil sketch drawn horizontally across one page of the volume. The sketch depicts two palm trees and a few unidentified buildings. At the top right of the page is handwritten text that reads “Falmouth Jamaica March 10 /98 by M.A.A.” Along the bottom, pieces of string are coming loose from the binding.
Pencil sketch at the end of the volume

Between the scrawly handwriting, cryptic abbreviations, and lack of context, I had a tough time finding clues at first. I noticed two names: Harry, who was ill and in whom the writer was interested, and Molly, with whom he corresponded. But this wasn’t much to go on.

Then I stumbled across a recurring name that would prove crucial. The writer’s frequent traveling companion was a Mr. Adams, sometimes C.F. Adams or just plain C.F.A. These initials are of course very familiar to MHS staff and historians. Were these references to one of the several Charles Francis Adamses, relatives of presidents John and John Quincy Adams?

The diary was written in the 1890s, so assuming I was on the right track, I had two candidates. One was Charles Francis Adams (1866-1964), but I ruled him out because, as mayor of Quincy, Mass. at the time, he was probably not traipsing around the country looking at properties. But his uncle, Charles Francis Adams (1835-1915), served as chair of the Massachusetts Railroad Commission and president of the Union Pacific Railroad. This set off alarm bells. I literally wrote in my notes beside his name: “Railroad guy!”

Next I consulted Adams family genealogies. In fact, “railroad guy” had a daughter Mary Ogden Adams, who went by Molly. She married Grafton St. Loe Abbott in 1890. Maybe Grafton was our man? He and Molly had a son Henry Livermore Abbott, who might have been the Harry who was ill.

Now that I was more familiar with the handwriting, I returned to the diary for confirmation. Sure enough, on 13 May 1895, the writer was recognized by a friend and used his own name in relaying the story: “As I was walking up [the] street a man stopped me & asked if I [was] Mr Abbott, it turned out to be Prescott.” And an entry at the end of 1897 refers to the death of Molly’s aunt Anne Ogden. Molly’s mother was Mary Hone Ogden.

Black and white photograph of a white man with short dark hair and a mustache sitting inside a boat with the water behind him. His left leg is crossed over his right leg, and his hands are cupping his left shin. He wears a cloth cap, a long-sleeved white shirt, a white bowtie, and striped pants with cuffs. He looks off to his left.
Photograph of Grafton St. Loe Abbott, 1894, from the Adams-Homans family photographs (Photo. #41.285)

Grafton St. Loe Abbott graduated from Harvard with a degree in law, but spent most of his life working in the mining and railroad businesses. This diary describes trips taken with his father-in-law Charles Francis Adams in the latter capacity. A detailed biographical notice of Grafton was printed in the 1917 report of the Harvard Class of 1877.

The sketch at the end of the volume, from a trip Grafton and Molly took to Falmouth, Jamaica, was drawn by Molly in 1898.

The catalog record for the diary is here. The MHS also holds the papers of Charles Francis Adams, Molly and Grafton’s daughter Mary Ogden Abbott, and other members of the Abbott family. Special thanks to MHS library assistant Hannah Goeselt, who helped gather details from the diary.

Horsford’s Vikings of New England, pt. 3 

by Hannah Goeselt, Reader Services

Continued from Part 1 & Part 2.

(left) Engraving of a stone-block turret, with a small drawing of a man pointing off to the side with a cane to show scale. (right) Photograph of same stone-block tower, with iron grille door swung open, and an inscribed stone tablet imbedded in the front.
“Norse Tower” engraving by Brunner & Tryon (left) & my own visit to Norumbega Tower (see arm at the top), Weston, MA, (right).

In the Preface to the 1892 publication The Landfall of Leif Erikson, AD 1000, and the Site of his Houses in Vineland, Horsford points out “the Committee appointed by the Massachusetts Historical Society to investigate the problem of the Northmen give the following as, in the judgement of the Corresponding Secretary, “最好的历史批判的结果”:[在这里他引用了1887年12月诉讼的判决]这些权威似乎是在这样的印象下写作的,证据, if there be any, of the presence of the Northmen at any particular point on the New England coast might be found in print. As they have failed to find it, they have been led to the conviction that such evidence cannot be found.” 

Haynes, as the author of this quote, 他在1890年的论文集中详细阐述了这一点他说"当我冒险将雷夫·埃里克森和阿伽门农进行不幸的比较时他完全没有任何故意的不尊重"1, and that the parallel came more from a real belief in the Iliad king rather than skepticism in the existence of the Sagas Vikings. 

Despite this—or maybe in some passive aggressive way because of—the Society’s continued animosity to his theories, Horsford made sure to gift a copy of every one of his published books to the MHS at the earliest opportunity. A closer look at the Society’s copy of The Landfall of Leif Erikson shows it is personally inscribed at the front: “Massachusetts Historical Society / with the compliments of the author / Cambridge Dec. 25. 1891”. 

Within this whole drawn-out affair, we also see the erasure of Indigenous history in the battle for Leif Erikson’s presence in New England, with the most blatant being the memorial committee’s insistence on Dighton Rock2 being somehow of Nordic production rather than created by a group much more local. Horsford’s theory behind a Viking Norumbega follows a similar line of thought, in that he reasoned the word itself must be a bastardization of ‘Norbega’, an archaic wording for Norvega, or Norway. The word “Norumbega” had originally appeared on several 16th century European maps of the American Northeast before the region became New England. Thought to be a mythic city of gold and riches, a bit like its Southern cousin of El Dorado, it is now acknowledged as most likely a misquote of the Abenaki ‘nolumbeka’, a calm stretch of water between two rapids3

Aftermath 

霍斯福德在之前的作品中多次提到雷夫的家在格里登陆的实际地点(剑桥查尔斯河沿岸的一条狭长地带),并打算最终就此出版一本深入的专著. However, after his death in early 1893, it was his daughter, Cornelia “Nellie” Horsford, who published Leif’s House in Vineland. / Graves of the Northmen later that same year, a posthumous collaboration investigating evidence for Horsford’s other major discovery. The experience of finding archeological “evidence” of Leif Erikson’s home in Cambridge would inspire Cornelia to continue her father’s research, including sponsoring trips to Iceland to visit actual Viking sites and digs. 

In 1895, the Norumbega tower and Leif statue were further linked by the construction of Comm Ave and its new street railway line, the two monuments now situated at opposite ends. Two years later, an amusement park and boating house named after Horsford’s precious Viking city sprung up on the opposite side of the Charles, within site of the tower. The Norumbega Park & Totem Pole Ballroom would become a beloved weekend destination for families and couples well into the 1960s. 

Performer doing a split in the air, suspended by a large ring tied to a support. In the background is a river view with bright colored boats and, in the distance, an old-fashioned single-story wooden structure.
Trapeze Act performed by Baechtold & Abel, with Norumbega Park’s surviving Boathouse in the background, 1 August 2021.

Further Resources

Greis, Gloria. “Vikings on the Charles, or, The Strange Saga of Norumbega, Dighton Rock, and Rumford Double-Acting Baking Powder”, Needham History Center & Museum. 

The Discovery Of The Charles River By The Vikings (Part One), History Cambridge. 

“Series A: Eben Norton Horsford”. Record Group IV: Horsford Family: Sylvester Manor Archive: NYU Special Collections Finding Aids 

“Subseries B: Norumbega Writings, 1871-1892″. Horsford Family Papers (MC5), Guides to Institute Records and Manuscript Collections (rpi.edu)  

Silverstein, Clara and Sara Leavit Goldberg. Norumbega Park and Totem Pole Ballroom. Arcadia Publishing, 2021. 


1 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, vol. V (February 1890), p.332-340. 

2 this is explored more in depth in the publication The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America’s Indigenous Past by Doug Hunter (Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina Press, 2017). 

3 Nolumbeka Project: The Story of Nolumbeka 

Skating On By

by Brandon McGrath-Neely, Library Assistant

As spring arrives, the world around the MHS becomes full of life. Ellis Hall’s large windows frame Fenway’s new leaves, budding flowers, and traffic of all sorts. Any given day, you can see cars, buses, bicycles, scooters, pet strollers (my personal favorite), and on rare occasions–roller skaters.

Though roller skating isn’t as popular as it was in the mid-1990’s, it remains a popular warm weather activity here in Boston. Largely thanks to the fact that Boston, the second most walkable city in the United States, has plenty of flat, paved surfaces, but perhaps also because the inventor of the modern skate grew up nearby!

Born in 1828, James Leonard Plimpton showed an early affinity for machinery and invention. His mechanical skills were so strong that at 16, he moved from the family farm in Medfield to a machinery shop in Walpole. By 18, he supervised more than 50 employees at a factory in New Hampshire.[1] A young entrepreneur and mechanist, James was well-suited for the Industrial Revolution underway across the United States.

A tinkerer at heart, James filed his first patent in 1853. The invention was a “cabinet bed,” designed so a bed could be stored and retrieved without much strength or bending over. Sources simply note that Plimpton invented the cabinet bed “to supply a personal need,” but we may be able to guess what this need was. In December 1852, James married the bright, book-loving Harriet Amelia Adams. [1] Perhaps the newlyweds needed to save space or were preparing to add children to the home and needed a bed that would be easier for a pregnant Harriet to store. It is possible that Plimpton, in the words of Ana Ruhl, “loved her to the point of invention.” They would go on to have eight children together; only four lived to adulthood.

Around 1860, James and Harriet moved their family to New York City. The MHS collection has a single image of James Plimpton, probably taken shortly after arriving in the Big Apple. He gives the appearance of a hopeful, determined man. Within a year, James took ill. Consulting a doctor, James “was advised to practice ice skating,” and happily, James “took much benefit from it.” [2] Like many Northeasterners, James grew up ice skating in the winters. (The MHS has many materials about ice-skating, including a heroic rescue.) When spring arrived and the ice melted away, James purchased an early pair of roller skates.

Ambrotype photo of James Plimpton wearing a suit and resting against one arm.
James Plimpton in 1860 (Photo. 2.234)

Yes, roller skates existed before James Plimpton’s came along. The first recorded use of roller skates was “in a 1743 theater production in which actors affixed wheels to their footwear to mimic ice skating on the stage.” [3] Early roller skates were commercially available by the mid-19th century, but they were uncomfortable, awkward, and difficult to turn. They didn’t feel like ice-skating at all. After some experimenting and tinkering, James produced a new set of roller skates with two pairs of wheels, called “rockers” or “quad-skates.” [4] These new skates were more comfortable and far easier to turn. The modern roller skate was born.

Man and woman in 19th century dress skating in a printed advertisement for roller skates.
Advertisement for roller skating in Winslow’s Roller Skate Catalog (Book 1882)

The invention was a giant success. 广告吹嘘说,普林顿的冰鞋是“唯一一款能在光滑的地面上轻松、精确地完成滑冰所有优雅动作和进化的冰鞋”.” [5] The MHS collection has plenty of evidence of this phenomenon: admittance tickets to roller skating rinks, skate advertisements and catalogues, bookplates, and photos of popular roller-skating clubs. Senior Processing Archivist Susan Martin has written about Great Depression-era debutantes making appearances by skating around town.

Stereograph of a group assembled on the balcony of the Onset Roller Rink.
People gathered at the Onset Roller Skating Rink, circa 1870 (Photo. 11.468)

James Plimpton spent the rest of his life selling, improving, and litigating his patents. Harriet was a caring mother and educator to their children, as well as an irreplaceable business partner. “Her quick perceptions and correct impressions as to social, 法律和商业方面的问题“确保了她能够”为丈夫准备专利案件提供帮助,否则在规定的时间内不可能准备得如此彻底.” [6] Roller skating was a family business and only possible through the hard work and intelligence of both Harriet and James.

The roller-skating crazes of the late 19th and 20th centuries have come and gone. Hoverboards, Onewheels, and E-bikes have replaced them on the sidewalks of Boylston Street. But occasionally, if you’re lucky, you may look out the windows of Ellis Hall and see a piece of Massachusetts history skate past you.


[1] Chase, Levi B. 1884. A Genealogy and Historical Notices of the Family of Plimpton or Plympton in America, and of Plumpton in England. Hartford: Plimpton Manufacturing Company. 196-197.

[2] “The Father of Modern Roller Skating.” 2023. National Museum of Roller Skating.

[3] Terry, Ruth. 2020. “The History Behind the Roller Skating Trend.” JSTOR Daily, September 7, 2020.

[4] “The History of Inline Skating.” 2023. National Museum of Roller Skating. 2023.

[5] MacClain, Alexia. 2010. “Those Exhilarating Roller Skates.” Smithsonian Libraries and Archives. September 27, 2010.

[6] Chase, A Genealogy and Historical Notices, 196-197.

Announcing 2024-2025 MHS Research Fellows

by Cassandra Cloutier, Assistant Director of Research

Each year, 马萨诸塞州历史学会(MHS)颁发了数十个奖学金,以支持来自各个领域的学者,因为他们以新的和令人兴奋的方式使用我们的藏品. The Society offers a variety of short-term fellowships, 其中包括与波士顿雅典娜博物馆合作的苏珊娜和凯莱布·洛林奖学金以及与新英格兰其他30个机构合作的新英格兰地区奖学金联盟奖, and the MHS-NEH Long-Term Fellowship.

For the 2024-2025 fellowship season, we offered three new fellowships for our short-term award. These included the Abigail Bowen Wright Fellowship for projects concerning the long twentieth century, the Elizabeth Woodman Wright Fellowship for projects on the relationship between Massachusetts and the world, and a fellowship to support the study of social and cultural club life in Boston supported by the Algonquin Club Foundation.

The Research Department at the Massachusetts Historical Society is delighted to announce its newest cohort of fellows awarded for the 2024-2025 academic year. With this cohort of Research Fellows, we have supported over 1,000 scholars through our various fellowship programs. We look forward to learning more about the following projects in the coming year!

MHS-NEH Long Term Fellows

  • Cornelia Dayton, University of Connecticut, “The Man Who Married Phillis Wheatley: John Peters, Trader, Lawyer, Physician, and Gentleman”
  • Donald F. Johnson, North Dakota State University, “The Popular Politics of American Independence”
  • Betsy Klima, University of Massachusetts, Boston, “The Muses of Massachusetts and the Drama of Revolutionary Boston”
  • Ross Nedervelt, Florida International University, “Security, Imperial Reconstitution, and the British Atlantic Islands, 1763-1824”

New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC)

Fellows Visiting the MHS

  • Emma Chapman, University of California, Davis, “Missing: Mobility, Kinship, and Absent People in New England and New France, 1680-1720”
  • Andrew Colpitts, Cornell University, “Rehearsing Rurality: Theatricality, Rural Identity, and the Performance of Nostalgia in New England”
  • Al Coppola, John Jay College, CUNY, “Enlightenment Visibilities”
  • Blake Grindon, Johns Hopkins University, “The Death of Jane McCrea: Sovereignty and Violence in the Northeastern Borderlands of the American Revolution”
  • Timothy Hastings, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Situating Race in New Hampshire’s Atlantic World”
  • Monique Hayes, Independent Scholar, “Sally Forth”
  • Elizabeth Hines, University of Chicago, “Anglo-Dutch Commerce, Religion, and War, 1634-1652”
  • Thomas Lecaque, Grand View University, “Holy War Rhetoric in Early America, 1680-1765”
  • Gerard Llorens-DeCesaris, Pompeu Fabra University (Spain), “Antislavery imperialism: the United States, Cuba, and Spain during Reconstruction”
  • Robin Preiss, New York University, “Sounding Rot: Diagnostic Listening for Decay and Danger in the North Atlantic Maritime”
  • Catherine Sasanov, Independent Scholar, “The Last & Living Words of Mark: Following Clues to the Enslaved Man’s Life, Afterlife & to His Community in Boston, Charlestown, & South Shore MA”
  • John Suval, Independent Scholar, “Visionaries & Reactionaries: The Battle for America in the Age of Whitman and Pierce”
  • Eric Totten, University of Arkansas, “‘Demoralized on the Slavery Question’: Military Occupation in the Federal Department of the South and the Politics of Emancipation, 1862-1863”
  • Elliott Warren, College of William & Mary, “The Common Hall: Local Leaders and the Development of America’s Political Economy in the Era of the French Revolution, 1786-1800”

Fellows Not Visiting the MHS

  • Chloe Bell-Wilson, University of California, Los Angeles, “So Hormonal: Estrogenic Bodies in the United States”
  • Julie Burke, Columbia University, “Irregularities of the System: Women and their Abortions in Nineteenth-Century Britain”
  • Savannah Clark, University of Maine, “Letters from Home: Northern New England Women and the American Civil War”
  • Lydia Crafts, Manhattan College, “‘Little Empire’: Medicine, Public Health, and Human Experimentation in 20th Century Guatemala”
  • Courney Dorroll, Wofford College, “Women in Higher Education Leadership”
  • Bruce Dorsey, Swarthmore College, “What Happened in 1977 and Why?: Stories from the Origins of America’s Culture Wars”
  • James Fortuna, Santa Fe College, “The Civilian Conservation Corps in New England, 1933–42”
  • Whitney Gecker, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, “The Self- Memorializing of Elite Colleges: Oral History Archives and the Production of Prestige”
  • Elizabeth Hauck, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Mrs. Batson and Mrs. Hicks: Race, Rights, and the Mothers’ Fight for Boston Public Schools”
  • Joshua Iaquinto, University of Sydney, “Imperfect Parts: The Manuscript Fragment in American Verse, 1840-1900”
  • May Jeong, Independent Scholar, “The Life: Sex, Work, and Love in America”
  • William Little, The Ohio State University, “Annotating Classical Latin Poetry in the Fifteenth Century”
  • Nathan Lucky, Clark University, “Resistance with Words: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency during the Holocaust”
  • Mackenzie Tor, University of Missouri, Columbia, “Spirited Struggles: The Black Temperance Movement in Nineteenth-Century America”
  • Joseph Weisberg, Brandeis University, “From Generation to Generation: Understanding Jewishness, Family, Commerce, and Slavery in Early and Antebellum America”

Suzanne and Caleb Loring Fellowship on the Civil War, Its Origins, and Consequences

  • Sarah Gardner, Mercer University, “Shakespeare Fights the American Civil War”

Short-Term Fellowships

  • Chelsi Arellano, Florida State University, “Glorious Change: Gender, Politics, and the Popular during the Reign of William III and Mary II” (Samuel Victor Constant Fellowship from the Society of Colonial Wars)
  • Jared Asser, University of Georgia, “A Reconstruction of Feeling: How Emotions Shaped Change in the Post-Civil War Period” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Boone Ayala, University of Chicago, “Leviathan’s Peripheries: Political Ideology and Corporate Autonomy in England and its Empire” (W. B. H. Dowse Fellowship)
  • Megan Baker, University of Delaware, “Crayon Rebellion: The Material Politics of North American Pastels, 1758-1814” (Andrew Oliver Research Fellowship)
  • Collin Bonnell, Concordia University, “Joining the Ascendancy: Six Old English Families’ Transformations from ‘Irish’ to ‘British’ Elites” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Galen Bunting, Northeastern University, “Gendered Trauma in World War One Nurse Narratives” (Ruth R. Miller Fellowship)
  • Emma Chapman, University of California, Davis, “Missing: Mobility, Kinship, and Absent People in Early New England and New France, 1680-1720” (Samuel Victor Constant Fellowship from the Society of Colonial Wars in Massachusetts)
  • Abby Clayton, Indiana University Bloomington, “Narrating Abolition: Scissors-and-Paste Reform in the Emerging Anglosphere” (Malcolm and Mildred Freiberg Fellowship)
  • Sara R. Danger, Valparaiso University, “American Girls, Literary Labor, and The Lowell Offering” (Marc Friedlaender Fellowship)
  • Madeline DeDe-Panken, The Graduate Center CUNY, “Gathering Knowledge, Sustaining Science: Women Foragers and American Mushroom Culture, 1880- 1930” (Mary B. Wright Environmental History Fellowship)
  • Shaibal Dev Roy, University of Southern California, “Pandita Ramabai and the Nineteenth-Century American Feminists” (Alyson R. Miller Fellowship)
  • Ethan Gonzales, University of Virginia, “The Visible State: U.S. Diplomatic Agents and Information in Europe and the Federal Territories, 1789-1800” (Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellowship)
  • Timothy Hastings, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Situating Race in New Hampshire’s Atlantic World” (African American Studies Fellowship)
  • Seokweon Jeon, Harvard University, “Guardians of Divine Borders: Tracing the Religious Underpinnings Boston’s Nativist Movement and Immigration Policy Formation, 1894-1921” (C. Conrad & Elizabeth H. Wright Fellowship)
  • Adam Laats, Binghamton University (SUNY), “School Children: A New History of US Public Education” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Thomas Lecaque, Grand View University, “Holy War Rhetoric in Early America, 1680-1765” (Kenneth & Carol Hills Fellowship)
  • Arya Martinez, University of New Hampshire, “The Turbulent Confederation: The Bank of North America and the Emergence of a New National Economy” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Peter C. Messer, Mississippi State University, “Pressing Problems and Riotous Customs: The Liberty Riot and the coming of the American Revolution” (Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellowship)
  • Marcus Nevius, University of Missouri, “Internal Enemy of the Most Alarming Kind: Marronage and the Political Economy of Fear in the British Atlantic in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Isaac Robertson, New York University, “Phillis Wheatley (Peters) and the Peril and Deliverance of Shipwreck” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Erin Russell, American University, “Keeping the Books, Minding the Linens: Household Recordkeeping in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-century New England” (Benjamin F. Stevens Fellowship)
  • Alaina Scapicchio, University of South Florida, “America Bewitched: Memory and Commemoration of Witchcraft” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Wulfstan Scouller, Yale University, “Money, Guns, and Land: A Longue Durée History of King Philip’s War” (Samuel Victor Constant Fellowship from the Society of Colonial Wars in Massachusetts)
  • Rebecca Simpson Menzies, University of Southern California, “From Agawam to Springfield: Society, Culture, and the Environment in a Seventeenth Century Town” (W. B. H. Dowse Fellowship)
  • Kwelina Thompson, Harvard Business School, “文学生活:探索波士顿文学世界的出版业”(阿尔冈昆俱乐部基金会资助的波士顿社会文化俱乐部生活研究奖学金)
  • Andrew Walgren, University of Georgia, “Media Combat: The Great War and the Transformation of American Culture” (Abigail Bowen Wright Fellowship)
  • Elliott Warren, College of William & Mary, “The Common Hall: Local Leaders and the Development of America’s Political Economy in the Era of the French Revolution, 1786-1800” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Christopher Willoughby, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, “Collected Without Consent: A Global History of Harvard Medical School’s Racial Skulls” (Elizabeth Woodman Wright Fellowship)
  • Cooper Wingert, Georgetown University, “Wartime Freedom Seekers, Provost Marshals, and Emancipation during the US Civil War” (Military Historical Society of Massachusetts Fellowship)

Learn more about the MHS Fellowship programs.

Take a Walk for Exercise Like John Quincy Adams

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

As the weather warms it’s time to be out of doors, and the best way to enjoy the weather is to take a walk—just like John Quincy Adams. His parents encouraged him in both diary writing and walking, he notes in many of his diary entries, and he kept a diary from the age of 11 in 1778 until his death in 1848, at age 81. He was a believer in walking for exercise even in inclement weather. On 22 November 1792 he wrote, “Very cold. exercise by way of punishment, walked a great deal.” He lamented how his commitments prevented him from his favorite exercise on 14 July 1811, “My occupation, my Company, and the weather prevented me the whole day from my usual exercise of walking.” And towards the end of his life, on 14 May 1847, he found it hard to walk, “I took a short walk in the afternoon, but finding it from day to day, more difficult to walk, fear that I must henceforth, confine all my bodily exercise, to riding in a carriage.”

Black and white image of black ink handwriting on paper. It is in cursive and a little hard to read.
Diary of John Quincy Adams, 14 May 1847.

Explore the John Quincy Adams Diaries, but first, go take a walk!

John Quincy Adams Diary Now Fully Online!

by Neal Millikan, Series Editor for Digital Editions, The Adams Papers

The 15,000+ page diary kept by John Quincy Adams from 1779 to 1848 is now fully accessible online as the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary. A publication of the Adams Papers Editorial Project at the MHS, the Digital Diary is also one of four founding member projects of the Primary Source Cooperative, a collaborative digital editions publishing platform hosted by the Society.

The Digital Diary is presented as verified transcriptions paired with manuscript images of related entries. Biographical and historical context is supplied through essays on the major personal and professional divisions of Adams’s life, and people and historical topics are also identified for each date entry. Through the project’s participation in the Primary Source Cooperative, advanced federated search features allow users to track individuals or subjects both within and across the Cooperative editions.

John Quincy Adams often kept multiple versions of his diary, and the Digital Diary provides transcriptions of the entries in each of his 51 diary volumes. These include his “Rubbish,” almanac, and line-a-day diaries. The edition also integrates Adams’s earliest diaries, which were previously published in two letterpress volumes by the Adams Papers.

Color photograph of black ink drawings of two ships with lines, masts, sales, flags, and windows. The top ship is called The Frightful of 10 6 Pounders, the bottom is called The Horis of 8 6 Pounders.
John Quincy Adams’s sketches of ships named the Frightful and the Horrid on the inside back cover of his diary, 1780

With revised transcriptions, the more than 1,500 pages in this section of the diary chronicle John Quincy Adams’s travels in Europe, as he accompanied his father, John Adams, on a diplomatic mission in 1779 and subsequently attended schools in the Netherlands and France. It also records his travels to St. Petersburg as secretary and interpreter during Francis Dana’s mission to Russia. With John Quincy’s return to the United States in 1785, the diary provides insights into Adams’s preparation for and studies at Harvard College and his legal training in Newburyport.

A color photograph of a black ink printed engraving of three buildings in the middle ground, people walking, on horseback or driving carriages on an empty field in the foreground, and a cloudy sky in the background.
“A Westerly View of the Colledges in Cambridge in New England”; facsimile engraving by Sidney L. Smith of a drawing by Joseph Chadwick after Paul Revere’s 1767 engraving of Harvard College

Thanks to the efforts of many staff members, interns, and volunteers who contributed to the project since its inception in 2016, the full corpus of John Quincy Adams’s diary is now freely accessible and searchable online. Supplemental content will continue to be added via the Digital Diary and the Adams resources portion of the MHS website. This includes a timeline of Adams’s life and visualizations of the diary data via the Cooperative’s partnership with the Digital Scholarship Group at Northeastern University.

Come check it out and let us know what you think! Truly, we’d love to hear from you at adamspapers@washingtonreview.net.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the support of our sponsors. The Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund provided major funding for the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, along with generous contributions by Harvard University Press and a number of private donors. 梅隆基金会与国家历史出版物和记录委员会合作,也通过为协会的数字出版合作提供资金来支持该项目, the Primary Source Cooperative.

Horsford’s Vikings of New England, pt. 2

Hannah Goeselt, Reader Services

Black and white photograph, rooftop viewpoint, of a wide boulevard lined with old brownstones, the road splits into two sides by a greenway, the Leif Erikson statue placed at its juncture.
“View of Commonwealth Avenue looking east from Charlesgate East, Boston.” (ca. 1910), from the Arthur Asahel Shurcliff Collection of Glass Lantern Slides, #6.19.93.

Continued from Part 1.

The Problem of the Northmen. (1889)

The story leading up to the Statue’s unveiling is convoluted. In between the MHS 1880 and the 1887 meeting, 挪威人纪念委员会的努力落在了埃本·诺顿·霍斯福德一个人的身上(尽管有趣的是,100年后,一个同名的委员会资助了雕像的修复和保护基金). By then, Horsford had thrown himself into a passion project to find archeological evidence of Viking settlements on the Charles River. This, then, also put him in frequent opposition with members of the MHS, themselves prominent writers of American History. In multiple subsequent publications Horsford airs his grievances with his biggest “critics and censors”[1], MHS members Francis Parkman, Justin Winsor, Henry W. Haynes, and Thomas W. Higginson.

Winsor’s public feud comes from a quote within his eight-volume publication, Narrative and Critical History of America (1884-89), deeming Horsford’s research for his 1888 book Discovery of America by Northmen: Address at the Unveiling of the Statue of Leif Erikson, Deliverd in Faneuil Hall Oct. 29, 1887 as “the most incautious linguistic inferences, and the most uncritical cartographical perversions.” According to a review by Wisconsin prof Julius Olson[2], the 1889 publication by Horsford, The Problem of the Northmen, had been published in direct reaction to Winsor’s harsh words and the opinion of the MHS’s committee on his statue.

Within its pages we learn that the Norseman Memorial project “was long delayed, though ultimately carried out” despite a lack of evidence that Vikings had ever been to New England. 霍斯福德解释道:“马萨诸塞历史学会的成员确实阻止了奥立·布尔的直系朋友和两百万同情他的斯堪的纳维亚人的努力, in his patriotic wish to recognize in a monument, to be set up in Boston, the services of Leif Ericson in the discovery of America. It is also true that they virtually caused the rejection of the city government of Boston of the offer by the late Mr. Thomas [Gold] Appleton of $40,000 for the erection of a memorial in Scollay Square to the Discovery of America by Northmen”.[3]

In a quest to find said evidence, Horsford had taken Winsor out to investigate the site of an old ditch and embankment in Weston. Winsor proclaimed it an early attempt to found the city of Boston, publishing an article saying as much, and ignoring Horsford’s idea that it was, in fact, the remains of a large and permanent Viking settlement.

Horsford continues, “I left the episode to be forgotten. It had not occurred to me that the memory of the excursion to Stony Brook was to take unhappy form and be so lasting, until I was stung with the charge of “perversions,” in a work to be sent as authoritative over the world”. Undaunted by these feelings, in 1889 Horsford erected a giant stone tower on Weston’s bank of the Charles to commemorate the Stony Brook site, now dubbed Fort Norumbega, as evidence of a fantastical “lost city of New England”, an ancient Norse citadel complete with stone seaports in nearby Watertown.

Black printed engraved topographical map of a section of the Charles River that runs through the border between Newton, Weston, and Waltham. Features marked out on the map include the Stony Brook ditch, Fort Norumbega, tower, and landing site.
“Plan of Norumbega from Surveys,” in Defenses of Norumbega (1886).

To Be Continued… in pt. 3!


[1] Horsford, Eben Norton. The Defenses of Norumbega and a Review of the Reconnaissances of Col. T. W. Higginson, Professor Henry W. Haynes, Dr. Justin Winsor, Dr. Francis Parkman, and Rev. Dr. Edmund F Slafter. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. as The Riverside Press, Cambridge (1891): p. 8.

[2] Olson, Julius.Review of The problem of the Northmen and the site of Norumbega… and a reply by Eben Norton Horsford (1891). “It is to these words of Mr. Winsor, together with the opinion of a committee of the Massachusetts Historical Society, adverse to the plan of erecting a monument to Leif Erikson, that Mr. Horsford replies in his brochure”.

[3] Horsford, Eben Norton. Problem of the Northmen. A Letter to Judge Daly, the President of the American Geographical Society, on the Opinion of Justin Winsor, that “though Scandinavians may have reached the shores of Labrador, the soil of the United States has not one vestige of their presence”. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, University Press, (1889): pp. 7-8.