Monday, February 12, 2018

The History of Black History Month

February is Black History Month, but did you know that this celebration was first held in 1915 at the Chicago Coliseum.  The celebration was originally called the Lincoln Jubilee and was held 50 years after Lincoln passed the emancipation of the slaves.  It was sponsored by the state of Illinois.  One of the participants was Carter Woodson, who had a doctorate from Harvard. He and other exhibitors had a black history display.  The celebration lasted 3 weeks and thousands of people came.  Afterwards Woodson met with other people they decided to form an organization to promote scientific study of black life and history. They called it the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).  In 1920 Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote achievements that researchers were uncovering.  In 1924 Woodson’s old fraternity created Negro History and Literature Week which was renamed Negro Achievement Week.

Woodson sent out a press release for the first Negro History Week in February 1926.  He chose the month of February because Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays are celebrated during February.  Woodson did not believe in celebrating the lives of only two men but the black community “should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.”  After World War I there were many black people who had migrated to the North and were doing well because of urbanization and industrialization.  There was a lot of racial pride and consciousness.  Woodson expanded the (ANSLH) and established the Negro History Bulletin in 1937 at the urging of Mary McLeod Bethune.   She was an educator, humanitarian and civil rights activist best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Florida.

During the 1940s the study of black history expanded.   In the South, black history was often taught to supplement U.S. history in schools.  It is said that there was one teacher who would hide Woodson’s textbook beneath his desk in order to not anger the principal.  Many years before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that the weekly celebrations of black history would eventually come to an end.  Woodson never intended black history to be about black firsts and a parade of black icons.  He intended the observance to combat institutional hatred of black people and this new information would be included in the teaching of American history.

In the 1960s Negro History Week was on its way to becoming Black History Month.  In the 1940s, West Virginia, where Woodson made speeches often, black people, began to celebrate Negro History Month.  Frederick H. Hammaurabi, a cultural activist in Chicago, also began celebrating Negro History Month in the mid-1960’s. As black college students became more aware of links to Africa, Black History Month began to replace Negro History Week.  In 1976 on the 50th anniversary of the first Negro History Week Black History Month was celebrated nationally.  We now call it African American History Month.

Since the 1970s every President has issued a proclamation for endorsing the ASNLH African American’s annual theme of achievement.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian

Monday, February 5, 2018

Red, White , and Yellow: The Many Faces of the Bulfinch State House

The State House of Massachusetts is easily one of the most iconic buildings in Boston. The classic Federal exterior, the pillars, and the stunning golden dome inspired Oliver Wendell Holmes to crown it “the hub of the solar system,” and Boston is still known as the “the Hub” today. But the original State House, completed in 1798 and designed by Charles Bulfinch, did not always exemplify the brick-based style that is so characteristic of Boston itself. For the majority of the 19th century, it wasn’t even red.

Etching of the State House, painted white, during the Bunker Hill celebration,
Ballou’s Pictorial c. 1850s.

In 1825, during Charles Bulfinch’s lifetime, the State House of Massachusetts was painted bright white by Gore & Baker, who charged only $2,631.19 for the job. Many of Boston’s famous buildings were being similarly painted, possibly to protect the brick and make it water tight (Preservation by Prevention). Throughout the 1800’s, the Bulfinch fa├žade was painted several more times, though the color was often left out of the receipts of work. Ellen Mudge Burrill, who wrote several guide books regarding the State House, estimates that thirty years after it was first painted white, the State House was changed to yellow. This is explains by the extension behind the State House, built in 1895 and designed by Charles E. Brigham, was built with yellow brick rather than with red.

Postcard of the State House showing the Brigham extension, ca. 1901-1919

Throughout these many faces of the State House, some people thought that the Bulfinch building should be replaced all together to make way for a bigger, better building. By the 1890s, despite consistent maintenance to the building and an expansion in the 1850s, the overall condition of the State House had caused some legislators to suggest demolition. This caused a public outcry, inspiring petitions, articles, pamphlets entitled “Save the State House,” and a “ladies committee” that demanded preservation of the historic landmark (State House Historic Structures Report). Thankfully the Legislature decided to preserve, not destroy, the building in 1896. Instead, the State House was expanded again with white Vermont marble and granite wings designed by designed by William Chapman, R. Clipson Sturgis, and Robert D. Andrews and built between 1914 ad 1917.

Postcard featuring the State House, painted white, with the new
 East and West Wings, ca. 1913-1918.

However, by the 1920s, a desire to restore the old buildings of Boston hit the city. The Park Street Church, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, and many other important early buildings were being stripped of their coats of paint and restored to their traditional brick facades. This was in part because of a Romantic Movement inspired by the (often misinformed) restorations of medieval structures in Europe, as well as the rise of an Arts and Crafts Movement that wanted to expose the rough brick and the “’honest’ crafts of the past,” though it is possible they were misinformed as well (Historic Masonry Finishes). Because the State House was painted during the architect’s lifetime, it is possible that it, as well as other Georgian and Federal brick buildings, were always meant to be painted.

Fanueil Hall and the Old State House before they were restored to their original
brick facades. From the Postcard collection of the State Library of Massachusetts'
Special Collections department.

However, around 1910 some wondered whether the State House should also be restored. On July 12, 1927, Ellen Mudge Burrill submitted a report to Fred Kimball, the Superintendent of Buildings, calling for the restoration of the State House, citing the restoration of the other historic buildings in Boston and the State House’s own architectural importance. Kimball requested permission to strip the paint from Governor Alvan T. Fuller on July 18, 1927 and the next year, workmen began sandblasting the Bulfinch building’s paint away.

The sandblasting was an immense project. The State House had layers and layers of oil paint, much of which had to be burned after it was removed. One article described the work as such: “There are four men doing it, two in each ‘gang.’ They work on a scaffolding lowered down the side of the building by means of a hoisting tackle… While one man applies the acetylene torch, the other, with a long-handled scraper removed the burned paint. The process leaves a surface that looks as if it has gone through a siege of fires” (Boston Post, 1928).

Cover of the January 1953 publication of Telephone Topics showing the restored front of the State House

After the restoration was completed, most appeared to have very favorable opinions on the State House’s new look. One reporter wrote that passersby “never saw the old front with its gilden dome look so attractive” and that the exposure of the brick “is widely considered an unexpected architectural triumph” (Corbett, 1928). But not all liked how the red brick and the granite wings looked together: another writer declared that the newly stripped State House “reminds him of a lean corned beef sandwich” (“The Restored State House,” 1928). Another writer reflected on an opinion that suggested the stripped brick was “indecent” and the only proper course of action would be to “cover it up and forget it… put [it] in the Art Museum along with the other nudes” (M.A.A., 1928). Thankfully today both citizens and tourists of Boston share the view that our beautiful State House is indeed an architectural triumph, and few today have compared it to a sandwich.

See Also:

Works Cited:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference staff

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Monday, January 29, 2018

Scrapbook of Eugene N. Foss (Scrapbook 17)

Bronze-colored medallion
with the saying “a la Sainte
Terre,” which is included in
the Foss scrapbook collection.
Old scrapbooks are interesting research tools because, behind all the pasting and arranging, there was a dedicated compiler who was deeply invested in documenting a certain person, event, or subject.  Sometimes scrapbooks document the life and memories of the compiler him or herself, and the types of materials included can offer a more complete story than a journal or diary alone.  Scrapbooks can contain all sorts of documents and ephemera (letters, photos, greeting cards, class grades, etc.), which may have been otherwise discarded if they hadn’t been preserved in such a way; objects that have a meaning or memory attached are also commonly found in scrapbooks (e.g. pressed flowers, silverware, fabric).

The State Library houses a large collection of scrapbooks which can be searched for using our online catalog.  One especially voluminous example covers the career of Massachusetts Governor Eugene N. Foss (1858-1939).  Under the direction of Foss, this 40 volume set was compiled by Marion Pottle over a 30 year period, starting from 1902 up through 1936, and includes materials that document Foss’ political activities, business interests, family life, and his life after politics.  The volumes largely contain newspaper clippings, but other types of items, such as banquet menus, posters, flyers, correspondence, a medallion, and a letter from Franklin Delano Roosevelt while he was serving as Governor of New York, can also be found throughout.  Here’s a link to the catalog record, which provides more information about this collection:

Examples of newspaper clippings and correspondence found
within the Foss scrapbook collection.
For questions about scrapbooks or other archival materials housed at the State Library, you can contact our Special Collections Department via the following ways:

State Library of Massachusetts
Special Collections Department
Room 55, State House
24 Beacon St.,
Boston, MA 02133
Phone:  617-727-2595

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, January 22, 2018

February Author Talk: Rosalyn D. Elder

Exploring the Legacy: People and Places of Significance
by Rosalyn D. Elder 
Thursday, February 8, 2018—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

The State Library of Massachusetts is pleased to invite you to our next Author Talk, featuring Rosalyn D. Elder, author of Exploring the Legacy: People and Places of Significance, part of the African American Heritage in Massachusetts series. Join us on Thursday, February 8, to hear Ms. Elder speak about the history and many contributions of African Americans in the Commonwealth. 

Exploring the Legacy is both a tourist guide and a history book, providing details about 741 sites significant to African American heritage across the Commonwealth. Included in this volume are the histories of such notable individuals as Phillis Wheatley, the first person of African birth in the U.S. to publish a volume of poetry; Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African American female doctor in the U.S.; and George Ruffin, the first African American judge in Massachusetts.

Author Rosalyn D. Elder is a registered architect and entrepreneur who founded and operated
Treasured Legacy, an African American cultural boutique, from 1992 to 1998 in Boston’s South End. She also co-founded and operated Jamaicaway Books, a multicultural bookstore, in Jamaica Plain. Ms. Elder graduated from the University of Memphis and earned a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Washington, as well as a Masters of Architecture and Urban Design degree from Harvard University.

Copies of Exploring the Legacy will be available for purchase and signing at the conclusion of Ms. Elder’s talk. We encourage you to register in advance, and we look forward to seeing you on February 8th at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Upcoming Author Talks at the State Library:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A new home for an old scrapbook

Greetings from the Preservation Lab! My name is Elizabeth Roscio, and I've been on the job as the Preservation Librarian for just a few months. In this role, my primary responsibility is to work to ensure the optimal lifespan for the materials in our collection. One way that I do that is to re-house items that are in enclosures that are detrimental to their condition or that need a little bit more stability. Recently, an item just like this made its way to the lab.

The item in question was a scrapbook of photographs taken when General Douglas MacArthur visited Massachusetts on July 25 and 26, 1951 (Scrapbook 60). These photographs documented his visit and depict various parades and receptions that were held in his honor throughout the Commonwealth. Each black and white photograph is approximately 8" x 10" and had been stapled onto the pages of the scrapbook, which was problematic for a few reasons. Staples cause damage to photographs and documents not only because they cause pinprick holes, but because the staples can rust and then transfer onto the item. Additionally, the pages that the photographs were adhered to were acidic and would become brittle over time, and would not provide a stable backing for long-term storage. I decided that the best way to preserve the photographs would be to remove them from the scrapbook and re-house them in plastic sleeves.

When removing staples from an item, it is important to do it carefully and slowly so that you don't cause any additional tearing. We've probably all used a staple remover at some point, and this process is similar but a little bit more technical. I began by turning the page over to its back so that I could access the staple prongs, and then I used a micro spatula to carefully lift each prong up. With both prongs lifted to a perpendicular angle, I could safely pull the staple out of the photograph. Once the photograph was free of the paper backing, I slid it into a plastic sleeve. As I was working on the scrapbook, I noticed that the pages did not include any sort of inscriptions, autographs, or captions. Since that was the case, the acidic pages and the front and back covers could be discarded after the photographs were removed. If the original scrapbook material had contained extra information about the photographs, then I would have had to preserve those pages, too.

After the photographs were removed from the scrapbook, they needed a new enclosure for long-term storage. I measured the length, width, and height of the stack of photographs and made a clamshell box out of corrugated board. Now that this collection has been re-housed in a stable enclosure, we've not only extended its life, but made it easier and safer for researchers to handle.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, January 8, 2018

Winter exhibition: Massachusetts Architectural Styles

The State Library invites you to view our newest exhibition, Massachusetts Architectural Styles.

This exhibition uses materials from the State Library’s collections to describe the wide variety of architectural styles in Massachusetts over the region’s long history, from the structures of Indigenous Americans in pre-colonial days to the most recent constructions in the Commonwealth’s largest cities.

The exhibition runs from January 8 through May 31, 2018 and can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House. Library hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Can't make it to the library? View the digital exhibit on the library's Flickr site!