Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finding information about past legislators

A generous donor has recently given the State Library of Massachusetts a collection of photographs of legislators dating from 1880 to about 1920. These are platinum prints (or platinotypes), a photographic process that achieved widespread use in 1880 and continued to be popular until 1930. Of particular value is the fact that most of the recently donated images are signed on the back by the legislator.

Depicted below is Anthony Smalley, a retired ship's master from Nantucket, who served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a Republican from 1890 to 1894.

According to the 1894 Souvenir of Massachusetts Legislators, he served on the Committee on Fisheries and Game as well as the Committtees on Public Service; Street Railways; and Finance, Expenditures, and Revision of Corporation Laws during his time in office.

The State Library holds another collection of photographs of representatives and senators from about 1855 to 1908 for which we have a detailed alphabetical list in the Special Collections department. This new acquisition is a valuable supplement to that larger collection.

Shown above and at right are front and back examples (again for Anthony Smalley) of another valuable source of information about individuals who have served in the Massachusetts General Court prior to the early 20th century: legislative bio cards in Special Collections. These date from the late 18th century to 1915 and often list date of birth, birth place, date of death, names of parents, place of death, occupation, years served in the Massachusetts or U.S. House or Senate, posts held in the state or federal government, and community represented.

Paige Roberts
Head of Special Collections