Monday, July 28, 2014

Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association Collection

A photograph of the Bay State on top of technical drawings of
the ship from different angles. 

One of the United States’ less-remembered wars, the Spanish-American War took place over ten weeks in 1898. Reports of Spain’s repression in Cuba and the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in the Havana harbor combined to heighten hawkish public sentiment, and political and corporate interests pushed a reluctant President William McKinley to reject Spanish attempts at compromise. The U.S. sent Spain an ultimatum demanding the surrender of Cuba, after which Spain formally declared war. The war was fought in Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific.

The State House Special Collections department holds the records of the Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association (MVAA, Ms. Coll. 20), a voluntary relief organization formed in May of 1898 by prominent and wealthy citizens to assist the government during the war. It was a charitable endeavor meant to care for wounded veterans and to assist in furnishing supplies and relief to the men of the Army and Navy, particularly those from Massachusetts.  Although the MVAA was a private organization, it worked closely with military and naval authorities.

Page from a shipping log noting destinations of shipments and types of goods.
Note the columns dedicated to Soup, Malted Milk, and Jelly.
The initial ten-member, all-male Executive Committee appointed a Women’s Committee, who began to meet in June of 1898. The Women’s Committee immediately formed sub-committees and began promoting the formation of similar volunteer aid associations across Massachusetts, gathering supplies, and raising funds to buy what was not donated.

Committee members decided that one of the most practical ways of providing help would be to outfit a steamship to serve as a floating hospital, supply ship, and transport for the sick and wounded.  The MVAA was able to raise the funds to purchase and outfit the steamer Bay State, which received an authorization signed by President McKinley himself. The ship sailed from Boston on its first trip on August 6, 1898, returning to Boston on August 30, 1898, with 99 sick men on board.  The Bay State made a total of three trips from Massachusetts to Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The MVAA received an authorization signed by President
William McKinley to outfit the Bay State as a
hospital ship.

In addition to the items shown here, the Special Collections department holds more important records from the MVAA, including a two-volume set of carbon copies of correspondence sent out between May 6, 1898 and April 21, 1899, the ship’s log from the Bay State’s first trip in 1898, and a card file listing the admitting hospital and follow-up information on each returning wounded soldier. Together, they provide invaluable insight into the lives of numerous soldiers and the nature of civilian war relief work at the turn of the century.

Katie Seitz
Special Collections Intern