Monday, January 25, 2016

Biographical and Political Resources in Massachusetts Government

At the State Library’s reference desk we get a fair number of questions about the Massachusetts government. Many people are interested in finding information on relatives who served in the legislature. Questions range from how many members of the legislature were there in a specific year to who was the governor in a given year.  The reference staff uses a variety of resources to answer these questions.

Manual of the General Court This resource dates back to 1858 and includes facts and figures about the Massachusetts Legislature otherwise known as the General Court. It is available in print and online and includes information such as:
  • Lists of Governors starting from colonial times
  • List of the current House of Representatives including districts, addresses and seat numbers
  • When the session for the general court starts and ends
  • The rules used by the legislature 
  • List of Massachusetts legal holidays
Image from Legislative Souvenir 1907

Public Officers of the Commonwealth  This resource has been published under several different names including: Legislative Souvenir and “bird book” and contains:
  • General Court members, Constitutional Officers and the executive council members
  • Photographs of the Massachusetts State House and Offices
  • one-page biographies with photographs of Massachusetts officials elected at the Federal and State level

The Massachusetts Political Almanac  (1981-current year) provides one-page summaries of legislators, photographs, biographical information, and key role call votes.  It also includes one-page profiles of executive branch officials and the duties of their office. Other information includes:
  • Terms in office
  • Profiles of agency heads 
  • Organizational charts for executive agencies
  • Committee members

Leading the Way: a History of the Massachusetts General Court 1629 -1980 – This book describes the history of the legislature from colonial time through 1980. Other information includes:
  • List of Massachusetts Senate Presidents
  • List of Massachusetts Speakers of the House
  • Statistics about the legislature 
Please visit the State Library of Massachusetts to view these and many holdings about state government.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. and his Massachusetts Connection

Martin Luther King
image from Wikimedia Commons
This week the nation pauses to honor the extraordinary life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on what would have been his 87th birthday. The holiday honoring King was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on Nov. 2, 1983 (Public Law 98-144) and was first observed at the federal level on Jan. 20, 1986. What is lesser known is that Massachusetts was one of the first states (after Illinois and at the same time as Connecticut) to establish King’s birthday as a legal holiday over a decade earlier than the federal government by passing “An Act Establishing Martin Luther King’s Birthday as a Legal Holiday” on July 8, 1974  (Chap. 493, Acts of 1974). The holiday reminds us to focus on the legacy of Dr. King’s ideals—civil rights and human equality, the use of nonviolence to promote change, and encouraging people to answer to the call to public service.

Senator Edward Brooke
image from Wikimedia Commons
Massachusetts Republican U.S. Senator Edward Brooke (along with U.S. Representative colleague John Conyers, D-Michigan) led the federal effort to make King’s birthday a national holiday by introducing the first bill in Congress in 1979 (the 50th anniversary of King’s birth), an effort that would fall short by only 5 votes of the two-thirds needed for passage. A House bill establishing the holiday would ultimately prove successful 5 years later after Brooke had left office but his tireless commitment to the federal King holiday bill laid the considerable groundwork for its passage. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (D-Massachusetts) got a standing ovation after his closing remarks recommending passage of the 1983 House bill and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) was the sponsor of the same bill in the Senate and gave a passionate defense of Dr. King during a contentious Senate debate (detailed in a New York Times article from Oct. 1983).

Dr. King was warmly welcomed to the Massachusetts State House on April 22, 1965 to address the Massachusetts General Court—this was nearly 2 years after giving his most famous “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial in the summer of 1963. The inspirational words in his speech to the Massachusetts General Court can be found in the text of House Bill no. 4155 of 1965 and can be accessed HERE in the State Library’s DSpace digital repository. Reading his speech again, one finds that his words are just as powerful and relevant today in 2016 as they were in 1965.

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

New exhibition on the history of the Massachusetts State House

Opening this week at the State Library of Massachusetts is a new exhibition entitled A Historical View of the Massachusetts State House. Using materials from the State Library’s holdings, this exhibition describes the history of the Commonwealth’s legislative buildings, the current State House’s original design and construction, and several significant renovations and additions.

The exhibition runs from January 14 through May 30, 2016. It can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Parts of the exhibit are also available online through our Flickr page.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

January Author Talk: Michael Blanding

The Map Thief by Michael Blanding
Thursday, January 21, 2016—Noon to 1:00 pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

Please join us at the State Library at noon on Thursday, January 21, for an Author Talk with award-winning investigative journalist and best-selling author Michael Blanding, who will be speaking about his recent book The Map Thief.

In this engrossing book, Blanding delves into the world of the antique map trade and tells the story of E. Forbes Smiley III, a map dealer who stole countless rare maps from libraries and universities around the world.  In addition to detailing the downfall of this once esteemed map dealer, The Map Thief also reveals the history of the explorers and mapmakers who created the priceless maps that Smiley stole, giving the reader an even better understanding of the great loss to society when such cultural heritage items go missing.

Mr. Blanding’s talk is free and open to the public, and copies of the book The Map Thief will be available for purchase and signing at the event. Please register online and join us on January 21st at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Short-Lived Biennial Legislative Session System in Massachusetts

If you’re familiar with Massachusetts legislative research materials such as the Acts and Resolves, the Legislative Documents series, and the House and Senate Journals, you will notice one strange similarity among them: volumes are missing for the years 1940 and 1942.  Here’s why: During the 1918 session of the 1917 Constitutional Convention there was discussion among members of the MA General Court to change the election system from annual to biennial.  Some of the main supporting arguments were that biennial elections would save money all around and allow elected officials more time to fulfill the duties of their offices.  Others considered annual elections as “safeguards of the Republic.”  The legislature voted in favor of this amendment, and it was subsequently ratified by the people of the Commonwealth.  Holding biennial legislative sessions was considered a “logical corollary” to biennial elections, and many felt that a shift would filter out unnecessary legislation in an “over-legislated” state.  In 1938 an initiative petition for such sessions was approved by the legislature and ratified by the people as Amendment LXXII in the MA Constitution.

1939 was the first year the General Court began meeting every other year instead of annually (they met in 1939, 1941, and 1943).  In 1942 (for six days) and 1944 (for 15 days) they held two special sessions that resulted in a handful of acts and resolves on particular subjects that required urgent attention.  However, no session was held in 1940 and no legislation or other materials relating thereof was published during that year.  The biennial session system was short-lived and in 1945, after a referendum vote, the General Court abandoned biennial sessions and once again began convening annually.

Much of this information, as well an overall history of the Massachusetts General Court, can be found in the title Leading the Way: a History of the Massachusetts General Court, 1629-1980 by Cornelius Dalton, et al., which is available in the State Library.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department