Monday, March 28, 2016

Hatpins and Cursing

At the library we are continuously looking to make our resources more available to the public. In the past we digitized a number of public documents from our collection as well as all of Massachusetts’ Acts and Resolves. Currently we are in the process of digitizing Massachusetts’ Legislative Documents – all filed bills from the late 1700s, and have already put a number of them online for anyone to search through.

Digitization is a long process, including scanning of the material, creating and editing metadata, and uploading these files so that they are searchable and findable. During the process of editing the metadata, I came across a number of bills that today may have seemed slightly ludicrous. Of course, not all bills become law, but many of these bills seemed to reflect the time that they were filed.

For example, there was a lot of debate about hatpins at the turn of the 20th century, when they were quite fashionable for women to wear with oversized hats and long hair. Massachusetts passed an act in 1913 regulating the use of hatpins, making it unlawful for any person to wear a hatpin in public longer than one half inch. This was an issue all over the country, as women were using the pins as weapons against those harassing them and some saw the hatpins as a symbol of female empowerment at a time when women’s rights were at the center of politics. In 1943, with hatpins being out of fashion, a bill was filed and passed to repeal the hatpin law. Luckily, hatpins have not been a problem since.

There are other bills that today would seem difficult to handle or for police to enforce. In 1936, a bill was filed in the house, “prohibiting the use of obscene or sacrilegious language and swearing at theatrical exhibitions or entertainments”. Perhaps even harder to believe, a bill was filed in 1956, “prohibiting profane, obscene, impure language or slanderous statements directed at participant of sporting event.” When I read this bill, I found it very quaint that the legislatures of 1957 tried to get New England sports fans under control. But it turns out this bill came up again in 1957 and actually passed into law in 1963. In fact, it is still law today. Many people (including myself) may owe a fine of $50 after a visit to The Boston Garden or Fenway Park.

There are many more bills and acts worth looking into, including the intent of a bill filed in 1937, “making it unnecessary for women twenty years of age or over to give their exact age in order to be listed as residents of any city or town or permitted to Vote therein.” While we only have some of the legislative documents from 1913 to the 1980s and early 1990s currently online, we are working to make all of them eventually available!

Stephanie Turnbull
Reference Librarian

Monday, March 14, 2016

Chickadees in a Cracker Jack box

The State legislature designated the chickadee as the “bird or bird emblem of the commonwealth” in 1941. A few years ago, in preparation for an upcoming exhibition on birds in Massachusetts*, the State Library’s Special Collections Department started collecting objects and images relating to our state bird. A surprising number of friends and family members had chickadee memorabilia to contribute, and the collection has continued to grow through donations.

Acts and Resolves passed by the General Court. 1941 Chapter 0121.

In early 2015 a small gift joined the collection: a prize from a 1940’s Cracker Jack box. The prize was a miniature booklet (2 ¾”h x 2 1/8”w) titled Chickadee, by John H. Eggers, with a copyright date of 1941. Not necessarily of great research value, but this item will be a charming addition the next time we do an exhibition on printing techniques, or birds, or state emblems.

*Amazing Birds: The Wild Side of Massachusetts, June-August 2012; see images on the State Library’s Flickr page.

Special Collections Department

Monday, March 7, 2016

March Author Talk: John Stauffer

Picturing Frederick Douglass by 
John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier 
Thursday, March 24, 2016—Noon to 1:00 pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

If someone were to ask you to name the most photographed American of the 19th century, what would your answer be? Abraham Lincoln? Ulysses S. Grant? Walt Whitman? According to author John Stauffer, the answer is Frederick Douglass.

Why did abolitionist and political activist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) sit for so many portraits? This is the question that Harvard University Professor John Stauffer and his co-authors, Zoe Trodd and Celeste-Marie Bernier, explore in their recently published book, Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth-Century’s Most Photographed American. As it turns out, Douglass loved photography and spoke and wrote on the topic extensively. Douglass also recognized the power of photography to more accurately portray black Americans during this pivotal time in American history. Picturing Frederick Douglass presents a visual biography of Douglass with 160 of his portraits, arranged chronologically, and generous annotations by the authors. 

In addition to Picturing Frederick Douglass, Professor Stauffer has written or edited eighteen other books, including The Portable Frederick Douglass, Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, and The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race. Professor Stauffer is one of the leading authorities on the Civil War era, antislavery, social protest movements, and photography, and he is an award-winning professor of English and American Literature, American Studies, and African American Studies at Harvard University.

Please join us for an Author Talk with Professor Stauffer on Thursday, March 24, at noon at the State Library. Professor Stauffer’s talk is free and open to the public, and copies of the book Picturing Frederick Douglass will be available for purchase and signing at the event. Please register online and join us on March 24 at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Friday, March 4, 2016