Category Archives: Digital History

Ambiance in Archives: How Surroundings Inform Content

By Katie Maura Burke

As a Public History student pursuing an archives certificate, I have spent countless hours in various archival repositories. The cardboard cartons, steel shelves, and chilly temperatures can give off a utilitarian feel that contradicts the richness of the records they contain.

The Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. Courtesy of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

Today, digitization projects have drastically changed the way researchers can access archival documents, enabling them to receive images of requested items via a website, zip drive, or email attachment. Thanks to technology, many researchers no longer have to travel to archives, such as the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, where I started working as an intern in February. However, the beauty and history of the location of this archive infuses the records stored here with a context that informs their meaning in ways I did not anticipate before I began working here.

FL Olmsted, Sr. writing in the Hollow, Fairsted. Courtesy of Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

Who knew an archive could be so beautiful? Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who designed the site which now houses the archive, is widely recognized as America’s premier landscape architect. His accomplishments in park design, town planning, landscape architecture, and conservation have earned international acclaim.

South Lawn with Olmsted Elm photographed circa 1900. Courtesy of Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

In 1883, he purchased a home in Brookline, Massachusetts, for both his family residence and professional office. He deemed the property “Fairsted.” Over the next decade, he designed the building and grounds to match his aesthetic vision, creating a space to celebrate nature and offer an oasis amidst an increasingly urban setting.

Fairsted continued to be a hub of landscape design far past Olmsted’s retirement in 1895. His son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and stepson, John Charles Olmsted, continued the business as the “Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects.” During the first three decades of the twentieth century, the work volume and staff of the firm increased significantly.

FRLA 45414 - upper draft June1930 - front-jpg635805960073723013
Image of ten employees of the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in the upper drafting room at Fairsted in 1930. Courtesy of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

By the 1940s, the volume of work had begun to decline; however, during the 1960s and 1970s, scholars, landscape architects, environmentalists and historic preservationists showed interest in the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. This academic and practical interest in Olmsted’s landscape architecture prompted individuals to collect and begin to preserve materials related to the firm’s history.

In 1979, when the firm’s landscape design activity formally ceased, Fairsted was acquired by the National Park Service (NPS) as a National Historic Site. The NPS became responsible for preserving and cataloging the documents, plans, and artifacts left behind by the firm and interpreting Fairsted’s history for the public.

The Olmsted archives contain more than 1 million original documents related to landscape design projects the firm took on between 1857 and 1979. The repository contains approximately 139,000 plans and drawings, as well as photographic negatives and prints, planting lists, lithographs, employee records, and office correspondence. Today, the majority of research requests the archives receives relate to the firms’ plans and drawings, which have been used for landscape restorations, academic publications, and historical exhibits.

In the early stages, the archives staff focused on preserving the plans, which were often brittle, dirty, and damaged. Next, the items were cataloged and made available to researchers, who, at that point needed to visit the site to view them physically. In recent years, reflecting archival trends and practices, a massive digitization project focusing on the plans and drawings began.

Plan for Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, created by Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot in 1894. Courtesy of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, National Park Service.

Initially, the plans and drawings were scanned into black and white tiff files. But the Olmsted National Historic Site is currently undertaking a four-year project to re-scan plans and drawings into high resolution color images that meet current industry standards and research expectations.

Working, as many archives do, without an in-house platform and hoping to provide widespread public access to the materials, the archives staff have been uploading the items to Flickr. The availability of scanned images has been extremely popular, so much so that it has greatly diminished onsite research visits. Staff members are currently working out a system to include visitors to the Flickr page to meet the annual visitation expectations of the site.

The shift, along with an option of offsite storage, has brought up discussions on the necessity of archival storage at the Olmsted site in general. Fairsted is made of wood and highly susceptible to fire and other environmental factors. The plans are stored in a protected vault, but many other items remain in the open. For that reason, storage of the Olmsted firms’ archival items is split between the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

For now, the items at the Olmsted site will remain there, due primarily to a consensus that their presence adds visceral meaning to the site as a whole. The visitors on public tours experience, that intangible feeling familiar to historians who physically interact with meaningful historical records. This feeling is even stronger at the production site, in this case a beautiful home among gardens and wildlife. The researchers looking at files on their laptops will miss this experience.

Is it really worth researchers travelling miles and miles for a feeling?That depends on myriad factors. But, after working at the Olmsted site over the past six months it is clear to me that seeing, touching, and interpreting the plans while in the historic office delivers a powerful impact. If Olmsted researchers are in Boston, I hope they will make a stop at Fairsted.

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“Abandoned His Duty”: Uncovering the 1919 Boston Policemen Strike

By Nina Rodwin

In the fall semester, my HIST 600 class had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative project between UMass Boston and the Boston Police Department Archives. We were tasked with documenting the lives of the officers involved in the police strike of 1919. Policemen had demanded a higher yearly salary, adopting the slogan “$200 or nothing” (Puleo, 143). When their demands were ignored, 1,400 police officers walked out. From September 9th to the 11th, Bostonians rioted and reacted violently (often towards the striking officers). President Wilson found the found the strike so disturbing that he described it as a “crime against civilization” (Puleo, 155-156). The police head clearly felt the same, firing all striking officers with no chance of re-employment. The men’s duty cards, which detailed each officer’s employment history, were stamped with a large “abandoned his duty, September 9th 1919.” These duty cards lay in the BPD archives for years, largely forgotten. It was only by chance that a former BPD archivist discovered these cards and was immediately filled with questions: who were these men and what happened to them after the strike?

Image of Hugh P. McGuire’s Duty Card

The scale of the project required collaboration, not only between UMass Boston and the BPD archivists, but also volunteers, the police officers’ descendants, and finally, my own class. While we entered the project in order to learn genealogical research skills, it was gratifying to see that our small contribution helped in a large-scale project. Each student was instructed to pick an officer and fill in vital information into a worksheet. We used public records to uncover these men’s lives, searching through the census, birth and death records, military records and newspapers. To me, the most engaging records were the census records, as they not only reflected a specific officer’s life, but also larger changing trends in America.

Image of Hugh P. McGuire from the 1901 “The Officers and The Men The Stations Without and Within of The Boston Police.” This book’s yearbook format was a great source for photographs of the striking BPD officers.

I choose Hugh P. McGuire, who seemed to have a relatively good life before the strike: he lived in his rented house with his wife and four children and had been on the police force since 1896. However, his whole family was drastically affected by the strike. Just one year later, McGuire was working as a watchman for a lumberyard. His eldest son and daughter, then in their twenties, continued to live in his house. These two children may have stayed home to contribute to family finances, as both were employed. By the 1930 census, it is clear that he was experiencing still more trouble: he was now unemployed, and while his sons seem to have left home, his two daughters remained as the sole breadwinners in his household.

By 1940, Hugh McGuire was 74 years old. According to census records, he was “unable to work.” His eldest daughter, Anna, now 40, continued to care for her parents as a secretary for the Veterans Bureau. As the sole breadwinner, she received a yearly salary of $1,980, which in today’s money ($34,500) would relegate the McGuire family to the lower class. However, this census information has its drawbacks: even though it offers us Anna’s yearly income, we don’t know, if McGuire’s sons contributed to the household, if McGuire received Social Security benefits, or if the McGuire family saved money before Hugh lost his job. In other words, the whole family may have been struggling to make ends meet.

Image from the United States Census, 1940.

The census records also leave out vital information about McGuire’s wife. Was she unemployed because she was fulfilling the stereotypical duties of white women at the time, or did her lack of education (she only completed the further grade) shut her out of the scant opportunities women could obtain? As much as the census can aid researchers, it will never be able to answer these compelling questions, and may often leave researchers with more questions!

Image from the United States Census, 1930. In the “Home Data” section, it asks the family to report if they own a radio set.

While census records offer the bare facts of an individual’s life, they are quite useful to demonstrate large-scale changes in health, education, immigration and even leisure through their questionnaires. For example, in both the 1900 and 1910 census, participants are asked to list the number of children born, as well as the number of children living. This distinction reflected the high child mortality rate during the time; Hugh’s wife was quite lucky that all four of her children survived. However, by the 1920s, efforts to combat childhood diseases increased, and the census no longer included this category. The most amusing category was in 1930s census, which included a category simply titled “radio set” reflecting the growing number of families with radios, including the McGuire family. This category disappeared by the next census in 1940, reflecting both that radio sets were no longer novelties and the assumption that most households owned a radio.

This research was so engaging that I chose to volunteer my time to help the project further. While completing the worksheets of three more policemen, I learned a valuable lesson about genealogical research: researchers should not always trust their internet searches. When attempting to find the birth records for a man named Owen Katon, I was unable to discover his information. It was only with the aid of UMass Boston archivist Joanne Riley that I noticed there had been a transcribing error between the physical documents and the online search results. When I searched for Owen Katon, I had only found one record for “William Katon” and promptly assumed it couldn’t be the correct person. However, Riley taught me an important lesson: never assume that the online search results are always correct. When I actually looked at the scanned records for “William Katon,” I discovered that the records were really for Owen Katon after all! This is not to say that websites are untrustworthy; rather, researchers must be aware of these human errors, and conduct their research accordingly.

The BPD Strike Project still continues, with the goal of completion by the 100th anniversary on September 9th, 2019. If you are looking to improve your genealogical skills, for your own personal or scholarly projects, I strongly I strongly recommend getting involved.


Puleo, Stephen. Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 2004.

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Putting Public History Into Practice: The Industrial School for Girls

By: Sarah K. Black

When I entered the public history graduate program at UMass Boston, my experience in the field of history was strictly academic. One can only imagine how anxious I felt when I received the syllabus for HST 625, Interpreting History in Public: Approaches to Public History Practice. Under the instruction of Professor Jane Becker and in partnership with Joe Bagley at the Boston City Archaeology Program, my colleagues and I were tasked with uncovering the history of those who lived and worked at the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls (ISFG) during the 1860s and delivering those stories to the public in a way that was both appealing and accessible.

ISFG map
Map depicting the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls, 1889.

The ISFG was established in 1853 by several women who sought to educate and train destitute young girls in the field of domestic service. Once deemed ready by the staff, the girls would be placed in homes to work as servants. Our class was required to connect our biographical sketches with artifacts retrieved during Bagley’s excavation of the site in Summer 2015, and construct a website to ensure our interpretations could reach the widest possible audience. I was extremely intimidated by the project because, unlike writing a paper, we were working with a client (Bagley) and producing a tangible product. Who knew that the ISFG project would become the most exciting, informative, and meaningful experience of my entire academic career.

There were two main phases of the project—the first of which required each of us to conduct extensive biographical research on one staff member and one student. But how do we construct narratives for women who spent much of their lives on the fringes of society? And what does the middle ground of meticulous research and writing for a popular audience look like? These were just a few of the many questions we had to grapple with when we began producing these histories. We had to learn how to effectively weave facts and relevant context into a story that was both informative and accurate, as well as include elements that readers could connect with.

Hasson card
Record of Margaret Hasson, an ISFG student  who later became “inmate #13430” at Bridgewater Almshouse. Courtesy of the Massachusetts State Archives. Photograph by author.

Like several of my classmates, the beginning of my research was defined by countless hours working with genealogy sites and other online resources. Once we made it through the initial frustration of uncovering subjects so elusive in the historical record, we found that each had a unique and captivating story to tell. Some narratives featured immersive details of mischief, international travel, and death, while others concluded with more questions than they started with.

While conducting my research, I was fortunate enough to travel to the American Baptist Historical Society, located at Mercer University in Atlanta. There I found a collection of letters written by the ISFG matron, Mary S. Daüble, while she served as a missionary in India. Whether working as a missionary in India or a matron at multiple institutions, Mary devoted her life to education and religious teachings. After some intensive genealogical investigation, I was able to shed light on Daüble’s life and experiences. I even located a blueprint of her home and added her to my own family tree on

Blueprint of Mary Daüble's house.
Blueprint of Mary Daüble and her husband’s house. Courtesy of the American Baptist Historical Society.  Photograph by author.

The story of Margaret (Maggie) Hasson was quite different. An Irish orphan who entered the institution at just 8 years old, Maggie found herself placed as a domestic servant in 10 different homes between 1860 and 1864. Mischievous to say the least, she ran away several times and even eloped with an African American Civil War soldier. After a police officer located and returned Hasson to the Industrial School for Girls, the school sent her to the Bridgewater Almshouse.

The second phase of the project was centered on group work. Our class was divided into three groups: website design and introduction, social media and marketing, and annotated transcription the ISFG’s 1860 annual report. As a member of the introduction group, I was responsible for contributing to the overall design of the website and drafting the text for the site’s landing pages.

Screen shot of ISFG website.

Once again, we were met with challenges: How do we create an interface that is both informative yet engaging? How can we stand out against the plethora of webpages that characterize the digital age in which we live? Just as it was difficult to condense hours of biographical research into 1000-word narratives, our team struggled with determining what information was essential for each of the site’s main pages. These sections had to be brief enough to capture and maintain the reader’s interest, but also paint the fullest possible picture of the school, the archaeological dig, and the project.

This experience gave my peers and me the opportunity to develop and improve skills in biographical research and historical interpretation in a digital age. We also learned the value of collaboration—not only with one another, but also with our professor, our client, and other cultural institutions. And finally, the project prompted us to retrieve voices that may have otherwise remained silent, gave us the chance to tell history from the bottom-up, and helped us to see the extraordinary value in uncovering the “ordinary.” The ISFG project proved to be the perfect introduction to turning public history theory into practice.

Sarah K. Black is earning her M.A. in History with a specialization in Public History. She currently also works as an editorial assistant for The New England Quarterly.

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Roaring for Rights: Women & Boston’s Anti-Busing Movement

Clipping of a newspaper article about ROAR's "March on Washington" in March 1975. The article states that ROAR marched to demand a constitutional amendment to block school busing. Clipping part of the Louise Day Hicks Papers, Boston City Archives.
Clipping of a newspaper article about ROAR’s “March on Washington,” March 19, 1975. Louise Day Hicks stands in the front of the crowd, wearing sunglasses. Clipping from the Louise Day Hicks Papers, Boston City Archives.

On March 19, 1975, roughly 1200 Bostonians trudged through torrential rains and howling winds from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building. The group, members of “Restore Our Alienated Rights”–ROAR for short–marched to generate national support for a constitutional amendment. The determined marchers–mainly mothers–alternated singsong shouts of “No! No! No! We won’t go!” with the chorus of “God Bless America” as they slogged through the deluge with the movement’s founding leader, Louise Day Hicks.

At the time, many women across the nation gathered in public demonstrations to support the ERA, a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee equal rights for women. But the demonstrators of ROAR had a different goal that blustery March day. They intended to galvanize support for a different constitutional amendment–one that would end court-ordered busing as a means of integrating public schools in Boston.

Logo of Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR), depicting a lion holding a school bus in its claws. Image from the Louise Day Hicks papers, courtesy of Boston City Archives.
Logo of Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR), depicting a lion grasping a school bus in its claws. Image from the Louise Day Hicks papers, courtesy of Boston City Archives.

On the steps of the Capitol, Louise Day Hicks, dubbed “the Joan of Arc of Boston,” rallied the sodden crowd. The day before, leaders from fourteen states formed a national anti-busing coalition and appointed Hicks as chairperson. Like its Boston counterpart, the national ROAR coalition’s logo featured a fierce lion menacingly clutching a school bus in its paws.  1)Robinson, Walter. “National Antibusing Coalition Formed with Hicks as Leader.” Boston Globe (1960-1985): 1. Mar 19 1975. ProQuest. Web. 16 Mar. 2017 As Hicks announced the national coalition, its goal, and her role as leader, she dramatically compared the heavy rain to the tears “of Boston’s oppressed parents.”2)Robinson, Walter. “Hub Busing Foes Get Drenching, some Support.” Boston Globe (1960-1985): 1. Mar 20 1975. ProQuest. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. Gatherers roared their approval.

Louise Day Hicks, ca.1969.
Louise Day Hicks, ca.1969, prior to her leadership of ROAR. Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps the most widely recognized leader of Boston’s anti-busing movement, the controversial Hicks provoked mixed reactions. To some, especially those from predominantly white neighborhoods like South Boston, Hicks became a paragon of virtue who championed the rights of working-class whites. To others, she epitomized a conservative racist on par with white supremacist “Bull” Connor, who ordered attacks on civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama.

Hicks was raised in the predominantly Irish working-class neighborhood of South Boston. Known for her political and social conservatism, she embodied virtues associated with traditional femininity. Observers noted that she always styled her hair precisely, wore blue, pink, or green dresses, and frequently wore dainty white gloves. Although she conceived of the acronym ROAR, she spoke in a cultured, genteel voice and emphasized her role as a mother in her political campaigns.3)Feeney, Mark. “LOUISE DAY HICKS, ICON OF TUMULT, DIES.” Boston Globe. Oct 22 2003. ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Before she became a champion of the anti-busing movement, as a young wife and mother, Hicks earned a law degree from Boston University Law School. In 1955, she was one of only nine women graduated from a class of 232. She built a successful, if short, career in politics after winning election to the Boston School Committee with the slogan “the only mother on the ballot.” 4)Lukas, J. AnthonyCommon Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (New York: Vintage Books), 1986, 123. Despite her hearty endorsement of social conservatism, Hicks held a membership in the the National Organization for Women. Reportedly, her father had taught her that  gender should not limit options or curtail opportunities; thus Hicks had lobbied for passage of the ERA while she served as a Massachusetts Representative in Congress (1971-1973).5)Feeney, Mark. “LOUISE DAY HICKS, ICON OF TUMULT, DIES.” Boston Globe. Oct 22 2003. ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Hicks’ advocacy of equal rights did not extend to all. While serving on the School Committee in the 1960s, Hicks faced accusations that Boston Public Schools (BPS) suffered from racial imbalance. Like others on the Committee, she adamantly denied the accusation and clashed repeatedly with the NAACP on the issue.

Button of Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR), depicting a lion sitting on a school bus with the words, "STOP FORCED BUSING."
Button of Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR) with logo and words, “STOP FORCED BUSING.” Courtesy of John Joseph Moakley Archive & Institute, Suffolk University.

In 1974, when a federal judge ruled that BPS were segregated and mandated public school integration by busing students away from neighborhoods, many protested vehemently. Hicks became a spokesperson for the outrage many Bostonians felt towards “forced busing.” To some working-class Bostonians, Hicks and ROAR, the group she founded, symbolized key tenets of inalienable rights: individual liberty, the right of parents to make the best life choices for their children’s well-being and happiness.

Flyer of the Jamaica Plain Concerned Citizen's League. Image courtesy of Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.
Flyer of the Jamaica Plain Concerned Citizen’s League. Image courtesy of Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.

Under the guidance of Hicks, who had built a solid reputation as a conservative mother, ROAR began as an informal group of local women–white mothers with young children–expressing concern about busing. Excepting Hicks, most lacked any background in political organizing. But within a short time, ROAR members orchestrated numerous demonstrations, coordinated widespread boycotts, and initiated letter-writing campaigns, publicity stunts, and political appeals. Often, Hicks and other women justified even the group’s most violent activities in gendered terms, claiming a responsibility as mothers protecting neighborhood children.

Researching the topic of Boston Public School desegregation, graduate student Rachel Sherman became intrigued by ROAR, its controversial but little-researched leader, Louise Day Hicks, and the other women active in the anti-busing movement. Want to learn more about Hicks and ROAR? Sherman designed an online exhibit, “ROAR: THE ANTI-BUSING GROUP WITH THE LOUDEST VOICE,” that explores the group’s main characters, their motivations, local activity and national support. Peruse documents, ROAR’s publications, and photographs that Sherman unearthed at the Boston City Archives and Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections and learn about the women of ROAR and their legacy by visiting her full exhibit here.

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References   [ + ]

1. Robinson, Walter. “National Antibusing Coalition Formed with Hicks as Leader.” Boston Globe (1960-1985): 1. Mar 19 1975. ProQuest. Web. 16 Mar. 2017
2. Robinson, Walter. “Hub Busing Foes Get Drenching, some Support.” Boston Globe (1960-1985): 1. Mar 20 1975. ProQuest. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
3, 5. Feeney, Mark. “LOUISE DAY HICKS, ICON OF TUMULT, DIES.” Boston Globe. Oct 22 2003. ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
4. Lukas, J. AnthonyCommon Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (New York: Vintage Books), 1986, 123.

She Had a Dream: Ruth Batson & Equal Education in Boston

In August 1963, Ruth Batson, a community leader and activist from Roxbury, Massachusetts, joined over 200,000 Americans to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Ruth Batson's pennant from the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Image courtesy of Schlesinger LIbrary. Ruth Batson Papers, Schlesinger Library.
Ruth Batson’s pennant from the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Image courtesy of Schlesinger Library. Ruth Batson Papers, Schlesinger Library.

The watershed moment, one of the greatest demonstrations for civil rights in the US, culminated with marchers walking peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Batson, who had turned 42 shortly before the March on Washington, shared King’s vision. She had a dream, too. An activist for civil rights in Boston, Batson dreamed of equal education for African Americans in Boston Public Schools. She began working to make that dream a reality years before the March on Washington.

Ruth M. Batson working as a student teacher at Lenox St Housing Project Pre-School.
Ruth M. Batson working as a student teacher at Lenox St Housing Project Pre-School, ca. 1948. Image reproduced for research and educational purposes, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Rights status is not evaluated.

In the late 1940s, as a student teacher of the Nursery Training School of Boston and as a young mother, she witnessed disparity in the public school system firsthand. That experience led her to become active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Boston. A decade before the March on Washington, she was appointed chairperson of the newly-established Public Education Sub-Committee. The experience transformed her. She recalled:

“From that day on, my life changed profoundly.  I learned how to sharpen my observation skills.  I learned how to write reports.  I learned how to stand before a legislative body and state the NAACP’s case.  I lost all fear of ‘important’ people or organizations.” 1)Ruth M. Batson, The Black Educational Movement in Boston: A Sequence of Historical Events; A Chronology (Boston, MA: Northeastern University, School of Education, 2001), 9.

Documenting the physical condition of the city’s public schools, she noted widespread separation of black and white children. She challenged the Boston School Committee to address de facto segregation and the inadequate facilities of schools attended primarily by blacks.

Committed to her dream of equal education, Batson became a leading force of METCO (the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) and she became increasingly active in politics. She became the first black woman to serve on the Democratic National Committee and the first woman elected president of NAACP’s New England Regional Conference (1957-1960). During that time, she volunteered in John F. Kennedy’s civil rights office and worked tirelessly for democratic campaigns on both local and national levels.

Governor Endicott Peabody adminiters the oath to Ruth M. Batson for her new appointment at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 1963. Image reproduced for research and educational purposes, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Rights status is not evaluated.
Governor Endicott Peabody administers the oath to Ruth M. Batson for her new appointment at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 1963. Image reproduced for research and educational purposes, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Rights status is not evaluated.

Recognized for her spirited nature and determination, in December 1963–just months after the March on Washington–Batson was appointed to serve as chairperson of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Ruth Batson advocated for civil rights and equal schooling for blacks in Boston for over thirty years. Committed to making her dream a reality, she helped reshape Boston’s public education system. Want to learn more about this extraordinary woman from Roxbury?

Graduate student Laurie Kearney created on online exhibit, “Ruth M. Batson, Mother, Educator, Civil Worker,” that provides a comprehensive overview of Batson’s life, volunteerism, and career. Using documents and photographs from the Boston City Archives, the National Archives at Boston, Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, and the Schlesinger Library, Kearney explores how the personal and political intersected in this woman’s life.

Kearney’s narrative explores how Batson’s upbringing and experiences as a mother led to a career of community and political activism. Learn more about Batson’s actions in the movement to integrate Boston Public Schools and her and role as a leader of METCO (the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) by visiting the full exhibit.

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References   [ + ]

1. Ruth M. Batson, The Black Educational Movement in Boston: A Sequence of Historical Events; A Chronology (Boston, MA: Northeastern University, School of Education, 2001), 9.


By: Corinne Zaczek Bermon

In 1974, a young boy named Kevin Tyler stepped off his bus on the first day of school.1)Name changed as request of former METCO student. As the Kevin looked out at the area surrounding his new school, he could only think that everything was foreign and weird. Although he was only ten miles from home, the Roxbury native thought that suburbia was another world. Gone were the noises from the street and common spaces and in their place were fences, private backyards, and white faces. Although it smelled cleaner, it wasn’t exactly pleasant to Kevin as the fresher air “felt weird to [his] nose.”  The white students around him sounded strange and bland when they spoke, not in the expressive style he were used to in Roxbury. But even on his first day of school, Kevin could see that life in the suburbs was easier, charmed even.2)Susan Eaton, The Other Boston Busing Story: What’s Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 218-219.

Cover of the METCO information pamphlet.
Pamphlet for parents about the METCO program. Image courtesy Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.

Many METCO students experienced a disconnect after they disembarked the buses that brought them to their suburban schools. Perhaps more profoundly than anyone, these young students saw the consequences of the deep racial and class divide that characterized Boston. The suburbs may be close geographically to the metropolitan area, but as Robert observed, they were worlds apart.

So how did students of color end up at schools in the suburbs? As we have passed the fortieth anniversary of busing for school desegregation, it is important to note, that voluntary busing existed before Morgan v. Hennigan mandated it, and still exists today as the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity or, as it is commonly know, METCO.

Even after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which determined that segregated education was inherently unequal and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, de facto segregation remained prevalent in both the northern and southern US schools. In 1967 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a pamphlet titled “Schools Can Be Desegregated,” which made several statements regarding segregated schools in the US:

  1. Racial isolation in the public schools is intense and is growing worse.
  2. Negro children suffer serious harm when they are educated in racially segregated schools, whatever the origin of that segregation. They do not achieve as well as other children; their aspirations are more restricted than those of other children; and they do not have as much confidence that they can influence their own futures.
  3. White children in all-white schools are also harmed and frequently are ill prepared to live in a world of people from diverse social, economic, and cultural background.3)U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “Schools Can be Desegregated” (Washington, D.C.: Clearinghouse Publication No. 8, June 1967) 1.
A Bird's Eye View from Within-As We See It by the staff and board of Operation Exodus
“A Bird’s Eye View from Within – As We See It,” report on Operation Exodus, 1965. Image courtesy Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections. Full report online.

Faced with the unresponsive and all-white Boston School Committee’s stance towards de facto segregation in Boston schools, concerned parents and activists founded “Operation Exodus” through Roxbury’s Freedom House in 1965 as a voluntary way to desegregate Boston Public Schools. In its first year, 400 African American students from Roxbury and Dorchester were bused to the predominantly white, but under enrolled, Faneuil School in Back Bay. In 1966, Operation Exodus was renamed the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO). Immediately, Black students faced the problem of how to address race while part of an expressly integration-based program. As Susan Eaton, Ed.D., expert in racial and economic inequality in public education, discovered, “neither [black nor white students] talked to the other about race – the very thing that appeared to be separating them. As a result, race frequently felt to the black students like a family secret. To keep life going smoothly, everyone compliantly locked the race subject away. It was too potent to open, to delicate to touch.”4)Eaton, 81. The attitude towards race as a subject to be avoided in some ways reflected the outcry against METCO in the city.

The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, Inc. program created controversy in nearly every town to which it bused black urban students.

Photograph of black and white students sitting together in a classroom in Boston, circa 1973. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives.

While some suburbanites welcomed the program as a way to expose their children to a more diverse group of classmates while also assisting underprivileged urban students, others did not focus on the ideological mission of METCO. Instead, they considered the financial costs of the program, the potential negative impact on schools, and the needs of their own children to be more important than minimally integrating their school systems. Others accused METCO of reverse racism for primarily busing African American students rather than poor white students. During the 1970s busing crisis within Boston, the program exposed divisions and resentments between suburbs and the city and within the suburbs themselves. Many began to question the value of integration as well as its effectiveness. With the potential costs to each town and to each taxpayer, residents of both the city and suburbs wondered, was the ideological goal of integration a worthwhile endeavor?

The online exhibit, “Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO): Solving Racial Imbalance in Boston Public Schools,” created by graduate students Kristin Harris (MA American Studies, 2015) and Corinne Zaczek Bermon (MA American Studies, 2015; MA History Archives Track, 2017) explores the founding of the organization and the effects it had as a voluntary busing program rather than the controversial “forced busing.”

Using the METCO collection at Northeastern University, Harris and Bermon combed through nearly 144 boxes to find the story of METCO. They hand selected documents that highlighted the difficulties METCO had in funding despite support from the Board of Education and how parents stayed involved in the program through parent councils to keep their children safe and in the program.

This exhibit tells the story of the other side of the busing crisis in 1974-1975. Despite the ongoing violence and intimidation happening in city schools such as South Boston High School and Charlestown High School, METCO students had been quietly and determinedly attended suburban schools through their own busing program. Their stories counteract the narrative that all student busing for desegregation was fraught with protests and violence. The METCO program today still serves as a model for the country as to how to racially balance schools.

Visit the full exhibit to read more about METCO’s beginning and see how parent councils were involved closely with the host schools.

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References   [ + ]

1. Name changed as request of former METCO student.
2. Susan Eaton, The Other Boston Busing Story: What’s Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 218-219.
3. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “Schools Can be Desegregated” (Washington, D.C.: Clearinghouse Publication No. 8, June 1967) 1.
4. Eaton, 81.

Caught in the Crossfire: Students’ Reactions to Busing in Boston

On December 11, 1974, Michael Faith, a 17-year old student at South Boston High School, was stabbed by an 18-year old African American student while walking in the corridor to his second period class.

Excerpt of police log on October 8, 1974, documenting violence reported at Boston Public Schools between 10:30 am and 12:35 pm.
Excerpt of police log on October 8, 1974, documenting violence reported at Boston Public Schools between 10:30 am and 12:35 pm. The report for the two-hour period totaled 8 pages. Image courtesy Boston City Archives.

Violence erupted and race-related attacks escalated in Boston’s public schools from the first week of court-ordered busing that September.

On a daily basis many African American students, teacher’s aids, and bus drivers were pelted with rocks and bottles, struck with bats, beaten with fists, and threatened, as this excerpt of a police log for a 2-hour period indicates.

All students In Boston Public Schools (BPS) were affected by the violent reactions to busing on some level. Those who weren’t assaulted physically often witnessed or heard about brutal attacks that occurred in their, or nearby, schools. Student absenteeism skyrocketed in many schools as a result. How did students react to the atmosphere of violence and fear during the years busing was used to desegregate BPS?

Letter from 3rd grade student to Mayor Kevin White, telling him he wants the violence between blacks and whites to stop. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.
Letter from 3rd grade student to Mayor Kevin White, telling him he wants the violence between blacks and whites to stop. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.

The online exhibit, “What About the Kids? A Look Into the Students’ Perspectives on School Desegregation,” created by Krystle Beaubrun (History, 2015) and Lauren Prescott* (Public History and Archives, 2016) explores opinions and reactions students had to what was commonly dubbed “forced busing” in Boston.

Using collections at Boston City Archives and UMass Boston’s Archives & Special Collections, Beaubrun and Prescott scoured hundreds of letters written to Kevin White–then mayor of Boston–and W. Arthur Garrity–the federal judge who ordered that schools be integrated through busing–by students.

Poem by young student to Mayor Kevin White. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.
Poem written by elementary school student to Mayor Kevin White in December, 1974–four months after Phase I (busing) of desegregating BPS was implemented. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.

They selected a sampling of letters written by students–in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools  in Boston and across on the country–sharing their unique reactions to busing as a way to desegregate BPS. Many younger students expressed confusion about the violence and prayed for its end. Some offered the adults suggestions on how to improve the situation.

Their exhibit captures the unique reasons high school juniors and seniors opposed “forced busing.” In heartfelt letters to officials, students described how busing about disrupted their place on sports teams, prevented them from partaking in traditions like senior prom, severed relationships they’d built with teachers, and prohibited them from graduating from the school system they’d attended their whole lives.

Despite the violence that erupted in schools during the early years of busing, Beaubrun and Prescott’s exhibit also documents how some black and white students joined together to counteract negativity. Responding to media coverage that generalized South Boston High School students as racists during the 1970s, students Michael Tierney and Danis Terris founded and launched MOSAIC in 1980.

An exhibit annoucement for MOSAIC. Image courtesy of UMass Boston, University Archives & Special Collections.
An exhibit announcement for MOSAIC. Image courtesy of UMass Boston, University Archives & Special Collections. Search or browse full-text issues here.

MOSAIC, a publication produced from 1980-1988, contained  autobiographical stories, photographs and poetry from students at South Boston High School. The University Archives & Special Collections at UMass Boston has digitized the full 11-issue run of MOSAIC. Search or browse full-text issues here.

Visit the full exhibit to read more reactions students had to busing.  Learn about how officials, clergy, and individuals around the  around the world reacted to Boston’s busing crisis in future posts.

*Shortly after graduating with her MA in history, Lauren became the Executive Director of the South End Historical Society. Congratulations, Lauren!


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Learning from the Clothes that Haverhill Wore: A Semester at the Haverhill Historical Society

By Rachel Sherman

During the Fall 2016 semester, I worked as an intern in both curatorship and collections management at the Haverhill Historical Society under Janice Williams. The Haverhill Historical Society serves as the historical center for the area of Greater Haverhill and the Merrimack Valley (Massachusetts). Occupying “The Buttonwoods” mansion originally bequeathed to the historical society in 1903, the Haverhill Historical Society collects and exhibits items relating to the area’s culture and history. These items once belonged to Haverhill residents and include numerous textiles ranging from quilts to costumes.

Figure 1: The John Ward House, owned by the Haverhill Historical Society. This house currently resides on the Buttonwoods Property. Picture taken by Rachel Sherman (2016).

From the beginning of my graduate career, I knew that I wanted to gain experience in a small historical institution like the Haverhill Historical Society. They needed the help. Now more than ever, historical societies need to be more organized, user friendly, and publicly accessible in order to stay relevant. Unfortunately, many of these organizations are run by small staff, infrequent volunteers, and the occasional intern. Despite this reality, the Haverhill Historical Society strives towards making themselves more accessible. This determination and dedication attracted me to intern at the Haverhill Historical Society.

My internship contributed the Haverhill Historical Society and their mission to modernize. They have been working on a ten-year long project to digitally catalog their collections, working to connect the items to Haverhill history. My job was to use their cataloging system, PastPerfect, to assess the condition of and digitally catalog a certain number of hanging costumes. I was also tasked with creating an informational “Intern’s Pick List.” The list includes costumes I felt were important to understanding Haverhill’s history and will be added to the Haverhill Historical Society’s website alongside the Curator’s Pick List.

Every historical institution, whether they are a small historical society or a large museum, has its own process for cataloging items; however, almost all institutions require the same general skills in approaching their items. From my experience, I present a small list of what I learned while interning at the Haverhill Historical Society.

Figure 3: Ninteenth century men’s robe, donated by the F.O. Raymond Estate. Fred O. Raymond Sr. lived and raised his family in Haverhill, serving as the Deputy Sheriff of Essex County from 1870 until his death in 1901. Object owned by the Haverhill Historical Society. Picture taken by Rachel Sherman (2016).

Always check the pockets: This is meant both figuratively and literally. During my investigation into a nineteenth century robe, I conducted my usual condition assessment, placed a new accession number tag, and proceeded to bring the costume back to its home. As I held the costume, I felt something in the left pocket I did not notice before. I carefully looked to see what was inside the pocket, and found a little envelope from the Haverhill Historical Society in the early twentieth century that also included written names. This fun little discovery helped me identify the history and the provenance of the robe. From

then on I checked every pocket I encountered. Look at every angle of what you are working on; you never know what you are going to find in the most obscure places. 

Dig a little deeper: Researching can lead someone down a rabbit hole, and through this internship I went down several! One such rabbit hole involved genealogical work. My first day of working with the collection, I cataloged a wedding dress belonging to an Augusta Merryman of Maine donated by a Mrs. Daniel Hunt of Haverhill. Curious about the relation between the two women, I turned to census records to see if the women shared a family. After working backwards through fifty years of census records, I connected the dots and found that Augusta Merryman (whose first name was actually Lydia) was Mrs. Daniel Hunt’s aunt. Therefore it helps to dig a little deeper into the records to find connections to the past.

Use every available resource: See everyone and everything as a resource. While cataloging a men’s suit, I came across the name William C. Glines. Upon researching the name, I quickly learned that Haverhill housed more than one William C. Glines. After a period of frustration, I decided to ask the curator for assistance. Meanwhile, Mary Ann, a fellow volunteer on the textile collection, overheard our conversation and chimed in about her own object. It turned out that not only did she know the Glines family, but that she finished working on an object donated by a William Cheney Glines, aka William C. Glines. From then on, Mary Ann continued to be a valuable resource for both understanding some of the Haverhill families I encountered in my research and in understanding fashion jargon.

Step outside of your comfort zone: Try something new. This internship allowed me to work hands-on with a collection that needed some TLC. From taking on a subject I knew little about, I learned not only collections management techniques, but also skills uncommon with a history-based internship. Through this internship, I learned basic sewing. Before, I could barely thread a needle, and now I can at least sew a label onto a costume. I advise anyone to step out of her comfort zone; you never know what you will learn.

Figure 2: Intern hard at work! Image taken by Janice Williams (2016).

Apply what you already know: This item should come to no surprise. While examining an early nineteenth century dress coat, the gilded brass buttons stood out among the navy blue wool exterior. Upon looking at the buttons, I noticed that each one featured a peculiar bald eagle. Although I do not know the history of buttons, I did know from previous undergraduate research that the eagle shared a similar motif to the furniture of the American Classical Style (1820s-1840s). This similarity aided in narrowing down the age of the buttons—the mid to late 1830s. It may seem silly, but I used my knowledge of aesthetics, compared buttons to furniture, and it paid off.

No matter your internship, whether it is working with a collection or other, the skills you learn from an internship apply to more than just the task at hand. From reading about my own experience, you, the reader, will hopefully gain a better understanding of what you may encounter on your own internship journey.


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Mapping Divisions & Historic Decisions: The Road to Desegregating Boston Public Schools

Political cartoon, 1954. Image courtesy of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Reproduction not permitted without prior permission, in writing, from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Political cartoon, 1954. Image courtesy of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Reproduction not permitted without prior permission, in writing, from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

On Valentine’s Day, 1974, the Boston School Committee received a crushing rejection. Its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to repeal the Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act was denied on two grounds: the deadline to file had expired and the Committee’s appeal had “no substantial basis.”(1)

Established in 1965, the act empowered the state Board of Education to investigate and reduce racial inequality in public schools. Perhaps the strictest racial balance legislation among the states, the act defined racial imbalance as any school in which the number of nonwhites exceeded 50% of the total population. For nearly a decade, the Boston School Committee and the state Board of Education argued bitterly over the definition of racial imbalance and the means of implementing a more integrated public school system.

In 1972, the Massachusetts Board of Education accused the Boston School Committee of repeatedly refusing to institute any measures to integrate its schools, many of which were heavily segregated according to the act’s definition. After the state suspended funding to Boston Public Schools, the School Committee launched a series of legal battles to repeal the Racial Imbalance Act and recover state funding for city schools.

The NAACP also initiated legal action in the federal court system. It charged that, by not complying with the Racial Imbalance Act, the Boston School Committee violated the Fourteenth Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In the digital exhibit, “Busing Boston Bound: Phase I of Desegregation in Boston, Massachusetts,” Rebecca Carpenter, a graduate student in the Archives program,  explores the impact of the Morgan v. Hennigan decision.

Cover of booklet, "Make Congress Stop Bussing," [sic], by Lawrence P. MacDonald, April 1976. Reproduced courtesy of the John Joseph Moakley Archive & Institute at Suffolk University, Boston, Mass. Rights status is not evaluated. Written permission from the copyright holders is required for reproduction.
Cover of booklet, “Make Congress Stop Bussing” [sic] by Lawrence P. MacDonald, April 1976. Reproduced courtesy of the Moakley Archive & Institute at Suffolk University, Boston, Mass. Rights status is not evaluated. Written permission from the copyright holders is required for reproduction.
 Using documents, maps, reports, and photographs from special collections and archives including Boston City Archives, the Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, the National Archives, Boston, the Moakley Archive and Institute at Suffolk University, and other repositories, Carpenter evaluates Phase I of desegregation. Beginning in September, 1974, the plan, which required that students in the most racially imbalanced schools be bused into schools where the number whites exceeded 50%, provoked heated and hostile reactions in some neighborhoods. The exhibit explores the motivations behind Garrity’s decision and assesses the initial plans for busing.

How did students react to Garrity’s decision to bus them away from their neighborhood schools? How did the decision, and the fear and violence it provoked in some schools, affect teachers? Learn more about the the impact busing had on public education in the next posts. For more background and details on the Racial Imbalance Act, see Connor Anderson’s digital exhibit, highlighted in the last post.


[1] Muriel Cohen, “Court Denies Balance Appeal Request.” Boston Globe (1960-1985) Feb 15 1974: 3. ProQuest. 13 Feb. 2017

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Divided Schools & Neighborhoods: Students Explore De Facto Segregation In Boston

“Turned Away from School,” Anti-Slavery Almanac, Boston, 1839.
“Turned Away from School,” Anti-Slavery Almanac, Boston, 1839. Similar to the black child in this image, Sarah Roberts was rejected from an all-white school in Boston in 1848.

On February 15, 1848, Sarah Roberts, a five-year-old African American girl, attempted to enter an all-white grammar school near her home. A white teacher rejected Sarah, based on the color of her skin. Sarah’s father, Benjamin F. Roberts, tried to enroll his daughter in four different schools attended by whites. All were close to their home while the schools designated for black children were located over a half mile away—a long walk for a young child, especially during the bitterly cold, snowy month.

Robert Morris, Esq. may have been the first black male lawyer to file a lawsuit in the U.S. He was also the first black lawyer to win a lawsuit
Robert Morris, Esq., was admitted into the Massachusetts bar in 1847. Two years later, he co-defended Sarah Roberts’ right to attend a public school closer to her home than the schools designated for blacks.

The General School Committee, the group responsible for administering the city’s public schools, rejected each request that Sarah attend a white school. That December, Benjamin Roberts sued the city for damages, on grounds that his daughter was unlawfully denied admission to a public school. Robert Morris, one of the first black lawyers in the US, worked with abolitionist lawyer and politician, Charles Sumner, to represent Sarah in Roberts v. City of Boston. The two argued that Massachusetts law guaranteed equal education regardless of race and that requiring black children to attend separate schools was unconstitutional.

Equality Before the Law: Unconstitutionality of Separate Colored Schools in Massachusetts
Read the full text of Sumner’s, “Equality Before the Law: Unconstitutionality of Separate Colored Schools in Massachusetts,” 1849 (above) courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Despite their impassioned arguments, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw found in favor of the city. Defending the actions of the General School Committee, Shaw ruled that a segregated school system did not violate the principle of equality before the law. His decision laid a foundation for the federal doctrine, “separate but equal,” that held that racial segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

Five years after the Roberts’ decision, the state of Massachusetts made it illegal to segregate the city’s public schools according to race. Despite that decision, city schools remained heavily segregated through the twentieth century. “Back To Square One: Racial Imbalance in the Boston Public Schools,” an online exhibit designed and curated by Connor Anderson (Archives, 2017), highlights Boston’s long history of de facto segregation in public schools and the role the School Committee played in supported de facto segregation. In this type of system, blacks and whites were separated due to facts or circumstance. But, as the School Committee pointed out to critics, racial separation was not created or imposed by law.

Protest Flier from a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, to Louise Day Hicks, circa 1974.
Protest Flier from a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, to Louise Day Hicks, circa 1974. Courtesy Boston City Archives.

Using a sampling of correspondence, reports, and images from Boston City Archives and Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, he traces divided opinions surrounding the efforts to achieve racial balance in public schools in the 1960s.  Anderson illustrates how reactions to the Racial Imbalance Act split the city.

Boston Neighborhoods,” an exhibit created by Vini Maranan (General History, 2016) and Paul Fuller (Public History, 2015), explores the unique cultures, communities, and stereotypes surrounding six of Boston’s twelve neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, economic fluctuations, settlement patterns, and urban renewal programs in Boston reinforced ethnic associations and strengthened a separation of races in many working-class neighborhoods. The de facto segregation of neighborhoods affected the makeup of schools which had become heavily segregated. Maranan and Fuller’s exhibit uses letters and interviews of ordinary citizens to document conditions in schools by neighborhood. Their exhibit also traces neighborhood reactions to Judge W. Arthur Garrity’s ruling that de facto segregation was discriminatory. It examines a sampling of neighborhood reactions to the 1974 order that students be bused away from local schools to achieve a better integration of white and black students.

Learn more about about the implementation of “Phase I” to desegregate Boston Public Schools by busing students away from neighborhoods in the next post.



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