Category Archives: Archives students

Surrounded by Sound: Processing Pop Culture

by Connor Anderson, MA (Archives program ’17)

I was in the unique position to work with and create a finding aid for an unprocessed archival collection for my Capstone Project during my final semester at UMass Boston.  For those who are unfamiliar with a Capstone, it offers an equivalent alternative to writing a traditional thesis in the History MA program. Personally, a Capstone was a better fit for my career aspirations as an archivist—the inventory and finding aid I created, along with the collection I processed, are both tangible objects.

I chose to work with the Allan D. MacDougall Popular Culture Collection which represents the lifework of its namesake.

Stamp of MacDougall’s signature.

MacDougall, known affectionately as “Rocco,” taught at Newton North High School in Newton, MA. He dedicated his life to collecting items that he felt documented popular culture in the US. MacDougall used items from his vast collection as integral part of his teaching to instill a love of music and pop cultural history for decades. His massive collection was donated by his wife, JoEllen Hillyer, to the Center for the Study of Humanities, Culture, and Society (CHCS) at UMass Boston in the spring of 2015.

A musician and lover of music, MacDougall collected all genres and styles of recorded music, from the eclectic and obscure to popular hits that topped 20th-century American music charts. The collection also hosts the various formats on which music was created and stored over time, including impressive quantities of CDs, vinyl records, audio tape cassettes, and phonograph cylinders. First used by Thomas  Edison, inventor of the phonograph, to successfully record and reproduce sounds, phonograph cylinders were small grooved cylinders made of ceresin, beeswax, and stearic wax. The sound recording format was popular in the late 19th through the early 20th centuries.

Phonograph cylinder produced by the Thomas Edison Phonograph Company in 1911 (left) with a case of late 19th- and early 20th- century wax cylinder sound recordings collected by MacDougall.

In addition to music recordings, MacDougall acquired extensive runs of British and American magazines, numerous trade journals and collectors’ guides. Titles included mainstream publications, such as Rolling Stone, Uncut, Word, and Billboard, as well as journals that are difficult to find and even more difficult for researchers to access. The collection boasts hundreds of issues of local Boston and New England regional publications, such as Broadside of Boston. Especially noteworthy is the breadth of magazines, journals, and newspapers devoted to jazz, blues, and folk music, as well as band and concert guides spanning the latter half of the 20th century. Included among the magazines is small but notable assortment of magazines about Elvis, Buck Owens, John F. Kennedy, and the Beatles.

In addition to providing a wide range of music materials, the archive also houses more than 2,000 comic books and a wide range of popular culture ephemera, including hundreds of newspaper and magazine clippings organized by topic, ranging from individual musicians to major corporations, from cultural phenomena to social problems.

Cover of DC Comic’s Romance Comic, Secret Hearts, 1970.

The comic-book collection includes an impressive selection of mainstream comic books from the 1960s and 1970s, many of them superhero comics. But it also includes dozens of “humor” comics, such as Little Lulu, Casper, and Walt Disney comics. Perhaps the most distinguished feature of the comics collection is the remarkable number of “romance” comics, of which there are more than 200 from a variety of publishers.

There are a notable number of books, VHS tapes, and DVDs as well. The sheer size of the collection combined with the small space it resides it proved overwhelming to me at first.

The Allan D. MacDougall Popular Culture Archive as it appeared before processing began
The Allan D. MacDougall Popular Culture Collection as it appeared before processing began.

Luckily, I received help from two alumni of the American Studies Graduate Program during the semester, Andre Diehl and Scott Harris.

Scott provided the muscle—consolidating the collections and creating much needed “breathing room” in our location. Even though he worked with the archive for a short period, he played a pivotal role in my project. Andre knows the collection back and forth, up and down. He may have forgotten more about the collection than I’ll ever know.

Connor, ensconced in the processing area of the MacDougall Collection, creating an inventory of thousands of AV materials.

Andre and others before him did an amazing job cataloging much of the magazines, journals, and comic books, as well as digitizing all the CDs in the archive.

Here are some numbers for you—as of spring 2017—that we have cataloged EXACTLY:

  • 8,960 vinyl records—including sizes of 7”, 10”, 12”, and rare 16”
  • 3,145 CDs
  • 836 tape cassettes and another 500+ student-made mix-tapes
  • 33 rare phonograph cylinders
  • A combination of 4,035 magazines, journals, and newspapers
  • 2,277 comic books
  • 110 VHS Tapes
  • 180 DVDs
  • 1,990 books

If you are interested in learning more about the collection, reach out to CHCS!

Note: A few weeks after graduation, Connor Anderson became the new Public Records Access Officer/Archivist of the Town of Plymouth. Congratulations, Connor!

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Preserving the Past: An Active Internship at the NEDCC

by Rebecca Carpenter

In the fall of 2016, I completed an internship with the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) with Frances Harrell and others in Preservation Services.

Screen shot of the NEDCC website.

The NEDCC, founded in 1973, was the first independent Conservation lab in the US dedicated to preservation and conservation of paper and film based materials. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities it has grown to encompass Imaging and Audio services as well. With the advent of new technologies, preservation and conservation will become ever more important in the archival world and the NEDCC is leading the way.

19th century college scrapbook
This 19th-century scrapbook contains mixed media and provides complex preservation challenges.

I took a behind the scenes tour of the NEDCC facilities during Professor Morgan’s “Archival Methods and Practices” course. That experience, and my lifelong interest in preservation, led to the opportunity to work with the NEDCC.

Digitization as Digital Preservation?

Since the 1990s libraries, archives, and similar institutions have digitized select special collections materials at an increasing pace. This push occurred partly because technology enabled it. Digitization and the internet brought hidden collections out of the shadows and made them accessible to a much larger audience. This brought with it a host of challenges.

David Joyall, Senior Photographer at NEDCC, using digital photography for preservation.

At what resolution should items be scanned or photographed? What storage should we be using to store digitized materials? What platform is easily accessible to the public? How often should we do fixity checks? Is an internal or external IT department better? How much storage space will we need? What happens to the materials after digitization?

All these questions, and more, became commonplace when talking about digitization. Quickly, archivists began to ask, who could and should create and provide answers and establish best practices? The Library of Congress, Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative, and the Smithsonian Institute are some of the bigger institutions and groups that have taken on the task of creating and distributing best practices and guides. These standards are helpful, but often filled with jargon and might not be useful in small- to mid-size institutions who have limited staffing and budget resources. It is with this thought in mind my internship took shape.

The Survey

The main objective of my internship centered on assisting in the creation and distribution of a survey about the present-day digitization and digital preservation practices of small- and mid-size institutions. NEDCC hoped to use the information gleaned from the survey to devise educational classes and webinars on digital preservation and digitization techniques.

I researched and identified state and local institutions to target in the survey.

I worked with the Preservation Services team throughout the entirety of this process. In the first few weeks of my assignment with the NEDCC, much of the time was pulling together a list of possible institutions to target for the survey. Researching each state, I collected information about statewide museum and archive associations to get the information out to as many people as possible. Then, I targeted smaller and specialized institutions, especially those whose focus pertained to minority groups. After targeting individual institutions and statewide institutions, I moved to looking at listservs and social media pages that could be helpful in distributing the survey. In the end, I created a list of over 200 individual email addresses compiled for distribution, along with other 50 listservs and groups.

One of the most important steps was writing clear survey questions and making sure that the answers would give us the information we wanted. I have only made one survey before this project and it was a customer service survey. In a way, being new to preservation, digitization and digital preservation helped me to create questions hat were easy to understand, even for those with limited knowledge of the specifics of digital preservation.

I designed the preservation survey using Survey Monkey.

I designed the survey in SurveyMonkey. This was the most creative part of my internship and I had a good time with it!

The weeks following the opening of the survey became about data analysis. SurveyMonkey has an analysis tool; however, we collected so much odd and individualized data, the results of SurveyMonkey’s analysis were not great. Therefore, my job became attempting to do basic data analysis. Having never done data analysis before, I spent time watching YouTube videos and doing research about how to do data analysis. I found out from this survey how incredibly difficult data analysis is! I was not surprised to find out that the NEDCC previously hired data analysis employees.

Staffing data from Digitization and Digital Preservation Survey. October 2016.


The work with the survey culminated in the presentation at the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) conference in New York. I presented with NEDCC’s Frances Harrell. I was very nervous about speaking to such a large group of people but, in the end, our presentation went well by all accounts.

Frances Harrell of the NEDCC and me after completion of our presentation at PASIG. October 2016.
Preservation Services Work

Along with the survey work, which took up most of the time, I was able to spend time doing other tasks for the preservation services at the NEDCC.

Kiyoshi Imai, Associate Book Conservator, working in NEDCC conservation lab.

One of my favorite tasks that did not directly relate to the survey was reference work. I read and answered questions that came to the Preservation Services email address . This enabled me to do research on preservation and conservation practices. Because of this task, I also spent some time in the conservation lab seeing what they were working on and the techniques they used regularly. This part of my internship I enjoyed more than anything else.


The NEDCC Preservation Services team showed me how important preservation is to all collections and how vulnerable almost all collections are.  This internship was informative, educational, and challenging at times. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know more fully that preservation and conservation are where my true passion lies.

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The Peaceful Gardener: Rose Standish Nichols & The Peace Movement (Part III)

By Corinne Zaczek Bermon
(Last of three-part series. Access Part I and Part II)

The family home in Beacon Hill and their summer home in Cornish, New Hampshire served as training grounds for Nichols as she came into her own as a peace activist. When Europe began to become embroiled in war, Rose Nichols banded together with other peace-minded women to form the Woman’s Peace Party in Boston in 1915.  She organized lectures and fundraisers to broaden awareness of the anti-war movement.  It was through this local organizational work that Nichols learned the skills she needed to enter the peace movement on a global stage. The focus of women’s activities turned toward political concerns with the establishment of current affairs discussion groups that Nichols and other women attended.

Along with the discussion groups, Rose and Margaret Nichols established the Cornish Equal Suffrage League on 1 December 1911, and it soon became the “second largest in the state, having at present sixty-eight members…[with] annual dues of fifty cents.”1) Letter, Rose Nichols to Elizabeth Homer Nichols, 1911. The Schlesinger Library. The women mainly met in the gardens designed by Nichols for her neighbors. Cornish suffrage leaders Lydia Parrish, Annie Lazarus and Rose Nichols used these gatherings to foster their personal causes, such as advancing the suffrage and peace movements.2)Judith Tankard, A Place of Beauty: The Artists and Gardens of the Cornish Colony (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2000), 16. 

Before the US entered the war, the women of the Cornish Colony began to explore how they could influence policymakers to avoid US intervention.  In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson and his wife, First Lady Ellen Wilson, made Cornish the nation’s “summer capitol.”3)Ibid, 34.   Ellen Wilson spent time in Cornish without the President and wrote many letters to Wilson during that first summer in 1913 that described her busy social schedule with the women in the colony, including Nichols and Mabel Churchill, wife of American writer Winston Churchill.  

In 1915, after Nichols established experience in organizing discussion groups in Cornish, New Hampshire, she began to work with the Woman’s Peace Party (WPP) in Boston as a nascent member. Nichols became the Chairmen of Meetings by 11 November 1915 and sent out letters to the membership regarding the organization of anti-war conferences around the state of Massachusetts.  Nichols wrote that the aim of the conferences were to inform participants about international problems that are “pressing the civilized world” for a solution.4)Letter, Nichols to Elizabeth Glendower Evans, 1915, SCPC. Nichols believed in the three tenets set forth by her fellow founding women: that women best understood the value of preserving human life; women were committed to providing individuals the best quality of life; and that women were able to resolve conflicts without ostracizing individuals or nations.5)Linda Schott, “The Woman’s Peace Party and The Moral Basis for Women’s Pacifism” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol 8, no 2, (Women and Peace 1985), 19. JSTOR. (3346048).

The WPP and Nichols flexed their influential muscles again in March 1916 when several hundred Mexican guerrillas under the command of Francisco “Pancho” Villa crossed the US-Mexican border and attacked the small border town of Columbus, New Mexico. It was unclear whether Villa personally participated in the attack, but President Woodrow Wilson ordered the U.S. Army into Mexico to capture the rebel leader dead or alive.  The WPP responded by

Copy of "What the Woman's Peace Party Thinks About the Mexican Crisis"
“What the Woman’s Peace Party Thinks About the Mexican Crisis” Image courtesy of Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

writing to President Wilson an address entitled “What the Woman’s Peace Party Thinks about the Mexican Crisis” that reprimanded Wilson for sending US troops 200 miles past the US-Mexico border after Pancho Villa disappeared. The WPP demanded President Wilson consent to mediation, withdraw the troops, and ask that Congress endorse President Wilson’s Mobile address that the US would never again take any land by conquest.6)Memo to WPP members, WPP Massachusetts Collection, SCPC.

Not long after the Mexican crisis, Nichols began shifting her efforts away from the local WPP and more on the international anti-war efforts after the United States entered the war in December 1917. Nichols began traveling more to Philadelphia and Washington, DC to meet with women who had been present at the first International Congress of Women that met in The Hague in 1915. In early November 1918, Lucia Ames Mead, chairman of the Massachusetts WPP, sent a letter to Jane Addams recommending

Excerpts from Mead to Addams recommending Nichols to WILPF.
Excerpts from Mead to Addams recommending Nichols to WILPF. Images courtesy of Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

Nichols to the Zurich Congress: “As there is a vacancy, I want to propose Miss Rose Nichols of 55 Mt. Vernon St who is a very able woman whom Mrs. Andres and I think would be an acquisition. She is well-posted and is one of only a few with which [Wilson] is associated.”7)Letter, Lucia Ames Mead to Jane Addams, November 1918, WILPF Collection, SCPC. Nichols, a longtime acquaintance of Addams,  was accepted in 1918 as a delegate for the International Congress held in Zurich in 1919.

In 1919, Nichols went to the Paris Peace Conference before the Zurich Congress and sat in on all the public meetings after President Wilson refused to appoint a woman to the Peace Delegation. Wilson had written her to on 1 May that it would be impossible for him to secure her a spot in the plenary session as she

requested.8)Letter, President Wilson to Rose Nichols. The Nichols House Museum and Archive.  Nichols wanted to use the connection she made in the Cornish Colony with the President to attempt to exert political influence as the terms of peace were being negotiated.  

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) officially declared itself an international women’s peace organization at the Zurich congress in opposition to the Treaty of Versailles set forth by Great Britain and the United States.  The women argued the treaty would only lead to more war and they became disillusioned with world leaders statements about their ability to keep the peace. But in the hopes of preventing another conflict, the women of WILPF remained determined to raise their collective voices as women for international peace.

US Delegation to the Zurich Congress in 1919, featuring Rose Nichols in back row.
The US delegation to the Zurich Congress. Rose Nichols is standing in the back row, first person on the left side. Image courtesy of Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

In WILPF Nichols continued organizing women as she did for the WPP.  By 1920, Nichols was the chairman of both the Oriental Relations Committee and the Pan-American Relations Committee.9)WILPF Meeting Minutes, 1920. SCPC.  In 1921, the women of WILPF gathered together in Vienna, Austria for the bi-annual international congress and Nichols was in attendance as the head of the Pan American Committee.  WILPF’s membership was growing in great strides in the lead-up to the Vienna Congress, due in part to Nichols’ recruitment efforts.  Emily Green Balch noted that Nichols was “doing pretty well in Japan and Mexico” and was particularly pleased that Nichols had secured at least three Japanese students and two Chinese women to attend. 10)Letter, Balch to Addams, Jane Addams Collection, SCPC.

By 1926, Nichols active involvement in WILPF had begun to taper off.  Although she was still a member until her death, her days of organizing had ended. Rose had turned fifty-four and wrote to her sister Margaret that she no longer had the vigor to continue.120 She remained a voting member until her death in 1960.

To learn more about the extraordinary life of Rose Standish Nichols, visit the Nichols House Museum.

Corinne Zaczek Bermon is earning her M.A. in History with a specialization in Archives. She earned a B.A. in American Studies in 2009 and a M.A. in American Studies in 2015 from University of Massachusetts Boston. This series of articles on Rose Standish Nichols represents her award winning research in American Studies. Currently, her work explores the social history of the Otis Everett family living in the South End of Boston in the 1850s. She is designing a digital exhibit that explores Victorian life for the merchant class conducting business in Boston and abroad through the Everett letters.

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References   [ + ]

1. Letter, Rose Nichols to Elizabeth Homer Nichols, 1911. The Schlesinger Library.
2. Judith Tankard, A Place of Beauty: The Artists and Gardens of the Cornish Colony (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2000), 16.
3. Ibid, 34.
4. Letter, Nichols to Elizabeth Glendower Evans, 1915, SCPC.
5. Linda Schott, “The Woman’s Peace Party and The Moral Basis for Women’s Pacifism” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol 8, no 2, (Women and Peace 1985), 19. JSTOR. (3346048).
6. Memo to WPP members, WPP Massachusetts Collection, SCPC.
7. Letter, Lucia Ames Mead to Jane Addams, November 1918, WILPF Collection, SCPC.
8. Letter, President Wilson to Rose Nichols. The Nichols House Museum and Archive.
9. WILPF Meeting Minutes, 1920. SCPC.
10. Letter, Balch to Addams, Jane Addams Collection, SCPC.

Women of the Past & Present Shaping the Future

by Monica Haberny

In January 2017, half a million people showed up for the Women’s March in Washington DC and over four million people participated in their own marches throughout the country to raise awareness for women’s rights. During my internship at the Boston City Archives in Fall 2016, I came across many female activists who worked tirelessly for change in the past two centuries. The following three women represent just a fraction of the inspiring women whose successes and failures can motivate activists fighting for similar issues today.

Florida Ruffin. ca.1890. Wikimedia Commons.
Florida Ruffin. ca.1890. Wikimedia Commons.

Suffragist, journalist, and anti-lynching activist, Florida Ruffin Ridley (1861-1943) became one of the first black teachers in Boston. She came from an educated background. Her father, George Lewis Ruffin, was the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School and the first African American to be a judge in the country. Her mother, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, a suffragist and civil rights activist, published the first newspaper for African American women. Ruffin, following in her mother’s footsteps, also worked as a pioneering journalist and activist.

Florida Ruffin's Teacher Qualification Record, 1888, Teacher Qualification registers and index. Courtesy of Boston City Archives.
Florida Ruffin’s Teacher Qualification Record, 1888, Teacher Qualification registers and index. Courtesy of Boston City Archives.

Journalists provide an invaluable service, especially in a digital age where news comes from various sources and is often contested or falsely reported. Florida edited the Women’s Era, her mother’s newspaper. She wrote articles about black history and issues affecting blacks for multiple publications, including the Journal of Negro History and The Boston Globe. She, Pauline Hopkins and Dorothy West all belonged to the Saturday Evening Quill Club, an African American literary group founded in 1925. In addition to her writing career, Florida was involved in co-founding several nonprofits for African American women and was a lifelong political activist.

Application from the Housekeeper's League, January 1913. Courtesy of Boston City Archives.
Application from the Housekeeper’s League, January 1913. Courtesy of Boston City Archives.

Ridley raised awareness about race relations; her contemporary Ida Hebbard pioneered the issue of food safety in Boston. Recent documentaries like Food, Inc. and Cowspiracy have challenged people to think about where their food comes from. Hebbard became a food safety activist over a hundred years ago.

She served as president of the Housekeepers League, an all-female group. During the 1910s, the League lobbied for consumer rights, protesting the increasing prices of household foods. Hebbard led the group in protesting the price of eggs in 1912, as well as the price of potatoes and coal in 1917. Potato prices for consumers dropped from 70 cents to 35 cents a peck because of their efforts. More importantly, she advocated for the Bob Veal Bill. This bill banned the sale of calves weighing less than sixty pounds, preventing them from being slaughtered and shipped to Boston the day they were born.

In November 2016, activists like Ida Hebbard succeeded in passing Question 3 on the ballot, which banned the confinement of farm animals in small cages in Massachusetts. Like the Bob Veal Bill, Question 3 will go on to improve the health of people because it improves the lives farm animals.

Grace Lonergan with fiancee Lee Lorch in 1943.
Grace Lonergan with fiancee Lee Lorch in 1943.

Grace Lonergan Lorch, the third Boston woman featured today, championed civil rights and women’s rights in education. Before 1953, Boston Public School teachers were forced to resign before they married. Thus, in the 1880s, Florida Ruffin left her job to marry. Grace Lonergan Lorch changed that for future female teachers. In 1943, she brought a case against the Boston School Committee (BSC) in an attempt to keep her job after she married Lee Lorch. Although the BSC upheld the rule and Lorch was forced to resign when she married, the publicity surrounding the case forced the BSC to end the ban of married women public school teachers ten years later.

During his service in the military during World War II, Lee became aware of racism. During troop transports, he noted, often the black company had to clean the ship. Discrimination made Lee Lorch, a professor and mathematician, very uncomfortable and his wife shared his views. When the couple moved to New York City following the war, they worked to desegregate their home community, Stuyvesant Town apartments, which had banned black families from living in their complex.

The Lorch family being interviewed in 1949 by New York Times reporters about their work in Stuyvestant Town.
The Lorch family being interviewed in 1949 by New York Times reporters about their work in Stuyvestant Town. New York Times, 2010.

Lee led the Town and Village Committee to End Discrimination in Stuyvesant Town to try to end the ban. In 1949, the Lorch family attempted to find a loophole in the ban and invited a black family to live in their apartment as their “guests.” When their plan backfired, the couple and their daughter, Alice, moved to Pennsylvania, then Tennessee before they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1955.

The couple became very active in civil rights in their new community. Their neighbors were Daisy and L.C. Bates, founders of the Arkansas State Press and active members of the NAACP during the Little Rock Crisis. Alice Lorch became friends with many of the children in their new neighborhood. So, in September 1955, Grace wrote to the local superintendent requesting that her daughter be able to attend the local school. She hoped that Alice would not only be able to attend school with friends, but also promote integration as their neighborhood was predominately black. Although the school board denied her request, Grace continued to be involved in Little Rock’s branch of the NAACP.

The now famous image of Grace Lorch (left) comforting Elizabeth Eckford (right).
The now famous image of Grace Lorch (left) comforting Elizabeth Eckford (right).

On September 4, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, found herself alone and surrounded by a mob when she attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School.

All nine teenagers had planned to arrive at the school together with their parents, but the meeting place changed. The Eckford’s lack of a phone left Elizabeth uninformed and alone. Grace Lorch, after dropping Alice off at school, passed the high school and saw Elizabeth’s predicament. The civil rights activist fought her way through the angry crowd and helped escort the girl home. The rescue of Elizabeth placed a target on the Lorch family. Alice Lorch found herself bullied at school. Someone placed dynamite in their garage, and they were harassed by both press and the people around them. In 1959, Lee accepted a job from the University of Alberta and moved his family to Canada.

By fighting for causes that were important to them, Florida Ruffin, Ida Hebbard, and Grace Lorch shaped the future and women now continue to do so. Originally from Little Rock, journalist, activist, and speaker Liz Walker became the first African American woman to co-anchor a newscast in Boston in the 1980s. Lauren Singer challenges us to think about where our household goods come from and the environmental impact they may have. In India, Rashmi Misra fights for education in rural communities and giving young women entrepreneurial skills, and Maya Wiley works for civil rights in New York. Like Ruffin, Hebbard, and Lorch before them, these women will go on to influence the next generation of women.

Monica Haberny is currently working on her Master’s degree, specializing in Archives. She received her Bachelor’s in History from Montclair State University (2013). Currently, she is working on a digital exhibit on Kathleen Sullivan, the only woman on the Boston School Committee during the start of Boston’s public school integration, for Stark & Subtle Divisions. She has a strong interest in the history of nutrition, activism, and animal rights, and hopes to use these interests in her final capstone project.

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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.

“A Great Woman, Great Leader & Great Bostonian:” Melnea Cass

Though she was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1896, Melnea A. Cass devoted her life to making the city of Boston a better, more equitable place to live.

Melnea Cass speaking at the Boston Massacre Commemoration, March 5, 1976. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. See digitized photos from Boston City Archives here.


“She was a great person–a great woman. . . . A great leader of her community. . . and a great Bostonian.”                                                                                        ~ Mayor Kevin H. White, 1978

The Cass family moved to Boston’s South End when Cass was five years old and, three years later, when her mother died, Melnea Cass moved to Newburyport, a small suburb north of Boston, where she was raised by her aunt. After attending  a parochial high school in Virginia, Cass returned to Boston where she spent the remainder of her life striving to promote social justice and civil rights in the city.

Throughout the 1920s, when Cass was in her early twenties, she helped black women register to vote in Massachusetts. In her thirties, Cass became a community advocate and leader. She helped found the Boston chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first labor organization led by African Americans.

Because Cass was especially active in community-based activism in the South End and Roxbury, she was affectionately nicknamed the “First Lady of Roxbury.” Working alongside social workers Muriel and Otto Snowden, Cass helped establish Freedom House in 1949. The nonprofit organization began a community-based group advocating for the African American community in Roxbury. Today, Freedom House continues to improve education and relations between racial, ethnic, and religious groups in the city.

Cass championed social justice and rights of African Americans in Boston and served as a leader of several local institutions and causes including the Mayor’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Minority Housing and the Harriet Tubman House. When Cass was in her early fifties, John Collins, then Mayor of Boston, appointed her to the Action for Boston Community Development, making her its only female charter member. She served as the Boston president of the NAACP from 1962 until 1964, and in the mid-1970s she was appointed chairperson for the Massachusetts Advisory Committee.

Melnea Cass receiving an honorary doctorate from Northeastern University in 1969. Image courtesy of Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.

In 1969, when she was 72 years of age, Northeastern University awarded Cass an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, in recognition for her community-based activism.

Melnea Cass played an active role in community leadership until the end of her life. When she died in December 1978, Boston’s mayor, Kevin H. White, wrote a poignant eulogy that highlighted her tireless, life-long devotion to social justice and healing “the rift between the races and provide for a better life for black Americans.” He noted, “her life was so connected with the life of this city… it is difficult to imagine Boston without her.”

Eulogy for Melnea A. Cass, written by Mayor Kevin White, December, 1978. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives.
Eulogy for Melnea A. Cass, written by Mayor Kevin White, December, 1978. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives.

Interested in learning more about Cass and her work? Check out local archives! Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections houses the Melnea A. Cass papers. The collection contains biographical information and awards, and photographs documenting her work with community improvement and civil rights organizations. Northeastern University also houses the Freedom House Photographs, which are digitized, as well as the Freedom House, Inc. records.

Boston City Archives also holds records related to Melnea Cass’s life and work. In fall 2016, graduate student Monica Haberny completed an internship at Boston City Archives where she discovered  materials about Cass in the “Boston 200” collection and Mayor Kevin H. White records. The latter have recently been digitized and are available online. Check out the fully searchable, newly digitized collections at Boston City Archives.

Cass’s legacy lives on in Boston; in Roxbury, Melnea Cass Boulevard was named in her honor and she is commemorated on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.


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Students in Archives Awarded for Work

Congratulations to Connor Anderson and Corinne Bermon, the inaugural recipients of the Maureen Melton Endowed Scholarship for the Archives Program in History at UMass Boston!

The newly endowed scholarship was created to support students pursuing a Master of Arts degree in History, specializing in Archives. The benefactor, Maureen Melton, is the Susan Morse Hilles Director of Libraries and Archives and Museum Historian at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A UMass Boston alumna, Melton earned a BA in Political Science (’85) and an MA in History with a specialization in Archives (’90). She studied and trained under Professor Jim O’Toole, former Director of UMass Boston’s Archives Program and current Charles I. Clough Millennium Chair in History at Boston College.

Maureen Melton, Invitation to Art: A History of the MFA, Boston (2009).
Maureen Melton, Invitation to Art: A History of the MFA, Boston (2009).

In addition to curating exhibits such as “Preserving History, Making History: The MFA, Boston” (2008), Melton authored Art Spaces, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2001), an architectural history, and Invitation to Art: A History of the MFA, Boston (2009). Like Melton, both Connor Anderson and Corinne Bermon are diligent, thoughtful, and committed. Each has demonstrated passion for archives and regularly volunteered their time to help local organizations. Both continue to do volunteer processing and outreach work for various causes and are dedicated to promoting the profession.

 Anderson, now in his final semester as a graduate student in the Archives Track of the History program at the UMass Boston, hails from Duxbury, MA. In May of 2015, Connor graduated with a B.A. in History from Assumption College in Worcester, MA. While at Assumption, he produced a video in collaboration with Preservation Worcester about the historic significance of the Central Building; an endangered building located in Downtown Worcester.

Connor Anderson at Boston City Archives, 2016.
Connor Anderson working at Boston City Archives, 2016.

Anderson has completed internships at the Boston Branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the U.S. Presidential Museum in Worcester, MA, the Boston City Archives, and currently interns at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in the audiovisual archives. In addition, he volunteered at the New England Historic Genealogical Society where he transcribed written documents from the 19th century for digitization on their website. His combined passion for digital archives and history is evident in his recent blog post about his internship experience at the Boston City Archives and his digital project “Back to Square One: The Racial Imbalance Act.”

Connor Anderson (right) with fellow grad student, Ashlie Duarte-Smith, in the staging area of the MacDougall Collection of Popular Culture Materials.
Connor Anderson (right) with fellow grad student, Ashlie Duarte-Smith, in the staging area of the MacDougall Collection of Popular Culture Materials.

In his final year at UMass Boston, Anderson was awarded a graduate assistantship. He now serves as the president of the History Graduate Student Association and is working on his Capstone Project, processing and producing a finding aid for the MacDougall Collection of Popular Culture Materials, a project of the Center for Humanities and Cultural Studies at UMass-Boston. Anderson expects to graduate with his MA in History, with a concentration in Archives, in May 2017.

Corinne Bermon and Paul Bachand at UMass Boston commencement, 2015.
Corinne Bermon and Paul Bachand at UMass Boston commencement, 2015.

Like Melton, Corinne Bermon earned a BA from UMass Boston (2009) and, after earning an MA in American Studies from UMass Boston (2015), she returned for graduate studies in history and archives. Her fascination with Progressive Era women’s social activism led her to write a thesis for (her degree in American Studies) that explored Rose Standish Nichols’ work in Boston and transnationally for the women’s peace movement of the early 20th century. For her extensive thesis research, Bermon was awarded the 2015 American Studies Book Prize. While writing her thesis, she enrolled in an archives class and developed a passion for archival work. Her work on a co-designed digital project, “Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO): Solving Racial Imbalance in Boston Public Schools,” led to a temporary position at the Northeastern University Archives. In 2016, earning an MA in History, specializing in Archives, she was awarded a graduate assistantship. While completing her coursework, she currently works in the University Archives and Special Collections at UMass Boston and interns at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Corinne Bermon working at the National Park Services archives in Boston.
Corinne Bermon working at the National Park Services archives in Boston.

Recently, Bermon completed an internship in archives with the National Park Service while volunteering at the South End Historical Society. Based on that experience, she is working on a capstone project that explores the lives and work of the Everetts, a middle class family who lived in the South End during the 1850s. Examining extensive correspondence between parents living in the South End with their son, who lived and worked in Calcutta, India, her project promises to provide new perspective into the development of Boston’s South End as well as the social dynamics of the family.  Bermon expects to graduate with an MA in History, with a concentration in Archives, in 2017.

Maureen Melton’s generosity in creating this scholarship dedicated to supporting archival studies makes it possible to reward these students for their commitment and hard work. Congratulations, Connor and Corinne!



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Books & Maps & Photos, Oh My! An Afternoon at the NEDCC

Amanda Maloney showing a a rare megalethoscope print and discussing the preservation process.
Graduate students in the Archives program learning about megalethoscopes from Amanda Maloney, Associate Photograph and Paper Conservator, at NEDCC (left).

By: Corinne Zaczek Bermon

Recently, graduate students in “Archival Methods and Practices,” a history course taught by professor Marilyn Morgan, entered the exciting world of conservation and preservation at the New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). Located in Andover, MA, the NEDCC, the premier center for conservation, provides treatment for rare books, oversized maps, photographs, historic documents, scrapbooks, illuminated manuscripts, audio recordings, movings images, and other rarer formats. Working with archival repositories, museums, and individuals, NEDCC aims to preserve records in their original format. They save tangible pieces of history.

Upon our arrival, Julie Martin, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, and Eva Grizzard, Preservation Specialist, provided a warm and informative introduction to the NEDCC and led us to the impressive main work laboratory. The vast room held several enormous tables at which conservators painstakingly attended to various projects.

Main work room at the NEDCC.

While the conservators concentrated on their work, Michael Lee, the Director of Paper and Photograph Conservation, discussed the processes involved in paper conservation and explained the vital importance that advanced knowledge of chemistry and manual dexterity play in conservation work. He expertly described one process that used water baths to refresh the cellulose of delicate paper advertisements.

Michael Lee explaining paper conservation.
Director of Paper and Photograph Conservation Michael Lee (left) explains that paper conservation requires advanced knowledge of chemistry and manual dexterity to Lauren Prescott, Paige Kinder, Rebecca Carpenter, Laura Kintz, Connor Anderson, Corinne Bermon, Patty Bruttomesso, and Dorothy Clark.

Mary Patrick Bogan, Director of Book Conservation, displayed books, scrapbooks, and illuminated manuscripts in various states of deterioration. She described some treatments in book conservation including stabilizing the bindings, boards, and spines of books.

Mary Patrick Bogan explains how to treat an early 20th century scrapbook to Maryrose Grossman, Connor Anderson, Lauren Prescott, Laura Kintz, and Paige Kinder.

As she highlighted the difference between conservation and restoration, she explained that, as a conservationist, her primary goal entailed preserving the books to prevent further damage.

Amanda Maloney, Associate Photograph and Paper Conservator, discussed the conservation of megalethoscope prints, a rare style of photography invented by Carlo Ponti between 1861 and 1862. Megalethoscopes used special translucent albumen photographs that were colored, pierced, and backlit from an internal source to create dramatic effects. Maloney demonstrated how she preserved the albumen prints and their support structures.

In NEDCC’s digital imaging area, Terrance D’Ambrosio, Director of Imaging Services, and David Joyall, Senior Photographer, demonstrated the significance of digital photography in preserving oversized items. Using stationary overhead digital cameras enabled them to photograph pieces of extensive works, such as the wall-sized historic map below. They then virtually stitched together the digital images to recreate a readable map online.

Terrance D’Ambrosia (left) and David Joyall demonstrate to Corinne Bermon and Dorothy Clark how digital photography can be used to preserve oversized items such as this extensive map.

Lastly, Julie Martin introduced a fascinating machine: IRENE (Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.) that operates within NEDCC’s audio preservation center. Physicist Carl Haber won the MacArthur Genius Award for inventing this process in which cameras photograph the grooves in fragile or decayed sound recordings. Then, using software that knits those digital images together, the IRENE creates an unblemished image file and reconstructs the sound recording by converting the images into an audio file.

Julie Martin, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, explains the functioning of IRENE.

Haber’s IRENE is revolutionizing audio preservation. Sound recordings on older formats, such as wax cylinders or lacquer discs, are too delicate to be played back with traditional equipment. Without the non-invasion method of preservation that IRENE provides, unique voices, such as Alexander Graham Bell, and early obscure recordings of artists, like Woody Guthrie, would be lost forever. You can read more about NEDCC’s work with IRENE on their blog or listen to some digitized recordings NPR.

Maryrose Grossman, Patty Brutomesso, Corinne Bermon, Lauren Prescott, Laura Kintz, Connor Anderson, Paige Kinder, Marilyn Morgan (professor), Dorothy Clark, and Rebecca Carpenter at NEDCC.

Our archives class walked away from the NEDCC fascinated by the different facets of preservation work and intrigued by the use of modern science to preserve our history.

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