Category Archives: Public History Student

“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.

Reference

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

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Is It Mine To Tell?: Protecting Privacy in Public History Practice

By Ashlie Duarte-Smith

My first instinct as a public historian is to interpret and translate historical facts into a language that anyone can access–to carve out a navigable path for public consumption. Those instincts were tested when I accepted an internship for the National Park Service at the Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaiʻi. Privacy laws concerning Kalaupapa prevented me from knowing what my subject matter would be, so all I knew was that I wanted to create a short film. However, I found myself in an interesting predicament that forced me to reflect deeply on my professional responsibilities as an historian, and my personal responsibilities to any subject matter I may have. I thought, what gives me the right, as a historian, to make public any select portion of history? In my case, a dear family that I came to love as my own? I was in search of a project to propel myself forward, and yet it includes this family’s pain, joy, and trials? What do I need to know and prepare myself for in order to take on the responsibility of an oral history?

Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The town of Kalaupapa is located on the island of Molokaʻi in Hawaiʻi, and is a former “leprosy colony.” Thousands of residents of Hawaiʻi were forcibly exiled there from the years 1866 to 1969 when they were found to be “guilty” of having leprosy, today known as Hansen’s Disease. Originally an act under the Hawaiian Kingdom, the law continued into the 20th century, extending ten years after American statehood. The town is now a national park where the remainder of patients can live out the rest of their lives in peace, or leave if they wish. To protect the safety and dignity of its residents,

Pali or cliff faces above Kalaupapa, Molokaʻi.

Kalaupapa is off-limits to the uninvited, and receives a cap of 100 people per day, both tourist and visitor alike. The only way to get there is by prop plane, or a two-hour hike up and down a steep trail along a sheer cliff face–making it one of the most beautiful but isolated places in the world.

As a colony, Kalaupapa was meant to separate those who were suffering from Hansen’s Disease from the general population. The disease is actually a degenerative bacteria that dissolves the joints and breaks down the human body leaving sufferers, if untreated, deformed and dying. Thousands of families were torn apart over the years for the safety of the many. Even when a cure was determined in the 1941, the patients remained legally incarcerated until 1969. It was not until the National Park Service was invited to care for the town, the land, and its history in 1981, that those who wanted to preserve the patients stories were permitted to go and do their best.

During my internship, I became fast friends with a wonderful young woman who had also become an intern in the park. She shared stories about her life and memories of Kalaupapa, expressing her deeply rooted genealogy to the town and its people. Not only did she allow me to listen, but she also offered me the privilege to record her family’s history for my project. Their individual stories are long, multifaceted, and so complex that it gave me pause. Who was this history for? If it was only for my sake, and doing nothing for the greater good, then is it even my business to hear? To know? I am a child of Hawaiʻi, born and raised on the island of Oʻahu.

Duarte-Smith in Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Growing up there, I have come to realize that we are very protective of our history because it is often misrepresented or exploited. Even though I had never been to the island of Molokaʻi before this internship, I still hold a kinship with the people there. I was terrified when I decided to apply for a position there, because sadly there is still a stigma attached to Kalaupapa. There is a misguided fear of a disease that not many in my generation can really understand. But for my mother and grandmother’s respective generations, Kalaupapa was very real and very scary place. Certainly not a place for a child to know about when she faced no danger to go there herself. So, as an adult, and as the potential historian for a part of this history, I was scared, and continue to be uneasy about sharing what I am entrusted with.

Toward the end of my time in Kalaupapa, I became very protective of its people. I befriended many of the kōkua, the non-patients that help to run the town, and the patients themselves. I worked in their repository and archives where I witnessed through objects and documents the inhuman moments these people experienced. I also handled some of the physical artifacts that those events left behind. The enormity of my responsibility to these people–to my friends–struck me. I am now personally involved. I have a personal stake in the decision I make regarding my finished project, what I do with it, and to whom I reveal it. These are not just people I casually scheduled an interview with; they became my family. I ate meals and laughed with them. I cried and held them in my arms. Those actions seem so innocuous, but they are overloaded with meaning, especially for those whose touch was actually scorned for the majority of their lives. I want to protect them, but then I remembered that my subject encouraged me to do it, she trusted me, and most of all, everyone involved gave me their blessing.

Duarte-Smith (left) with Jessica “Kanani” Sanchez and Ivy Kahilihiwa.

Anything that I choose to do or to write about with this information is an invasion of my subjects’ privacy no matter what. I have to consider that; it is important. No matter how well meaning my intent, or how open my subjects are, I am entering a sacred place in someone’s life that was never intended for public knowledge. Before conducting my interview, I was terrified of messing it up. But my subjects told me that they were happy I was so visibly shaken. My confusion must have been easy to read because they all explained that my fear was good, it would keep me humble and respectful. There is a fine line between public and private history in this project, a line that is present in all aspects of historical practice. I think that as historians whose main focus is the education of the public, it is critical that we are conscious of that line and how we navigate it. We must remember that any history we partake of is an honor to record, and a privilege to share.

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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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