Of special and timely interest in November’s New Collections are photographs from an exhibit, A Seat at the Table, held in 2019 at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. This colorful and compelling exhibit was inspired by the pioneering firebrand Shirley Chisholm’s call for greater involvement of women, people of color and other activists in policy decision making. “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Indeed, Shirley’s chair is a bright yellow folding chair. Conceptual artists created chairs to represent other voices, some from current times such as Congresswomen Ayanna Presley and Deb Haaland, and actress Yara Shahidi. Others depict heroes of the past like abolitionist Lucy Stone, and labor organizer Cesar Chavez. See all 24 images here.
Ellen F. O’Connor was an art teacher in the Boston Public Schools system, teaching at the Prince School and later West Roxbury High School. In addition to her work as an educator, she was a passionate participant in the cultural life of Boston. She was a gifted singer, a soloist at the Mission Church and a member of the Handel and Haydn Society, and also gave an annual lecture on Irish art at the Boston Public Library. An avid world traveler throughout her life, she took advantage of a progressive Boston Public Schools policy to take two sabbatical years to travel and to study and to learn about other cultures. Her personal enrichment served to inspire her many students during the course of her long career.
This collection includes small, medium, and large format negatives taken by Boston press photographers dating from the 1920s through the early 1970s. It was amassed by photojournalist Dennis Brearley during the course of his career as a working photographer. From 1978 to 2012, Mr. Brearley and his wife Susan ran a photo gallery in Faneuil Hall selling prints from his photographs and the work of other press photographers in his collection. In 2013, Hunt Auctions began the process of selling the collection in lots. The Ten Pounds Collection, as it is affectionately dubbed, was purchased at auction by John Booras, a local Boston collector and amateur historian. The nickname of the collection is derived from the lot description, which consisted of the remainders of the original collection that were not deemed marketable; the lot was described and sold by weight rather than content.
The Tichnor Brothers Collection contains approximately 25,000 office proofs of postcards of the United States published by the Boston firm Tichnor Brothers Inc. These are color postcards with a linen texture dated ca. 1930-1945. The concentration is on American vacation places.
Alfred W. Cutting (1860-1935), although born and educated in Boston, had a deep connection to Wayland. Five generations of Cuttings had lived in Wayland since the arrival of his great-great-great-grandfather in 1713. His father, Charles Cutting, owned considerable property along Old Sudbury Road and the family was often there despite the fact that both Alfred and his father worked in Boston (Charles as a stationer and Alfred as a bank teller). Alfred got to know many people in his neighborhood of Old Sudbury Road and Glezen Lane and frequented the home of his childhood idol, Lydia Maria Child — the noted abolitionist and author — and her husband David Lee Child. Later he and his sister, Marcia, lived in her former home.
Cutting’s contributions to Wayland are lasting. He served as Wayland’s unofficial historian in the early 20th century, giving speeches and writing pamphlets on its past. For many years he served as a trustee of the Wayland Public Library and was active in the First Parish Church. In 1905, he founded the Society of Wayland Arts and Crafts.
The holiday season was celebrated at Digital Commonwealth by adding some interesting collections. Our biggest contributors, Boston Public Library and the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, of course, did their bit. But let’s highlight our other two contributors.
The Jamaica Plain Historical Society performed a good deed for all Bostonians by sponsoring the digitization of the Doyle’s Café memorabilia. When that 137-year-old institution closed in October 2019, many of the pub’s decorations and ephemera were auctioned off. JPHS made sure a record was made before they all disappeared into private collections. Thank you!
The Lawrence Public Library has been a frequent and welcome contributor. This month’s collection, the Phyllis Tyler Paper Doll Collection, is another set of seldom seen ephemera. If the fashions didn’t give away the fact that this set is from the 1940’s, the celebrity dolls – Betty Grable and Ava Gardner – would. Perhaps most striking is the WAFS (Women’s Air Force) pilot dolls in both military and mufti (left and right respectively). Yes, women did their bit in World War II, too.
My very first post on the Digital Commonwealth blog was an interview with Louise Sandberg of the Lawrence Public Library. She was knowledgeable, encouraging and funny. She was a perfect first interview. I’ve interviewed other members since and they have been universally enthusiastic about their collections and digitizing through DC.
It’s been an honor to be editor of this blog for three years and it is a joy to know I’m passing the editorship on to someone who loves the collections and finds our members just as fascinating as I did. (Good luck, Anne!)
You were all inspirational to me. I hope I did you some justice in these postings.
Let us give thanks for November’s new collections. And additions to existing collections. But I was most taken with two of our new collections: Boston Children’s Museum Lantern Slides and the Washington Historical Commission Collection.
Many of the lantern slides are hand-colored, giving unnaturally rosy cheeks to all captured in the image. I never knew the Children’s Museum started in Jamaica Plain, but you can see in the image at left that it was still there in 1940. Not that the museum was parochial – you’ll see Images of international exhibits on Egypt, China and Scandinavia for a few.
The Washington Historical Commission Collection is a wonderful collection of images, texts and ephemera. The Reward of Merit (Below right) is something I’ve never seen. Apparently, they were handed out by teachers to students. Who wouldn’t settle down to their studies if they were given certificates like this?
The Boston Public Library went to town in October, adding three new collections and adding new items to three existing collections, for over 1,000 items total. But Digital Commonwealth did not neglect its smaller members. Boston Latin School, Sturgis Library, Weymouth Public Libraries and Wilbraham Public Library all added from 1 to 952 items to the Digital Commonwealth universe.
This includes the image on the left. We know these five young men and two coaches were champions in 1917, but of what? No matter how much I enlarge the photo, I can’t make out the inscription. The athletes are wearing heavy wool sweaters with their shorts plus pretty gnarly socks. The only hint is the surprisingly-impressive-for-a-high-school trophy. The Roman (Greek?) god appears to be holding what looks to me like a crew oar crowned with a laurel wreath. I vote for crew champions. What do you think?
Those lazy, hazy days of August brought us some fascinating new collections. Appropriately, the Falmouth Public Library contributed over 2,000 postcards. If you’re missing the beach already, take a look. The Winsor School added close to 200 items from its Fine Arts Collection, including this Jacob Lawrence print of the school library (left).
The Brockton Public Library added 7 illustrations from the Shoe Industry in Brockton, Massachusetts. The Boston Public Library uploaded a few small collections plus over 2,000 photographs from the Richard Merrill Collection. Richard Merrill was fascinated by radio, which explains the interestingly titled photo below. Spreading New England’s Fame was a program on the old WNAC radio station in Boston.
Finally, the University of Massachusetts/Boston re-harvested over 12,000 items in 4 collections. Speaking of radio, the Lecco’s Lemma collection within the Massachusetts Hip Hop Archive is comprised of demo audio tapes for rap artists sent to the Lecco’s Lemma radio show as well as some audio tapes of the program. Not to mention the W. Arthur Garrity chambers papers on the Boston Schools Desegregation Case – always of interest to students and historians.
One of our favorite contributors, Lawrence Public Library, added to several existing collections as well as added new collections in July. One of which is the Lawrence, Mass. Before Urban Renewal Photograph Collection. Lawrence hired a photography studio to document the first area targeted for urban renewal, so we have photos like the one of Bradford Street (Right) showing what was slated for demolition.
On a happier note, the Cambridge Historical Commission added 278 items to their Cambridge Photo Morgue Collection. Sometimes the captions only add to the mystery of the photos. One of my favorites is Cambridge “Sparks” and his radio scooter. (Below left)
July also saw contributions to existing collections at the Boston Public Library, Harvard Law School Library, a major re-harvesting from Amherst College and a new collection from the South Hadley Public Library. (Below listings.) We hope all Massachusetts cultural institutions will continue to contribute new and to existing collections. It makes for a better Digital Commonwealth, which, as you can see, is already pretty amazing.
Amherst College 23 new collections re-harvested; 3,290 new items added to existing collections
Boston Public Library The Liberator (Boston, Mass. : 1831-1865) – 261 items added to existing collection
Digital Commonwealth uploaded several outstanding photograph collections in June. But it’s not all photos, there are maps from Phillips Academy in Andover and a painting from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum makes a splash with its inaugural contributions of photographs from the glass plate negatives of Frank Cousins and Herman Parker. Cousins’ larger collection began with photographic essays on Essex County, but soon expanded across the eastern seaboard of the US. Any fan of historic buildings will appreciate his elegant photos of exteriors and interiors, like the stairway inside the Governor Gore mansion (See top left.)
Parker also photographed Essex county, but focused on views from his home in Marblehead. I feel I could walk right in to the Views across Marblehead Harbor with boats (See bottom left.) at sunset photo – and I want to. What a great end to a summer day!
May is supposed to be the payoff for all those April showers. Only the showers kept coming in May. Digital Commonwealth was showered by harvested images from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (17,335 items), Boston TV New Digital Library (1,632 items) and the University of Massachusetts/Lowell (6,825 items).
Theophile Alexandre Steinlen is more than the cats for which he is most famous. But that didn’t stop me from using one of his sleeping cats to illustrate this post. (See left.) You’ll just have to go to the Boston Public Library’s Steinlen collection to see the rest.
Or go to the Malden Catholic High School class photos from 1936-2016. Everybody enjoys a good class photo, but let’s be honest. We enjoy the bad ones even more. Sorry, kids.