Unknown, “Love Protects”, American Antiquarian Society.

Valentines in the American Antiquarian Society’s Collection

There are over 230 institutions that have contributed historical materials to Digital Commonwealth’s online collections. These institutions have selected materials that they have determined would be appropriate to enhance the whole of what is available on the Digital Commonwealth website. But in many cases, the collection or collections that they have elected to share with Digital Commonwealth are only a taste of their entire holdings.

The American Antiquarian Society is a perfect example. “The AAS library today houses the largest and most accessible collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States, as well as manuscripts and a substantial collection of secondary texts, bibliographies, and digital resources and reference works related to all aspects of American history and culture before the twentieth century.” AAS selected 140 maps not duplicated in Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center collection, out of their 10,000 maps, to be made available as a Digital Commonwealth collection.

That said, “the American Antiquarian Society has a collection of over 3,000 valentines ranging in date from the 1830’s to 1900. The collection includes both manuscript and printed designs, with a strong representation of locally-produced cards made in Worcester.” AAS has created an online exhibition, “Making Valentines: A Tradition in American.”, providing an overview of their extensive collection. “Victorian Valentines: Intimacy in the Industrial Age”, a collaborative student project between AAS and the Smith College Department of Art, provides an additional opportunity to explore the collection.

Worcester was the home of two of the pioneers in the production of commercial valentine cards in the nineteenth century.

Esther Howland (1828-1904) was considered the “Mother of the Valentine.” Howland was a cousin of Emily Dickinson; she set up her business in a workroom in her family home. With the help of a number of local girls, her business thrived for 30 years, with sales of $75,000 per year.

“True Love” with Piper. Worcester:Esther Howland, ca. 1860.

Another Worcester native, George Whitney established a valentine manufacturing company that prospered from 1866 to 1942. It was considered one of the largest valentine publishers in this country, with offices in New York, Boston and Chicago.

Sentimental Lace Valentine Box Lid. George C. Whitney (mfg)

A portion of AAS’s valentine collection includes a sub-genre, the comic valentine, also known as the Vinegar Valentine. “In sharp contrast to the sweet and sentimental valentine, caricatures were often cruel and the humor venomous, expressing everything by love.” “Lyre (liar)” is an example of this kind of valentine.

Lyre (liar) Nineteenth Century Comic Valentine

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Boston lithograph firm, Louis Prang & Company, was also in the greeting card business. “Commissioning the country’s best illustrators and creating design competitions, Prang sold beautiful cards that were unmatched for years. He also created fun and interesting cards for almost every holiday of the year,” including Valentine cards.

Advertisement for Prang’s Valentine Cards Library of Congress Prints & Photographs
A Valentine. L. Prang & Co., lithographer, 1888.

On this February 14, 2024, we wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Barbara Schneider, Member, Digital Commonwealth Outreach Committee

All Images courtesy American Antiquarian Society, unless otherwise noted.

Pakachoag: Where the River Bends documents the history of Pakachoag Hill in current day Worcester

By Maureen Mann
Maureen Mann is a Digital Commonwealth Board Member,
Digital Humanities Librarian and Civics Education Consultant

Until legislators and school districts officially decide whether Massachusetts students will recognize Indigenous People’s Day, Columbus Day, or both, educators choosing either cultural celebration do so at the risk of community push-back.

Studying the land, however, offers a peaceful curriculum alternative, not to mention a solid fit with Massachusetts social studies standards and the “Changing Landscapes” theme from the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap, a federally funded guide to civics inquiry released in 2021.

Digital Commonwealth explored land histories in a recent virtual event “From Land Acknowledgement to Land Partnership: the making of Pakachoag: Where the River Bends.”

The College of the Holy Cross funded a partnership of land researchers, media educators, and students to create a 45 minute documentary which tells the story of the land beneath their campus. The film is clear, well-researched, and suitable for young audiences.

It “makes a meaningful resource for our community,” says Professor Sarah Luria, film director and English and Environmental studies professor at Holy Cross. “The fact is every community has the potential to tell a story that is land-centered.” Professor Luria believes connecting with “trustworthy” experts in the community is an important first step to telling successful land histories.

Two of her trustworthy partners were Director of the Greater Worcester Land Trust, Colin Novick and Thomas Doughton of Nipmuc heritage and Senior Lecturer at Holy Cross Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. Both appear in the film walking historical sites side by side while sharing their specialized research which blends beautifully into a fuller history of Pakachoag Village and people of Nipmuc heritage living in central Massachusetts.

“One of the ideas we are working with as we went through this whole project is the notion of erasure . . . which is this notion that magically all of the folks who previously lived here, disappeared one day,” says Novick, “in many cases part of that erasure is building over landscapes that actually are historically or culturally significant.”

As a result of the 2020 film, the Greater Worcester Land Trust and the Quinsigamond Band of Nipmuc, an organization including those of Nipmuc heritage and supporters, partnered in application for a conservation partnership grant from the State of Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Division of Conservation Services to save one of the last parcels of Pakachoag Hill, the source of drinking water for the native community known as Pakachoag Spring.

Educators might not be in a place to guide students to create a film or a new legal land agreement, but there are several digital resources to help educators connect students to their place in the world.

The Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition website provides a map of all land trusts in the state. This resource gathers experts, runs virtual programs and sends a monthly newsletter with the latest on land conservation and preservation.

The Community Preservation Act (CPA) is a state program designed to help encourage open space, historical preservation, affordable housing, and outdoor recreation. Cities and towns “adopt” the program through town meeting approval which translates into a ballot question at the next town election. Their GIS map shows which towns have adopted this smart growth program passed in 2000. Students will be curious to learn where their town stands in the adoption process.

This Application Programming Interface (API) project created by Victor Temprano documents original native homelands of tribal communities around the world. The resource provides an opportunity for Humanities and Technology educators to partner in explaining API code and data contribution.

As more resources present themselves over time, land histories will improve. Colin Novick made a direct plea to the event’s audience of cultural archivists.

“There is a lot of really great material that is currently hidden to the rest of the world which is in the private collections of individual towns. . . . The documents that you have, the books that you have that aren’t digitized usually have wonderful resources that [will provide] the rest of us a great expanded consciousness if we could eventually get that stuff shared out there.”

The Digital Commonwealth no-cost digitization program provides important support to bring those resources to the greater community. The Boston Public Library is the worksite for digitization and the process begins with a simple Digitization Request Form.

“There are no size limitations,” says Jake Sadow, Statewide Digitization Project Archivist, when it comes to map digitization capabilities, “they should be unrolled and flattened for a few weeks before they come. We can handle pretty much anything.”

Curriculum coordinators can advocate for partnerships for land histories within their community by encouraging local historical societies and libraries to digitize materials, perhaps even offering a civics credit for students helping to ready materials for digitization.

From 1901 to 1987, the MBTA’s elevated Orange Line ran between Chinatown, the South End, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. In 1985, with the demolition of the elevated line looming near, pairs of professional and student photographers set out to document the interconnected people and places that existed along the Orange Line. Over the course of the two-year project, they created a collection of hundreds of photographs that documented the Orange Line’s neighborhoods using different visual and conceptual styles while building an invaluable historical archive of a city in transition. 

The project’s impetus began in the 1980s when a proposal to build a federal highway running between Boston’s South and West neighborhoods was met with staunch opposition from the inhabitants of these neighborhoods. The grassroots movement to stop the construction of the highway was successful, but the planned demolition of the elevated portion of the Orange Line to make room for the highway continued. 

In anticipation of a change that would geographically and socially shift the lives of Bostonians living and traveling along the Orange Line, a new non-profit organization set out to create a time capsule for the MBTA. The project was organized by UrbanArts, whose mission is to implement public art and unify artists in Boston’s underserved communities. 

The resulting photographs range from still and lively, architectural to organic, and personal to removed. Despite their diversity, many of the images pay close attention to often-ignored aspects of life along the Orange Line, noting the drama in the details. A black-and-white photograph taken from a moving, elevated train catches pedestrians as they walk below on Washington Street in Roxbury (above, top left). A street-level image taken directly below the elevated line shows newer means of travel carrying on below the sturdy foundations of the Orange Line (above, bottom right). These photographs juxtapose the old and the new, as modern vehicles and commuters move alongside train tracks built in the early 1900s. 

Other images focus on local residents who live along the Orange Line. In Along the El, documentary photographer John Leuders-Booth centers five young Bostonians as the subject of his portrait (above, top right), their stillness at odds with the activity one expects of children. In a more vibrant and lively scene, Lou Jones captures a split-second moment as three girls jump-rope in the streets of Chinatown (above, bottom left). By including portraits of children in the project, Leuders-Booth, Jones, and other photographers affirm the role young people play in the life and livelihood of the Orange Line and the neighborhoods it connects. 

As much artistic experiment as time capsule, Along the Elevated: Photographs of the Orange Line presents this urban transportation system through different aesthetic and conceptual lenses. The project demonstrates how the Orange Line’s elevated tracks and trains connect the myriad lived experiences of residents and commuters alike. Today, the collection serves a visual record of Boston’s transportation system at a point of change, making it a resource for educators, researchers, and anyone curious about the city’s history.

-Jeanne Bedard, Wheaton College (Norton, MA), Class of 2022


Phalen, Margaret under the supervision of Eve Griffin. 2014. Finding Aid for UrbanArts, Inc. Records, 1970-2014. Boston Public Library: http://archon.bpl.org/?p=collections/findingaid&id=92&q=&rootcontentid=46904

Along the Elevated: Photographs of the Orange Line. Digital Commonwealth: https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/collections/commonwealth:mp48vj12x

By Andrew Begley

Archives Specialist, National Archives at Boston; Co-Chair, Digital Commonwealth Outreach and Education Committee

Over the last five to ten years, a number of archives and libraries in the Boston area have digitized rich collections of materials related to school desegregation and busing in the city of Boston. Collections at the Boston City Archives, UMass Boston, Northeastern University, Suffolk University, Boston College, and the Massachusetts State Library contextualize Boston’s 1970’s busing crisis and provide insight into the roles played by community organizations and local, state, and federal agencies. Northeastern University, which was instrumental in coordinating these digitization initiatives, provides a great entry point for exploring these records on its Beyond Busing: Boston School Desegregation Archival Resources site.

Until recently, one major collection that was not available digitally was the U.S. District Court case file for Morgan v. Hennigan. Held at the National Archives at Boston, this collection consists of 54 cubic feet of documents filed in the class action lawsuit brought in 1972 by the parents of African American children in Boston, alleging that the Boston School Committee violated the 14th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution by a deliberate policy of racial segregation in the Boston Public Schools.

Several years ago, National Archives staff reached out to Digital Commonwealth about utilizing its member digitization services to tackle the digitization of the Morgan v. Hennigan case file. While Digital Commonwealth was enthusiastic about the project, the sheer size of the collection posed some additional challenges. Harvard Library Imaging Services agreed to partner with Digital Commonwealth and the National Archives on the project, offering their new high-speed document scanning services to quickly and safely handle the digitization of the physical records. The result of the project would make the digitized records available through Digital Commonwealth, Harvard Library’s online collection, and the National Archives online catalog.

As with any large-scale digitization project, there were many steps in ensuring the successful completion of the project. Staff and volunteers at the National Archives worked on document prep and metadata creation. Security protocols were established to ensure the safe transportation and storage of the records offsite (after a few trips transporting records to Widener Library, I can now say that I’ve parked my car in Harvard Yard). Staff at Harvard Imaging Services created scanning workflows for the project, seamlessly combining high volume digitization on their conveyer belt style scanner with separate workflows for oversized and bound materials. Once scanning was complete, Harvard staff worked with the Boston Public Library and Digital Commonwealth on harvesting metadata and making the records available through the Digital Commonwealth site.

The digitized images went live on the Digital Commonwealth site earlier this month (they can be viewed here), and I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone that made this collaboration possible: Alfie Paul, Denise Henderson and the staff and volunteers at the National Archives in Waltham; Bill Comstock and everyone at Harvard Library Imaging Services; and Tom Blake and the metadata staff at the Boston Public Library. The Morgan v. Hennigan case file should complement and provide further context for the records on busing and desegregation digitized by other institutions throughout the Boston area, and hopefully this project will serve as a model for additional collaborative digitization projects in the future.

 Richard Schwarz Toy Emporium, 497 & 499 Washington Street, Boston, Mass.
Richard Schwarz Toy Emporium, 497 & 499 Washington Street, Boston, Mass. from Historic New England

Of the many holidays we celebrate at this time of year, Christmas is certainly the best marketed.  Chances are, whether you decry this or embrace it, you can’t escape it.  The images in this post are for the Richard Schwarz Toy Emporium.  First of all, we need more toy emporiums.  (Emporia?)  Who wants to go to a toy store when they could go to an emporium?

If the Schwarz name calls to mind an even more famous toy retailer, you are not mistaken.  Four German immigrant brothers came to America and started their own businesses, all importing and selling toys: Henry in Baltimore, G.A. in Philadelphia, Richard in Boston and F.A.O. in New York City.

Richard’s emporium was located at 484 and 486 Washington Street in Boston in 1895 when Moses King described it as follows:

Among the most fascinating of the stores on Washington St. is the great toy emporium of Richard Schwarz, at 484 and 486, by far the largest concern of its kind in the city.  Everything desirable in imported or domestic toys, games and fancy goods, from the tiniest to the biggest from the lowest-priced to the most costly, is shown here in endless variety. (King’s how to see Boston; a trustworthy guide book ..Boston: Moses King, 1895.)

The adjacent trade cards have the emporium located at 497 and 499 Washington St.  I’m not sure if Schwarz moved or if the street was renumbered, a not unheard of practice in 19th century Boston.  Another 19th century difference to note is that Santa has fewer reindeer pulling his sleigh (more like a sled on one card).  Santa also is dropping packages down the chimney (See left.) while staying on the roof himself, a much more practical approach if you ask me – especially if you’re wearing a black hoodie and carrying a whip like the Santa below.

Richard Schwarz, toy emporium, 497 & 499 Washington Street, Boston, Mass.
Richard Schwarz, toy emporium, 497 & 499 Washington Street, Boston, Mass. from Historic New England

May this holiday season find you and those you love in good health, good spirits and experiencing great joy.


Blizzard of 1978
Blizzard of 1978 from Newton Free Library

Main St. after the blizzard of 1888
Main St. after the blizzard of 1888 from Lee Library Historical Collection

Every year there is a first substantial snow of the year.  As I type this, snow has just started falling in Boston.  Over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, the prediction has gone from “up to 12 inches” to 6-12″, to 4-6″ to “wintry mix”.  I have no idea how much snow we’ll get in the end.  It definitely will make a difference if you’re in the Berkshires, Greater Worcester or south of the Pike.

Two things I do know: media forecasters will talk as if this is a never-seen-before event in Massachusetts and drivers across the state will drive like they’ve never seen snow before.  Come on, people.  We have snow every year.  Some storms are historic, like the Blizzard of ’78 or the Blizzard of ’88.  This time, though, the timing is everything.  The Blizzard of ’78 occurred in February, in 1888 it was March.

This time it’s Thanksgiving weekend.  One of the busiest travel days of the year.  No matter how much snow we get, it couldn’t come at a worse time.  So be smart, slow down, be careful and be safe.

Old-fashioned snow blizzard, Boston. Coldest snow blizzard at its height on Tremont St.
Old-fashioned snow blizzard, Boston. Coldest snow blizzard at its height on Tremont St. from Boston Public Library’s Leslie Jones Collection

Boston City Council meeting recording, April 15, 2015
Boston City Council meeting recording, April 15, 2015 from City of Boston Archives

We have no newly-added collections this month (the dreaded technical difficulty prevented this), but we do have formats that you may not have checked out yet.  Go to the Explore tab on the Digital Commonwealth home page and select Formats. These are arranged by the numbers, so Photographs are at the top of the list followed by Letters/correspondence and then Documents.

But scroll down and you soon come to Film/video.  Of the 28,400 items here, 23,135 are from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting Collection.  This collection of public media was amassed by WGBH and the Library of Congress to preserve at-risk materials.  There are also tapes from local TV news programs and Boston City Council meetings.

Audio icon
Audio recording icon from Audio recordings (nonmusical) format

Next on the list are Objects/artifacts.  These range from clothing/costumes to furniture to jewelry to samplers.   Some items are unique, like the Aeolian harp from Historic New England or the Native American beaded pouch from the Perkins School for the Blind’s Tad Chapman Collection.

Proceeding further down, we come to Audio recordings (nonmusical).  These are easy to spot by their speaker icon (right).  Most of these are also from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting Collection, but there are several local oral history collections, too.  What about music?  Well, keep scrolling.  That’s listed as Music (recordings).  While some of these also have speaker icons, some are pictured with images of old-fashioned audio cassettes.

Digital Commonwealth: it’s not just pretty pictures.

Northampton Station
Northampton Station from the BPL’s Along the Elevated collection

David Akiba, a local photographer and teacher, passed away on August 24, 2019.  The Boston Globe published a front page appreciation of his work and career on October 6.  After reading it, I, like many, felt the loss of an uncommon talent.  We at Digital Commonwealth are very proud that we host over 100 of Mr. Akiba’s photographs.  The Globe quoted Mr. Akiba saying he “…liked the railroad yards…” and spent time in “…half-destroyed urban parts of town…”

These interests and his role as mentor are represented by his participation in the Along the Elevated: Photographs of the Orange Line exhibit at the Boston Public Library (and now on Digital Commonwealth), which paired professional photographers with students.  Each pair was given the assignment to chronicle the elevated Orange Line public transit just before it was demolished.

If you spent any time riding the elevated Orange Line or living under it, you’ll want to take a look at what David Akiba captured with empathy and art.


Egleston Station between Egleston and Dudley
Egleston between Egleston + Dudley from BPL’s Along the Elevated collection

Egleston Station, outbound platform
Egleston Station, outbound platform from BPL’s Along the Elevated collection

Dover Station
Dover Station from BPL’s Along the Elevated collection

Dover Station abandoned building from the BPL's Along the Elevated collection
Dover Station abandoned building from the BPL’s Along the Elevated collection



Fences from the Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

The Beacon Hill Times reported on historic iron fences in Boston central neighborhoods on August 22, 2019.  In addition to explaining how to care for existing iron fences, the Times advised readers:

If a historic fence is non-existent, he [Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission] suggested looking for historic images at the South End Historical Society, backbayhouses.org, Historic New England, the Bostonian Society, Digital Commonwealth, and the City Archives. [Emphasis added.]

To prove that the Times and Joe Cornish are not misdirecting you, see fences (like the one on the left) on the Digital Commonwealth website – which includes images from Historic New England and the City Archives, too.  You’ll find fences of iron, wood, concrete, you name it.

Thanks, Beacon Hill Times and Joe, for spreading the word.

House on Chester Hill
House on Chester Hill Granville Public Library

Too many people think history is as dry as dust.  All dates and wars and people in funny clothes with funnier hats.  Show them their street 100 years ago or a 50-year-old yearbook for their high school and you have their attention. Ask them if they can identify a house on their street or its former owner and you have a Watson and the game’s afoot.

With the Granville Public Library’s collection digitized, Dick Rowley took advantage of other services offered by Digital Commonwealth.  He took an Omeka workshop on creating online exhibits.   The Granville Historic Image Library is the result.  The images are the main attraction, but there’s also an ongoing project to upload the Catalog of Historic Document Collections and Books from the Granville Public Library’s Historical Room with links to already-digitized versions of the Historical Room collection on websites like Internet Archive.

Dick also started posting Mystery Monday and Flashback Friday photos to the Granville Forum on Facebook.  He encouraged Forum members to contribute information and photos.  He got both.  Posters identified one old house as the original Baptist church that was moved across the street, so the new church could be built.  Even better, this wonderful wedding photo shows multiple generations of Granville residents at the wedding of Helen Alvina Hansen and Charles Louis Drolett, Jr. Dick reports the photo owner had no idea who the people in the photo were.  By posting it, Granville’s “village elders” were consulted and able to identify everyone.  Amongst the “elders”?  One of the little girls in the photo.

Find A Grave is one of the most popular websites for genealogists and local history buffs.  Dick has used the website to spread the wealth of resources in the Granville collection.  A distant relation will be thrilled to find a photo of Nathan Fenn on his Find A Grave page.  Although, my favorite has to be the Weekly Report on the Conduct of… Melissa Phelps.  What a delight for any descendant of Melissa Phelps Gaines to discover this gem.

Some of the stories are more poignant.  In trying to locate the oldest house in Granville, Dick was sent a photo of a 1934 copy of the Granville Center News.  The News is a story in itself.  It was published by Newton kids who summered in Granville.  They report on a resident of the purported oldest building, Chapin Brown, who was “slightly crazy”.  A little research uncovered the man had served in the Civil War.  Post-traumatic stress disorder?  Perhaps.  We don’t always get the full story, but a lot more of Chapin Brown’s has been restored because someone asked about the oldest house in town.

Susan A. Phelon Barber, AEF, Army Nurse Corp
Susan A. Phelon Barber, AEF, Army Nurse Corp Granville Public Library

A more inspirational story comes as a result of Dick’s collaboration with the Woodlands Cemetery Association (WCA).  This is my favorite.  The Granville Historic Image Library, Historical Room, Granville Public Library provides the images and the WCA provides the profiles of the interred in their newsletter.  Susan A. Phelon Barber was born and raised in Granville.  She was educated in Westfield and became a teacher.  She moved to Maine to study nursing and joined the U.S. Army nursing corps during World War I.  She served in Europe until 1919.  She then moved to Los Angeles to serve as a private nurse. Eventually, she returned to live in Granville and work as a nurse in Westfield.  She married a high school classmate in 1930 at the age of 45.

These remarkable people lived in a small town, but hardly had small lives.  If they were lost for a while, they have now been restored.  You can do the same for your small Massachusetts town and Digital Commonwealth can help.  Give us a call.  Let’s restore some more stories.