Smith College Class of 1902 Basketball Team (C.1902), Wikimedia Commons.

More than a century ago, the first women’s collegiate basketball championship was played in Massachusetts between Smith College sophomores and freshman. “Smith March Madness 1892” is a 8:20 minute video about the game. Senda Berenson, known as the “Mother of Women’s Basketball” and Director of Physical Training at Smith, introduced the game of basketball, developed by James Naismith the year before, to her Smith students. “Major newspapers and magazines in the Northeast covered the championship game, and reporters equated the popularity of the event to the Harvard Yale men’s football game.”

Senda Berenson wrote an article entitled “Basket Ball for Women” in the September 1894 issue of Physical Education, available courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections.  She says, “The value of athletic sports for men is not questioned. It is a different matter, however, when we speak of athletics for women. Until very recent years, the so-called ideal woman was a small waisted, small footed, small brained damsel, who prided herself on her delicate health, who thought fainting interesting, and hysterics fascinating. Wider and more thorough knowledge has given us more wholesome and saner ideas.”

Digital Commonwealth and other archives and libraries have helped to preserve and provide access to documents, images, and audio and video files related to women in sports. One example is the audio file for a lecture given at UMass in 1978 by Wilma Rudolph, bronze medalist in 1956 Olympics and three-time gold medalist in 1960. At the time of the lecture, she had just published her autobiography, Wilma, and hearing her story in her own voice is inspirational. In the audio file, she speaks of her upbringing as the 20th of 22 children in small-town Tennessee. As a child, the fastest woman in the world had survived pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio, and wore a leg brace for much of her early life.

The challenges that Wilma Rudolph had to overcome were many. She graciously gave credit to the family members, friends, fellow athletes, and coaches who helped her along the way. As she tells her story, she says that there came a point when she had to have faith in herself in order to reach her full potential.

Wilma Rudolph at the finish line during 50 yard dash at track meet in Madison Square Garden (1961), Wikimedia Commons.

Wilma Rudolph was a world class athelete before Title IX was signed into law. She had to make her way on her own and with the support system that she was able to construct without the benefit of the law enshrining women’s rights.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), signed into law on June 23, 1972, was designed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities in all public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges, and universities receiving any Federal funds .Title IX has broader implications than just creating a level playing field for women athletes. But in the years since the law was passed, untold opportunities have opened up for women in sports.

Women’s Sport Foundation, “Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women” (2020), p 13.

The implementation of Title IX has had a rocky road. It was not clear in the original law exactly how educational institutions would balance spending for men’s and women’s athletic programs. Universities with men’s football and men’s basketball programs that were spending and generating vast sums of money felt threatened by the law. Digital Commonwealth provides a link to a 1979 MacNeil/Lehrer Report on Title IX Women’s Sports. In his introduction to the half hour video file, Robert MacNeil says “many people wonder whether glamorous, big-time, big-money college sports are threatened by the drive to give women an equal share in college athletics. Tonight, sex discrimination in sports, and the debate over a law called Title IX.”

Progress has not been easy. Digital Commonwealth and its member institutions will continue to provide access to documentation of the uphill battle for equity in sports for girls and women.

Barbara Schneider, Member Outreach and Education Committee

Women’s Cross Country Race (1995)
Courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections.
Paul Revere, “The bloody massacre perpetrated in King-Street Boston : on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th regt.”(1770), Boston Public Library, Rare Books Department.

Paul Revere’s engraving, “The Bloody Massacre,” is part of Boston Public Library’s “Colonial and Revolutionary Boston”, one of Digital Commonwealth’s “Collections of Distinction”.

Scholars agree that Revere copied the arresting image in “The Bloody Massacre” from an engraving by Henry Pelham entitled “Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre” (1770).  Pelham wrote to Paul Revere complaining about the theft of his intellectual property. “If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so.” (Clarence Brigham, “Boston Massacre, 1770, ” Paul Revere’s Engravings (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1954) ) .

While Henry Pelham may have felt that Paul Revere would be chastened for his appropriation of another man’s work, the world felt otherwise. “Certain it is that Revere was an outstanding patriot and saw the opportunity of furthering the patriot cause by circulating so significant a print.”(Brigham, p. 56).

Pelham, the artist who first rendered the image, was a Loyalist. In a letter to his sister-in-law, Susanna, the wife of John Singleton Copley, he wrote “Now we see this Country arming themselves and unsupported by any foreign Power ungenerously Waging War against their great Benefactors, and endeavouring to Ruin that State to whom they owe their being. . . “ ( Letters and Papers of John Singleton Copley and Henry Pelham, 1739-1776 , Massachusetts Historical Society, 1914, p. 344)  The Copleys had left Boston for England in 1774, and Henry would follow them in 1776.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, “The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid, or ‘The Executions’” (1814), Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Call to Arms or Lamentation?

On the one year anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere put together a striking exhibit in the windows of his home, displaying work depicting the “Tyranny of the British Administration of Government.” “The Bloody Massacre” was included in the illuminated display. The Boston Gazette reported that “the Spectators, which amounted to many Thousands, were struck with solemn Silence, and their Countenances covered with a melancholy Gloom.”

Goya’s monumental work, “The 3rd of May 1808” has been compared with Paul Revere’s engraving. While the scale of the works is very different, the subject matter and the composition are very similar. The 82 prints in Goya’s series, Los desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War), published 35 years after Goya’s death, argue that Goya was painting about the horrors of war, not trying to create propaganda. Paul Revere’s engraving poses more of a question, asking his fellow citizens to respond. “The prints were intended as propaganda. . . “( Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere, American Antiquarian Society online resource, 2020).

Say Their Names, compassion for the victims

Samuel Gray. Samuel Maverick. James Caldwell. Crispus Attucks. These men were victims of members of a British regiment on King Street in Boston on March 5, 1770. James Caldwell and Crispus Attucks had no family or home in Boston, and Samuel Adams organized a procession to transport their caskets to Faneuil Hall, where they lay in state for three days before their public funeral. The people of Boston held a funeral procession for all of the victims, and they were buried in Boston in the Granary Burying Ground.

Crispus Attucks was a sailor of mixed African and Indigenous ancestry. The significance of his death has been a matter of debate for the last 250 years, argued in three different intertwining threads:

  1. He was the leader of a mob. This was John Adams’s argument in a Courtroom in 1770 when he defended William Wemms and seven other British soldiers. Adams described Attucks as “a stout Molatto fellow, whose very looks, was enough to terrify an person” (Adams Papers, Digital Edition, volume 3, p. 269, Historical Society) . This was also the (unsuccessful) position of the Massachusetts Historical Society when they opposed a monument to Attucks on the Boston Common in 1887 (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. 3, [Vol. 23 of continuous numbering] (1886 – 1887), pp. 313-318).
  2. He was an African American hero who should be acknowledged and memorialized. This was William C. Nell’s argument when he advocated for an annual celebration of Crispus Attucks Day on March 5 and wrote The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution in the 1850s.
  3. He was an American hero. John Boyle O’Reilly’s poem at the 1888 dedication of the memorial on the Boston Common (p.56) captures the idea that Crispus Attucks represented all Americans:

“And so must we come to the learning of Boston’s lesson to-day                                                                                                                                                                                           

The moral that Crispus Attucks taught in the old heroic way,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

God made mankind to be one in blood, as one in spirit and thought. . . “

Paul Revere, engraver, [Four coffins of men killed in the Boston Massacre] (1770), Revere Collection, American Antiquarian Society.
“Digital Commonwealth provides support for the creation, management, and dissemination of cultural heritage materials held by Massachusetts libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives.”

from the Digital Commonwealth Statement of Values, Adopted by the Board on October 19, 2021.

“The study of history can be an effective tool against racism and can support better understanding of the experience of Black people. However, archives are not neutral; they are created by people and reflect the power structures that those people are influenced by and participate in. We must choose what our non-neutrality means. In this moment, we specifically affirm that Black lives matter and that we support efforts to dismantle oppression and injustice.”

from Statement from Digital Commonwealth Board on Black Lives Matter, Adopted by the Board on June 16, 2020.

Barbara Schneider, Member Outreach and Education Committee

Drawing of octopus devouring a ship [ca. 1828-1840]
Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA
“The wife of Edward Hitchcock ( (1796–1864)  geologist, theologian, professor and for a decade president of Amherst College), Orra White Hitchcock  produced dozens of striking watercolors of native plants, picturesque lithographs of the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers, symbolic compositions and drawings of prehistoric fossils as well as large, colorful geological designs for her husband’s lectures. Self-taught, she rose to become the principal female illustrator of her generation in the United States.”

From Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science , the title of a 2011 exhibition at Mead Art Gallery at Amherst College and a exhibition catalogue by Robert L. Herbert and Daria D’Arienzo. Thumbnails of the art work in the exhibition are available online in an  Orra White Hitchcock Checklist; the images show the range of her work. Hitchcock’s watercolors of native plants deserve particular note. Between 1817 and 1821, she created Herberium Parvum Pictum, a 64 page album of watercolors depicting approximately 175 flower and grass specimens from her husband’s native plant collection.

Autumnal Scenery , View in Amherst
Hand-colored lithograph created from the original painting by Orra White Hitchcock (1833)
Jones Library, Amherst, Special Collections

“In 1830, Edward [Hitchcock] was appointed state geologist for Massachusetts and over the next two years, Orra prepared drawings for the lithographs for his massive Report on the Geology, Mineralogy, Botany, and Zoology of Massachusetts, published by the Commonwealth in 1833.”

From Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science by Robert L. Herbert and Daria D’Arienzo, distributed by University Press of New England, p. 31.

“Orra White Hitchcock Classroom Drawings” is a Digital Commonwealth Collection consisting of 61 drawings by Orra White Hitchcock, made for use in her husband’s geology and natural history classes at Amherst College.

Orra White Hictchcock drawing of woolly mammoth skeleton [ca. 1828-1840]
Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA
 “Given the obvious compatibility – indeed, synergy – between art and science, it is puzzling that the two fields have been perceived over the centuries as polarized. Fortunately, this divide is beginning to narrow. Journals as prestigious as Nature now carry regular reviews of art exhibits with relevance to science, for example. Orra White Hitchcock was one of a handful of plucky and observant women in her time whom we know bridged science and art. She can continue to provide inspiration for creative people, unencumbered by traditional roles, who want to celebrate the natural world – and all the wondrous discoveries still to be made.”

Elizabeth Farnsworth, “A Scientific Illustrator Looks Back at Orra White Hitchcock” in Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science, pp. 47-48.

Orra White Hitchcock drawing of valleys [ca. 1828-1840] Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA
Through collaboration with institutions like Amherst College and the Jones Library (Amherst), Digital Commonwealth brings together curated collections of materials in a wide variety of formats. Digital Commonwealth (DC) provides a single online point of access for collections from over 200 member institutions.  DC is the host for Amherst College Archives & Special Collections’ “Orra White Hitchcock Classroom Drawings” .  Over fifteen hundred collections can be searched online on the DC website.


“A Pictorial Map of Loveland” by Ernest Dudley Chase, [ca. 1943], Boston Public Library, Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.

Pictorial maps are a genre within the larger field of cartography that present a geographical area embellished with illustrations related to the places shown. The actual locations shown may be imaginary lands, and the pictures could be of people, buildings, historical events, or modes of transportation. The maps might contain humorous or whimsical touches, and they inevitably reflect the values of the time in which they are made. Pictorial maps with themes of love and marriage have been created since the 18th century. On this Valentine’s Day, we can take a look at some of these maps.

“From the 18th century onward, when the commercial print industry started to get involved in the celebration of the Feast of Saint Valentine, maps with themes of matrimony and love became popular. Printed in 1777 by Breitkopf in Leipzig, Germany, the map below situates Das Reich der Liebe (The Kingdom of Love) amid the “Land of the Happy,” the “Land of Lust,” the “Land of Youth,” and, alas, also the lands of “Mourning Love” and “Fixed Ideas.””

Nancy Rosin, “Unpacking A Box of Love,” February 13, 2018, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Map of the Kingdom of Love (Das Reich der Liebe), 1777, Breitkopf & Härtel, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Digital Commonwealth Images from the 19th Century

Augustus Kollner: M.H. Traubel, “The Hymenial Expositor, or, Matrimonial Chart”, (Philadelphia: 1849), Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library

The “Description” on this pictorial map reads “The Great Ocean of Love represents a period of life that all persons are supposed at some time or another to pass. By an examination of the Chart, the voyageurs will be enabled to avoid the dangers that beset them, and arrive safely at the haven of felicity. . . ” Lovers are encouraged to avoid such places as the “Whirlpool of Impetuosity,” the “Shoals of Perplexity”, the “Quick Sands of Inconstancy” and numerous other traps.

Also included in Digital Commonwealth’s collection of material from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center is a “Map of a Woman’s Heart” by Joseph Husson. This is a manuscript map in ink and watercolor depicting  the characteristics of a woman as geographic features of a heart. “Ideal Isle” is at the center of the map, surrounded by “Affection”, “Generosity”, and “Gayety”, but also, “Vanity”, “Avarice”, and “Hatred.”This map might be telling us more about the man who made it than about the woman’s heart.

Joseph Husson, “Map of a Woman’s Heart”, (1840-1860), Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.

It may be that Husson got the idea for his sketch from seeing D.W. Kellogg’s “Map of the Open Country of a Woman’s Heart,” published prior to the middle of the nineteenth century. One of Digital Commonwealth’s member organizations, the American Antiquarian Society, owns a copy of this print and features it in an online exhibition, “Beauty, Virtue and Vice: Images of Women in Nineteenth Century American Prints”   . The introduction to the exhibition reads like a mission statement for Digital Commonwealth. The prints are “useful to historians who would like to understand how nineteenth –century Americans thought about the world in which they lived. . . When read carefully and conscientiously, prints can be very useful documentary sources for understanding the past.”

D.W. Kellogg & Co, lithographer, A Map of the Open Country of Woman’s Heart, (Hartford, Conn: ca. 1833-1842), American Antiquarian Society

Digital Commonwealth Images from the 20th Century

Pictorial maps in the twentieth century are less puritanical, less prescriptive. They are more whimsical. The genre evolved into a kind of popular culture art form. Ernest Dudley Chase’s “Pictorial Map of Loveland” shown at the beginning of this post is a perfect example. It is a “fictitious map of a heart-shaped place called Loveland [merging] the sentimentality of greeting cards with standard cartographic conventions.” Digital Commonwealth’s collection of the work of Ernest Dudley Chase includes 38 pictorial maps from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. These maps range from drawings focusing on geographical locations in the Americas or on other continents to topical maps such as  “Stamps of America” or “The Story Map of Flying: being a chronicle of man’s conquest of the air.”

“Born in Lowell, Ernest Dudley Chase (1878-1966) worked for Rust Craft Publishers, which printed greeting cards at its plant in Dedham. . . Chase’s maps were an extension of his work as a graphic artist for Rust Craft and also reflected an international trend toward pictorial mapmaking. These decorative maps, which experienced a resurgence in public popularity after 1913, are a genre in which the cartography is animated with illustrations of buildings, people, and animals. Often including historical references, the maps also frequently depicted airplanes and other modes of transportation. Borrowing from typical Renaissance cartography, Chase and other pictorial mapmakers used embellishments like compass roses, ornate cartouches, and decorative borders.”

Biographical information from the State Library of Massachusetts’s announcement for the 2009 Exhibit “Ernest Dudley Chase: A Worldview in Maps.”

Digital Commonwealth’s Pictorial Maps

Other pictorial maps in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center’s collection are available online from Digital Commonwealth. Happy Valentine’s Day!

13 Minutes After Guilty Verdict
“13 Minutes After Guilty Verdict”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

Leslie Jones Collection

The Leslie Jones Collection is one of the crown jewels of Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library. Jones was a press photographer who worked for the Boston Herald-Traveler from 1917-1956. During his career, he saved many of his negatives, and by the time he died in 1967, he had kept a collection of nearly 40,000 negatives. The negatives covered decades of his work, including major and minor events in and around the city of Boston.”

From the Boston Public Library’s blog post “Featured Collection: Leslie Jones Collection”, July 13, 2018.

The collection is organized into various series, including a Crime/Police series that includes 324 photos of the notorious Millen-Faber murder case. In 1934, Murton and Irvine Millen and Abraham Faber went on a crime spree which included robbing the Needham Trust Company and murdering two Needham police officers.  They were the first to use a machine gun in a bank robbery in Massachusetts. The police acted quickly, and within 18 months of their crimes, the brothers Milen and Faber were tried, convicted and executed. The murder case drew national attention, and Leslie Jones was there to photograph it all.

Crime/Police: Millen-Faber [Murder Case] from the Leslie Jones Collection with Commentary

“While Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde terrorized America, Murt and Irv Millen, along with MIT-educated Abe Faber, did their best to contribute to the mayhem by shooting up Massachusetts. Their criminality reached its crescendo shortly after Murt married the Rev. Brighton’s very beautiful teenage daughter, Norma. By the time they were caught in 1934, movie theaters and banks had been robbed and people killed in Fitchburg, Lynn and Needham.”

From a synopsis of the case by Former Massachusetts Appeals Court Judge R. Marc Kantrowitz, based on his reading of the book Tommy Gun Winter (2015) by Nathan Gorenstein. Gorenstein is a Massachusetts native, a veteran journalist, and a distant relative of the Millen brothers.

“In February 2, 1934, at about half past nine o’clock in the forenoon, the three defendants [Murton Millen, Irvine Millen, and Abraham Faber] came to the trust company in a Packard automobile operated by the defendant Murton Millen. Each defendant was armed and one of them wore a mask. They went into the trust company.

“Needham Bank Murder and Robbery”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

The defendant Faber carried a shot gun which he fired wounding one Bartholomew, who was employed by the company as a guard. The defendant Irving Millen fired an automatic pistol while taking money from the cashier’s cage. The defendants took from the trust company about $15,000. An employee of the trust company caused an alarm bell outside the building to ring, and Officer McLeod, who was on duty near the building and heard the alarm, hastened toward the bank. Murton Millen, armed with a machine gun, fired through a window and shot McLeod, three bullets striking him and causing his death within a few hours. The defendants then entered the automobile, which was operated by Murton Millen, and drove away, compelling Arnold Mackintosh, the treasurer of the bank, and John D. Riordan, the teller, to go with them, standing on the running board. After going a short distance Riordan jumped off, and when he did so was fired upon by the defendants.

As a result of a telephone call one Salamone, a lieutenant of the fire department, was talking with Officer Haddock, and the Packard automobile operated by Murton Millen, in which the two other defendants were riding, came down the highway in front of the Needham fire station going in the direction of Boston; when in the vicinity of the fire station the machine gun was fired by Murton Millen, two of the bullets striking Haddock and killing him, and other bullets striking one Coughlin, a member of the Needham fire department, who was standing nearby. The defendants continued on for several hundred yards beyond the fire station when the automobile slowed down and Mackintosh Jumped from the running board. On February 7, 1934, this Packard automobile was found in the town of Norwood. It had been partly burned and the number plates had been removed, and there was other evidence that an attempt had been made to destroy its identity.

“Auto and inside garage used by Millen brothers and Faber after Needham bank murder”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library


“Millen/Faber Case”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

The storage battery showed that it bad been recently repaired. There was evidence introduced at the trial that the defendants Millen previously had possession of this battery and that they had taken it to a certain shop to be repaired. As a result of this information the police learned that Murton Millen was living in Boston.”

From a synopsis of the crime in Commonwealth vs. Murton Millen & Others, 289 Mass. 441 (1934-1935), a judgment in an unsuccessful appeal to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court of the Millen and Faber trial held in Norfolk County.

“[The Millen/Faber] trial lasted longer than any other murder-one in the history of the commonwealth. During the proceedings, the notorious Bonnie and Clyde were shot dead in Louisiana. The Boston press reported it below the ongoing Millen-Faber proceedings. After 37 days, the all-male sequestered jurors, who had been allowed to shower once a week, got the case. It took them six hours to render a verdict. Guilty. The sentence: death. While awaiting their fate, Murt and Irv, with help from the outside, tried a daring escape that failed. On June 7, 1935, the brothers and Abe sat in the electric chair. It marked the first time two brothers were put to death on the same evening.”

From a synopsis of the case by Former Massachusetts Appeals Court Judge R. Marc Kantrowitz, based on the book Tommy Gun Winter (2015) by Nathan Gorenstein.

The Gun and Early Attempts at Gun Control

“The [Thompson] machine gun used in the first machine-gun bank robbery and murder in Massachusetts yesterday in Needham is that stolen from the State Police, in the opinion of experts.”

From “Bold Gunmen First to Employ Machine Gun in This State Staging Bank Holdup”, The Boston Daily Globe, Feb. 3, 1934, page 1.

“Van Amburg – Ballistics expert with gun used in Needham murders”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

“An amendment to the Firearms law which would prohibit the sale of shotguns, rifles and other firearms without a license, was drafted yesterday by Police Commissioner Joseph J. Leonard.  . . The amendment is a direct development of the futile attempt of Edward C. Frye of Dorchester to free the Millen brothers from Dedham Jail Thursday morning. Frye bought a shotgun on Hanover st and later fired it through a Dedham Jail window peppering Irving Millen with pellets. Under the present law a person may buy a shotgun or rifle without being questioned.”

From “Would Tighten Firearms Law”, The Boston Globe, June 12, 1935, page 20.

Digital Commonwealth provides access to Boston Public Library’s Leslie Jones Collection

The Leslie Jones Collection of photographic images from roughly the first half of the twentieth century has been digitized by the Boston Public Library, and made available to the public through Digital Commonwealth’s website. The nearly forty thousand pictures cover a wide variety of subjects. Strengths of the collection include images of baseball and of maritime activities, as well as photographic documentation of criminal trials. We can use a photo-journalist’s eye to reconstruct the story of the Millen brothers and Abe Faber’s crime spree in 1934 and gain a deeper understanding of the events that shaped our history.

“The Birthplace of Robert Burns” found on Jones’s Cabinet Edition of Select British Poets, Vol. 2,
Boston Public Library, Rare Books Department

To honor the Scottish poet Robert Burns on his birthday, we present two delicate works of art painted on the fore-edges of books of his poetry.

Digital Commonwealth’s Massachusetts Online Collections include Boston Public Library’s collection of Fore-Edge Paintings. The paintings are ”visible only when the pages of the book are carefully fanned, in the same manner as when the artist was painting the picture. When the book is closed the painting disappears under the gold leaf of the edge . . . The work itself is done in watercolor, very dryly.” The books with fore-edge paintings were collected by Albert H. Wiggin between 1945 and 1951, and donated to the Boston Public Library at the time of his death in 1951.

Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland. His birthday is celebrated all over the world with Burns suppers and Burns Night activities.

“A View of the Bridge of Ayr” found on Jones’s Cabinet Edition of Select British Poets, Vol. 1,
Boston Public Library, Rare Books Department
Brown, Cooley, Noble and Strong families
Brown, Cooley, Noble and Strong families from Granville Public Library

I’ve been fascinated by this photo ever since it was uploaded. Are we looking at the 19th century equivalent of Photoshopping?  The Brown, Cooley, Noble and Strong families pose very sedately in front of a raging river with a train crossing a suspension bridge in the distance. The subjects are definitely sitting on chairs on a rocky ground. It’s that raging river that does not seem to belong.

Here is where the wonderful enlarging function on Digital Commonwealth comes in handy. Click on the link in the caption to go to Digital Commonwealth. Now you can enlarge it. What a closer look will show you is that there’s an aura or halo around any figure positioned directly in front of the river. The figures in the center do not have it. Maybe these families were posed outdoors, but I suspect the river was not raging when they were. Surely if the river was threatening to breach its banks, someone in that happy little group would be looking apprehensively to their left.

When I talked to Dick Rowley, Granville Public Library volunteer, he was more suspicious of the little train on the suspension bridge. He’s right.  The trees, sky, bridge and train seem to be from a different photo taken at a different time of day. How many deceptions are there to uncover here?

We haven’t talked about the people in this photo. Dick points out that the earliest death date for any of them is 1888, so this photo was taken no later than that.  They are all prominent members of Granville society, well-dressed, respectable, stern even. Except for the woman seated in the foreground. Dressed all in black, she seems to be smirking. She knows what’s going on, but she’s not telling.

What do you think?

Written by Michael Lapides, Director of Digital Initiatives, New Bedford Whaling Museum

The New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World is one of only a few surviving American moving panoramas. Panoramas were a popular art and entertainment form that reached their peak in the mid-19th century. In many ways, they were predecessors to the massive popularity of World Fairs in the latter half of the century, most notably those of Paris, London, Chicago, and New York. Much like the extraordinary adventure writings of authors like Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, panoramas played to the spectacle of the exotic and the unknown to eager audiences.

Completed in 1848 the Grand Panorama was painted by sign painter Caleb Purrington (1812-1876) and Benjamin Russell (1804-1885), a self-trained entrepreneurial artist and whaleman. It is a grand and rare example of American panoramic folk art, created as a commercial traveling public spectacle.

Painted in water-based paint on cotton sheeting, the Grand Panorama is over 1,275 feet long and 8 feet high, separated onto four spools. Its journey begins in New Bedford harbor and travels the route typical of Yankee whalers in the mid-19th century, landing spectators in the Azores, Cabo Verde, Rio de Janeiro and numerous ports of the Pacific. At one time there was an additional section, but it was lost before the artifact came to the Whaling Museum 100 years ago. The Grand Panorama, as displayed on Digital Commonwealth, and on our dedicated website (, was “stitched” together from 240 separate photographs captured over the course of two years, after textile and paint conservation processes had been completed.

The grand panorama of a whaling voyage ‘round the world
The grand panorama of a whaling voyage ‘round the world from the New Bedford Whaling Museum

By Jodi Goodman, Head of Special Collections
New Bedford Free Public Library

Cape Verdean Beneficent Association, New Bedford
Cape Verdean Beneficent Association, New Bedford from Oliveira Photograph Collection, New Bedford Free Public Library

This photo of the Cape Verdean Beneficent Association, New Bedford, is in the recently added Oliveira Photograph Collection (New Bedford Free Public Library), which highlights New Bedford’s Portuguese community in the early twentieth century.

Established in 1916, the Cape Verdean Beneficent Association (Associação Beneficente Caboverdeana) in New Bedford, Massachusetts is the oldest Cape Verdean organization in the United States.  It emerged to support members with companionship and emergency financial assistance.

Cape Verdeans, an Afro-Portuguese immigrant community, came to New Bedford in the 19th century aboard whaling vessels which made regular stops at the Cape Verde islands for supplies.  The largest concentration of Cape Verdeans arrived between the 1880s and 1920s.  Entrepreneurial in spirit, Cape Verdeans found work in the packet trade.  Some bought old sailing vessels and outfitted them as packet boats, sailing to the Cape Verde islands with supplies and returning to New Bedford with new immigrants.  In New Bedford, Cape Verdeans worked as longshoremen, fish processors, and merchant seamen.

The majority of Cape Verdeans in the United States have settled in Southeastern New England.  Many will be celebrating Cape Verdean Recognition Week in New Bedford from June 28-July 7, 2019, culminating in the Cape Verdean Recognition Parade July 7 at 11:00 am.

Minnie Avery and bicycle on road between Lenox Dale and New Lenox
Minnie Avery & bicycle on road between Lenox Dale and New Lenox from Lenox Library Association Local History Photograph Collection

I have no idea who Minnie Avery is or why she rode her bicycle out to the road between Lenox Dale and New Lenox at the turn of the 2oth century.  It is enough for me that someone captured it on film.  My first question is, “Why is Minnie Avery standing in what looks like a large saucepan on the side of a dirt road surrounded by trees?”  There are even logs under the “pot” that could be lit for a cooking fire.  More questions naturally follow: Is the photographer responsible for this Minnie stew?  Did Minnie know what was in store for her when she put on her straw boater and summer finery to go riding in the Berkshires?  Why is no one named Minnie anymore?

Thanks to Digital Commonwealth’s wonderful zoom utility, I can click on the magnifying glass and get a closer look without losing any resolution.  Now it’s a whole new – and, alas, less interesting – story.  Minnie is standing on the far side of the vat, not in it.  She is holding a cup or tin of some sort and there is a pipe – not a handle – on the right.  Apparently, this is a drinking station, possibly from a local spring.  Minnie has biked out to a scenic spot and stopped for refreshment.  The box on her handlebar may be a picnic lunch or her own box camera.  Perhaps, she will be the photographer of her companion taking the next drink.  All we know for sure is she has nothing to worry about from local cannibals.

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