Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Some Christmas Cheer from Winslow Homer, a Cambridge Native

     As a history researcher, I often find that libraries are a gift -- and their online collections are a gift as well! The following images, originally published in Harper's Weekly in the late 1850's, are in the Boston Public Library's Winslow Homer collection, which is available to view on their flickr photostream.*

     Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836, and he grew up in Cambridge,  on the Old Cambridge side of the gray area between that neighborhood and Cambridgeport [1] (see this post for an overview of the Cambridge of his childhood). At age nineteen, he was apprenticed to a commercial lithographer, creating prints from metal plates. He began working as a freelance illustrator in 1857.[2] The wood engraving prints here are from the early years of his career.  

 My favorite part about this image is the holly framing the individual scenes.

    In 1859, Homer moved to New York, where he continued working as an illustrator, studied life drawing at the National Academy of Design, and briefly studied under the painter Frédéric Rondel. He worked for Harper's Weekly for over twenty years, and during the Civil War he served as a special correspondent, visiting the front and illustrating scenes from the daily life of the Army of the Potomac.[3] After the war, he turned more seriously to watercolors and oil painting. He spent time living and working in Paris; Glouster, Massachusetts; England; New York; and Maine. While he lived in Maine, he also made regular visits to the tropics and to the Adirondacks in New York State. He continued painting his whole life.[4]

If you have seen Winslow Homer's later work, particularly his paintings, you might agree that the figures in his early wood engraved scenes are much less graceful and expressive. If you're interested, I recommend this online exhibit. What I like best about many of his prints, however, including this one, is that there are so many little interactions going on between the characters. You see people talking, listening, reaching out, interrupting, or just quietly reflecting in the glow of the candles.

     Wood engraving, a technique developed in the late 18th century, is a printmaking process in which the wood is cut away where there will be white space in the finished product. It is a form of woodcut printing, but wood engraving is done on the hard end of the block, against the grain, and woodcuts are usually done in the softer side of the block. Because of this, the engraving tools are somewhat different. Wood engraving blocks are ideal for printing over and over again, making them a common method of reproducing images for newspapers in the nineteenth century. [5]

I think this is my favorite of this set. The little lines of the engraving capture the needles of the trees perfectly. I like the contrast between the gentle curves of the tall, bare tree on the right and the rough, craggy boulders next to it. I also like the shadows in the snow. I'm impressed by the apparent skill of the pair making wreaths; that's a difficult task.

    What do you like - or dislike -- about these images? Do they evoke Christmastime for you?

    To those of you who celebrate Christmas, have a merry one!

* The images themselves are public domain. The digital photographs of the Boston Public Library's copies of those images are  considered some rights reserved.
1.  Downes, William Howe. The Life and Works of Winslow Homer. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911.
2. Boston Public Library Flickr sets, Winslow Homer Prints and Paintings. Accessed 12/21/2011.
3. Ibid.
4. National Gallery of Art online. Winslow Homer in the National Gallery of Art
  Accessed 12/21/2011.
5.Griffiths, Antony. Prints and Printmaking: an introduction to the history and techniques. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Bird in the Belfry Revisited

     Thanksgiving Day marks the one-year anniversary of Cambridge Considered!

     Readers who have been with Cambridge Considered since the beginning, or who have explored the modest archives, will know that in my first post, I attempted to verify the rumor that a group of Harvard students hung a turkey in a bell-tower as a Thanksgiving prank sometime in the nineteenth century.  I first found mention of the event in an 1896 essay, and it was also mentioned, with some differing details, in a twentieth-century source. Since the later source claims the event happened in 1873 and that was the year that the Harvard Magenta (now called the Crimson) began publication, I had hoped to find mention of the prank in the student paper. However, the paper did not report on anything to do with turkeys between 1873 and 1896.

     I continued researching, and while I still have not found a primary source, I did find an earlier description of the event. In his short book “An Historical Sketch of Harvard University, from its foundation to May, 1890,” American author and Harvard graduate William Roscoe Thayer described a turkey prank that he said took place “in the middle decades of the [nineteenth] century.”[1]

     Thayer described Harvard student life in the University’s early years as being filled with pranks, bonfires, and small explosions.[2] He described a culture where student protests, over serious or trivial concerns, were not uncommon, and larger “rebellions” took place every few decades. The larger events often resulted in expulsions, but in the mid-nineteenth century, the school began punishing smaller offenses in the hope of maintaining order.[3]

     Thayer included the turkey prank in a list of examples of the freedoms students allowed themselves in defiance of the college rules. “Once a huge turkey was found hanging on the College bell when the janitor came to ring for morning prayers; once a pair of monstrous boots dangled from the Chapel spire, and once there was a life-and-death struggle in the Chapel between the watchman and a desperate student.” He noted that such events “called for severe measures from the Faculty.” Any one of these incidents would probably be a good story if Thayer had elaborated, but instead he went on to say that impressive pranks, particularly large and destructive ones, had declined and practically come to an end by about 1870.[4] This may have been the result of college president Charles William Eliot’s strategic loosening of discipline; for example, he told proctors to ignore the bonfires students set in the yard, and such acts of mischief became less common.[5]

      A different type of student rule-breaking also put turkeys Harvard’s lore. In the school’’s early years, students were required to take their meals in the dining hall, but the food did not always live up to students’ standards. In 1672, the records of the college court noted that students had stolen turkeys from a Cambridge resident’s yard, and eaten them at the home of a Mr. Gibson.[6] Apparently, Samuel Gibson and possibly a few of his friends made a business out of serving hearty dinners made out of whatever fowl students captured -- and that often meant stolen geese and turkeys.[7]  A decade later, illicit turkey dinners were mentioned in the court records again; these dinners took place in students’ dorm rooms.  The tradition appears to have continued for years. An 1886 biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. quotes a man named H.K. Oliver in a section on the student culture that Holmes was a part of. Oliver remembered “the raiding-for, the roasting (tied to a string, and twirled before an open fire)... and the festal surfeit over the  Meleagris Gallopavo -- Gobbler!”  All the supplies and condiments “were ensconced in a trap-door-covered box beneath the floor” in Hollis Hall.[8] Based on surrounding anecdotes, the author seems to place the event in the late 1820s or early 1830s.

      If no students ever did hang a turkey from the College bell, then perhaps the dinners of stolen birds, with supplies hidden in college buildings, were the origin of the rumor. Live turkeys, whether wild or raised for food, were certainly a more common sight in Cambridge in the years when the city was not yet industrialized. In my opinion, it is just as plausible that students would capture and kill a turkey to hang it up in an unlikely place as it is that they stole birds for lavish dinners.  The three sources I have found describing the event were each written years after the time they claim it happened, and only one of them said that it took place at Thanksgiving. Still, keeping in mind that it may be apocryphal, a turkey swinging from the college bell is a Thanksgiving tale worth telling this year as well as last.

1. Thayer, William Roscoe. An Historical Sketch of Harvard University, from its foundation to May, 1890. (Cambridge, MA: 1890) Reprinted from The History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts. D. Hamilton Hurd, Ed. (Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co., 1890). 52
2. Thayer, 51
3. Thayer, 52
4. Thayer, 53 
5. Townsend, Kim. Manhood a Harvard: William James and Others. NY: W.W. Norton and Co., 1996. page 126.  
6. Cited in Batchelder, Samuel. Bits of Harvard History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1924. page 102. 
7. Batchelder 208. 
8. Kennedy, William Sloane. Oliver Wendell Holmes: poet, littérateur, scientist. Boston: S.E. Cassino and Co., 1883. 87-88. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Muslim Community in Cambridge

      While Cambridge has a storied religious history and has been home to many groups of immigrants, neither Muslims from the United States nor those from other parts of the world were a significant presence in the city until the mid-twentieth century. Muslims are absent from a number of books about the history of the city. This is probably in part because their numbers are smaller than many other religious groups in Cambridge. In the 1950's, there was a small Muslim population at Harvard. A few graduate students who were here from other countries and studying Islamic history founded the Harvard Islamic Society in 1958.1 In 1958, three Harvard students formed the Harvard Islamic Society, It was the first Muslim organization in Cambridge and one of the first student Muslim organizations in the United States.2 According to the Harvard Islamic Society’s web site, American-born Muslim students first came to Harvard in the 1970’s.3

      Since its inception, the HIS has had a musalla or prayer space, although the location has moved several times and the group has outgrown their allot space on more than one occasion. In the 1970s the organization ran an Islamic weekend school for children in the Boston community out of the Phillips Brooks House, a student-led umbrella organization for nonprofits on campus at Harvard. The Harvard Islamic Society has also hosted speakers to spread knowledge and awareness of Islam. The group organizes social activities, religious study, prayer and other religious activities, halal dinners, and events to help non-Muslims understand Islam.4

     Over the next few decades, the student Muslim populations grew, and more student organizations formed. In 1981, students from Harvard University, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute, Suffolk University, and Tufts University formed the Islamic Society of Boston to serve as an umbrella organization for all of them, and to meet the religious and community needs of Muslims throughout Cambridge.5 It originally met at MIT, and hosted five daily prayers, Friday prayers, and weekly seminars.6

     In 1993, the Islamic Society of Boston opened the Islamic Center and Mosque on Prospect Street, the first and only mosque in Cambridge.7 Today, they offer classes for new Muslims and traditional religious education classes such as Qu'aran memoriazation and classes on Tajweed, the rules for how the Qu'aran should be read. They offer Halaqa, seminars on Islamic theology, in Arabic and in English. The Muslim American Society, which was formed in 1993, opened a Boston chapter in 1999. They manage the Islamic Society of Boston's cultural center in Roxbury, which offers a number of programs and houses the Malik Academy, an Islamic elementary school.8 There are also mosques in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Brighton, and Revere.

      In December 2009, the Cambridge School Committee decided unanimously that Cambridge public schools would close in observance of one Muslim holiday each school year, either Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha. In October 2010, school officials announced that the change would take place in the 2011-2012 school year. Because these holidays are in the lunar Islamic calendar, their dates in the civil calendar shift, but many years, including 2011, only one of the holidays falls on a day that would normally be a school day.9

     Many Cambridge residents, including a student group at Cambridge Ringe and Latin School that campaigns for awareness of Muslim student concerns and longtime Cambridge residents who have seen the Muslim population in the area grow in the past few decades, applauded the decision.10 Others expressed the belief that the schools should not be closed any more often than they already are. Some felt that days off for Muslim holidays will either make students whose faiths are not represented in the school calendar more uncomfortable, or pave the way for more days off to include even more groups. One widely-reprinted newspaper opinion piece took the stance that students should get federal holidays off and three additional days off to be used for holidays of the family's choice.11 If any Cantabrigians opposed the decision out of prejudice against Muslims, they did not express this to local media, but one national website posted a religiously-fueled disagreement with the decision.12 November 7, 2011, Eid al-Adha, is the first Muslim holiday on which Cambridge public schools will close. What do you think? Is Cambridge making history by being one of the first United States cities to close public schools on a Muslim holiday?

I would welcome any recommendations for more resources on the Muslim community in Cambridge.
1“About ISB.” Islamic Society of Boston website. Accessed 11-2-2011
2Seaburg, Alan. Cambridge on the Charles. (Cambridge: Anne Miniver Press, 2001).208.
3“About ISB.” Islamic Society of Boston website. Accessed 11-2-2011
4“About ISB.” Islamic Society of Boston website. Accessed 11-2-2011
5 The pluralism project at Harvard University. Center Profile: Islamic Society of Boston (Cambridge)
6“About ISB.” Islamic Society of Boston website. Accessed 11-2-2011
7Seaburg 207.
8“Programs.” Islamic Society of Boston website. Accessed 11-2-2011
9“Schools to close for Muslim holiday.” Cambridge Chronicle October 14, 2010
10“Applauding Cambridge School Committee.” Cambridge Chronicle (MA)-October 21, 2010
11Julia Spitz, “No More Days Off From School.” The Villager, October 15, 2010
12“Cambridge Schools Celebrate Muslim Holidays” The New American, Bruce Walker, 14 October 2010

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cambridge Considered is no longer on a regular schedule

"What refuge is there for the victim who is possessed with the feeling that there are a thousand new books he ought to read, while life is only long enough for him to read a hundred?" 
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894)

Dear readers,

In the future, Cambridge Considered will no longer be updated on a regular schedule. I have a lot of projects going on in my life at the moment -- for example, I started a new job a few months ago, and I moved to a new apartment last week.  While I'm not deadline-averse in general (which is good, since I plan to go to graduate school sometime in the next few years), I'm realizing more and more that at this point in my life, I don't want to have deadlines for what I do outside of work. This is why I chose the above quote, by a Cambridge poet and essayist whose work I haven't yet featured on the blog. I am by no means shutting Cambridge Considered down, but there are just so many things I want to be doing with my time! 

Coming up sometime in the future are the remaining Very Brief History of Cambridge posts, and a handful of other posts I have in mind. As always, I welcome questions about Cambridge history or suggestions for future posts. Additionally, please contact me if you are interested in appearing as a guest blogger on this site, or having me appear on yours.

The students are back, soon local apples will start pouring in from the Berkshires (and closer), and it's time for some new adventures.

- Tegan

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Hurricane of 1938 -- a mini-post

Dear readers,

My apartment looks like it was hit by an earthquake and then a hurricane! Not because of the actual events, but because I am moving to a new apartment on Wednesday, and everything is half-packed and messy. Here in Cambridge, we have been fairly lucky... it seems like everyone prepared for Hurricane Irene, but all we got was rain and high winds.

Because of my move, I haven't had the time or energy to finish the upcoming Very Brief History of Cambridge, 1900-2000 post. If you want some topical Cambridge history, take a look at this news reel from the Great Hurricane of 1938, the biggest hurricane to affect the area on record. While locals called it the Great Hurricane, others named it the New England Hurricane, the Yankee Clipper, or the Long Island Express. The current conventions for naming hurricanes using an alphabetical list of people's names has its origins in the 1950's.(1)

(1) "Worldwide Tropical Cyclone Names," National Weather Service online, accessed 8-28-11

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Very Brief History of Cambridge, 1900-2000, Part II: The Second World War and the 1950's

   Even though much of the recruiting for the war in this area happened in downtown Boston,1 Cambridge was very much involved in World War II. The U.S. Army Chaplain School, which had previously been located in Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana, was housed at Harvard from 1942 until 1944, when it moved to Fort Devens, near Fitchburg.2 Life on the “home front” in WWII-era Cambridge was much like in any other American town – many civilians volunteered for the Red Cross, food was rationed and everyone had a book of ration stamps, women painted the seams of their stockings onto their legs instead of wearing silk, and the streets were periodically pierced with the sirens of air raid drills.3 Cantabrigians with backyards were able to plant large Victory Gardens to supply their families with fresh food during rationing. Many people, particularly immigrants, lived in crowded apartment buildings and did not have their own yards, so they divided the land by the river along Memorial Drive into small plots.4

    Jobs were plentiful for the first time since the Depression, as war-related industries boomed. Not all Cambridge workers stayed in Cambridge, as there were also war-industry jobs in Boston and in surrounding cities, such as Hood Rubber in East Watertown.5 Cambridge did have a a concentration of war-related jobs. Several local industries gained large federal defense contracts,6 and older East Cambridge factories converted themselves to produce materials for the war. A dozen Cambridge companies earned the Army -Navy “E” award for excellence in production. They included Polaroid, Raytheon, Boston Woven Hose, and more.7 Many middle and lower-middle class women who had never worked outside of the home took factory jobs, some of them taking a “housewives' shift” from 9 am to 2 pm.8 

      One of the reasons that Cambridge had a high concentration of war jobs was that both Harvard and MIT played very important roles in technological innovation during World War II. One of the greatest examples is that half of the radar used in the war was designed at the MIT Radiation Lab. The Rad Lab, as it was called, employed almost four thousand people at its height.9 It closed in 1945, but the work done there strongly influenced postwar engineering. New high-tech industries continued to boom after the war, in close collaboration with the universities.10

After the war, the city's population swelled with returning veterans. This put additional pressure on the aging tenement buildings that housed low-income families. Central Square and much of Cambridgeport saw a period of decay, and had a real shortage of affordable housing with decent living conditions.11 The G.I. Bill and federal housing subsidies helped many families move to single-family homes in the suburbs. In the 1950's, as the industrial and technological success of wartime started to flag, Cambridge's population declined again. saw another decline in population. Meanwhile, Harvard and MIT both expanded quite a bit in the 1950's, Harvard acquiring land in surrounding towns and MIT buying run-down industrial buildings.12

     The culture of Cambridge in the 1950's was diverse. Many residents, especially those involved in the high-tech industries who were doing well for themselves, were whole-hearted participants in that decade's brand of idealism. They believed in the “American Dream,” voted for Eisenhower, and did not have a great emotional investment in the Korean War.13 But, not everyone had the luxury of idealism, and the working class areas of Cambridge were dealing with the day-to-day issues of housing and jobs. Harvard, on the other hand, remained a place for active political discussion, so much so that Senator Joseph McCarthy took note, calling the school a “smelly mess” and accused it of “indoctrination by communist professors.”14 At the same time, the folk music revival, which encompassed not just music but the phenomenon of young men and women trying to make sense of their place in the world during the Cold War and society that valued homogeneity, was growing strong roots in Cambridge.15 Many of these diverse cultures collided and grew together somewhat beginning in the 1960's, united by student radicalism and the Vietnam War.

1Boyer, Sarah. Common Cause, Uncommon Courage: World War II and the Home Front in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Commission, 2009) 9.
2Both [Boyer 11] and the following website [] stated that Harvard University used Fort Devens for student housing after the war, because there was an increase in the number of college students as a result of the GI Bill. I find this puzzling, since it is about 30 miles away.
3Boyer 11-14.
4Boyer 15.
5Boyer 33.
6Boyer 21
7Boyer 28.
8Boyer 30.
9Boyer 145.
10Seaburg, Alan. Cambridge on the Charles. (Cambridge: Anne Miniver Press, 2001). 52.
11Sullivan, Charles. An Overview: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century.” A City's Life and Times: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Daphne Abeel. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Society, 2007) 7.
12Sullivan 7.
13Sutton, S. B. Cambridge Reconsidered: Three and A Half Centuries on the Charles. (Camgridge: The MIT Press, 1976)
14Sutton 110.
15Rahn, Millie. “Looking Backward: Club 47 and the 1960s Folk Revival in Cambridge.” A City's Life and Times: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Daphne Abeel. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Society, 2007) 258.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cambridges of the World -- a map

Below is a map I created that shows the cities and towns named Cambridge throughout the world. Almost every English-speaking place is represented. Hover over the pushpins for a small amount of information about each one. For simplicity's sake, this is only independent, stand-alone towns and cities -- townships, villages in New York State where a village is a part of a town, electoral districts, and so on are omitted.

 All information is from Wikipedia (August 2011) unless otherwise specified. This means that the content in this map is less rigorously researched than a typical Cambridge Considered post, but if you're curious as to the original sources of information, you can head to Wikipedia, which has a list of Cambridges in its "Cambridge: disambiguation" page.

View Larger Map

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Very Brief History of Cambridge, 1900-2000, Part I: The Turn of the Century Through Plan E

      With streetcars, electricity, and more, Cambridge was already a modern city by the turn of the twentieth century. At the same time, it was in for a number of significant changes over the next several decades. MIT moved in, immigration continued but trends in sources of immigration changed, the Great Depression and the First World War made their mark, and the people voted in a new system for electing the city council and school board. Life in early twentieth-century Cambridge was characterized by factional tensions, discussion and debate, both cultural and political.

       The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was founded in 1861, but for its first fifty years, it was on the other side of the river, and many people called it Boston Tech. Appropriately enough, it was a technological change of sorts that caused MIT to decide to move: the land that had been created and groomed when Cambridge built seawalls on the Charles sat undeveloped. The school had been looking for a new campus, and while some MIT affiliates didn't like the proposed Cambridge location, the loudest protests came from Harvard. The older school's president, Charles William Eliot, had tried to absorb or buy MIT three times, and had failed. By the time the Cambridge move was in the works, the president was A. Lawrence Lowell, who worried that MIT would add to the city's tax burden. Since its inception, Harvard had not paid taxes on its ever-growing amounts of land, and Lowell feared that MIT would be the tipping point at which the city started asking for taxes. It wasn't until other cities started showing interest in enticing the school that the city of Cambridge made an offer to MIT. The university started construction in 1911 and moved in 1916. Cambridge never did start asking the schools to pay taxes, because they decided to pay the city an annual lump sum instead.1

       Of course, many Harvardians saw MIT as competition for their monolithic status. Harvard did not stop producing important scientific and technological advancements, but ask any Cantabridgian today and you'll know which school has the reputation for that type of innovation. On the other hand, a Harvard-centric literary scene began to bloom in the early twentieth century. Writers from e. e. cummings to T. S. Elliot to Thomas Wolfe attended the school, and many had lasting connections to the area.2 Both schools also educated modern architects like H. H. Richardson and Louis Sullivan, and in fact, Cambridge was one of the meeting grounds of several modern architectural styles.3

       While Old Cambridge was dominated by Harvard and East Cambridge gained its own university presence, the rest of the city was very much working class and populated by first and second generation Americans as well as immigrants. Early twentieth-century immigrants included Swedes, Russians, Portuguese, Poles, Armenians, Italians, Greeks, and Slavs.4 The Irish population that had once been marginalized in Cambridge became a significant force in local politics by the turn of the century. In 1901 Cambridge elected its first Irish mayor, John H. H. McNamee, and the city's government was dominated by the Irish for the next forty years.5

       Immigrants in Cambridge did not form distinct, homogeneous neighborhoods like Boston's North End or Chinatown. East Cambridge and Cambridgeport were settled by a potpourri of cultures, but a sense of community by national origin did exist, as could be seen in houses of worship (mostly Catholic, but separated by national group) and in voting patterns.6

       The newer ethnic groups faced serious prejudice from their neighbors. Russian Jews were particularly targeted, often by the Irish. In certain areas of Cambridgeport, Russian Jews could never be sure of their physical safety, and the police, who were largely Irish, didn't do enough to help. The Jewish community formed their own protective agencies to make up for the neglect.7

      While not a new group in the area, Cambridge Blacks probably suffered the worst discrimination. Many White factory workers refused to work alongside Blacks, so no one would hire them for fear of losing their other employees. Most Blacks commuted to Boston for work. While public schools in Massachusetts had been integrated since before the Civil War, and Harvard had been integrated not long afterwards, many poor Black families didn't feel it was worth it for children to finish high school because they would have so few opportunities to use their education.8

       During the First World War, Cambridge men from all walks of life enlisted, and some of the tensions between classes and races were very temporarily eased.9  Local factories produced materials for the war rather than for civilian markets. MIT taught engineering, aviation, and other skills that were essential to the war.10 The federal government established a Naval Radio School at Harvard and, once again, military barracks on the Cambridge Common.11 The war provided a short-lived sense of unity in the city, but the one common belief that Cantabridgians held for several decades was that civic life and daily living conditions should be handled differently. How exactly they were handled was up for debate.

      The trend of Progressive-era social and community organizations continued steadily in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Groups such as the Cambridge Home Information Center ran cooking and housekeeping classes for women, and the Mothers' Club of Cambridge started vacation schools and built playgrounds.12 Women took the lead in many movements for the betterment of society, from public health and good housing to education to prison reform.13 In part, this activism set the stage for women to push for the right to vote, with many claiming that voting would empower women to further their role as society's caretakers. Many other progressive-era trends, including campaigns to end corruption in government and in party politics, continued well into the twentieth century, and some people even called these and related reforms “The Cambridge Idea”14

      Spurred by discussions of the “political machine” and corrupt government, Cambridge debated a number of different changes to its political system in the early twentieth century. In 1911, voters shot down a proposal that included nonpartisanship (removing party names from local ballots), the right of referendum, initiative, and recall, and a new structure of voting.15 In 1915, the state legislature offered cities four options for structuring their local governments, called plans A, B, C, and D. Cambridge opted for Plan B, which included nonpartisanship and restructured some city administration with the hope of making it more transparent and representative.16

        For the next fifteen years, people debated less about the structure of government, but the underlying issues of the previous campaigns stayed on people's minds. Rising property taxes, more corruption, proportional representation, tenement housing, and other issues became the platforms for a plethora of groups, such as the Cambridge Housing Association, League of Women Voters, the Cambridge Charter Association and the Socialist Party.17 During the Great Depression, many concerns about wealth and housing in particular became much more dire. The city's population declined during the 1930's as industry stagnated. It was the first time Cambridge had shrunk since the early seventeenth century.18

        In 1938, some of the more radical of the reformers pushed the city to adopt Plan E, which included more administrative restructuring and also a voting system called Proportional Representation (PR for short, also called instant-runoff voting). Many people supported it, and many people called it Communism (although depending on who you asked, that wasn't necessarily a slur). The mayor and city council claimed that Plan E was concocted by Harvard's new School of Public Administration, and that they were using Cambridge as a testing ground. Papers reported that the city council planned to turn Harvard into its own municipality, an idea that generated more satire than change.19 Plan E was defeated that year by 1,300 votes.20 In 1940, after aggressive campaigning on both sides, Cambridge voted on the plan again, and this time, PR and the rest of the plan were approved. A modified system of Plan E is still in place today.

       All of these changes in Cambridge took place before the Second World War. During and after the war, Cambridge's economy launched into the modern world, and even more changes were in store for the people.

1 Simha, O. R.“'Town and Gown in the Twentieth Century.” A City's Life and Times: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Daphne Abeel. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Society, 2007) 165-166.
2Kenney, Michael. Literary Cambridge: The Passage from the Past.” A City's Life and Times: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Daphne Abeel. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Society, 2007) 245.
3 Fixler, David. Cambridge Modern, 1930-1970: One Architect's View.” A City's Life and Times: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Daphne Abeel. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Society, 2007) 60.
4Sutton, S. B. Cambridge Reconsidered: Three and A Half Centuries on the Charles. (Camgridge: The MIT Press, 1976) 96.
5Sutton 99.
6Sutton 97.
7Sutton 97.
8Sutton 99.
9Sutton 100.
10Simha 165.
11Sutton 100.
12 Moseley, Eva. “'The Absolute Majority of the Population': Women in 20th Century Cambridge.” A City's Life and Times: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Daphne Abeel. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Society, 2007) 95.
13Moseley 97.
14 Sullivan, Charles. An Overview: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century.” A City's Life and Times: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Daphne Abeel. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Society, 2007) 4.
15Koocher, Glenn. The Never-Boring Political History of Cambridge.” A City's Life and Times: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Daphne Abeel. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Society, 2007) 130.
16Koocher 132.
17Cunningham, Bill. A Hundred Years of Activism – Or Was It? A City's Life and Times: Cambridge in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Daphne Abeel. (Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Society, 2007) 151.
18Sutton 101.
19 Sullivan 6.
20Koocher 132.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Declaration of Independence, 1776 -- see my guest post on another history blog!

       On July 4th, I will be a guest blogger for Pamela Winnick, an author who focuses on the American Revolution. You can read my post, “That the People May be Universally Informed of It: reactions to the Declaration of Independence, 1776” at her blog, A Historical Novel About Jews During the American Revolution. For today, here's a bit about what was going on in Cambridge at that time.

       Cambridge was a very important location in the American Revolution in 1774 and 1775, as I discussed in A Very Brief History of Cambridge, 1700-1800. The First and Second Provincial Congresses, presided over by John Hancock, and the first meeting of the Committee of Safety all took place in First Church Cambridge.1 Massachusetts was the first of all the colonies to create their own government in opposition to royal rule, and it was these Provincial Congresses that sent delegates to the Continental Congress. In February 1775, the Patriot Massachusetts government moved to Concord. 

      William Dawes, one of Paul Revere's fellow riders, rode through Cambridge on his midnight ride. After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Cambridge became General George Washington made Cambridge his military headquarters, taking over many Harvard buildings, the former homes of Loyalists, and the common. In March 1776, British troops retreated from Boston after the Continental Army conducted a successful siege of the city, and the army headquarters was moved out of Cambridge in April.

       By July of 1776, it would probably be safe to say that Cambridge as a town was recovering from its role in the war, while many of its citizens were still actively involved in politics or fighting in the war itself. Eight out of the Declaration's fifty-six signers were Harvard alumni, but none of them lived in Cambridge. I have not been able to find descriptions of how the people of Cambridge received the news, but ministers in Massachusetts of every denomination were ordered to read the Declaration after the service on the first Sunday after they received it.2 In Cambridge, that would have been at First Church, presumably on July 14. The other church in town had been the Anglican Christ Church. Most of its members were loyalists and not well-liked by many of the earlier settlers. It lost much of its congregation when loyalists fled the area during the war, and it was closed until 1790.3

     The first official printing of the Declaration of Independence was by John Dunlap in Philadelphia. Although many Americans think of the handwritten, signed parchment copy of the Declaration as the original, this version was created after July 4, and it was the Dunlap broadsides (single-page publications) that John Hancock distributed to the colonies.4 You can see an image of the copy owned by the National Archives displayed online. One of the twenty-five other copies that still exist today is in the Houghton Library at Harvard.5

1Alexander, Constance Grosvener. “Historic Churches and Homes of Cambridge.” Merrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 48.
The 1649 building they met in no longer stands, but its predecessor was the one where Anne Hutchinson was tried, and it has two modern successors, First Parish Cambridge Unitarian Universalist and First Church Cambridge Congregational.
John Adams, John Hancock, William Ellery, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, William Hooper, Robert Treat Paine, and William Williams.
2Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 159.
3 Seaburg, Alan. Cambridge on the Charles. (Cambridge: Anne Miniver Press, 2001), 191.
4Maier 159.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Very Brief History of Cambridge, 1800-1900, Part III: Progress and Progressivism

     Cambridge's story in the later part of the nineteenth century follows the same pattern as that of many American cities. Rapid development in industry caused rapid growth in population and in the gap between rich and poor. The 1870's and 1880's saw a new culture of wealthy elite, but also an increase in philanthropy. Cambridge shared America's concerns about corruption in business and government that were the hallmark of the Gilded Age. By the late 1880's through the turn of the century, The Progressive Era had taken root in Cambridge, marked by many types of reform movements that tried to address the problems of an industrial society. The changes in these decades included more technological advancements, changes to higher learning, movements for greater social equality, and programs to improve the public welfare.
    In the previous A Very Brief History of Cambridge article, we saw how much of Cambridge became a modern industrial city. Meanwhile, Harvard was growing and changing in its own ways. Throughout the nineteenth century, the school made a number of additions that aided both research and their classes, and incidentally brought new ideas and experiences to the public as well – at least the sector of the public with leisure time. An example is the Botanic Garden, founded in 1801.1 The Harvard Observatory was founded in 1839; four years later, the sky blazed with a comet that became known as the Great Comet of 1843. The event was frightening to many people who didn't understand that comets are natural and not supernatural, but to the scientific-minded, it was a sign that Cambridge needed to invest in a high-quality telescope. A group raised money to buy and install a fifteen-inch refracting telescope, which was at the time the second largest in the world.2

      Professor Louis Agassiz founded the school's Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1859, to house a collection of objects that he felt was important to make available both for scientific advancement and for teaching purposes.3 The museum began as a personal project of his, and for some time, many people called it the Agassiz Museum4 (Since 1998, however, it has been a part of the Harvard Museum of Natural History).5 Then, in 1866, philanthropist George Peabody founded Harvard's Peabody Museum, one of the first-ever museums of anthropology.6 The educated and wealthy elite of Old Cambridge were able to collect from all over the world for their own pleasure, but this was also the era when people began to show real interest in cultural artifacts as things to be valued.

     Technological changes continued to modernize the city. In 1889, both Boston and Cambridge began work on electric street trolleys, making them the second and third cities in the country to do so.7 Additionally, some city-wide advancements in technology and engineering were performed specifically for the public good, like building sea walls on the dirty banks of the Charles.

      While technology, industry, and the spread of information all had noteworthy developments in the nineteenth century, social movements also made significant progress during this time. A few of the landmarks were that Cambridge public schools went co-ed in 1846, and they became racially integrated in 1855 in accordance with a new state law. In the 1880s Maria Baldwin, an African American who had graduated from a local teaching program, surprised the school committee by applied for a teaching position at a Cambridge school. At first, many were hesitant to give her the position, but she was qualified, and she became first female teacher in Cambridge.8

      Higher education was another matter. For many years, tensions grew between a faction of people who firmly believed that women should be admitted to Harvard alongside men, and another faction who found the idea of mixed-sex education abhorrent. In 1878, Radcliffe college was born as a compromise. At Radcliffe, women would be educated by Harvard professors with the school's blessing, but they would not be Harvard students and they would receive a “certificate” that was not a Harvard degree.9 By that point, there were already a number of coeducational colleges and a handful of women's colleges, but they were strongly in the minority.

     Progressive movements were, naturally, steeped in the culture of their times. Nineteenth-century advocates of women's rights in government believed that women would be a calming, humanizing force on an increasingly cold and brutal world. While the underlying premise of this belief is based on rigid gender roles, in some cases, the idea was right.

      In 1841, Dorothea Dix, a school teacher, visited the East Cambridge Prison to begin teaching women's Sunday school classes there, and found that the conditions were abjectly inhumane. The prisoners were neglected in damp, unheated cells, and sometimes they were beaten or left without clothes. She began what was to become a nationwide campaign to create separate institutions to care for the mentally ill. Before Dix's reform efforts, many mental illness patients who were not self-sufficient and whose families could not care for them had been put into prisons.10 This was one of the many reform movements that took place in that era, as people took stock of the new structure of society now that much of the nation lived in cities and much of the economy was industrialized.

      Another example of a national reform movement having direct implications in Cambridge was the temperance movement. Anti-alcohol activists cited the effect of drunkenness on families on communities, pointing to many incidents of saloon violence and a few local murders, but also the phenomenon of saloons wielding a big and corrupt influence on local government.11 When Massachusetts gave cities the option to stop providing liquor licenses in 1881, Cambridge debated the subject for five years, but in December of 1886, the temperance advocates won, and they continued to win in yearly votes on the subject until 1933, at the end of Prohibition. If nothing else, the “no-license law” did dramatically decrease the number of arrests from drunkenness – because people drank in Boston and the Boston police arrested the rowdy ones on their way home.12

    In the 1870's, some cities in the United State and England began experimenting with the idea of a systematic organization or association of charities. Cambridge's Associated Charities was formed in 1881 and incorporated in 1883, with the aim of ending poverty by addressing its causes. It had offices throughout the city, trying to identify the needs of the population and inform related charities.13 One such charity was the Cambridge Young Women's Christian Association. The book Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors, which includes several essays I have cited in Cambridge Considered, was published in 1895 by the group as a fund-raiser and an awareness-raiser while they attempted to secure a building of their own. The YWCA provided shelter for women, and taught girls and women of all backgrounds domestic and workplace skills.14

      From the 1870's through the 1890's, Cambridge saw a blossoming of public-minded organizations. The groups founded during those years included two hospitals, two medical clinics, a home for orphans, the Home for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, several kindergartens, several homes for senior citizens, and numerous religious and civic organizations.15 Perhaps the most interesting of these groups is the Cambridgeport Union Flower Mission, which provided flowers to the homes of people who could not afford luxuries.16

    The Progressive Era continued in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and Cambridge was to change in many more ways as the years went on.

1Leavitt, Henrietta. The Agassiz Museum.” Merrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 143.
2Leavitt, Henrietta. The Harvard Observatory.” Merrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 133.
3Leavitt, Henrietta. The Botanic Garden.” Merrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 126.
4Leavitt 126.
5Harvard Museum of Natural History website. <> Accessed 6-21-2011.
6 Peabody Museum website. Accessed 6-21-2011.
7 Sutton, S.B. Cambridge Reconsidered: 3 1/2 Centuries on the Charles. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1976),62.
8 Sutton 79.
9 Gilman, Arthur. A Chapter of Radcliffe CollegeMerrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 183-4.
10Sutton 53.
11 Foxcroft, Frank. Cambridge as a No-License CityMerrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 229.
12Sutton, S.B. Cambridge Reconsidered: 3 1/2 Centuries on the Charles. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1976), 82.
13 Houghton, Elizabeth. The Charities of CambridgeMerrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), 238.
14Merrill, Estelle, ed. Cambridge Sketches by Cambridge Authors. Cambridge Young Women’s Christian Association. (Boston: The Pinkham Press, 1896), xii.
15 Houghton, 240-3.
16 Houghton,  243.