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.

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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.