Beacon Street Diary
The Coalition's success in bringing inclusivity to the UCC happened because of decades of advocacy, activism, and hard work. Now, the Congregational Library & Archives is assembling a collection of records that tells this story.
The Coalition's archival records have trickled into the Congregational Library & Archives. Documents have come from the Coalition's central offices in Cleveland, OH, and from individual Coalition activists turning over their own documents.
Since the Coalition lacked a central office or dedicated staff for its first thirty years, these segments of their story stayed with the people who created them. Each fragment of the story was hidden in somebody's attic or closet — sheaves of correspondence nestled in folders and boxes, resources for activists and churches, and newspaper clippings documenting bitter losses and setbacks, slowly giving way to the movement's victories of the last decade.
Now we have started to piece together that story by consolidating the records here in Boston.
Marnie Warner, one of the co-authors of the original Open and Affirming Resolution, joined the Congregational Library & Archives to assist us with the collection. Since she was directly involved, she can provide context and understanding to a complicated project. Each addition fills holes in the Coalition's story, and brings more nuance to the movement. With Marnie's help, we have aggregated and documented the disparate records, and transformed it into a unified collection. It is fully available for researchers here at the Congregational Library & Archives.
The UCC slogan "God is still speaking" ends with a comma to signify that a conversation continues. The LGBT rights movement, the Coalition's work, and its collection here is an ongoing conversation. Take a look at the collection and see what we are talking about.
Seats are filling up fast, so don't forget to reserve yours for this month's free lunchtime lecture.
Food and Spirituality in Early Boston
The New England's Hidden Histories program at the Congregational Library & Archives holds one of the extensive collections of conversion narratives (relations) in the world. Take a look at the Middleboro and Haverhill First Church collections in particular to learn more.
Lori Stokes received her Ph.D. from Stony Brook University. She studies the founding decades of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, focusing on the 1630s and '40s when the forms of church and state were put in place that would shape Massachusetts and American history for centuries to come. Dr. Stokes is a volunteer for the NEHH program's Church Records Transcription Project, a digital history project of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston led by Puritan scholar Dr. James F. Cooper, a director of NEHH.
Thursday, October 15th
12:00 - 1:00 pm
woodcut of "wicked Ranters" from the book Hell Broke Loose: or, the Notorious Design of the Wicked Ranters... (1651)
October is National Archives Month, and the Society of American Archivists began the month with #AskAnArchivist, a social media campaign that allowed people to ask archivists their most pressing questions about archives and life as an archivist.
Our social media followers asked some great questions about the Congregational Library & Archives, and our archivists Cristina, Jessica, and Sari provided the answers on our Twitter stream and Facebook page. Here are some of our favorites.
Our first question for #AskAnArchivist Day came from our friend, Margaret Bush. She asked, "How are you sure this new electronic information is still going to be here in 100 years?"
Sari explained: As with all things in the archival world, it comes down to preservation. Just as there are steps and processes and guidelines for ensuring that our physical archival items are preserved for use by future generations, there are steps and processes and guidelines for digital preservation. They include things like making sure the we keep up with obsolescence (the tendency of technology to evolve to the point where old media and files are no longer compatible with new hardware and software) of both our digital files and our physical hardware, creating backups and copies to combat system failure and file corruption, and ensuring that the files we are creating today are in stable non-proprietary formats. Are any of these things foolproof? No – but then preservation of a one-of-a-kind manuscript isn't foolproof either (fires, floods, other natural disasters, wear and tear, etc.). What we archivists do is work to establish systems and procedures that meet best practice to give each item (digital or not) within our custody the best chance it has to still exist and be usable in 100 years.
Our friend Jim Hopkins asked, "Do you stop to read the juicy bits?"
All three archivists had something to say.
Sari: It depends on how much time I have! But generally, yes. It's my job to have an idea about what is in a collection – both the boring and juicy bits. The juicy bits are also what can often interest someone in the collection and can be avenues into the material for people who don't usually work with archival collections.
Jessica: If I can, yes. But it really can be a trap when you need to keep moving.
Cristina: Of, course! But… the extent depends on how I'm processing a collection – how large is it, what's my deadline, what's my goal in the value-added description I can add to the collection in a finding aid. It's our job to become the "experts" when processing a collection and we can't write compelling finding aids without understanding what's in a collection. That said, other times my goal is to let people know we have a collection in our possession. In those cases, I do less reading, but we can always go back to those collections iteratively.
What is the funniest thing you’ve come across? Something that made you laugh out loud?
Sari says: Marginalia can be a fun place to find funny things. One of my favorites is this face added to a booklet of sermon notes.
I also like when you find someone else has interacted with an item in a funny way. I found this clerk's note on a document from a long, drawn-out fight between two men (first cousins) who clearly didn't get along. It reads "Mr. Burt again." I enjoyed the clerk's mild exasperation because, when I found it, I was also beginning to wonder if these two would ever solve their differences and put an end to their arguing!
Jessica writes: Yes! Earlier this year, I was organizing a church's papers, and they had collected complaints from the neighborhood, apparently mostly from children, about the carillon (the system that rings church bells in a melodic fashion).
Cristina says: During the course of processing a church collection from the 1975, I bumped into an editorial comment that just made me laugh out loud. Someone wrote, "A real loser" across a Pan Am annual report.
Another laugh out loud moment is more macabre. The humor is in no way regarding the topic, but rather the imposed organizational structure used to house topical older sermons regarding murder. For such a serious, sad topic, this pamphlet box titled "Murders, Duels, etc." just struck a chord. How could these sermons NOT be intriguing?
What information have you discovered/uncovered that still gives you a thrill?
From Jessica: One of my most recent processing projects was over the summer was sorting out the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition's collection. It's been fascinating to see how the movement has changed over the past 40 years. Each decade had its own focus, which is echoed in the programs and focus for the Coalition. It means a lot to me that I'm able to organize a collection that has to do with living history with new pages being written every day.
Cristina liked this question enough to have two answers…
As both an archivist and a beekeeper, I love the story of Henry C. Gould's time in the Union Army during the Civil War. Through a memorial scrapbook made by his daughter, I discovered Gould survived Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Sherman's March in Atlanta; he survived being hit in the forehead with a spent shell. The only time he was off duty during his service was due to illness from confiscated honey. Second, while processing the First Church in Haverhill collection, I found a statement from Ebenezer Eastman written circa 1730 to be read at service giving thanks that his living wife successfully gave birth to a living child. A simple and powerful statement of thanks.
Sari says: Oh! I think my answer to this is very changeable. Right now the piece of information that amuses me the most (perhaps because I am currently obsessed with the musical Hamilton!) is that Jonathan Edwards, fire and brimstone preacher of the early 18th Century, was the grandfather of Aaron Burr, the United States' third vice president (and the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel). I learned this while writing text to accompany this letter Edwards wrote to his daughter, Aaron's mother Esther.
What are the work rules? Can you eat/drink on the job, etc.?
Cristina answers - We're very careful about making sure our hands are clean and dry whenever we begin handling our materials. But, we also need to eat our lunch during the day! We never handle food while also working with our archival items. We keep food away from our collections and make sure our work surfaces are clean with no residue. Any water we are drinking is kept in a spill-proof vessel and far away from our collection items, on a separate surface.
Board member Mimi Biedron's asked, "What is your favorite material to work with?" Each archivist had a different response:
Sari: Right now, my favorite things to work with are colonial era church disciplinary cases. I like the mystery of trying to piece together what happened (they are often quite vague). These documents also provide insight into people's worries and concerns – and they're where we learn that they're more like us, today, then we tend to give credit for. It's where a lot of our historical stereotypes about New England colonists and Puritans get broken.
Cristina: I love working with oversized materials, such as architectural and technical drawings. Sometimes their sheer size can be the biggest threat to their long-term preservation. Wrangling them under control for both preservation and access of use for researchers is deeply gratifying. I also love working with personal papers; I enjoy the universal connections between people through letters, drawings, and scrapbooks, regardless of era.
Jessica: Missionary family papers are a rich treat when we can get them. We have several families represented. I've worked with papers from families who spent time in Angola, Turkey, and South Africa (look up Blake and Goodsell; Phillips; and Welch on our website!). Missionaries provide details about a time and a culture that we would not get otherwise. It's a resource for people interested in going past what the usual school text books provide on major international events. Being able to work with material that provides this context is exceptionally gratifying.
Our friend Sue asked, "What are the basics of digitization?"
At the most basic level you need to know what you have, it needs to be in good enough condition to digitize it without destroying it, you need a good method of producing good quality digitization that works for the item you are digitizing, and you need a system in place to provide for the on-going care of the digital files you have created (we call this digital preservation). Digitization doesn't mean you digitize your originals and then throw those originals away, but it can prolong the life of the thing you have digitized by providing another way for people to access the information found in the original. Digitization can also provide a way to more easily share the item in ways not possible with the original.
A patron who happened to be in the reading room asked, "How do you find archival supplies?"
We use several archival supply companies depending on needs & occasionally we make our own boxes!
Twitter follower Jenn Parent asked two questions.
1. “How do you market your collections to users?”
Blog posts, finding aid announcements, & talking collections up on social media just to name a few!
2. "What really speaks to you about being an archivist?"
Sari answers: Everything we do (IMO) is about facilitating access. People using collections is what speaks to me!
We hope these answers are both helpful and entertaining. Of course, you don't have to wait until next October to ask our archivists your questions. They are happy to help at any time of year. Please feel free to contact them at any time, and consider becoming a member to help support their work in return.
The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed this coming Monday, October 12th, in observance of Columbus Day.
All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question you'd like to ask the staff, send an us email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return on Tuesday.
We hope you have a safe and happy holiday weekend.
We are pleased to announce two new additions to New England's Hidden Histories — a church covenant from Watertown, Mass. and the results of an ecclesiastical council from Wrentham, Mass.
Presented here is the church's covenant of 1709.
The Second Church in Wrentham was gathered in 1738. The ecclesiastical council recorded in this document was gathered to judge the moral character of Rev. Caleb W. Barnum and contains the recommendations of the council regarding his removal. According to Emerson Davis, Rev. Barnum left Second Church as the result of his intervention in a difficultly between two members of the church about a crop of cranberries.
You can learn more about these churches and their ministers, and view these records (and many more!) as part of our growing New England's Hidden Histories program.
--Marya & Sari
portrait of Rev. George Phillips found via jaysteeleblog
As we mentioned back in June, our executive director Peggy Bendroth is an esteemed historian and prolific author. Her latest book, The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past, has now been published and added to our collection. You can order a copy of your own from your favorite online or brick-and-mortar bookseller, or become a member of the Congregational Library and Archives to borrow one of ours.
Bendroth chronicles how the New England Puritans, known for their moral and doctrinal rigor, came to be the antecedents of the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal of all Protestant denominations today. The demands of competition in the American religious marketplace spurred Congregationalists, Bendroth argues, to face their distinctive history. By engaging deeply with their denomination's storied past, they recast their modern identity. The soul-searching took diverse forms — from letter writing and eloquent sermonizing to Pilgrim-celebrating Thanksgiving pageants — as Congregationalists renegotiated old obligations to their seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors. The result was a modern piety that stood a respectful but ironic distance from the past and made a crucial contribution to the American ethos of religious tolerance.
This Thursday, our archivists will be participating in the #AskAnArchivist Day social media event initiated by the Society of American Archivists.
On October 1, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to answer your questions about any and all things archives. This day-long event, sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, will give you the opportunity to connect directly with archivists in your community — and around the country — to ask questions, get information, or just satisfy your curiosity.
As professional experts who do the exciting work of protecting and sharing important historical materials, archivists have many stories to share about the work they do every day in preserving fascinating documents, photographs, audio and visual materials, and artifacts. Increasingly, archival work extends beyond the physical and includes digital materials. #AskAnArchivist Day will give you a chance to connect with archivists who are tackling the challenges of preserving our digital heritage for the future.
What questions can be asked?
Archivists participating in #AskAnArchivist Day are eager to respond to any and all questions you have about archives and archival work.
No question is too silly…
- What's the craziest thing you’ve come across in your collections?
- If your archives had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?
- What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?
…and no question is too practical!
- What should I do to be sure that my emails won’t get lost?
- I've got scads of digital images on my phone. How should I store them so I can access them later on?
- How do you decide which items to keep and which to weed out from a collection?
- As a teacher, how can I get my students more interested in using archives for projects?
How does it work?
#AskAnArchivist Day is open to everyone — all you need is a Twitter account. To participate, just tweet a question and include the hashtag #AskAnArchivist in your tweet. Your question will be seen instantly by archivists around the country who are standing by to respond directly to you.
Have a question for a specific archives or archivist? Include their Twitter handle with your question. They may not know every answer right away, but they will get back to you after they’ve had the chance to do some digging.
Don't have a question right away? Search Twitter for #AskAnArchivist and follow along as questions and answers are shared.
So get ready!
Archivists from universities, museums, historical societies, churches, businesses, local and state governments, and other organizations are taking to Twitter to answer your questions all day long on October 1 at #AskAnArchivist.
College freshmen are settling into their new dorm rooms and starting classes this month, congregating on campuses with the common goal of improving their minds. It was the same in the fall of 1850 when Aaron Lucius Chapin addressed Beloit College. "Year by year, it gathers into its bosom a crowd of bright youth drawn from families of every rank and profession." Chapin was a Congregational minister and the first president of Beloit College. Inspired by Congregational missionaries in the United States and abroad, he was part of a movement to found a dozen Congregational colleges in the mid-1800s.
"You and I, brother, as sons of Yale, have enjoyed singular advantages, and it behooves us to do what we can to transmit these blessings to succeeding generations, who shall occupy these verdant prairies and be planted along this silvery stream, destined at no distant day to become the crowded residence of wealth, intelligence, and refinement, and all the attractions of virtuous society, in its highest style and development. What was, fifteen years back, the wild man's hunting ground, in fifteen years more, will be as near a paradise as we shall be likely to find on this side Heaven."
For Chapin, academic discipline was inseparable from spiritual rigor, and a college was the best place to instill both in young people. The state universities springing up in the Midwest were too secular for Chapin's taste. He preferred colleges like Yale and Harvard, where New England Congregational values blended with English university academics. But Chapin saw those colleges as distant trees, whose seeds of education could hardly be expected to float all the way to Wisconsin. If a college was local, thought Chapin, its virtuous influence on the community would be stronger.
"A hand from the East will be stretched out to help on the establishment of genuine Christian colleges, judiciously located here and there in the West," wrote Chapin. Beloit College was part of a larger project by Congregationalists at the time to extend their influence outside of New England. Congregational missionaries travelled to frontier towns from the East Coast, both to convert native people and to keep settlers on the proper Christian path. Education was one of the central goals of the Congregational missionaries because it was so closely intertwined with their faith. In 1878, Chapin spoke before to the Mission Board.
"To secure and make abiding these results in all of those young States, colleges have been founded. They are the natural outgrowth of Home Missions. They stand as fortresses to maintain the ascendancy of the truth. In them recruits are trained for service on the field. They are living fountains in which science and religion — kindred elements — are blended according to their natural affinity, to pour forth into the forthcoming civilization healthful streams of intelligence and refined culture."
Many early graduates of Beloit College fulfilled Chapin's vision, and went on to serve as missionaries elsewhere in the United States and abroad.
Congregationalist missionaries founded colleges stretching from Pennsylvania to Utah, all founded in the same spirit of bringing New England values to people in the West. The colleges were meant to be "permanent centers of Christian influence," as Chapin wrote. History intervened.
"In the 1950s and early 1960s, Beloit College had transferred to a more civic-religious sense of identity. It still called itself a Christian college, but it had moved away from call itself Congregational," explained Bill Conover, who runs Beloit's present-day Spiritual Life Program. "The 1960s brought a sense of secularism and a sense of upheaval across our campus and other Christian institutions. The faculty took a vote to take 'Christian' out of the college's name an identity." A Protestant chaplaincy remained until the 1970s, but it was cut during a budget crisis.
Ashley Cleere is the chaplain of Piedmont College, one of two colleges still affiliated with the Congregational tradition. She thinks the gradual secularization of Congregational colleges was a result of Congregationalism's decentralized nature. "Congregational colleges don't have the burden of doctrine they have to maintain on campus, and we don't have something like a denomination giving us money," said Cleere. "It's part of the nature of Congregationalism that made it easy to drift away."
"I would guess that I'm one of a handful of people who even know about the historic connection with the Congregational church," said Beloit's Conover.
Although the explicit Christianity is gone from most Congregational colleges, the tradition of learning, openness, and self-improvement is as strong for the freshmen who started at Beloit College this month as it was for the students Chapin addressed in 1850. Conover sees Congregationalism's stamp even on the secular Beloit College campus. "In the life of the institution, someone who knows Congregational values would really see them," he says. "Congregationalism is really associated with a strong emphasis on freedom of conscience and speech. I feel like there is kind of a Puritan-influenced sense of the necessity of constant improvement, and we really value the project of endless improvement and reform."
The Congregational Library & Archives' collections include many documents related to Congregational colleges founded by American missionaries.
Don't forget to reserve your seat for this month's free lunchtime event.
Join archaeologist and author Emerson "Tad" Baker for a discussion of his latest book, A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience.
Wednesday, September 16th
12:00 - 1:00 pm
Our reading room will be closed to the public on Monday, September 14th for our board's quarterly meeting.
All of our online resources will be available as usual, and staff members will be in the office to answer questions over the phone or by email.