Beacon Street Diary
Outwardly, the Congregational Library & Archives looks much as it did fifteen years ago — with the card catalog lining the front hall, the reading room preserved, the portraits of the ministers looking down sternly. Archivist Jessica Steytler knows better. The Congregational Library & Archives has changed dramatically since Jessica arrived in 2000. "Technology has really been booming. We have these tools that didn't exist twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. In some ways, my job has morphed quite a bit," she says. "But I still answer reference questions, I still process collections. Those are the pillars of my job."
When Jessica finished her MS in Library Science at Simmons, it was hard for archivists to find work in Boston. "It was a tight job market in Boston. I had multiple part-time jobs out of school, and I had very little experience." Dr. Harold "Hal" Worthley, the Librarian from 1977 to 2004, gave Jessica her first full-time job as an archivist. "Hal was known to give new archivists a shot." Jessica jumped right in, processing collections, staffing the reference desk, and even working on the old website. "Hal retired after I had been here for four years, so I thought I should stick around for continuity's sake. And things just kept getting interesting."
Since Peggy Bendroth became the executive director, and more archivists joined the staff, Jessica has felt a great sense of forward momentum in the institution. She's especially grateful that the CLA embraces technology. "We've really always had a lot of support. There's not resistance towards trying something just because it's new." The next new tool? A web-based information management system called ArchivesSpace, funded by a grant from the H.W. Wilson Foundation. "I'm excited to use ArchivesSpace," Jessica says. "It's a powerful tool, and it's really important to our industry. And it's very new. We are on the cutting edge. We're right there."
The new database will bring the Congregational Library & Archives up to the industry standard, and make the archivists more efficient. It will also help CLA patrons get exactly the information they need. Different people want to know different things about our collection, says Jessica. "ArchivesSpace will help us serve everyone better."
But technology has not eliminated the need for traditional ways of helping researchers and historians. "I still like talking to people," says Jessica. She greets visitors from the reference desk, and assists visiting researchers. She works with other visitors to the CLA. "I really enjoyed talking to Eva Grizzard from the Northeast Document Conservation Center, who came here for a preservation assessment a few weeks ago." The preservation assessment was funded by a federal grant the library received this year.
Jessica also brings her deep preservation and organizational knowledge to the wider Congregational community. "I talk to churches a lot. I help them understand how to take care of their archives." Jessica gives churches the skills they need to preserve their records, and shows them how to organize their materials. "That educational facet of my work is always very fulfilling."
The movement of people from one place to another always strains societies. Today's debate about who to let in and who to keep out of Europe and the United States echoes similar conflagrations from the past. The Congregational Library & Archives has sermons and pamphlets from the mid-19th century discussing arriving waves of immigrants in the United States.
The Irish, fleeing poverty and increasingly reactionary government in their home country, arrived en masse to the United States in the 1840s. Documents in the CLA's collection illuminate striking similarities between this migration and the arrivals in Europe today.
The business of moving people across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe has taken off since 2011. As Europe's borders become more tightly controlled, more migrants need help crossing. Migrant smugglers provide these services — everything from forging immigration papers to providing the low-cost transport methods that have caused so many deaths. The process was not much easier in the 1800s.
In 1851 and 1852, Edward E. Hale wrote a series of letters to the editor published in the Boston Advertiser. He explains the difficulty of negotiating border crossings:
"Emigrants do not themselves usually make their bargains with the masters or owners of ships, —but are brought together and put on board by some 'passenger broker' with whom they have contracted, and who furnishes their stores. Instances of fraud and cruelty on the part of these men sometimes take place, but, on the whole, they are not so many as in so immense a business, as one might have feared."
Emigrating by sea has changed little since the 1840s. It seems there is always another story of people dying as they seek refuge in Europe. Hale wrote of similarly dangerous journey from Ireland to North America, what he called the "terrors of the summer passage of 1847." Writing in December of 1851, he said:
"The experience of the awful suffering of emigrants in 1847, when, of 90,000 who embarked for Canada on British vessels, 15,000 died on the way, or after arrival, called the attention of the English government to the necessity of a more stringent law for passenger vessels."
Hale went on to describe the regulation that the British and American governments placed on passenger ships: 14 square feet of space per passenger, and a set ration of food and water for the length of the crossing to New York. Unfortunately, there are no such regulations in place to protect migrants today.
Congregational missionaries on Ellis Island greeted new arrivals in the 1800s, and helped the often-bewildered newcomers. The Congregational Home Missionary Society published a pamphlet about the experience, called "Daily Tasks on Ellis Island".
"The missionary must often take the place of a lawyer and make an appeal for an excluded immigrant who has a right to one but is helpless to obtain it himself. … The missionary must be a friend to win the confidence of the bewildered immigrant, who has gone through a great deal of previous examination. This takes some time, but success comes with perseverance. The immigrant has no one in whom to confide the story of his or her heart. The mind must be unburdened, and here the missionary acts as comforter and adviser."
Missionaries helped immigrants arrange travel to other cities join friends and relatives, visited them in hospitals, and helped them avoid scams. The work was difficult, but rewarding.
"The work at Ellis Island is full of care, and often brings pathetic experiences which make a large draft on one's sympathy. But there are so many hopeful things about, so many opportunities to bring happiness and cheer into the lives of strangers, that after all there is a glow of joy and satisfaction even in the most trying and discouraging days."
Today, we hear uplifting stories about Europeans bringing migrants food and water, or helping them call loved ones they left behind.
But not everyone is so welcoming. Anti-immigrant demonstrations have become commonplace in Germany, and human rights groups are reporting a spike in hate crimes in Europe. Some are concerned about the cultural impact of a large group of Muslims on majority-Christian countries. Others worry about the potential economic burden of impoverished migrants and refugees.
In his time, Hale was concerned about the impact the millions of newcomers had on the East Coast. While the "cream of the emigrants" moved on to the West, "The 'lame, blind deaf, idiotic, and lunatic,' as our statutes describe them, are strained off by the Eastern States, and remain to fill up our alms-houses and hospitals." He continued, "The public charge of Massachusetts for such persons is larger I think, than of any other State in the Union, New York not excepted." Hale was compassionate, and saw justice in the government caring for the newcomers. He wrote, "It is for the government of the nation to take a trifle from him in his prosperity with which to support hospitals for his sickness."
For all his sympathy, Hale considered even the "cream" of the Irish to be "inefficient as compared with the Saxon and other Germanic races which receive them." However, he welcomed the idea of 'inferior' people as much-needed labor. "Their inferiority as a race compels them to go to the bottom; and the consequence is that we are, all of us, the higher lifted because they are here. … No one can fail to observe… that to the ready transfer of emigrant population to the west, the government owes all the worth of its Western lands."
The United States needed the emigrants in the 1850s as much as they needed the United States. Hale wrote, "…by every laboring man who arrives, the danger of starvation becomes less and less."
Today, many economists say immigrants will help keep social security afloat for Europe's aging population. Germany in particular needs immigration to increase its workforce, and so is preparing to welcome 800,000 newcomers this year. Like the United States in the 1850s, Europe needs immigrants.
The documents in the Congregational Library & Archives hold a mirror to our contemporary dilemmas, and bring us powerful voices from the past. History matters at the Congregational Library & Archives. No matter what the dilemma, our librarians and archivists can help navigate the past to understand the present.
images of "State Emigrant Landing Depot, Castle Garden, NY" by Roylance-Purcell engravers, and "Verplanck State Emigrant Hospital, Ward's Island, NY" by J. Shearman from Immigration and the Commissioners of Emigration of the state of New York by Friedrich Kapp (1870)
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.