Beacon Street Diary

May 22, 2015

The Congregational Library and Archives will be closed on Monday, May 25th in observance of Memorial Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.

image of historical American flags courtesy of

May 18, 2015

There's still plenty of time to register for this week's free lunchtime lecture.

The Congregational Library's holdings play a significant role in Theresa Strouth Gaul's recent book, Cherokee Sister: The Collected Writings of Catharine Brown, 1818-1823. Join us to find out more about this Cherokee woman whose letters and diaries give insight into early missions to the Cherokees, Cherokee politics in the era preceding the Trail of Tears, and women's writing in the early republic.

Theresa Strouth Gaul is Professor of English and Director of the Women and Gender Studies Program at Texas Christian University. In her research, she works to recovers the writings of early Americans marginalized in traditional literary histories, especially women and Native Americans. She is editor of Cherokee Sister: The Collected Writings of Catharine Brown, 1818-1823 (2014); To Marry An Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot in Letters, 1823-1839 (2005); and the co-editor of Letters and Cultural Transformations in the United States, 1760-1860 (2009). Her articles on white-native contacts in the early republic and women's writing have appeared in numerous journals. She is Co-Editor of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers and Series Editor of the Legacies of American Women Writers book series, published through the University of Nebraska Press.


Thursday, May 21st
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


The Congregational Library and Archives has a few other materials by and about Catharine Brown in our collections.

illustration of Catharine Brown in bed by J.R. Penniman (artist) and W. Hoagland (engraver), from Rufus Anderson's 1825 biography

May 14, 2015

One of our board members, Norm Erlendson, has gifted us with an essay about Rev. Washington Gladden and his role in advocating for fair labor practices in 19th century America.

The old adage, "the more things change, the more they remain the same" is certainly true of the plight of the working poor and their struggle for a living wage in the present day, as well as in the Gilded Age. Then, as now, the call by workers for increased wages and benefits did not usually receive a sympathetic hearing by employers or the general public. Then as now, the power of labor was weak in comparison to the power of capital. In the 1870s and '80s the American Labor Movement began to gain momentum on a national scale around a list of demands to improve the lives of the millions of wage earning men and women across all trades and industries. Unionization was a response to cutthroat business practices which kept wages at rock bottom levels.

Read the full article.


photograph of child workers at the Washington Cotton Mills in Fries, VA (1911) by Lewis Hine, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons

May 12, 2015

Many authors turn to the stacks of the Congregational Library & Archives for original source material. For his latest book, The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America's Civil War, author Dick Lehr conducted research here in our reading room.

The records at the library were of critical importance to the work. Rolfe Cobleigh, editor of The Congregationalist newspaper, played a significant role in the 1915 campaign, working in solidarity with William Monroe Trotter as a leading white voice against the film. In 1915, Cobleigh wrote: "I have expressed my disapproval of 'The Birth of a Nation' on the grounds of falsifying history, in a riot of emotions glorifying crime, especially lynching, immorality, inviting prejudice against the negro race, falsely representing the character of colored Americans and teaching the undemocratic, unchristian, and unlawful doctrine that all colored people be removed from the United States."

Lehr's notes from the Congregational Library & Archives show that our collection was valuable to his research. In addition to Cobleigh's articulate publications in The Congregationalist, one of his writing laid out a specific sequence of events in 1915, clarifying the timeline for Lehr.

If you would like to hear more on the matter from Professor Lehr himself, join us for a free evening event next month.

May 8, 2015

Norumbega Harmony will be filling our reading room with twenty voices and sharing the tradition that they are keeping alive for the future. Don't forget to let us know if you'll be joining us for this free concert.

Sacred Song in Revolutionary Boston: William Billings and Oliver Holden

With names like Hatfield, Lynn, Walpole, and Woburn you would think that you'd be looking at a map of Massachusetts. Then you spot Maryland, Pennsylvania, Cortona, and Bethlehem and you are off on a trip around the world. Not always.

When these names appear on Sweet Seraphic Fire, Norumbega Harmony's 2005 album, they point to delightful short songs from early New England (often titled from the composer's hometown). The singing group's style is called Sacred Harp, and it performs works by America's earliest itinerant singing masters. Those masters' schools comprised the principle form of music education in the Republic's early days. From four-part hymns called "plain tunes" and lively "fuging tunes" with independent lines for each part, the music is complex and inventive, and world respected Norumbega Harmony know how to make them come alive.

Stephen Marini, the singing master of Norumbega Harmony, is also the Elisabeth Luce Moore Professor of Christian Studies and Professor of American Religion and Ethics at Wellesley College. Professor Marini's research concentrates in three areas: religion in Revolutionary America, the history of sectarian religion, and the sacred arts in America.

Our hymnal collection includes several rare tune books from the 18th century, including The Easy Instructor by William Little and William Smith, which popularized the shape note muscial notation method used by many 19th-century singing masters.

Wednesday, May 13th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

Read more about Norumbega Harmony and listen to samples of their music in the Winter 2013 issue of Common-Place.

Sweet Seraphic Fire is available digitally through iTunes and New World Records.

April 29, 2015

We have been awarded a sizeable grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to expand our New England's Hidden Histories program over the next three years.

The New England's Hidden Histories program has been rescuing old records from church attics and basements, and making them widely accessible through preservation and digitization. With a significance that extends well beyond religion, they are of inestimable value to scholars interested in everything from political culture to epidemiology.

While CLA has begun the work of processing, the scope can now be greatly extended. This grant will create a minimum of 18,000 digital scans over three years, along with an online, fully searchable database of digital, transcribed documents. The impact of this project creates a record of life in colonial New England that will be easily accessible to anyone who is interested.

Read the full press release.

The Congregational Library and Archives is grateful to the NEH for its support, and very excited to bring our researchers new and improved resources.

April 23, 2015

We have some new additions to our circulating collection. They are available for borrowing by our members.

A City That Hath Foundations : Congregationalism in Springfield, Massachusetts, 1635-2014 by Eric Wilbra Bascom

Initially, Springfield was not "city set on a hill", but sat cheek-by-jowl beside "the Grayte River in the West," more a village laid out in a swamp. William Pynchon bought it fair and square from the local Nipmucs -- and did much to ease their distresses. Its meetinghouse stored corn and was both church and town hall, but it rang with the convictions that would give all America its work ethic and moral backbone.

Locally written histories talk a lot about buildings; this is a book about ideas. When these people went to church, what did they hear? What were their hopes; what woke them in the night; what did they pray for? What can our cities do to build, and build again, upon secure foundations?

Eric Bascom writes, preaches, teaches, and tells stories, and lives in Springfield. The author of Up Where the House Burned Down and A Funny Thing Happened o the Way to the Pulpit has drawn on his fifty years ministry in this Pioneer Valley town to look at the roots of a major phenomenon.


Women, Dissent and Anti-slavery in Britain and America, 1790-1865 by Elizabeth J. Clapp and Julie Roy Jeffrey

As historians have gradually come to recognize, the involvement of women was central to the anti-slavery cause in both Britain and the United States. Like their male counterparts, women abolitionists did not all speak with one voice. Among the major differences between women were their religious affiliations, an aspect of their commitment that has not been studied in detail. Yet it is clear that the desire to live out and practice their religious beliefs inspired many of the women who participated in anti-slavery activities in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

This book examines the part that the traditions, practices, and beliefs of English Protestant dissent and the American Puritan and evangelical traditions played in women's anti-slavery activism. Focusing particularly on Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian and Unitarian women, the essays in this volume move from accounts of individual women's participation in the movement as printers and writers, to assessments of the negotiations and the occasional conflicts between different denominational groups and their anti-slavery impulses. Together the essays in this volume explore how the tradition of English Protestant Dissent shaped the American abolitionist movement, and the various ways in which women belonging to the different denominations on both sides of the Atlantic drew on their religious beliefs to influence the direction of their anti-slavery movements. The collection provides a nuanced understanding of why these women felt compelled to fight for the end of slavery in their respective countries.


Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism : College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America by J. Brent Morris

By exploring the role of Oberlin — the college and the community — in fighting against slavery and for social equality, J. Brent Morris establishes this "hotbed of abolitionism" as the core of the antislavery movement in the West and as one of the most influential reform groups in antebellum America. As the first college to admit men and women of all races, and with a faculty and community comprised of outspoken abolitionists, Oberlin supported a cadre of activist missionaries devoted to emancipation, even if that was through unconventional methods or via an abandonment of strict ideological consistency. Their philosophy was a color-blind composite of various schools of antislavery thought aimed at supporting the best hope of success. Though historians have embraced Oberlin as a potent symbol of egalitarianism, radicalism, and religious zeal, Morris is the first to portray the complete history behind this iconic antislavery symbol.

In this book, Morris shifts the focus of generations of antislavery scholarship from the East and demonstrates that the West's influence was largely responsible for a continuous infusion of radicalism that helped the movement stay true to its most progressive principles.


Damnable Heresy : William Pynchon, the Indians, and the First Book Banned (and Burned) in Boston by David Powers

Misunderstandings between races, hostilities between cultures. Anxiety from living in a time of war in one's own land. Being accused of profiteering when food was scarce. Unruly residents in a remote frontier community. Charged with speaking the unspeakable and publishing the unprintable. All of this can be found in the life of one man — William Pynchon, the Puritan entrepreneur and founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1636.

Two things in particular stand out in Pynchon's pioneering life: he enjoyed extraordinary and uniquely positive relationships with Native peoples, and he wrote the first book banned — and burned — in Boston.

Now for the first time, this book provides a comprehensive account of Pynchon's story, beginning in England, through his New England adventures, to his return home. Discover the fabric of his times and the roles Pynchon played in the Puritan venture in Old England and New England.

April 20, 2015

Longtime friend of the library Rick Taylor sent us a wonderful story in response to the latest issue of our Bulletin, which focused on poetry.

When I was a youngster growing up in an old city church in Paterson, NJ, I couldn't help but notice the 320-foot-high stained glass windows of Jesus in the building. Jesus and the children, Jesus knocking at the door, Jesus, the good shepherd. Beautiful, colorful. The first two were given by families. But the good shepherd window was in memory of a former pastor. He was also the only former pastor whose picture hung in the Church. What was so special about him? As I contemplated becoming a pastor, I wondered what would cause a congregation to honor a pastor with a good shepherd window? What was there about him?

His name was Charles Loveland Merriam (Congregational Yearbook, 1914). What I found out then was not much. In Paterson in the 1880s and 1890s, he helped get the local YMCA started. Then he went to another urban church in the Merrimack Valley, then Derry, New Hampshire, then Newton. In 1913 the Paterson church recalled him as pastor. But that pastorate was short. He died in an auto accident the next year. Auto accidents were probably so rare then, that is was quite a shock. I attributed the memorial to the shock of the sudden death, and left it at that.

Years later I ran into some information about his time in Derry. While there (1903-1910), Merriam, like many other Congregational ministers, was chair of the school board. He also ran into a young couple on a farm in town. They had several children, and the husband, a college drop out was – to say the least – totally unprepared to be a farmer. Merriam, as a good pastor should be was concerned about the children and family and getting them some money for food and necessities. He found that the husband wrote a few poems, so he invited him to speak at the church women's group and men's group, and paid him a bit to read some poems. Finally he got the young man a part time job as an English teacher in the local schools. In thanks the young man wrote a poem of thanks, "The Tuft of Flowers", that was so good he was able to get it published in 1906. Merriam left town in 1910, and was dead by 1914. Between Newton and Paterson, I wonder if he forgot about the young man. The same year that Merriam died, the poet took a trip to Britain, and then came back as the war broken, and got a book published. Merriam never would have known much of what happened next.

Have you guessed it? The young man was Robert Frost. I ran into this when reading a biography of Frost years ago. I hope I remember the details correctly. I've used Merriam's life to illustrate the text "Cast your bread upon the waters…" Read "The Tuft of Flowers", and you will find what it means for a lonely hard working farm hand to discover that someone else recognizes beauty.

So maybe this is another of our Congregational poet stories.

-Rick Taylor


Red chrysanthemums drawn by William Clarke for the Transactions of the Horticultural Society, London courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

April 17, 2015

The Congregational Library and Archives will be closed on Monday, April 20th in observance of Patriots' Day.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.

We wish the best of luck to everyone participating in the 119th Boston Marathon.


photo of the Lexington Minute Men relief (1948) by Bashka Paeff courtesy of user Daderot via Wikimedia Commons, released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

April 16, 2015

The panel discussion Peggy Bendroth participated in at the Mary Baker Eddy Library late last month is now available for streaming.

click to watch "Spiritual Intersections in Boston History" on Vimeo

"Spiritual Instersections in Boston History" was held at The Mary Baker Eddy Library on March 31st. The participants discussed how religion, culture, and politics shaped Boston in the late 19th century, where new movements crisscrossed with old. It features Dr. James O'Toole, Clough Millenium Professor of History, Boston College; Dr. Margaret Bendroth, Executive Director, Congregational Library and Archives; Dr. Christopher Evans, Professor of the History of Christianity and Methodist Studies, Boston University School of Theology; and Judy Huenneke, Senior Research Archivist, The Mary Baker Eddy Library.

The video runs just over an hour, and is packed with entertaining anecdotes and fascinating perspectives on the diverse history of our city through the centuries. It is well worth watching.