Beacon Street Blog

January 26, 2010

I have finished a small project -- integrating new records for the Metropolitan Boston Association (MBA) into our existing records. There is a revised guide available on our website.

The MBA used to have its office here at 14 Beacon Street, but they relocated a few years ago. The Association is one of many in the area and part of the UCC. Our collection includes some institutional records for the Association itself, but also documents churches that either closed or left the Association.


January 21, 2010

I will be the keynote speaker at this event next month! Any of our friends in the NYC/Newark area should sign up.

Winter Gathering – Internet 2.0: Now That You Have a Website, What's Next?

Come to the February 20 New Jersey Association Winter Gathering to learn more about how to make the internet support your church's ministry. This event is designed for "techies" and "non-techies" alike — pastors and lay leaders, church secretaries and historians, finance and evangelism committee members, workers with youth — everyone who wants to know how using the internet can help them be more effective.

Jessica Steytler, an archivist with the Congregational Library in Boston, will take us on a tour of internet gadgets including wikis, blogs, Google Documents, and social networking tools and open our minds to some possible church applications. Then you can learn more about Facebook and social networking sites from Betsy Richardson, or hear Jessica tell us how many of those boxes of old records in our church attics we really need to save and how to save them safely. After lunch, learn about how your church can take advantage of on-line giving or how you can improve and expand your church's website. Workshops will address issues of security and safety of these new tools, as well as their potential.

The Winter Gathering will be held at the Community Church of Cedar Grove, 65 Bowden Road, Cedar Grove, NJ, 973-239-3875. Registration will begin at 8:30 AM, with the program starting at 9:30 and finishing by 2:00 PM. The cost is $6 payable at the door. Please RSVP by Feb. 12 to or 973-748-7772.



January 13, 2010

ALA2010This weekend the American Library Association will be descending on our very own berg, specifically the Convention Center on Summer Street. If you're still waiting to be convinced to go, here's what comes with registering:

  • Over 200 discussion groups covering a variety of hot topics
  • Over 2000 committee meetings and events
  • Entrance to the Exhibits, including the Opening Reception and the Technology Showcase
  • The ALA President's Program
  • The Author Forum
  • The Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture
  • The Sunrise Speaker Series

January 11, 2010

The Congregational Library has again received a grant from the H. W. Wilson Foundation to continue its work in cataloging and digitizing its collection. The support from the Wilson Foundation enables us to provide increased accessibility to our historic and unique collections via the online catalog and the website. The total grant commitment is for $30,000 which will be paid out as $5,000 grants over the next 6 years.

We are extremely grateful to the Wilson Foundation for supporting us.


January 10, 2010

In 2007 the library added the Massachusetts Council of Churches to our archive. It's unusual for us to take on an active organization's records. However, both their and our director thought that it is a significant collection, which would benefit from being in the library where we could accommodate researchers.

One of the snags of maintaining an active archive, however, is that you need to make allowances for new material every few years. With their better-than-gold administrative assistant, Louise, retiring at the end of the month, I inherited another 8 boxes. I knew when I organized the first time that additions would be made eventually, just as I have to with our own internal records. Not every sub-section of the collection has new material, but as my aching back can attest, a lot of folders had to be shifted from one box to the next — not just additions at the end. The boxes themselves moved to accommodate the new.


Two former directors, Nash and Kessler (center and right) - an image from the archive

The sections that grew the most were meetings and conferences, the active committees, board reports, and programs. To review the guide, visit its page on our website. Be advised, the full box list is an attachment, as a 26-page document is a bit of a hog. We welcome anyone interested in researching within this collection.



January 7, 2010


One of the most famous Americans of the late nineteenth century, Henry Ward Beecher was the youngest son of an equally famous family, headed by the redoubtable Lyman Beecher and most renowned by the work of his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe. As the popular and sometimes flamboyant pastor of Brooklyn's Plymouth Church, Henry Ward supported various social reforms, including women's rights and the abolition of slavery. His theology, sometimes described as "evangelical liberalism," emphasized the love of God and the importance of the sinner's emotional response — a conscious departure from earlier theological systems in New England Congregationalism which emphasized sin and judgment. In his later career, Beecher became embroiled in sexual scandal, from which his reputation never quite recovered; but by then he was, as one recent account has put it, "the most famous man in America," a public figure of enormous cultural and social influence.

January 6, 2010
Medieval woman reads 03

If you're planning on going to the American Historical Association meeting this weekend in San Diego, keep an eye out for our director Peggy Bendroth. She'll be presenting a paper, Remembering to Forget, Congregationalists and the American Mainline, 1940-60. She will also be commenting on a panel on Gender and Religious Leadership in the Early 20th Century.

January 5, 2010

The Congregational Library (and Archive) is back from its not-quite-long-enough winter nap and we are planning and plotting out what we intend to do over the next 12 months. Some of us are traveling out of state to attend conferences, give workshops, and spread the joy that is the Congregational Library's program. We are also gearing up for some big internship projects. If we have any Simmons archive students reading, I strongly urge you to get in on what we will be posting through the school's system later this month.

One great and wonderful milestone we can now report: Robin has successfully cataloged all our periodicals! Most of what we have is 19th century and just about never an unbroken run. Getting all the documentation sorted to say "this is really done" has taken years. So, many congratulations are in order. Rest assured, if you are searching our online catalog, they are present and accounted for.


December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas. Peace and good reading to you all. We are closed next week, so see you in the new year.

December 22, 2009


In New England, the Puritans and Pilgrims did not recognize Christmas Day, December 25. The General Court of Massachusetts in 1659 banned the observance of Christmas and fined people for feasting and playing on that day.

For more information on the history of Christmas in America and its Christmas customs we recommend the following:

Christmas in America: a History by Penne L. Restad (1995) and

Merry Christmas! Celebrating America's Greatest Holiday by Karal Ann Marling (2000).



December 14, 2009
"Photograph of a woman" in Daisie Miller Helyar, Item #162 in the Notable Women of Simmons series

"Photograph of a woman" in Daisie Miller Helyar Scrapbook, Item #162

I just ran across this fantastic resource. Thanks to Claudette for pointing me towards part of the Notable Women of Simmons series, particularly Daisy Miller Helyar's digitized scrapbook. I urge you to go look at it. Normally, I loathe scrapbooks. They are almost always on acidic material. The featured items are held in with equally bad glues or tapes, which don't always keep sticking after 50-100 years. Scanning and having a web exhibit is a brilliant solution.

This exhibit has several excellent features. I am in favor of the top scroll bar for the individual pages. The thumbnail makes it more interesting and does its job by giving you a general idea of what's on the page.

They didn't just stop at the scanned page. If you click on any individual part of the page, you get a closer image and the meta-data. Alternatively, the right side bar is another point of entry to the individual pieces.

The neat features just keep going on and on. Another section has a local map that shows where various items from the scrapbook originated. Yet another section provides lesson plans for teachers, separate plans from K-12.

I've imagined being able to provide a resource like this. Perhaps someday I can. In the meantime, I hope our readers visit Daisy's pages.


December 14, 2009

Our new volunteer, Talya Stern, has started to write up some historical snippets. The blog will continue feature her work in the coming months:



Lyman Abbott was a preacher during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Drawing greatly from popular preachers like Henry Ward Beecher, Abbott sought to convey spirituality over doctrinal specificity in his sermons. Though he read the Bible in a literal manner and believed in the possibility of miracles, Abbott felt strongly that human reason could take precedence over literal translation and thus maintained an open-minded view of man’s role within Protestantism. In addition to his role as a preacher, Abbott was the associate editor of Harper’s magazine and editor for both the Illustrated Christian Weekly and the Christian Union.


-Talya Stern

December 14, 2009

As a graduate student earning my Master's in Library Science and Archives Management, I have had two internship positions/projects at the Congregational Library. This fall I created an exhibit to celebrate the 2010 bicentennial of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Developing an exhibit is a unique project. Not only did I have to tell a story — and a 200 year history at that — I had to do it visually rather than relying on long portions of text to convey meaning.

Initially I knew only a little about the organization — just enough to ensure I would enjoy the project. By the end I was awed by what these men and women had accomplished. I conducted all of my research using the library's own collections and barely scratched the surface of the material available.

Because 200 years of history is hard to fit into two display cases, what I ended up with were snapshots — iconic figures and moments in time that capture the spirit of the organization. For instance, there is Betsey Stockton, the first unmarried woman to be sent out by the American Board, who was born into slavery, freed and sent to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) to be a teacher. Important events include Jeremiah Evarts' battle against the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the commissioning of the Morning Star, a missionary vessel sent from Hawaii to the Micronesian Islands.

Peter Parker, the "Father of Medical Missions", wrote in his journal, "It is cheering [...] to think of kindling fires of the gospel that shall burn when I am dead, and be a blessing to millions when my memory shall be forgotten on earth." Parker and the other missionaries have not been forgotten, and their impact and memories are still a blessing to us today. Discovering stories like his inspired me time and again as I conducted my research and went on a journey through history.

The exhibits I have created provide only a brief glimpse of the story of the ABCFM. I invite you to come in to see these snapshots of history and then begin your own journey.

Below are photographs of the completed display cases:

Display (1)


Display (2)


Display (3)


-Kim Kinder

December 11, 2009

Our Fall semester Simmons GSLIS intern, Kim Kinder, has created two new exhibits in the library detailing the history of missions begun by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission (A.B.C.F.M.). These exhibits will be in place in 2010 to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the A.B.C.F.M. If you are in the area, stop by to see these. We will be adding information to our website in 2010 regarding this anniversary.


December 9, 2009

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about my progress as I have been processing the Welch Collection. Now that my time as an intern this semester is almost done, I wanted to share some of the highlights from the audiovisual part of the collection.

70 1949 Tommy betty village

The above photograph is one of my favorite items. It shows Elizabeth (Betty) Welch with her son, Thomas, and some of the Angolan children. The photograph was taken in 1949, early on in the Welch family’s experience as missionaries in Portuguese Angola. It's hard to tell what exactly Betty is holding but all of the children seem intrigued by it and even the man standing behind her is paying attention. This image captures one of the experiences of the Welch family while in Angola and also reveals some of the cultural differences between the missionaries and the Angolan people, with whom they were working. From a preservation/conservation standpoint, the original slide shows some corrosion as seen in the middle of the boy on the far left in the form of an orange spot. This reveals the fragility of the medium and shows one reason that archivists consider digitizing images, such as this one.

Another captivating part of the collection is the audio section because there are several files of traditional music, hymns, and spoken word. It is amazing to listen to the different languages and also to hear all of the instruments that were used, including piano and drums. One of the longer recordings features several members of the Welch family speaking and singing as part of a Christmas message to a friend. The ability to hear the people as well as seeing the images really adds to the depth of the collection. One example of this is from a track sung by the Lutamo Chorus and recorded by Maxwell Welch in 1953. In the collection, it can be found on Greetings from Africa "Track 1". A selection can be listened to by clicking on the audio file below.

Greetings from Africa track 1 clip

The Welch Collection is unique due to the fact that it has both written documents as well as audio and visual components. All of the items together create a full view of what life was like for the Welch family as they worked as missionaries in Portuguese Angola in the late 1940s-1950s.

-Emily Glinert

December 2, 2009

This week I was doing a quick sort of a church collection that piggy-backed in on another acquisition. It's a very small set of records, about 2 folders total. One of the items was a scrapbook. It's a standard mid 20th century design with horrible, acidic paper and an unreasonable use of adhesives: scotch tape, duct and electrical tapes, and some glue. In the process of rescuing the material (aka, getting them out of the scrapbook) — the bit of preservation/conservation horror that made me go looking for the camera was as you see here:

Scrapbook burn (1)

Scrapbook burn (5)

The explanation — the photograph was on the opposite page from the program. The acids in the paper and photo development chemicals were such that it burned a mirror image into its neighbor. It's creepy, interesting, and a good reason why it's good to use acid-free paper as a buffer between pages of questionable material. That way the paper takes the brunt of acid burn and can be changed out. At least this happens in an ideal world.


Scrapbook burn (4)

one last arty shot

November 30, 2009

Benjamin Blydenburg Wisner (1794-1835)

Wisner was a minister at Old South Church from 1821-1832. After his pastorate at Old South Church he became the secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

November 23, 2009


The New England Archivists are continuing to come up with more ways to help out the unemployed professionals amongst us. They have created a job posting page on their site -- check it out.

November 23, 2009

This past week I picked up James Baker's Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday. Baker was Director of Research at Plimoth Plantation for many years, and I suppose that easily makes him the living authority on everything having to do with Pilgrims and Thanksgiving.

At the center of this book is a mystery: how the Plymouth Pilgrims ever got credit for starting our modern-day Thanksgiving tradition. There is no historical reason for imaging any connection between what we do today and that original meal, nearly four centuries, ago, when Pilgrims and Native Americans sat around a table presumably loaded with turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. The Pilgrim feast, Baker says, was likely just that — a three-day celebration of the colony’s temporary success. It was not a true thanksgiving, which in the Puritan tradition was a quiet day of church-going that sometimes included a festive meal, but not necessarily — it certainly would not have included three days of unregulated feasting!

In fact, Baker says, the only contemporary account of the Pilgrim meal, the so-called Mourt's Relation published in 1622, was republished without the story of the three-day feast, and the story itself lost until a new edition came out in the 1840s. By that time, the Puritan thanksgiving was heavy with patriotic and Christian significance, and it was fairly small work to fold those Pilgrims right into the mix.

No need to put away the big shoe buckles and pointed hats next week — but the real story of Thanksgiving is actually a lot more interesting than our rituals of overeating, football, and afternoon naps. If you're going to lie down Thursday afternoon, I recommend taking James Baker's book with you!


November 19, 2009

Our advanced archive class intern shares his experience with his project:

The Congregational Library is home to more than books, manuscript collections, and archival collections. A hidden collection exists alongside the books and paper. We have known about the existence of these artifact collections for some time, but a project is now underway to reveal the three-dimensional materials. The project, led by an intern from Simmons College GSLIS, is only in the beginning stages, but a researcher can view the records for these objects by searching "Object Collection" under 'Series' in the Congregational Library Catalog.

Revealing these materials is more complicated than simply taking a camera and photographing the object. How does the cataloger describe the object? How does the cataloger describe varied objects, ranging from Hebrew scrolls to Buddhist texts, and from ceremonial gavels to communion sets? The Congregational Library has developed a set of procedures and guidelines, modified from the bibliographic standard AACR2, which allows the cataloger to apply similar standards across a wide array of material.

Two examples of items cataloged under this project are from the S. Brainard Pratt collection. Pratt was a prolific collector of Bibles and religious artifacts. We have a scroll in Hebrew of the Book of Ecclesiastes. This scroll is primarily made of wood and parchment. The scroll was procured for Pratt through the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.


Pratt also obtained a set of human bones "formerly worn as ornaments." These are from the Sandwich Islands, dating to around 1840.


These two artifacts illustrate the variety of collections at the Congregational Library. Please continue to check for updates in this blog on what is happening at the Congregational Library.

-Abraham Miller

November 18, 2009

After a lot of planning and collaboration with our project partners at the Jonathan Edwards Center, we are proud to announce that the early records from the First Congregational Church in Natick, MA are transcribed and available for use online. A scanned copy of the original manuscript will be up soon, for those interested in the handwritten records, but the transcript is searchable and will be much more legible for most researchers.

More information can be found on our digital church records page.


November 16, 2009

We were browsing through some scrapbooks in the stacks recently and spent some time reviewing 13 volumes plus an index of clippings from The Congregationalist of the column "Conversation Corner", a column for children. The author of this column, Mr. Martin, was in reality Rev. Charles C. Carpenter (1836-1918) of Andover. Rev. Carpenter was the son of Dr. Elijah Wood Carpenter of Bernardston. This collection of columns was published in The Congregationalist from 1886 to 1906. Additionally, there are two scrapbooks of letters to Mr. Martin from both children and adults. Rev. Carpenter as Mr. Martin also filled two albums of pictures he received from children. The scrapbooks and albums were gifts from Rev. Carpenter.

This struck me as appropriate for the season from "Conversation Corner" November 17, 1892:

It is all right about those apples. I am fully convinced that that particular variety is still raised in abundance! The paper containing the reference to them was scarcely printed when a gentleman, apparently nearly as old as the pictured veteran "at the head of the column," rang my bell and, when I opened the door, poured out an armful of apples, saying, "There are your gillyflowers!" He added that they came from the "Cape district," but I did not think to ask him whether it was Cape Cod or Cape Ann. Coming into Boston a gentleman on the cars gave me a message from a lady in Springfield that she had a supply from Connecticut which I could have by calling. At the Congregational Library I found a basket of the real old egg-shaped beauties I had longed to see — these were from Lakeville, Mass. In the editor's office I found a request to call at the Home Missionary rooms, where I found another sample lot left by a Maiden gentleman — they were from Byfield. I had hardly reached home when one large apple came in a box all by itself through the mail; ...



November 13, 2009

This past Friday night the Reading Room was chockablock full of people. The Library was hosting a reception for Hans Gieseke, the new president of Anatolia College in Greece, and everyone was in a celebratory mood.

Why at the Congregational Library? Anatolia College was originally founded in 1886, in Turkey, by missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. They stood by the school when students and faculty came under persecution by the Turks, and when the school was forced to leave Anatolia and reorganize in Thessaloniki in 1923. Through a series of chance encounters, I got to know representatives of the school, and discovered that their U.S. headquarters were just around the corner from us, on Bowdoin Street.

It struck me as I watched the happy people at the reception last Friday, that all of the early founders and presidents of the school would have been familiar with Congregational House and the Congregational Library. For many years this was the American Board’s headquarters, and 14 Beacon Street the return address on every package sent overseas.

It is not hard to imagine that all of them would have been absolutely tickled to know that, in November 2009, representatives of Anatolia would be returning to Congregational House to celebrate a new step into their future. It was one of those funny historical moments that keeps this place intriguing — and reminds me of a poem Doug Showalter alerted me to in Fred Goodsell's book, They Lived Their Faith:

From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm and sure retreat,
'Tis found at Fourteen Beacon Street.


November 12, 2009


In 1897, Rev. Morton Dexter made a gift of the Pew Back from Scrooby Church to the American Congregational Association. Rev. Dexter was the son of Rev. Henry M. Dexter and editor of The Congregationalist. The carvings of the grape vine on the pew are believed to be a reference to Christ from John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." A another pew back picture can be found in John Brown's book, The Pilgrim Fathers of New England and their Puritan Successors (1895).


The Ceiling Beam from Scrooby Manor was a gift of the Rev. Henry M. Dexter, editor of The Congregationalist and the Congregational Quarterly, in 1898. In Rev. Dexter's opinion, the beam was over the heads of the Pilgrim fathers as the worshiped.


The Scrooby Separatist Church was organized in the Scrooby manor house by William Brewster in around 1607. Brewster fled to Amsterdam in 1608, moved to Leiden in 1609, and left from England in 1620 on the Mayflower as the elder of the group we now know as the Pilgrims. In New England, they founded Plymouth Colony.

Most of the manor house and its outbuildings were demolished around 1636-7 following the orders of Charles I. Around 1750 part of one wing of the manor house was renovated and can be seen today.


November 10, 2009


Francis Burns (1809-1863) was an American Methodist minster who served as a missionary in Liberia. He was the first Missionary Bishop, and the first African American Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

There is a more extensive biography in the Cyclopedia of Methodism on Google Books.

November 9, 2009

Emily Glinert, one of our interns this semester wrote today's piece on her project:

As an intern at the Congregational Library this semester, I have been working with the collection of Rev. Maxwell (Max) and Elizabeth (Betty) Welch. Max and Betty were both born in 1913 in Maine. After they were married, they lived in Maine and Massachusetts before deciding to become missionaries in Portuguese Angola, West Africa. By the time Max and Betty departed for Portugal in 1947 to learn the Portuguese language, they had two young sons, who traveled with them.

The Welch family lived in Portugal for about one year and then they went to the missions in Angola. During their time in Angola, Max and Betty had two more children, bringing their family to six people.

After a furlough year from 1952-1953, the whole family returned to Angola until 1957. The collection contains correspondence, photographs, slides, books, recordings and scrapbooks from this time in their lives, as well as the years after their time in Angola as they continued to be involved in the efforts of the missionaries who came after them.

I have been amazed while organizing the Welch collection. It must have been very difficult to travel to Angola with small children and to be away from their families and friends in the United States. In order to keep in touch, they used sound recordings and written correspondence, both of which give a good picture of their experiences. Max and Betty were also extremely good at documenting their journeys through photographs. Some of my favorite pieces in the collection are the photographs of the family’s daily activities, such as the children playing at school or Betty leading a meeting in their home. The collection has been very interesting from an archival point of view as well because there are both digital and analog items that are being preserved. In my preservation class, we have been studying the use of digitization as a means of preservation and I have gained a greater understanding by working with digitized materials within this collection. This also means that when I am finished, the collection will be available to be accessed through the website.

I am so thankful to the Congregational Library and the Welch family for giving me this enriching opportunity. It has been a wonderful experience.

November 5, 2009

Many visitors to the library have seen this remarkable desk and we have written about it previously. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, we thought we'd recall the response to this gift in 1896:

Annual Minutes, May 25, 1896:

"A gift which is worthy of special mention has come to the Library recently through the bequest of Hon. Charles Carlton Coffin; namely the desk of the parish clerk in Scrooby, England, the first gathering place of the hunted Separatists who became the Plymouth Pilgrims. The desk is doubtless contemporary with those forefathers, for it is reputed to be more than three hundred years old. With its solid oak, its quaint carvings, and its centuries of history, it is an object not to be regarded without emotion."

William Brewster (1560-1644) led the Separatists (Pilgrims) from Scrooby Parish to Leiden, The Netherlands, and then on to Plymouth Colony. The desk is believed to have been used during Elder Brewster's tenure at Scrooby. The clerk's desk would have been located in the church below the pulpit. It may have been below a reader's desk as well. The Parish Clerk sat or stood facing the congregation, whom he lead in responses printed in the prayer book, led the "lining of the psalms", and made community announcements.

The donor of this desk, Charles Carlton Coffin (1823-1896), was an author, journalist, war correspondent, and member of the Massachusetts legislature 1884-1885.



November 3, 2009

Griffine01webEdward Dorr Griffin (1770-1837)


Edward Dorr Griffin was born in East Haddam, Connecticut in 1770.

Griffin graduated from Yale in 1790. He was ordained in New Hartford, Connecticut in 1795. Griffin received his Doctor of Divinity from Union College in 1808. In 1811, Griffin became the first minister of the Park Street Church. Griffin gave numerous sermons in opposition to New Divinity during his time at Park Street Church. Griffin served as the President of Williams College from 1821-1836.

Both his memoir and a collection of his sermons have been digitized by the Google Books project.


- Sam

November 1, 2009

Our progress on the church records microfilming project continues. We now have Falmouth and Wenham churches to add to our growing collections. These reels plus Grafton, Hanover, Middleboro, and Rowley are headed out to be digitized next so we have more content to display at the Jonathan Edwards Center. Many thanks, as usual, to the Northeast Document Conservation Center for the imaging work.


October 29, 2009

It's been too long since we've had the chance to add to our Instant History section of the website. We now have the much-requested recording of our own board member and eminent historian, Rick Taylor, reading his paper "Congregationalism's Biggest Mistake" [mp3 format]. This lecture on October 21 was part of our ongoing Brown Bag Lunch series. Be sure to listen or read the original paper on our website.


October 28, 2009

Wordy-shipmates Normally we wouldn't publish an event until Thursday, but this event is tonight. It's bound to be a lot of fun and the topic of Congregationalists is guaranteed to be part of the program.

You may have seen her being interviewed on The Daily Show, you may have read her book, Wordy Shipmates (which you may borrow from this library). Well, now you can see her live at the Boston Public Library. She's part of their author lecture series. The event starts at 6pm at the main branch in Copley Square. The BPL's program is robust and ongoing. You can follow them on Facebook, or review their main webpage for more information.


October 28, 2009

Photograghs by Steven Rosenthal; essay by Verlyn Linkenborg; afterword by Robert Campbell; published by the The Monacelli Press; 136 pages, 12 x 14 inches, 80 tritone photographs.

This beautiful book has been added to the Library collection. Mr. Rosenthal began photographing New England Churches in the mid-1960 to preserve a sense of place in the New England landscape. Some of the churches pictured in the book are: First Congregational Church, Kensington, NH; First Congregational Church, Newfane, VT; First Congregational Church, South Paris, ME; First Congregational Church, Nantucket, MA; and South Ferry Church, Narragansett, RI.

Book Signing and Exhibit: October 30, 2009 at Cape Ann Museum, 27 Pleasant Street, Gloucester, MA at 6:00 PM. Call 978-283-0455.

For more information about this book, click here.


October 26, 2009

Samuel B. Capen (1842-1914) was a very active leader of social and religious societies in his life time. At the time of his death in China, he was the President of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) and the President of Wellesley College. His activities included: Vice President of the American Congregational Association (ACA), Director of the Boston City Missionary Society, a Trustee of the United Society of Christian Endeavor, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Laymen's Missionary Movement of the United States and Canada, a member of the Board of Managers of the North American Civic League for Immigrants,a member of the Society of Mayflower Descendants, and President of the Massachusetts Peace Society. From 1882-1899, Mr. Capen was President of the Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society and from 1894-1899, he was President of the Boston Municipal League.

In our stacks we have a number of scrapbooks from Mr. Capen, those of most interest include scrapbooks containing articles regarding the Rockefeller contribution controversy and one collection on the Laymen's Missionary Movement. Other books are albums containing pictures of missionaries, their families and other clergy.

October 23, 2009

That, as I learned this past month, is the exclamation that Ellen White used to shout when she was about to have a vision. Ellen Gould Harmon White was the founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, a dynamic woman with a prophetic gift; she's also the subject of a four-day conference I'll be attending in Portland, Maine, this weekend.

The Ellen White Project, as it's called, has assembled some twenty authors and twice as many commentators to discuss an essay collection now in process. That's a lot of historians in one place, and I have to confess I am a little giddy at the prospect.

White's background does actually connect to the Congregational Library, particularly our large cache of materials from the Christian Connection. She was part of a group that formed in the wake of the "great disappointment", when the world did not come to an end in 1844, as seer William Miller had predicted it would. White's visions helped one part of the remnant to regroup, reinterpreting what looked like failure as a simple misreading of divine events. White was originally a "shouting Methodist" from Portland, but many of the other ex-Millerites came and went from the Shakers and from the Christians, who were also quite comfortable with charismatic female leadership and open to novel religious ideas.

The rest of her story is just as colorful as one would expect. She was a great advocate of health reform (having been permanently disfigured by a rock thrown at her face when she was a young girl) and after she moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, she took up with Harvey Kellogg, another reformer interested in water cures and, yes, healthy breakfast cereals. If you're interested in knowing more, we have a biography or two of White in our collection -- and then, of course, there will be a great collection of essays coming out sometime in the near future (but no predictions of when...)



October 19, 2009

In honor of Archives History Month, we thought we'd share some history of our archive space.

From the 112th Annual Report of the Directors and Library, May 24, 1965:

Adjacent to the Library on the third floor of the building is a large room where rare books and manuscripts will be kept safely in filtered, humidity and temperature controlled air. On the second floor there is a small area for study of rare books adjoining the Pratt Room which has been altered and incorporated in this facility for preservation of the historic items entrusted in our care.

From the 113th Annual Report of the Directors and Library, Ma 23, 1966:

A year ago plans were under way and details completed for the dedication of the new Archives and Rare Book Room.

It was in July before the book stacks were installed. The air-conditioning equipment required several months for adjustment. It was therefore not until the end of December that the rare books were transferred from the old cage and three safes to the new stack room. Some work in cataloging and arrangement of books still remains to be done. There are records on deposit and manuscripts to be indexed and arranged in this room also. New chairs, a table for the microfilm reader, and a book tuck with a locked shelf have been furnished for the study room. In recent months it has been used frequently as a place for quiet concentration and research.



October 15, 2009

This past Wednesday night I had the honor of attending a dinner given by the Massachusetts Historical Society, in honor of historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. She received their Kennedy Medal, a high honor given to the likes of Edmund Morgan, Oscar Handlin, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (She's also the historian who coined the phrase that "Well-behaved women rarely make history.")

I sat in a room upstairs in the Harvard Club, feeling out of my element but bemused by all the oil portraits of eminent Harvard graduates lining the walls -- nearly all of them Congregationalists.

Ulrich's talk was about a diary she was reading about Wilford Woodruff, an early leader in the Mormon Church. He kept a regular chronicle of his daily life, including three trips to Boston in the 1830s. (He ended up not much liking it here.)

It reminded me of a project I did last year with Sam Smallidge, one of our Simmons interns. We combed through the entire archives and Sam created a document that listed and described every diary and journal in our collection. There were a lot, and most of them looked fascinating -- many were records kept by traveling ministers about the places they visited and people they baptized. It was easy to imagine that these would be grist for a lot of wonderful projects.

Sam and I found a lot of other treasures too -- 18th century manumission papers (handwritten) to free a slave in Massachusetts, a lottery ticket from the Revolutionary War era, and of course many records of ancient church fights and controversies. They're all still up there in the archives, waiting for the next Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to open the secrets they’ve been keeping for all these many years.



October 15, 2009


For any colleagues out there who are in the Boston/New England area, the New England Archivists (NEA) are having a meeting at UMass Boston in a few weeks. The theme will be on appraisal. It's rare for me, but this time I will be attending the Friday workshop on stabilizing digital accessions. If you're going to any of the weekend's activities, let me know. Students should note, there is a new reduced rate for joining NEA. It's never too early to start networking.

On the closer horizon, I will be visiting Simmons to talk about what it's like to work in a small archive to one of Jeannette Bastian's classes. The following evening, I'll be talking to church historians about organizing their congregation's records. It's not too late to sign up for that: email our administrative assistant, Susan Thomas. Also, there's no rule that says you have to be a Congregationalist to attend and learn some tips. Most of what I talk about applies to any Protestant denomination.



October 13, 2009

I remember very clearly the first time I read Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in 1994. It was a powerful and astonishing book, decrying the deep-seated anti-intellectualism among conservative Christians. It kind of floored me, for lots of reasons, some having to do with my own scholarly interests and some having to do with Noll's virtuoso command of evangelical history.

Last week I was part of a conference considering this same question, fifteen years later — and I can report that the most recent news is definitely mixed. Without question, evangelicals have made progress in graduating Ph.Ds and M.B.A.'s and M.D.s. My own field, American religious history, has been transformed by historians like Noll, George Marsden, and Nathan Hatch. But the larger evangelical public doesn't read their books — the most popular historical expert among conservative Christians is David Barton, former co-chair of the Texas Republican Party and a best-selling author of books about the faith of the founding fathers (deists mostly) and overblown paeans about the spiritual destiny of the United States.

Evangelicals may buy a lot more books than other Protestants, but my guess is that they don't have any kind of a corner on the anti-intellectual problem. The people who put this Library together understood that their Christian faith required a lot of careful thinking, reading, and learning. It wasn't just about personal growth or emotional enrichment — it was about the life of the mind as well.

It's discouraging sometimes, to see how little demand there is for thinking in the religious world, how little interest in books and ideas that take time to absorb. People often seem too busy loading their guns for the next encounter with a liberal or a conservative or an atheist.

Last week a woman came into the Library and she said she wanted to learn more about the Puritans — apparently John Cotton was one of her ancestors. It's hard to suggest just one book about the Puritans, and most of the ones I know are pretty dense material. So I suggested a book I read in college, Edmund Morgan's The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop, written way back in 1958.

I kind of didn't expect that she'd really read it — most people want something quick and dirty (so to speak). But next I saw, the woman was sitting in the Library reading. She stayed there for a long time, and then she came back the next day. And the next!

The best part of the day was walking through the Reading Room and seeing her still sitting there, reading away. It was a great reminder of why we are still here.



October 8, 2009

Check out what we have in our archives by visiting our website and clicking on Resources or clicking on Online Catalog and search using the word "Manuscripts".

In honor of American Archives Month, I'll share with you the words of Lisa Lewis, Associate Archivist for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge: "Archivists bring the past to the present. They're records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory. They organize unique, historical materials, making them available for current and future research."

Keeping these words in mind regarding questions you may have about your church records, please contact Jessica Steytler, our archivist, check out our records management information on our website, or enroll in our next Records Management workshop on October 21.


October 7, 2009

This morning we hosted approximately 50 visitors from Tallmadge, OH. The group was in Boston as part of the 200th Anniversary celebration of the First Congregational Church of Tallmadge. This church is the oldest Congregational Church in Ohio. Peggy took half the group to the Park Street Church for a tour while the other half remained with Claudette to tour the library and view some of our treasures. Then we switched groups. We were happy to have this opportunity to spend time with them.

At noon, we heard Rev. George E. Peters of the Pawtucket Congregational Church (RI) read his paper, "Riding the First Wave: The Education, Life and Times of Mary Emma Woolley". Rev. Peters became interested in the Woolley family through its connection to the Pawtucket Congregational Church where Mary's father, Joseph Judah Woolley, had served as the fourth pastor. Rev. Peters has provided the Library with copies of this paper as well as his pamphlet, "A Century of Woolley Family History", published by the Rhode Island Conference, United Church of Christ. Thank you for this educational lecture. We hope more of our fans can join us at future Brown Bag lunches.


October 6, 2009

The Rev. Dr. George E. Peters, pastor and teacher from the Pawtucket, RI, Congregational Church, UCC, will discuss his work, "Riding the First Wave: The Education, Life and Times of Mary Emma Woolley". Mary Woolley was President of Mount Holyoke College from 1901-1937. Mount Holyoke was the first of the "Seven Sisters" to establish higher education for women as a serious endeavor. According to Dr. Peters, Woolley had very strong personal and professional connections with a long list of prominent early feminists, women educators as well as social and political reformers.  Peters approach will be to view her in the context of the ferment of her life and times, saying, "I find it to be an incredibly rich history and a fascinating story!"

Begins in the Library at noon. Bring your lunch. No charge.

October 6, 2009

Click on the icon to join

My friend, Paige Roberts, who until recently worked at Special Collections at the Massachusetts State House has created a social networking site through Ning for other un/der-employed archivists, called "Seeking Archivists." Since I set up a Lone Arrangers* group on Ning two years ago, Paige asked me how it would work and what other foibles there might be in the creation process, so I'm glad to see that the project is taking wing.

I strongly urge folks to sign up -- it's free, of course, and can be very low-traffic: individual users can determine their settings on new content alerts. The purpose is to help the unemployed of the profession connect with each other, get help with updating resumes, sharing job leads, and staying connected. Please pass this new resource on as you see fit. We have to stick together.

*Lone Arrangers is a term used by archivists to describe those who have to work by themselves -- processing or arranging -- solo.


October 5, 2009

Churches close. It's a sad fact. The majority of our new collections are records from these congregations.

Late last month we acquired four boxes from a church in Fulton, New York. This is a bit unusual. When people were settling further west, it turned out that there were more Presbyterian churches than Congregational in New York.

This week we will be getting one box from the Trumbull Historical Society. They're passing on Slope, Ohio church records. I hear that it was a predominantly Welsh community.

Both of these collections will be added to my queue for processing.


September 30, 2009

First the news: The tech class scheduled for Saturday is canceled due to low registration.

Second an observation: This is a really great class that is perhaps hard for its target audience to recognize as something they would benefit from. When I offered this class at a church conference a few months ago, it was a towering success: a lot of participants with great energy and questions. It's possible that offering the class on a Saturday in town is a stumbling point. It might do better during the week here at the library or at an off-site location.

Third a request: If there are local folks out there who already are convinced they would like to take this sort of workshop, please comment on the blog, in Facebook, or email me directly to suggest when and/or where might work better. Under the correct circumstances, I'm willing to tailor a session if I can get at least 5 participants. The irony of using the blog/Facebook (both discussed in my class) to inquire about where I'm going wrong, does not escape me.


September 30, 2009

As Jess mentioned last week, we decided to share with you some of our favorite links we use at the Congregational Library. Since we each have different roles and responsibilities, we hope that from these postings you'll find something useful.

One site I visit frequently is the Internet Archive. This site is a collection of digital books, music, web sites, movies, and images free to all. We are contributing to this collection through our digital projects in a relationship with the Boston Region Library System. You'll find many Congregational yearbooks and titles here. I've used this site to locate digitized sermons from certain eras.

Another site I use in both cataloging books, responding to the "do you have this book," and other research is WorldCat. Here you can search all the catalogs that have contributed to OCLC. If we don't have the book you need, search here and you may find a local library or your seminary or college library that has it. It is also helpful if you can't quite remember the title of a book but know some of the words.

Since I began offering workshops for church librarians, I've found some great information on the web site of the National Church Library Association. They have a newsletter and church librarians may want to become members.

Other frequent used sites are those of the Library Associations: American Library Association (ALA), Special Libraries Association (SLA), and American Theological Library Association (ATLA).

Finally, you can link to me on Facebook or LinkedIn.


September 27, 2009

image from the NEDCC website

Here's a little vignette from the act of getting a new collection into the archive and dovetails nicely into last Tuesday's links post:

Most of our collections are from local New England churches. There are times when we will get a church farther afield that has 1. closed and 2. has heard of us. Part 2 is clearly an important detail and sadly not as guaranteed as we would like. In this case, the church was a middling distance of upstate New York. By a twist of fate, a nearby local library, which had been temporarily holding the church's records, had to come to Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) to pick up a restored map that was too big to ship.

The New York folks had no idea when we started talking that I have a close working relationship with NEDCC. Originally they thought they'd have to fit driving from Andover to Downtown Boston. What a surprise for them when I successfully negotiated to have my new collection left at NEDCC.

It felt good to be able to help out someone who was really doing me a favor in the first place by hauling my new collection. Also, I'm grateful to be an active member in a helpful community. Finally, I had the pleasure of visiting an organization that I rely on and I'm quite fond of. I probably could have spent all morning talking to the conservators about their projects, the building, the view from their windows, the history of the town -- you get the idea.


September 24, 2009

One of the benefits of working in a library is that you can grab a new book before it gets on the shelf. I picked up Peter Thuesen's new book on Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine, and I'm enjoying thoroughly — and this isn't just because I was raised a Calvinist (sigh).

Admittedly, this is a book for people willing to wade through some fairly deep philosophical questions. Did God predetermine history, or did God just know what was going to happen in advance? Did God mean for Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden, or was this "plan B"? It's not always bed-time reading.

What's makes this book fascinating, though, is the importance of these ideas, not just to theologians but to people on the street. It's kind of a truism that Congregationalists haven't been true-blue Calvinists since the early 1800s — that tribe is and always has been pretty small — but that doesn't mean they didn't care about theological debates.

For example: in 1721, when an infected ship brought a smallpox epidemic into Boston, Cotton Mather (the pastor of the Second Church) enlisted physician Zabdiel Boylston in an inoculation campaign. Mather had learned about the technique from his African slave, Onesimus, and though the technique was risky, he tried to urge it on the populace.

The citizens of Boston responded with a flood of anonymous letters, even a primitive grenade through a window ("You Dog, Dam you; I'l inoculate you with this") warning Mather against tempting God. If smallpox was a divine judgment, as some people apparently believed it was, did human beings have a right to resist?

Mather agreed that the epidemic was an act of God but he insisted that inoculation was too. Did not the Scriptures (Acts 16:28) command, "Do yourselves no harm"? Often caricatured as a smug Puritan, Mather was, as Thuesen argues, much more "modern" in his understanding of human catastrophe than most of his fellow Bostonians, and far more "American" in his refusal to submit to blind religious authority when God-given remedies were right on hand.



September 23, 2009

Hey Boston-area folks:

Are you curious about some of these newer tools that are available online these days, but perhaps you either don't get what their point is, or you'd really prefer to have a bit of a guided tour? Well, I've got the answer for you. I'm teaching a class that discusses some of the new technologies that have become so popular in the past few years. Given our mission and patron-base, I put it into the context of using them in conjunction with churches and their activities. However, all these tools are extremely flexible and can be used for just about any setting in which you need to interact efficiently with other groups.

The class is here at the library, 14 Beacon Street, Boston (2nd floor) on Saturday October 3 from 10am-noon for the reasonable price of $10. Here's a link to the original event flier [PDF format]. Attendees may bring their laptop with them to try out what we discuss, but it is not required. We can accommodate up to 10 participants, so do sign up soon. If you are interested, please contact Susan Thomas to register.


September 22, 2009

We thought our audience might like to see what our favorite links are -- the ones we use on a regular basis to get our work done answering reference questions and the like.

The first set is a group of three, actually -- People will ask me about finding churches, which may or may not still be active. I'll check the 3 denominational sites to see if they're listed there: UCC, NACCC, and CCCC. If they're not listed there, I look in Richard Taylor's books whenever possible to see if the church closed. Most often his New England Churches book.

When dealing with preservation and conservation matters, a regular resource is the Northeast Document Conservation Center. They have an astounding number of pamphlets available on topics such as how to handle types of documents, the best way to store archival items, disaster planning, and so on. The complete list is here.

At least for the moment, I feel like I'm living at the Camtasia learning center site while I put together my screencasts for the records management class. At least on that front I'm making progress.

Finally, our very own website is probably one that I visit most often.


September 21, 2009

From Advance of September 1, 1941, page 542

Consider the record:

January, 1929. The American Missionary merged with The Congregationalist as a monthly magazine number. The merger was not popular with the readers of either paper.

March, 1930. Merger of The Herald of Gospel Liberty with The Congregationalist, and the adoption of the unwieldy name The Congregationalist and Herald of Gospel Liberty. Many in the former Christian Church were resentful of what they regarded as the loss of their paper, while Congregationalist readers did not take kindly to the long dual name.

March, 1934. Unscrambling of The American Missionary -- Congregationalist merger, the effect of which was to cancel entirely the substantial denominational subsidy that The Congregationalist had had prior to the merger.

April, 1934. Adoption of the name, Advance the paper to be a 16-page weekly, with one 32-page number each month.

October, 1935. Change of Advance to a 52-page monthly.


Of the last, the change to the name Advance and the change to the 52-page monthly, it is too early to judge.


These titles can be found in our online catalog. Just click on the tab on our website.