Beacon Street Blog

September 4, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, September 7th in observance of Labor 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.

August 21, 2015

In June, I spent the longest day of the year in Salt Lake City. More specifically I passed all those daylight hours in the bowels of a hotel, in and out of a conference I was attending, trying to look purposeful while searching for food or a way to fill a few hours between sessions. The view of the mountains from my hotel room window was wonderful, changing color and outline over the course of the day from sunrise to sunset, but other than that the hotel could have been anywhere. I could have been down the street for all I knew.

In other ways, though, Salt Lake City was a revelation. As a historian of American religion, I always get a thrill experiencing Big Places up close, following the same horizon line that Brigham Young might have contemplated, imagining what the valley looked like to people bringing their belongings on pushcarts across the Great Plains. I also love to visit other people's archives, and thanks to a generous and hospitable colleague, I was treated to a backstage tour of the LDS holdings. The tour was all that I imagined and more: not just the collection, lovingly and carefully arranged and preserved, or the climate control, which took up two whole floors and looked like the engine room of the starship Enterprise. What stuck with me, and what I ended up quietly envying, was the obvious, deeply-rooted love for history.

[]Being a Latter Day Saint is a full-time occupation, and to an outsider it can seem like a long list of volunteer opportunities and obligations. The shy young maidens who led me on a tour of Brigham Young's house started off by telling me that they were missionaries, one from Salt Lake and the other from South Africa. The same was true of the flocks of young men in short-sleeved white shirts and black ties, hurrying around the Temple Square. Outside of the tourists like me, probably most of the people I saw were serving as unpaid volunteers.

They do it because of history, as my historian friend explained. I'm certainly no expert on LDS doctrine, but the more he talked I could understand the impact of Mormonism as a faith built on stories — of Joseph Smith's revelations in upstate New York, the prehistory of North America and the epic clash between the Nephites and Lamanites, and the violent persecution that drove the Saints from Ohio and Missouri across the Plains to Utah. But the story is even bigger than that. Those early saints believed they were re-enacting biblical history; they were latter-day Israelites escaping from Egypt and journeying to Canaan, the land of milk and honey. In other words, being a Mormon isn't simply agreeing to a set of doctrines or going on a church mission, it's living into a story.

The opening chapter in a recent book on Mormonism is entitled "Mormon Envy", an eye-catching phrase but also a telling one. Quite honestly, all during my tour of the LDS archives I kept thinking of all the history being forgotten or discarded in Congregational churches. In that sense they're not all that much different from most American Protestants, but certainly for them the loss is pretty considerable, and worth a special thought or two.

[]Why do we so often find eighteenth-century Congregational church records stored in the pastor's closet or crammed into a cubbyhole under the organ? Why do so many of these documents turn up on eBay, destined for some private collection somewhere or, even worse, a waste basket? The problem goes beyond the people who don't know the difference between a Pilgrim and Puritan, or the surprise of some parishioners who discover that those Puritans were their spiritual ancestors. It's the quick dismissal of the past as boring or benighted, the snide comments about "how we've progressed" beyond our founders. And it's the toe-tapping pastor hoping to get on to truly important church business once we're done rooting through those closets and cubbyholes.

Where does this lack of energy come from? Did the UCC merger cut so many Congregational churches off from their history — or is the problem wider and deeper? It's certainly not just one denomination's predicament, or even an issue just affecting church people.

Lately I've been re-reading George Orwell's 1984, not for any exalted intellectual reason but because I needed to grab some reading material before a long trip on the Boston subway system. The actual year 1984 ended up a lot more prosaic than Orwell predicted, but the substance of his critique is eerily accurate. Winston Smith's job, as you'll remember, was literally re-writing history, throwing old unwanted documents down the "memory hole" next to his desk in the Ministry of Truth. At the heart of his transformation was his dawning conviction that the past was real and that refusing to forget it was the ultimate act of rebellion. Perhaps the recovery of history in Congregational and UCC churches is the awareness that history not only matters — it's a dangerous business. It's where we appeal for justice and find hope for change. It's essential and critical, and if we're not careful, it will disappear, like the yellowed clippings of yesterday's news from Winston Smith's desk, into the memory hole.

-Peggy Bendroth


image of researchers at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City courtesy of


August 17, 2015

If you're looking for something to do this coming weekend, we have a suggestion.

[]The Congregational Library & Archives is proud to participate in Boston's Middle Passage remembrance ceremony, to take place at Boston's Faneuil Hall from 3:00 - 5:00 PM on Sunday, August 23rd.

We trumpet anti-slavery Congregationalists in our latest Bulletin, but history is never simple. The library got involved in the Middle Passage Remembrance Ceremony to acknowledge the fact that some early Congregational ministers were slaveholders, complicit in the transatlantic slave trade.

[]This event is part of the national Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project. The ceremonies commemorate the captive Africans who perished in the Middle Passage during the 350 years of the transatlantic slave trade, as well as to honor the survivors of that perilous journey and acknowledge the role they and their descendants have played in building this nation.

August 13, 2015

What better way to spend the last weeks of summer than with a good book? Whether you're headed to the beach or taking refuge in air conditioning, Associate Librarian Steve Picazio has five suggestions for you summer reading list. Brush up on your Congregational history and knowledge of early New England with these summer reads, all available to borrowing members of the Congregational Library & Archives.

[]David Powers' work Damnable Heresy is a rich, fascinating look at the first book banned in Boston. It's a biography of William Pynchon, an influential landowner whose work The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption was burned on the Common in 1650 for its argument against Puritan theology.

[]Francis Bremer's new work, Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism, looks at how laypeople influenced Puritan society, where religious figures had an outsize influence on government, society, and private life. Frank will be speaking at the CLA on November 12 as part of our History Matters speaker series.

[]Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 is a great pick for younger readers. It features twenty-five stories told by an eclectic mix of comic artists, authors, professors, and historians. Colonial Comics provides an inclusive history of New England's first century: Stories about women, slaves, and Native Americans appear alongside familiar stories of the Puritans' migration, and well-known characters like Cotton Mather.

[]If you're not already familiar with Cotton Mather, try The First American Evangelical by Rick Kennedy. This entertaining biography recasts Mather as a neighborhood preacher, instead of a larger-than-life religious figure, or overzealous witch hunter. Kennedy is a Mather expert, and spoke at the Library's Mather Redux program in 2013.

[]A Storm of Witchcraft is a new survey of the Salem Witch Trials. Salem State University professor Emerson Baker has synthesized the many theories about why the witch trials happened. It's great for anyone casually interested in the witch trials, or as a jumping-off point for deeper study. If you're in the Boston area, you can hear Dr. Baker speak at 14 Beacon on September 16 as part of the History Matters series.

[]Executive Director Peggy Bendroth recommends The Rainborowes: One Family's Quest to Build a New England. The book follows one of the original English families to settle at Plymouth, Massachusetts, tracing their influence through a generation in England and New England. From the father's taste for adventure, to his daughters' social ambition, to his sons' passion for democracy, this English family embodied American values. Adrian Tinniswood's new biography resurrects the all-but-forgotten clan that left its mark on England and the United States alike.

August 11, 2015

Boston is well known for having a literary past — Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and earlier writers like African American poet Phillis Wheatley. But Boston present is in the midst of a literary renaissance. []We have a vibrant community of writers and readers, and that vibrancy is expressed in organizations across the city, from the Boston Public Library to the Boston Athenaeum to the preeminent writers group GrubStreet. Now, with all things literary under the one Literary District roof, the writing community has a stronger platform to showcase its art, and the reading community has a one-stop clearinghouse to find out what’s going on — what writers are speaking where, what literary panels are being presented, what literary works are being performed, on and so on.

[]The Congregational Library & Archives is a proud partner in Boston's new Literary District. Stretching from the corner of Charles and Boylston, the site of the Poe Returning to Boston sculpture to Gloucester Street on the Commonwealth Mall where sculpted figures of Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley comprise the Boston Woman's Memorial, the District is the first of its kind in the Commonwealth

"The best part may be that the Boston Literary District will tap readers who don't yet know they are readers." says the District's coordinator Larry Lindner, and he adds, "For many people, reading is sort of like math — something they feel phobic about. But if you go see an author speak, if you can see a literary work performed, reading becomes less of an abstract thing — it's now more something you can reach out and touch, and it will make people more comfortable about engaging with the written word. So not only writers benefit — everyone will."

August 5, 2015

The latest addition to our New England's Hidden Histories program is the common-place book of Thomas Weld (1702-1757), a pastor in New England from 1727 until his death in 1757/8.

[]This notebook from his time at Harvard University contains notes on various subjects and topics, mostly of a religious nature. Of note is that different handwriting appears in the latter half of the book, but it is presumed that the first half is Weld's. It is unknown who else has written in this book, but sometime after 1723 the book was gifted to politician John Fairfield (1797-1847) who gifted it to his nephew, J. Wingate Thornton (1818-1878) who was attending Harvard, two inscriptions on the inner cover document these events.

Thomas Weld was born November, 1702 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Weld graduated from Harvard University in 1723, and with his degree taught at Roxbury Latin School until he went to preach at Southborough, and the frontier. In 1735 he became the minister at the newly formed town of Upton. Difference in theology as well as rumors of an illicit relationship with Weld's landlord's daughter, Ms. Wheeler, forced Weld to leave Upton in 1744. After suing for his wages, and defamation against Ms. Wheeler, Weld became one of two ministers in Middleborough. When the other minister, Conant, was ordained in 1745, the church split with Weld remaining in Middleborough preaching to a small group of New-Lights. By 1749/50 Weld's congregation had grown tired of his ministry, and elected to rejoin the other church. After disputing the wages owed to him, Weld returned to Roxbury before going back to the frontier to preach. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763) he joined army as a chaplain before dying in 1757 or 1758.

You can learn more about the history of this collection by viewing the finding aid, or go directly to the NEHH collection page and start reading.

July 24, 2015

Charleston came together after the shootings at Mother Emanuel. "There was really a sense of unity and camaraderie," said Matthew Lewellyn, Circular Congregational Church's youth minister at the time of the shootings. "Maybe people were so tired of being angry and the anger transformed into this need for unity," he said. Louise Turrentine is the congregation president at Circular Congregational. "I'm very glad that we've handled this without violence. Circular has been a very strong voice in that," she says. The violence in Charleston affected people differently, explains Louise. "For some people the response was a call to grieve, and for some it was a call to action."

American Congregationalists have been the vanguard of racial justice issues in the since Samuel Sewall published New England's first abolitionist pamphlet in 1700. In the wake of the shootings in Charleston and the eight fires at African-American churches in the last month: seven in the south and one in Ohio, Congregationalists are once again demonstrating their support by raising money for the nine devastated churches. The United Church of Christ has earmarked its 'Emergency USA' fund.

[]"The first Sunday after everything happened, our attendance was through the roof. We had to roll up the doors, put up extra chairs, it filled up the fellowship hall, and there were people sitting in the choir loft upstairs. We took that moment and collected a special offering for Mother Emanuel." That offering was the largest Louise has ever seen the church collect.

"Within all the hate and violence, there are these small stories of love," said Rev. Lewellyn.

Another small story of love is unfolding within the Congregational community. Last week, the Circular Congregational received a shipment of origami paper cranes. "We received a beautiful letter about the history of these cranes," said Louise. The letter explained that the cranes have passed through UCC churches in communities marred by tragedy, offering solace to grieving congregations in Newtown, Connecticut; Boston's Old South Church; Ferguson, Missouri; Everett, Washington, and now Charleston. "As I was reading the letter to our congregation, I just saw eyes widening in surprise at the long list of places these cranes had been, widening in a real shock of how many places have been. Now, unfortunately, we have them," said Louise.

Members of Circular Congregational have worked alongside traditionally black churches in Charleston since the shooting. They have participated in vigils and memorial services, and were very active in the effort to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds.

The Congregational Library & Archives contains many records of Congregationalists seeking peace and justice. The upcoming issue of the Bulletin features several stories of Congregationalists in the abolition movement. Get your copy of the Bulletin by becoming a member of the Congregational Library & Archives.

July 17, 2015

Now that I have your attention, here's something to think about. In spite of all the stereotyping about Puritans as repressed, angry woman-haters, we really don't know what they'd make of our world today. I'm guessing they'd be repelled as anybody at the coarseness we now take for granted, the easy vulgarities on public media and in the conversations we overhear during the course of a day. You don't have to be a religious prude, I think, to feel a sense of loss. We do know that the Puritans thought about sex a lot, and I don't mean just the daydreaming kind. They knew it was important, powerful, and needed to be everybody's concern — it had to be a community matter, not shouldered by isolated individuals.

[]I used to teach women's history and often used A Midwife's Tale, a film based on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's book about Martha Ballard and her life in rural Maine during the late 1700s. There were a few fairly detailed childbirth scenes in the movie, which I'm sure my young students did not forget easily. I remember one in particular — Martha and the women of the town were attending an unmarried woman and, as was the practice at the time, at the height of labor asked her to name the father. This young girl did, though not with the extra adjectives one would imagine, and everyone took note. But no one was standing with a scarlet "A", getting ready to shame the couple. Naming the father was simply in everyone's interest: a man was now on record in front of the community, and it would be his responsibility, not just theirs, to support the mother and child. And witnesses were there to see that he did.

The twentieth-century descendants of the Puritans didn't have anywhere near their frankness around sins of the flesh, but they did inherit a basic understanding. The two great passions of the Congregational churches, up through the 1950s and 1960s, were ecumenism — cooperation between churches and denominations — and human rights. []They were tireless promoters of Christian unity, even at cost to themselves, and as early as the 1930s in the vanguard of civil rights, worker's rights, the rights of refugees, and the rights of farmers. The Commission for Social Action, established in 1934, was their signal achievement, an agency staffed by rebels and visionaries who would put the average mainline functionary today to shame. They recognized that religion had to be about more than my particular denomination or my personal relationship with God — people of faith had to care about the good of everybody.

And though it might seem a little outside of things for the Congregational Library & Archives to house a collection about the UCC Coalition, a post-1957 organization for gay and lesbian rights, it is historically accurate. We're not, of course, an advocacy organization and we have no political agenda. And I'm sure that there is no single Congregational opinion about the goals of the Coalition, much less the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. We shouldn't expect one. But there is no brick wall separating the concerns of the present from those of the past. There is instead an internal logic, a tradition of care for the common good — one that the New England ancestors might recognize and, I think, genuinely respect.

-Peggy Bendroth



July 15, 2015

Our neighbors at Trinity Church in Copley Square will be hosting a conference on spirituality this fall, sponsored by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Private Faith, Public Witness of Boston Colonial Women

[]What can our Boston Colonial forebears teach us about spirituality today? How did they cultivate an inner life in the midst of family responsibilities? How do we decide what spiritual practices and rhythms are for us? How did the Colonials' spirituality affect their views on marriage? Does marriage matter to society? Join us to gain a deeper understanding of our ancestors through three fascinating short lectures by experts in the field.

Trinity Church Boston
206 Clarendon Street, Boston

Sunday, October 25, 2015
1:30 - 5:00 pm

Download the flyer for speaker and registration information, and keep an eye on Trinity's website for further details as the date grows closer.

July 2, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Friday, July 3rd in observance of Independence 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 Monday.

fireworks over the U.S. fleet in Sasebo, Japan


We will be open again on Monday the 6th.


photograph of sailors, family members and Japanese citizens gathered to watch fireworks on U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan (2005) by U.S. Navy Photographer's Mate 1st Class Paul J. Phelps

This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

June 29, 2015

[]Records exploring Open and Affirming, its origins and history, as well as other materials regarding the roles of members of the LBGT community within the UCC are available on our website and you are welcome to explore the many resources at the Congregational Library & Archives. In observance of the 30th anniversary of the passage of the ONA, Marnie Warner has been assisting and advising archivist Jessica Steytler in processing even more.


For information about these and other topics, you are always free to search the online catalog, contact an archivist or librarian, or visit us in person at 14 Beacon Street, Boston.


LGBT pride flag image created by Wikimedia Commons user Guanaco

June 26, 2015

As we stand on the brink of a monumental Supreme Court decision regarding marriage equality and mark 30 years since the explosive impact of the AIDS crisis, I took the opportunity to speak with Marnie Warner and her wife, rosi olmstead, initiators of the UCC's growing commitment to LGBT support and acceptance.

[]"I never thought we'd be married in our lifetime," exclaims Marnie Warner with the spirit of patience, joy and wonderment. For Marnie and her wife rosi the chain of events that started around their dining room table in Boston seems as vivid today as the day it began thirty years ago. Once a dream, the quest for acceptance and love of lesbians and gays and now bisexuals and transsexuals has spread through churches across the country, known today as Open and Affirming (ONA).

What was the catalyst that sparked an initiative for the passage the ONA resolution in the 1985 Synod of the United Church of Christ? rosi would say that it was about empathy. "It all started with the AIDS epidemic… People cared about people who [are] dying, people who are being discarded by others." At the time Marnie was an active member and deacon in the Church of the Covenant in Boston's Back Bay where rosi was a co-pastor. In 1984 very few people were out but their church had opened itself up, and as more members of the LGBT community got the word, it welcomed more. This brought sorrow as well as joy. Their congregation alone experienced the devastating loss of 13 members to AIDS. They asked the question "How does God accept them?" and answered by caring.

It was time to expand the work beyond the Church of the Covenant. They took their cues from the Presbyterians' More Light initiative but realized that the program needed to be tailored to the UCC culture. Confident that their cause aligned well with the UCC's tradition of social justice and its tenet that God is active in the world. On the political side, it was up to Marnie and rosi to gain acceptance on the state and national levels, and their strategy focused on UCC core beliefs; unlike today, few people were aware that "somebody they knew next door, or their niece or nephew (was gay)".

While many churches counted gay members among their congregations, non-discrimination was not enough, they were looking for acceptance. "We really wanted churches to open their doors, but we also wanted them to affirm who the people are," Marnie asserts.

Given the atmosphere in Massachusetts, it was the logical place to launch a resolution, recalled Marnie in a 2012 interview. Here a church could "put out the welcome mat and affirm lesbians and gays into the fullness of your life, whether as just a parishioner, ordination, being a deacon, whatever, the whole package." The progress was not without tense moments. At the 1984 Massachusetts Conference meeting, in what could be called Biblical one-upmanship, she describes a period of about an hour where rosi extemporaneously parried a barrage of biblical passages from delegates unsupportive of gays and lesbians by quoting other biblical texts. At the end of the day, they gained support and, with the spiritual guidance of Rev. Reuben Sheares, the resolution passed 2/3 to 1/3.

Then it was on to the 1985 Synod in Ames, Iowa, where the resolution calling for congregations to declare themselves "Open and Affirming" took place. Bishop Desmond Tutu spoke that year, as did Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, who addressed discrimination but failed to include gays and lesbians in a list of groups who suffered discrimination.

When procedural issues threatened the Open and Affirming resolution's way to the floor, it was up to Ann Day and the Coalition to shepherd it through the Synod bureaucracy to get before the delegates. There was a hearing where people told their stories. Ministers, both gay and straight, who pastored churches with gays and lesbians members, spoke out for the necessity of the resolution. In spite of promised confidentiality, a record of the session was played off-site and many of those who spoke felt that trust had been broken. But there was an unforeseen positive effect; people became aware of just how difficult it was for gays and lesbians to feel safe and true to their identity. And that swell of empathy helped turn the tide and moved the discussion forward.

rosi and Marnie paint the picture of the final vote. A key figure was Al Williams, conference minister from Massachusetts, who for the first time spoke publicly in favor with a consciousness of how people on both sides of the issue felt. Again it got down to that personal level and the need for collaborations and honest discussions. Williams's appeal was so persuasive that the question was spontaneously called from the floor and the vote was over 90% in favor of the resolution.

That was just the starting point for Ann Day and the Coalition. Ann's brilliant programmatic work gave the movement wings. She created discussion guides about the ONA process and took them directly to churches, growing grass roots support. She worked with churches and their congregations to adopt Open and Affirming covenants of their own. rosi remembers the importance of these sessions aimed at "exploring the kinds of things they had to do to love one another" from the bottom.

Today over 1200 congregations welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members and others are in discussion to become ONA. Nearly 250,000 members of the United Church of Christ belong to ONA churches. While their progress over the last 30 years reflects shifting cultural attitudes, their work has been a catalyst for the change in society as a whole.

Marnie has been working over the last year archiving and preparing the records of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns at the Congregational Library & Archives in preparation for this month's the UCC Synod in Cleveland where the 30th anniversary will be marked. While Marnie and rosi had planned to attend, rosi's recovery from a recent stroke will prevent them. I am happy to say that this did not impede her lively participation in this interview and I thank both of them for telling their stories.

-Cary Hewitt

June 19, 2015

Our executive director Peggy Bendroth is an esteemed historian and prolific author. Her next book, The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past, will be published in October.

[]Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England's first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth's critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

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.

The Last Puritans is available for preorder now from the University of North Carolina Press.

We will also have copies available for borrowing by our members as soon as they are shipped.

June 17, 2015

We know that not everyone can make the trip to Boston to visit us in person. That's why our staff do what we can to come to you. If you're attending either of this month's denominational meetings, be sure to stop by the Congregational Library & Archives' table in the exhibitor spaces and say hello.

[]Our executive director Peggy Bendroth and digital archivist Sari Mauro will be at the NACCC Annual Meeting & Conference in Salt Lake City this coming weekend (June 19-23). Both will be leading workshops, and Sari will be manning our table and holding casual "office hours" in the lobby for individual questions about records stewardship or preservation. Their scheduled appearances are listed below, and attendees are always welcome to chat with them elsewhere. You can also find Sari on Twitter @ArchivistSariM.

Saturday (6/20) 10:30 am - 12:00 pm Office hours with Sari Mauro
Sunday (6/21) 2:45 - 3:35 pm Stewarding Your Church Records workshop with Sari Mauro
  4:15 - 5:15 pm Stewarding Your Church Records workshop with Sari Mauro
Monday (6/22) 4:30 - 5:30 pm The World Beyond the Hudson River: The Story of Congregationalism in the West workshop with Peggy Bendroth
  4:30 - 5:30 pm Office hours with Sari Mauro
Tuesday (6/23) 11:15 am - 12:00 pm Office hours with Sari Mauro
  1:45 - 2:45 pm The World Beyond the Hudson River: The Story of Congregationalism in the West workshop with Peggy Bendroth


Our archivist Jessica Steytler will be at the UCC General Synod in Cleveland next weekend (June 25-30) along with current and former board members Barbara Brown Zikmund and Virginia Childs. They will mostly be found in the exhibit hall and all three will be happy to chat about the work we do and answer any questions you might have. If you're looking for Jessica in particular, you can keep up to date with her whereabouts on Twitter @JessicaSteytler.

June 5, 2015

Don't forget to reserve your seat for Thursday evening's event.

[]Pulitzer-nominated reporter, historian, and Boston University professor Dick Lehr tells the story of Boston's forgotten place in the story of civil rights in his latest book, The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America's Civil War.

The 1915 film The Birth of a Nation is a groundbreaking technical achievement. It is also virulently racist, and glorifies the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. Early civil rights leader and radical newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter embarked on a campaign to have the film censored in Boston.

[]Dick Lehr will speak about his work, which explores the parallel lives of Trotter and the film's director D.W. Griffith, and the film which has remained controversial for 100 years. He will also be selling and autographing copies of his book.

This event is co-hosted with the Boston African American National Historic Site.


Thursday, June 11th
5:30 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

June 3, 2015

The latest addition to our New England's Hidden Histories program is a collection of papers from the Rev. John Rogers (1666-1745) of Ipswich, Massachusetts.

[]The bulk of this collection is a handful of Rogers's sermons. Unlike most sermon collections, however, we have what seem to be two different versions of each sermon on a given Bible passage. Some revisions are dated less than a month apart and composed for different audiences. The ways in which Rev. Rogers changed his text could be quite interesting for dilligent readers.

Other personal items included are a letter to Rev. and Mrs. Rogers from John Wise proposing a courtship between their children, and Rogers's unsigned will.

You can find out more about this collection by reading the finding aid, or go directly to the collection page and view the documents that interest you.

June 1, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives will be providing space for this discussion of how an old text is being given new life in digital form.

[]Catechismusa Prasty Szadei (The Simple Words of Catechism) by Martynas Mažvydas was the first book printed in Lithuanian. Of the few hundred printed, there are only two known copies still in existence, one in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and one in Toruń, Poland.

Dr. Ian Christie-Miller has been hard at work on a project called Catechismusa 2 to study the text in depth. The music annotated on 24 pages of the Catechismusa has not only been recorded but the sound tracks have been integrated into high quality pdf images of the entire book. In addition the use of specialist front lighting and back lighting of every page of the Vilnius copy has revealed watermarks in every gathering of the book. []Prior to the project it was believed that there were no watermarks. Research into the paper has revealed the cultural and historical implications of that discovery.

Join us for a presentation that shows how the music can be accessed from the digital version of the text and examines ways in which watermark and paper research can reveal otherwise hidden data. The religious, cultural, musical, and bibliographical significance of the project will be shown.


Monday, June 8th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

To register, contact Ian Christie-Miller:


The project Catechismusa 2 is funded by the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

Further information is at Europeana and in a podcast from Earlypaper.

May 29, 2015

Our reading room will be closed to the public on Monday, June 1st for our board's annual meeting.

All of our online resources will be available as usual, and staff members will be in the office to answer questions over the phone or by email.

May 27, 2015

Our own Sari Mauro will be giving a presentation at the New England Historic Genealogical Society next week.

[]The Congregational Library & Archives is an internationally recognized resource for scholars, religious leaders, and local churches. It also offers a treasure trove of unique materials for family historians! From 17th-century church records to the personal papers of ministers and missionaries, these materials provide names and dates of past generations as well as insight into a religious tradition that deeply informed American culture. Join Digital Archivist Sari Mauro to learn about the collections that are of special interest to genealogists — accessible online and onsite.

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99-101 Newbury Street, Boston

Friday, June 5
12:00 – 1:00 pm

Cost: FREE
Register through the NEHGS site.

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.

April 14, 2015

Our reading room will be closed to the public tomorrow, April 15, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm for a meeting of our Advisory Circle friends group.

Staff will be on hand to answer questions by phone and email during that time, and all of our online resources will be available as usual.

April 10, 2015

There is still plenty of time to register for this month's free lunchtime lecture. Let us know if you're coming so we can save you a seat.

An Eighteenth-Century Intellectual, Universalist, and Champion of Women's Rights

[]Judith Sargent Murray was an essayist, poet, and playwright. She was among America's earliest champions of female equality, education, economic independence, and political engagement. Join us and scholar Bonnie Hurd Smith for a discussion of Murray's fascinating life and works.

Nationally recognized authority on Judith Sargent Murray, Bonnie Hurd Smith is a passionate student of women's history. In addition to writing six books about the 18th-century essayist and women’s rights advocate, she has created women's history walking tours in Boston and Salem. She served as Executive Director the Boston Women's Heritage Trail and board president of the Sargent House Museum. Bonnie is president of History Smiths working with individuals and organizations to incorporate history into their marketing and outreach to benefit themselves and their communities. Bonnie holds two degrees from Simmons College, Boston.

Tuesday, April 14th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.

portrait of Judith Sargent Murray courtesy of the Judith Sargent Murray Society website

April 9, 2015

April 15th Americans take a collective sigh and pay their fair share. But it wasn't always so.

[]"No taxation without representation" is one of the sentiments that ignited the American Revolution. So where did it come from? While the scholarship here proves to be a little shaky, many have credited Reverend Jonathan Mayhew. Known as a liberal theologian, the Martha's Vineyard native railed against tyranny from the pulpit and in print. And it was his A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers sermon in 1750 that is credited (some say by John Adams) with hatching the famous call against taxing citizens who have no legislative recourse.

Part politician, part pastor, Mayhew was asked by his congregation in 1766 to deliver his final sermon, The Snare Broken, after the repeal of the Stamp Act. Whatever the provenance of the taxation reference, one Mayhewism that historian Ola Elizabeth Winslow attested to in our Bulletin (Fall 1974) is "Kings are made by men, not God."

You can give your regards to Reverend Mayhew when you next visit the Congregational Library & Archives where his portrait hangs in our Reading Room. The likeness was painted by John Greenwood, one of the first American born portrait painters whose subjects included prominent merchants and clergy in mid-18th century Boston.

April 7, 2015

[]The New England Regional Fellowship Consortium announced its 2015-2016 fellows and the Congregational Library & Archives will host four enthusiastic scholars this spring and summer. Their topics range widely and our unique collections will help them develop new scholarship and deliver more information from our collections to an ever-widening readership. As research becomes more nuanced, unique collections like ours become more valuable. We welcome these four young scholars and look forward to assisting them in their pursuits.

  • PhD candidate David Thomas is investigating the 1772 tragedy of a 52-year-old immigrant, William Beadle, who murdered his wife and four children then took his own life. The incident spawned sermons, pamphlets, and newspaper articles up and down the East Coast. How, in a land that offered so many opportunities for improvement and new wealth, did so many find hopelessness and estrangement? Part of the answer may lie in words of ordinary people found in our New England Hidden Histories collections. Using their voices Thomas plans to create a micro-history that explores anxiety, alienation and anonymity in Britain's Atlantic Empire. He joins us from Temple University in Philadelphia.
  • Hailing from the University of Texas, Bradley Dixon proposes to explore indigenous subjects and citizens in early America through the actions of an American Indian noblewoman from the Eastern Niantic and Narragansett Indians who petitioned Charles II for relief from depredations she had suffered from Indians who had rebelled against the crown while her own family remained loyal. Dixon's dissertation compares the legal and political relations between Native peoples living with British colonial boundaries and those in Spanish America. Our rare books related to Indian missions and church records from New England Hidden Histories program attracted him to the Library & Archives.
  • Professor Mehmet Dogan will travel from Istanbul Technical University to delve into our extensive collections from American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, headquartered here at 14 Beacon Street. He wants to offer a new perspective on the journeys undertaken by missionaries from New England to the Middle East so we can better understand the position of religious circles in the region and its relation to growth of the ABCFM. Professor Dogan's own voyage started at the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul and will take him to Consortium partners the Houghton Library and the Massachusetts Historical Society, as well as the Congregational Library & Archives.
  • Associate Professor of History at Illinois College, Jenny Barker-Devine is currently working on a book project, American Athena: Constructing Victorian Womanhood on the Midwestern Frontier. The book examines women's social networks and public discourse in her own town of Jacksonville, IL during the 19th century. Attracting a diverse population from New England, Jacksonville was dubbed the "Athens of the West" due to its rich educational and cultural resources. Barker-Devine's aim is not to write a local history, but rather to "challenge existing narratives in American women's history and the history of feminism." Executive Director Peggy Bendroth assures me that Dr. Barker-Devine will keep our archivists busy with her requests.
April 2, 2015

[]The Congregational Library and Archives will be closed this Friday, April 3rd, in observance of Good Friday.

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 will get back to you when we return to the office next week.

We hope you have a lovely Easter weekend.


image of Springtime (ca. 1860) by Charles Jacque, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

April 1, 2015

The latest addition to our New England's Hidden Histories program is a group of unusual relations from Sturbridge, Mass.

We've talked about relations on this blog before, most notably in "Puritan relations: possibly not what you think". Relations are first person narratives of religious conviction and conversion often made when petitioning to join a church, and by now we quite a large collection of them available to you here on our website.

[]Today we're adding a handful more, this time from Sturbridge, Massachusetts. These relations, however, are not what we normally think of when we think of relations. They're still first person narratives detailing religious conviction and conversation -- but these were made not as part of a petition to join the local church. These relations were made (possibly at the behest of First Church in Sturbridge) by existing members who had left or were leaving the church.

The town of Sturbridge was settled in 1729 upon the Massachusetts General Court's approval of the petition. The Proprietors of what would be First Church started meeting almost immediately, but a pastor wasn't settled and a covenant wasn't signed until 1736. Under Sturbridge's first pastor, Rev. Caleb Rice, church membership grew to 114. In the late 1740s, however, fifteen of those members chose to leave First Church. These fifteen separating members are referred to as both "New Lights" and "Separates" or "Separatists". Stirred by the First Great Awakening to a new religious zeal, these fifteen congregants separated from First Church and would later go on to form the Baptist Church of Sturbridge. The relations in this collection detail the firsthand accounts of conversion from a few of these fifteen Separates that lead to their split from First Church.

You can learn more about these relations on the Sturbridge Separatist Church collection page.

March 27, 2015

Here at the CLA, we are privileged to hear our Executive Director Peggy Bendroth speak on historical topics frequently. If you would like to hear her, but can't make it to our events, we hope you can attend one of her other upcoming appearances. The next will be this coming Tuesday.

[]In the early 1880s, Mary Baker Eddy opened the Massachusetts Metaphysical College at 569 Columbus Avenue in Boston's South End. There she taught Christian Science, a new religious system she had recently founded. Only a few blocks away and a few years earlier, Boston's rapidly growing Catholic population embraced a new spiritual center, with the dedication at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Washington Street. Meanwhile the Congregational Church, descendant of Boston's Puritan founders, was reconfiguring its position in a city where it was once but no longer culturally dominant.

Please join us for an informal panel discussion with experts on Boston's religious history, to explore the cultural and spiritual dynamics of the city in the late 19th century.

The Panel includes:

  • Dr. Christopher Evans (moderator), Professor of the History of Christianity and Methodist Studies at the Boston University School of Theology. Among his courses, he teaches a class on the religious history of Boston. He is the author of Histories of American Christianity: An Introduction (Baylor University Press, 2013).
  • Dr. Margaret Bendroth (panelist), Executive Director of the Congregational Library and Archive in Boston, and author of many books, including Fundamentalists and the City: Conflict and Division in Boston's Churches, 1885-1950 (Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Dr. James O'Toole (panelist), Professor and Clough Millennium Chair in History at Boston College. Among his publications are The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America (Belknap Press, 2008) and Boston's Histories: Essays in Honor of Thomas H. O'Connor, co-edited with David Quigley (Northeastern University Press, 2004). Dr. O'Toole also served as Archivist, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, from 1978 to 1986.
  • Judy Huenneke (panelist), Senior Research Archivist, The Mary Baker Eddy Library.


Tuesday, March 31st
4:00 - 5:00 pm

Christian Science Publishing House
200 Massachusetts Avenue
3rd floor conference room

This program is free and no RSVP is required. If you have further questions, please contact Jonathon Eder at or 617-450-7131.

March 25, 2015

[]Following the excitement of our 2013 symposium, "Mather Redux: New Perspectives on Cotton Mather", we decided that our Mather collections were too good not to share with the rest of the world. With the generous support of the Carnegie-Whitney Foundation and the H.W. Wilson Foundation, we have created an annotated bibliography of all books and manuscripts related to Cotton Mather in the Congregational Library & Archives collection.

This bibliography contains a comprehensive list of our holdings, including books, sermons, contributions to the works of others, commentary and criticism, supplemental materials, journalism, comic books, and a recently-discovered genealogical chart of the Mather family. The accompanying webliography includes more recent materials from additional websites and other repositories. If you have an interest in any aspect of Cotton Mather's life, this is a great place to start.

Cotton Mather at the Congregational Library: An Annotated Bibliography


If you're doing research in other areas, we have other subject-specific guides on our Reference Desk page.

March 23, 2015

Don't forget to let us know if you'll be joining us for this month's free event. Please note that it begins at a special time of 3:00 pm.

[]American author and historian John Putnam Demos's most recent book, The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic is another compelling recount from a long line of his investigations into early American life and practice.

As the young United States looked beyond its shores, a group of eminent Protestant ministers formed a grand scheme for gathering the rest of mankind into the "redemptive fold of Christianity and 'civilization'." Its core element was a special school for "heathen youth" drawn from their homes around the world, including the Pacific Islands, China, India, and, more and more, the native nations of North America. After graduating, the plan was that they would return to join similar projects within their native populations. For some years, the school prospered and enjoyed a wide reputation. However, when two Cherokee students courted and married local women, public resolve — and fundamental ideals — were put to a severe test. The school born with the ideal of universal "salvation" plummeted into a controversy that exposed American racial attitudes and set off a chain of events that lead to the Trail of Tears.

[]The Heathen School has been nominated for the 2014 National Book Award. Demos was previously awarded the prestigious Bancroft Award for his book Entertaining Satan and the 1995 Francis Parkman Prize for his book The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story From Early America. Other books include A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony, The Enemy Within: A Short History of Witch-hunting and Past, Present, and Personal: The Family and the Life Course in American History.

Several of Demos's books are available for borrowing to members of the Congregational Library and Archives.


Wednesday, March 25th
3:00 - 4:00 pm

Register through EventBrite.

March 19, 2015

[]We have long been a resource for ministers and seminary students, and now the Congregational Library and Archives is also participating in the ATLA Reciprocal Borrowing Program. Anyone with borrowing privileges at any other participating institution can now come check out books from our circulating collections. To find out if you qualify, take a look at the list of libraries on the ATLA site.

If you'd like to use our collections for more intensive research, there are still a few weeks left to apply for the American Congregational Association / Boston Athenaeum joint fellowship. The award includes a stipend of $1,500; applications are due by April 15. Applicants must submit a curriculum vitae and letter of intent describing the proposed project and citing specific materials from the collections of the Boston Athenaeum. Graduate students must also include a letter of recommendation from their faculty advisor.

February 27, 2015

Lemuel Haynes 1753-1833, Freed 1774

As I was reading about the remarkable Lemuel Haynes, I could have thought that his story was set in the 20th century rather than the two hundred years earlier. Abandoned by his African American father and Caucasian mother, Lemuel Haynes achieved many firsts, as a former indentured servant who rose to become a celebrated preacher and internationally popular author, he was outspoken on issues of liberty and justice and completely dedicated to his Calvinist and Federalist beliefs.

[]Primarily self-educated, he was offered a place at Dartmouth College but opted to stay in his native Connecticut to study with successors of Jonathan Edwards. He served in majority white churches in Granville, MA; Rutland, VT; and later in Granville, NY. Like many of his profession, he married one of his flock, but it was Elizabeth Babbitt who, according to one source, proposed to him in 1783. Their interracial marriage produced 10 children who went on to live productive and prominent lives.

"Liberty is equally as precious to a black man, as it is to a white one, and bondage equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other."

A popular figure known for a caustic wit, Haynes was recognized by preachers, civic leaders and academics through his prolific writings and poetry. It was his preaching that affected his congregations; one of his parishioners wrote: "I never heard a sermon from my minister without gaining something new."[1]

What pastor would not like to win this praise?

-Cary Hewitt

Read more about what others say.

Find more that is available on the Congregational Library & Archives site and in our catalog.


[1] "January 1, 1837". Sketches of the Life and Character of the Rev. Lemuel Haynes, A. M.: For Many Years Pastor of a Church in Rutland, Vt., and Late in Granville, New-York by Timothy Mather Cooley

February 24, 2015

Last month on January 15, President Obama hosted a screening of the critically acclaimed film Selma. The movie recounts the1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. It opens with Dr. King's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo and ends in Montgomery, Alabama a little more than three months later. But the story extends far beyond those miles and few months; it is a microcosm of the Civil Rights Movement.


Cobleigh's editorial on "The Birth of a Nation" in The Congregationalist, 22 April 1915
click to enlarge

One hundred years earlier, a far different film was screened in the White House. Sponsored by President Woodrow Wilson, The Birth of a Nation became the first film ever shown in the presidential residence. D.W. Griffith's film included actors in blackface and heroic portraits of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. While the film was wildly popular, there were violent protests across the country. In Boston the fight against showing the film was led by William Monroe Trotter, editor of The Liberator. Along the way, Trotter was betrayed by many, but The Congregationalist assistant editor, Rolfe Cobleigh advocated for the cause in person and in print from his headquarters here at Congregational House.

[]In his most recent book The Birth of a Nation, Dick Lehr recounts the public confrontation that "roiled America, pitting black against white, Hollywood against Boston, and free speech against civil rights." It was complicated and messy, setting the standard for the civil actions of the 1950s and 1960s and continuing to the present day.

Lehr used CLA resources in the course of his investigation.

At the Congregational Library and Archives visitors can access numerous issues of The Liberator and bound volumes of The Congregationalist. Dick Lehr's book is available to our members at the library.

February 13, 2015

[]Our reading room will be closed on Monday, February 16th in observance of Presidents' Day.

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


portrait of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1850, courtesy of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, via Wikimedia Commons

February 10, 2015

Due to the severe weather we are currently experiencing in the Boston area, we have rescheduled this month's free lunchtime lecture to next week.

The good news is that you now have more than enough time to reserve your seat if you haven't already.

Decoding Roger Williams

[]Near the end of his life, Roger Williams scrawled an encrypted essay in the margins of a colonial-era book. For more than 300 years those shorthand notes remained undecipherable until a team of Brown undergraduates cracked the code. Linford Fisher and fellow professor J. Stanley Lemons immediately recognized the importance of what turned out to be Roger William's final treatise.

[]Professor Fisher's research and teaching relate primarily to the cultural and religious history of colonial America and the Atlantic world, including Native Americans, religion, material culture, and Indian and African slavery and servitude. His first book, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America looks at Native American communities in Rhode Island, Connecticut, western Massachusetts, and Long Island (NY), over the long course of the 18th century, particularly with regard to their involvement in the so-called "Great Awakening" of the 1740s. He is currently working on his next book-length project, a broad-ranging history of slavery and the shades of servitude in colonial New England and the Atlantic world among Africans and Native Americans.

Linford Fisher's books are available for borrowing to members of the Congregational Library and Archives.

Wednesday, February 18th
noon - 1:00 pm

Register through SurveyMonkey.


image of page 142 in An Essay Toward the Reconciling of Difference Among Christians by John Eliot courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University

image of the statue of Roger Williams by Franklin Simmons in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the US Capitol Building courtesy of The Architect of the Capitol via Wikimedia Commons

February 9, 2015

[]Due to weather and the suspension of MBTA rail service, the library will be closed Tuesday, February 10th.

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 to the office.

We will keep you updated if our planned schedule changes.

We hope all of our local patrons are safe and warm.


snowflake ornament image courtesy of Petr Kratochvil via Wikimedia Commons

February 8, 2015

[]The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed Monday, February 9th due to weather.

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 to the office.

We will keep you updated if our planned schedule changes.

We hope all of our local patrons are safe and warm.


snowflake ornament image courtesy of Petr Kratochvil via Wikimedia Commons

February 4, 2015

We are pleased to announce the availability of two new collections in our New England's Hidden Histories (NEHH) program.

The first collection comes from First Church in Newbury, Massachusetts, and is part of Series I. It contains an 1853 copy of minutes from a 1669-1670 Ecclesiastical Council called by the church to render an opinion on the church's desire to change their style of governance by dismantling their Elder system. The Council advised against the proposal strongly, but by 1683 First Church in Newbury had no ruling elders. To learn more about this collection, visit the finding aid or view the item online.

letter written by Jonathan Edwards to Esther Burr, 1757

The second collection, found in Series II contains a single letter written by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) to his daughter, Esther Edwards Burr (1732-1758), seen accompanying this blog post. The letter is dated November 20, 1757 and was written shortly after the death of Esther's husband, Aaron Burr, Sr. (1715/16-1757). You can view the letter online via the collection page.

February 3, 2015

[]The event previously scheduled for February 12th, "Capturing Your Memories", has been canceled.

Please visit our events page for more information on upcoming workshops and seminars at the Congregational Library & Archives. Follow us on Twitter, Falcebook, and this blog for regular updates and notifications regarding future events.

February 3, 2015

The Congregational Library & Archives will open at 10am today due to yesterday's weather. As always, our online resources are available to you and we would be glad to repsond to any email or voicemail messages. 

February 2, 2015


The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed Monday, February 2nd due to weather.

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 to the office.

We will keep you updated if our planned schedule changes.

We hope all of our local patrons are safe and warm.


snowflake ornament image courtesy of Petr Kratochvil via Wikimedia Commons

January 26, 2015

UPDATE: At the recommendation of the City of Boston, we will remain closed on Wednesday as well.  We will reopen on Thursday, January 29th.

[]Due to the impending blizzard, our reading room will be closed on Tuesday, January 27th.

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 to the office on Wednesday, January 28th.

We will keep you updated if our planned schedule changes.

We hope all of our local patrons are safe and warm.


snowflake ornament image courtesy of Petr Kratochvil via Wikimedia Commons