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November 2011

Don't Delay! Deadline to Submit Symposium Proposals is December 15, 2011

90_20T1The National Heritage Museum announces a call for papers for its biannual symposium, “Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism,” to be held on Saturday, April 7, 2012, at the Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts.

The National Heritage Museum is an American history museum founded and supported by Scottish Rite Freemasons in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States. As the repository of one of the largest collections of American Masonic and fraternal objects, books and manuscripts in the United States, the Museum aims to foster new research on American fraternalism and to encourage the use of its scholarly resources.

The symposium seeks to present the newest research on American fraternal groups from the past through the present day. By 1900, over 250 American fraternal groups existed, numbering six million members. The study of their activities and influence in the United States, past and present, offers the potential for new interpretations of American society and culture. Diverse perspectives on this topic are sought; proposals are invited from a broad range of research areas, including history, material and visual culture, anthropology, sociology, literary studies and criticism, gender studies, political science, African American studies, art history, economics, or any combination of disciplines. Perspectives on and interpretations of all time periods are welcome.

Possible topics include:

• Comparative studies of American fraternalism and European or other international forms of fraternalism

• Prince Hall Freemasonry and other African-American fraternal groups

• Ethnically- and religiously-based fraternal groups

• Fraternal groups for women or teens

• Role of fraternal groups in social movements

• The material culture of Freemasonry and fraternalism

• Anti-Masonry and anti-fraternal movements, issues and groups

• Fraternal symbolism and ritual

• The expression of Freemasonry and fraternalism through art, music, and literature

• Approaches to Freemasonry – from disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transnational perspectives; the historiography and methodology of the study of American fraternalism

Proposals should be for 30 minute research papers; the day’s schedule will allow for audience questions and feedback. Proposal Format: Submit an abstract of 400 words or less with a resume or c.v. that is no more than two pages. Be sure to include full contact information (name, address, email, phone, affiliation). Send proposals to: Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D., Director of Collections, National Heritage Museum, by email at anewell@monh.org or by mail to 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA 02421. Deadline for proposals to be received is December 15, 2011. For more information about the National Heritage Museum, see www.nationalheritagemuseum.org. For questions, contact Aimee E. Newell as above, or call 781-457-4144.

Masonic Emblematic Chart, 1840-1850, probably New York, National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 90.20.  Photo by David Bohl.


Read All About It: The 2010 National Heritage Museum Symposium

JRFF CoverDid you miss our first symposium in April 2010?  Or maybe you were with us, but wish you had taken better notes that day?  Never fear, the proceedings from the National Heritage Museum's 2010 symposium, "New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism," were recently published as volume 2, number 1 of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism.  This special issue was guest-edited by Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D., the Museum's Director of Collections, and includes five of the papers presented at the symposium, the keynote address, "Worlds of Brothers," by Jessica Harland-Jacobs, as well as several book reviews and other material.  The table of contents for the issue is accessible online.

As the first academic journal dedicated to scholarly contributions in the field of Freemasonry and fraternalism, the JRFF is intended to create a bridge between different traditions of scholarship.  For more information, and to order copies of the journal, visit its website!


You Can’t Miss It! The Loyal Order of Moose Neon Sign

Moose sign in Curators' ChoiceThis sign harkens back to an era in which both neon signs and the Loyal Order of Moose populated many American cities.  The museum first purchased and installed it for the 2002 exhibition, To Build and Sustain:  Freemasonry in American Communities.  With vibrant colors and bright lights, this object gave us a chance to illustrate twentieth-century fraternal organizations’ impact, not only on American’s social lives, but also on downtown landscapes.  And, as a staff member notes in Curators’ Choice:  Favorites from the Collection, “This sign is just plain cool!”      

Since 2002, we have learned a lot about neon signs at the museum, most notably from our experience displaying and interpreting antique signs from the collection of Dave and Lynn Waller in the exhibition, New England Neon.  Born of a marriage between advertising and science, neon signs have long enlivened American streets.  After their introduction in the mid-1920s, neon signs--inexpensive to operate, colorful and suitable for a variety of designs--trumped previously popular forms of electric signs.  Solid construction, appealing curved shapes and bold, enameled colors mark this neon Moose sign as a great example of the commercially produced neon signs made in the 1930s and 1940s. 

When new, this sign advertised Loyal Order of Moose Lodge #1369 in Robinson, Illinois.  Information fromDetail of Moose sign the Museum of Moose History suggests that lodges could purchase these signs from the Supreme Lodge Supply Department of the Moose in the 1930s.  We are also glad to know the manufacturer of this sign, the Swanson-Nunn Electric Co. of Evansville, Indiana, who inscribed their company name along the bottom of the sign.  Not all neon sign companies did, so this information is valuable to us.  As time passes, wear, weather and changing tastes have made neon signs from this era increasingly rare—we count ourselves lucky to have this one to share with visitors.

Sign, 1930–1950. Swanson-Nunn Electric Co., Evansville, Indiana.  Museum Purchase, 2000.055.

An Update on a Connection Between Masonic Aprons

2009_080T1 Back in December 2010, I wrote a blog post about an exciting new addition to our apron collection – one that came with a note linking it to President Grover Cleveland.  In the post I explained why it seems unlikely that Cleveland ever actually wore the apron and I compared the Cleveland apron with one in our collection that was printed with a design by Lewis Roberson and Oliver T. Eddy of Vermont, probably between 1814 and 1822. I am including the images of those two aprons here again, so you can see the similarities between the two designs.83_46_1DI1

Around the same time that the Cleveland apron post went live, I received an inquiry from the library at the Grand Lodge of Conneticut. They asked me about an apron with a design that is signed by Abner Reed of East Windsor, Connecticut. In the course of answering the inquiry, I realized that the Cleveland apron shows virtually the exact Reed design! We are fortunate to have a signed example of Abner Reed’s apron in the National Heritage Museum collection, which you can see below.

80_14DI1 Reed was born in 1771 and began working as an engraver in the 1790s, despite having served an apprenticeship with a local saddler. He pursued a successful engraving business through the 1820s and then worked more sporadically through the 1840s. In 1851, he moved to Toledo, Ohio, to live with his daughter and remained there until his death in 1866.

The signature on the apron reads “Eng’d by A. Reed for Br. S. Dewey.” Sherman Dewey was a charter member of Eastern Star Lodge No. 44 in Willimantic, Connecticut. There is no record that Reed was a Freemason in Connecticut. In addition to the Cleveland apron, two other aprons in the Museum’s collection show a strong similarity to Reed’s design but are not marked with the printed signature. One of the three is a painted version of the printed design. All three, including the Cleveland apron, probably date later than 1800 when Reed created the signed apron.


Barbara Franco, Bespangled, Painted & Embroidered: Decorated Masonic Aprons in America, 1790-1850, Lexington, MA: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1980.

Donald C. O’Brien, “Abner Reed: A Connecticut Engraver,” The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 44 (January 1979): 1-16.

Top: Masonic apron, 1825-1850, American, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of the Grand Lodge of AF & AM of Illinois, 2009.080. Photograph by David Bohl.

Middle: Masonic apron, 1814-1822, Lewis Roberson and Oliver T. Eddy, Wethersfield, Vermont, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Paul D. Fisher, 83.46.1. 

Bottom: Masonic apron, circa 1800, Abner Reed (1771-1866), East Windsor, Connecticut, National Heritage Museum collection, Museum Purchase, 80.14.

Betsy Ross: The Life Behind the Legend, Nov. 5 at the Museum

BetsyRoss_LoC_croppedCould Betsy Ross have changed history with a snip of a pair of scissors in the year 1776? Did that snip convince George Washington, the nation’s future first president, that five-pointed stars suited better than six? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Join us for the lecture, “Betsy Ross: The Life Behind the Legend,” on Saturday, November 5 at 2 pm to delve into the full life story this enduring American legend. Historian Marla R. Miller shares Ross as she truly was, piecing together the fascinating life of this beloved figure. Ross is thought to be important to our history above all for her role as a skilled needlewoman. She was one of Philadelphia's most important flag makers from the Revolution through the War of 1812. Little known, however, is that she was fiercely on the side of the colonial resistance, reveled in its triumphs, and suffered consequences as a result.

Miller’s recent publication, Betsy Ross and the Making of America, will be available for purchase and signing following the talk.

The lecture is free. It is made possible by Ruby W. Linn, and is the concluding lecture in a series celebrating the National Heritage Museum’s treasured 15-star flag. Made between 1794 and 1818, the flag will be available for viewing on the day of the lecture in the Museum’s Farr Conference Room.

Headshot in snowMarla R. Miller is an historian of early American women and work, and has made a career uncovering the lives of women who left little in the way of a documentary record. She is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and directs the Public History program there. She has won the Organization of American Historians’ Lerner-Scott Prize for the best dissertation in Women’s History and the 1998 Walter Muir Whitehill Prize in Colonial History.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861‑6559 or visit our web site.

Photo credits:

Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag, c. 1908. Library of Congress.

Marla Miller. Courtesy of Marla Miller.