American History - 20th Century

Newly added to Digital Collections: Harry S. Truman Letters

A2019_001_016DS_webDid you know that President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was in correspondence with Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957), the head of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Supreme Council during the 1940s and 1950s? A number of recently digitized letters, written from Truman to Johnson on White House stationery are available through the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. They reveal a friendly relationship, with President Truman beginning his letters to Johnson by addressing him "Dear Mel."

Truman became a Freemason in 1909. By 1940, he was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri. In 1945, Truman was created a 33rd degree Sovereign Grand Inspector General in the Scottish Rite's Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction. That same year, the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, awarded Truman its first Gourgas Medal, the Supreme Council's highest honor.

The letters in this collection include both those from Harry Truman as well as one written by his wife, Bess Truman (1885-1982). The majority of the correspondence in this collection consists of letters written by President Harry S. Truman to his friend and fellow Freemason, Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957). Johnson served as the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Sovereign Grand Commander from 1933 to 1953.

For more about the friendship between Truman and Johnson, have a look at one of our earlier blog posts, A Mason Answers His Country's Call and Receives the Scottish Rite's Highest Award.

There are now over 750 items in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. Be sure to visit and check them all out!

Caption:
Letter from President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, 1948 August 3. Collection of Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. SC069.


Grant Wood’s Shrine Quartet

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Shrine Quartet, 1939. Grant Wood (1891-1942). Special Acquisitions Fund, 84.16. Photograph by John Miller.

In 1937 Grant Wood (1891-1942) started making lithographs for the Associated American Artists, an art gallery in New York.  Living in Iowa, Wood planned his prints there, executed them on lithographic stones the gallery provided and then sent them to New York for printing. From 1937 through 1941 Wood created 19 lithographs. Associated American Arts sold Wood’s prints, along with others they had commissioned from well-known artists, by mail order and in their gallery. Their innovation was to offer work by popular fine artists to consumers at affordable prices—Wood’s black and white lithographs originally sold for $5 each. Wood lauded the gallery’s business model, writing:

I am very enthusiastic about the Associated American Artists organization. People who cannot afford to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for original paintings cannot afford to have original, signed works of the favorite contemporary American artists in their homes.  It is, in essence, a democratic experiment....

Most of Wood’s work for the firm treated rural scenes and agricultural activity. This 1939 lithograph, part of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection, portrays a different kind of subject. In it Wood showed four members of the Shrine as they sang. Dressed for a meeting, the singers' distinctive fezzes cast elongated shadows against a background of pyramids and camels. Wood's scene is evocative and sympathetic. Though a Mason, Wood is not thought to have joined the Shrine. He took his degrees at Mt. Hermon Lodge No. 263 in Cedar Rapids in 1921. Three years later he was suspended for not paying his dues. However, he was likely have been familiar with the Shrine through his involvement in Freemasonry and because a temple met in his hometown.

Wood explored Masonic themes in another work, The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry, a large tryptic commissioned for the National Masonic Research Society in 1921. The painting is now part of the collection of the Iowa Masonic Library at the Grand Lodge of Iowa. Though usually displayed at the library, the painting is currently featured in an exhibition about Grant Wood.  You can see the exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City where is is on view through June 10, 2018.

  

References:

Barbara Haskell, Grant Wood:  American Gothic and Other Fables (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018) 29, 180-181, 206-206, 236 and 239.

Bill Krueger “Grant Wood’s ‘The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry,’” Iowa Grand Lodge Bulletin, March, 2016.

Gail Windisch, Sylvan Cole Jr., and Karen J. Herbaug, Art for Every Home: An Illustrated Index of Associated American Artists Prints, Ceramics, and Textile Designs (Manhattan, Kansas: Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, 2016) http://hdl.handle. net/2097/19686.

Theodore F. Wolff, “Grant Wood’s Lithographs,” The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 1990.

 

Many thanks to Bill Kreuger of the Iowa Masonic Library at the Grand Lodge of Iowa.


The Importance of Research in Creating Connections to the Past

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Colored Odd Fellows Handbill

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 Envelope (front)

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Envelope (back)

At the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, research helps the museum’s staff of professionals not only to establish the history or provenance of the objects we collect, but also helps us to better understand the past lives of the people connected to these objects.

This week, we feature a new acquisition, a handbill that publicized an “Amateur Minstrels” show for the “Benefit of the Colored Odd Fellows.” The handbill was acquired with an envelope, postmarked February, 27, 1907, and is addressed to William Russ of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Research into this document has narrowed its sender to one of three people: Wilbur Miles, the headlining performer mentioned in the enclosed handbill, Agnes C. Stuart, or her daughter Katherine Stuart Godfrey. As this report from the society page of the Clarksburg Telegram (December 13, 1906) explains, it was customary for the Stuart family to spend their winters in Florida, and during the winter of 1906-1907, Agnes C. Stuart brought two members of her family with her.  

“Mrs. Agnes C. Stuart and daughter, Miss Kathyrine [sic], left today for St. Lucie, Fla., to spend the winter. Wilbur Miles, colored, joined them from Birmingham, Ala. Mrs. Stuart raised him and on that account, as he requested to be taken along she granted the request.”

The Stuart family were prominent citizens of Clarksburg, and as burial records for the town’s Odd Fellows cemetery reveals, at least three generations of Stuarts were buried there and were members of the Odd Fellows. It is likely that Wilbur Miles was introduced to Odd Fellowship through his relationship with the Stuarts and may have been a member of its African American counterpart, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America.

In addition to caring for the young Wilbur Miles, the Federal Census reports for the years 1870 and 1880 indicate that Agnes’ parents, William and Catherine, may have cared for another member of Wilbur’s family, Rosa D. Miles, who eventually 

 

became the family’s domestic servant and was identified as “mulatto” or mixed race in the records. Research has yet to establish her connection to Wilbur; however, it is possible that Rosa was either Wilbur’s mother or older sister.

As for the recipient of the handbill, William Russ, how was he connected to the Stuart family and to Wilbur Miles?  Federal Census records for the years 1900 and 1920 reveal that Russ, who was of mixed raced ancestry as well, worked as a construction worker for himself and later for Katherine Stuart Godfrey, Agnes’ daughter. In fact, for the 1942 draft, Russ listed Katherine as both his employer and as a “person who will always know your address” on his draft registration card.
 
Do you have any information regarding the history of this document or the people behind its creation? Or would you like to learn more about African American Minstrel performers? Feel free to contact us or to comment about this topic in the comments section below.

 


Captions

Colored Odd Fellows Handbill and Envelope Addressed to William Russ, February 1907. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, FR 160.001.


America's Race to the Moon Inspires a Freemason (and a Boy) to Dream

As I digitized this selection of documents from the Buzz Aldrin Masonic Ephemera Collection for inclusion into the new Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website, my work that day pleasantly conjured up one of my most precious childhood memories: the day I witnessed my very first moonshot during the early 1970s.

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Press Photograph signed by Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, no date.

  While too young to remember America’s first successful moonshot, as I handled Freemason Buzz Aldrin’s signed press photograph, I remembered the exhilaration I felt so long ago on a lazy Sunday morning in April of 1972 as I laid on my grandmother’s living room floor. I remembered being transfixed by the sights and sounds emanating from my grandmother’s television set: The deafening roar of the rocket, and the larger-than-life images of an Apollo rocket, which filled the television screen as it lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

For me, as for the donor of this collection, Ben Lipset, also a Freemason, seeing our first moonshot was a magical and unforgettable moments. It filled us and other viewers with excitement and inspired dreams of a bigger, brighter future.

 

 


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Mission Accomplished: A Poem by Ben Lipset, 1969.


Captions

Buzz Aldrin Masonic Ephemera Collection, 1969-1975. Gift of Ben B. Lipset. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MM 001.012.


Workshop: “Exploring the World War I Home Front: How to Discover Your Family and Community History”

November 14, 2015

1:30-3:30 PM

Workshop by Jayne Gordon, Independent Consultant and Former Director of Education and Public Programs, Massachusetts Historical Society

 

Oh Boy! that's the Girl!, 1918. Sackett & Wilhelms Corp., New York. Gift of Andrew S. Dibner, A2000/37/04
"Oh Boy! that's the Girl!," 1918. Sackett & Wilhelms Corp., New York. Gift of Andrew S. Dibner, A2000/37/04.

In this workshop, Jayne Gordon, former Director of Education and Public Programs at the Massachusetts Historical Society, will teach us how to use surviving documents from the World War I home front to recreate the story of a community’s or a family’s past. Gordon will outline how to mine historical resources to discover more about the experience of families and communities on the World War I home front. At the workshop’s end, participants will leave with a set of framing questions to use for examining records related to their own research.

Free workshop; registration required by November 5. Email programs@monh.org or call 781-457-4126 to register.

This workshop at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P.  Linn Foundation and is part of the lecture series, “The U.S. Home Front during World War I: Duty Sacrifice, and Obligation.”  


Masonic Revelries and the Roaring Twenties

A recent acquisition to the Scottish Rite Masonic Library & Museum reminds us of the Fraternity’s adoption of Orientalism, its passion for revelry, and captures the lively spirit of the 1920s.

Mecca_Temple_Band_1922

After the opening of trade with Japan in the late 19th century, America’s consumer desire for all things “Oriental” grew exponentially, and of all the groups associated with American Freemasonry, the Shriners, noted for their use of the red fez, embraced the symbols and spirit of Orientalism to the fullest. This broadside addressed to New York State Assemblyman Alexander G. Hall, a member of both the Mecca Temple Shrine and the York Commandery, No. 55, invited Hall and his wife to the Colorful Oriental Durbar sponsored by the Mecca Temple Band of New York. The Durbar or reception was held at the 71st Regiment Armory on 34th Street and Park Avenue and highlighted by the music of the Mecca Temple Band, conducted by Arthur H. Hoffman.

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Captions

Colorful Oriental Durbar Broadside and Envelope, 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum Purchase, MA 430.

The Mecca Temple Band of New York City, undated. The Masonic Postcard Collection. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum Purchase, MM 025.


World War I - Home Service Banners

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This year (2014) marks the one hundredth anniversary of the conflict that would become known as the "Great War," and, later, World War I.  Although the United States did not get drawn into the conflict until 1917, the start of the war was not ignored on these shores.  While the war had been brewing for some time, the immediate cause is widely acknowledged to be the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914) of Austria in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, on June 28, 1914.  A month later, on July 28, Austria-Hungary fired the first shots in preparation for an invasion of Serbia.  Lines were quickly drawn along what would become the Western front between Germany and France, and the Eastern Front between Russia and Austria-Hungary.  Shortly after the first shots were fired in 1914, Britain declared war on Germany.  Italy and Bulgaria joined the war in 1915 and Romania in 1916.  In April 1917, the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies (Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Russia, prior to its surrender).  With the entrance of the United States, the Allies were able to surge forward and eventually win the war.  Germany agreed to an armistice on November 11, 1918.  More than nine million combatants lost their lives; Germany and Russia lost territory; the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were dismantled; the map of Europe was redrawn; and the League of Nations formed to prevent a future conflict.  Sadly, the League would fail just twenty years later when World War II began. 

Almost five million Americans served in the war, more than four million of these in the Army.  Although the front was far away from the United States, the war effort was foremost in the minds of many at home.  Families with a man serving overseas often hung a “Home Service Banner” in a window.  These banners, with a red border around a white center and a star to represent the serviceman, became a display of patriotism during World War I.  The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection includes one of these banners, but unfortunately we do not know who originally owned it (at right).  It has one star, which signified one family member fighting in the conflict.  A blue star signified hope and pride; a silver star indicated that the soldier had been wounded; and a gold star represented sacrifice, indicating that the soldier died in battle.  If the family had more than one soldier overseas, the banner would show multiple stars.  The first home service flag was designed and patented in 1917 by Robert Queissner of Ohio, who had two sons on the front lines. 78_36DI1

Recently, the Museum & Library was given a similar flag, but with twenty-three stars (twenty-two blue and one cream-colored star) around a blue square and compasses symbol (see above).  This flag shows the same red border and white center as a home service flag.  The flag was found at Old Colony Lodge in Hingham, Massachusetts.  The lodge did not have any information on the flag, but it may have indicated that twenty-three members of the lodge were serving in World War I or World War II (these flags were also used during that conflict), and that one man was wounded or killed.  We hope that pursuing additional research into the lodge’s records may answer the question of when the flag was used and confirm this theory about its significance.  Does your family own a home service banner?  Let us know in a comment below!

Masonic Flag, 1910-1920, United States, gift of Old Colony Lodge, Hingham, Massachusetts, 2011.025.

Home Service Banner, 1917-1919, United States, gift of Henry S. Kuhn, 78.36.
 


Workshop: How to Do History with Online Mapping Tools - Register Now!

MetroBostonDataCommonCalling all lay historians, data fans, and map enthusiasts!

We are rounding out our 2014 lecture series, "Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History," with a free workshop.

Saturday, November 22, 10:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

How to Do History with Online Mapping Tools

In this workshop, participants will learn how to use online tools to create and consult maps that chart Metro Boston area history. Staff from the MetroBoston DataCommon, a provider of free applications that make it possible to map data, will collaborate with Joanne Riley, University Archivist at UMass Boston, to demonstrate how visualizations of data and space related to our region can help us understand our history. Whether you are interested in exploring demographics, economy, the physical environment, cultural history, politics or more, bring your curiosity and your questions. Our presenters will share examples and point the way to potential uses of digital mapping for your local history research. This workshop is free thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation. Space is limited; registration is required. Contact: programs@monh.org.

This workshop is offered by representatives of two local resources for historical material and data visualization:

As University Archivist at the UMass Boston library, Joanne Riley coordinates extensive collections that complement those of the Massachusetts State Archives and the John F. Kennedy Library. The university's urban mission and strong support of community service is reflected in the department's collections of records of urban planning, social action, alternative movements, and community organizations. In that context, Joanne oversees the Mass. Memories Road Show project, a long-term project to collect and archive images and oral history related to Massachusetts communities. She is a member of the advisory board of Mapping Thoreau Country, a project that takes of advantage of digital technologies to use historical maps to organize and interpret images, documents, and information related to Henry David Thoreau's travels throughout the United States.

The MetroBoston DataCommon is an interactive data portal and online mapping tool that provides a wealth of information about the region’s people, communities and neighborhoods through a wide variety of topics -- from arts and education to the environment and transportation. It is a collaborative project of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and the Boston Indicators Project. The MAPC is a regional planning agency serving the 101 cities and towns of Metropolitan Boston. The Agency promotes smart growth and regional collaboration, and provides a range of analytical, planning, and mapping services to municipalities and community-based organizations in metropolitan Boston. The Boston Indicators Project is coordinated by The Boston Foundation in partnership with the City of Boston and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). Its goals are to democratize access to data and information, to foster informed public discourse and to track progress on shared civic goals.

For further information about the program, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or at programs@monh.org. For information about the museum visit www.monh.org.

Image courtesy of MetroBoston DataCommon.


Lecture Series: Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History, Fall 2014

Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History, Fall 2014

In the fall of 2014, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library continues its program series, “Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History." All programs will be free to the public thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

Maps were among the first objects that the Museum collected after its founding in 1975. Our collection holds maps dating from the 17th century to the present. Using this collection as a touchstone, the series reflects current research that helps us value historical cartography. We hope you are as eager as we are to delve into the past worlds historic maps describe and forge paths to the new ones that digital mapping promises to chart.

Mark your calendar with these dates; future blog posts will share more details about the speakers and their topics.

Historical_Geography_SmithSaturday, September 13, 2:00 p.m.

Susan Schulten, Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Denver

Reinventing the Map

We live in a culture saturated with maps. We have become accustomed to making them instantly and representing virtually any type of data. Technology makes this possible, but our contemporary use of maps is rooted in a fundamental shift that took place well over a century ago. Professor Schulten will illustrate how, beginning in the nineteenth century, Americans began to use maps not only to identify locations and represent the landscape, but to organize, display, and analyze information. Through maps of the environment, the distribution of the institution of slavery, the census, epidemics, and even their own history, Americans gradually learned to view themselves and their nation in altogether new ways.

JRS_smallerSaturday, October 4, 2:00 p.m.

John Rennie Short, Professor, Department of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Cartographic Encounters: Native Americans in the Exploration and Mapping of North America

In this lecture Professor Short will outline the role of indigenous people in the exploration and mapping of North America. Drawing on diaries, maps, and official reports, he will demonstrate how Native American guides, informants, and mapmakers were essential to European and American exploration and mapping in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

MetroBostonDataCommonSaturday, November 22, 10:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Workshop: How to Do History with Online Mapping Tools

In this workshop, participants will learn how to use an online tool to create maps that chart Metro Boston area history. Staff from the MetroBoston DataCommon, a provider of free applications that make it possible to map data, will collaborate with Joanne Riley, University Archivist at UMass Boston, to show lay historians, data fans, and map enthusiasts how visualizations of data related to our region can help us understand our history. Whether you are interested in exploring demographics, economy, the physical environment, politics or more, bring your curiosity and your questions. Our presenters will share examples and point the way to potential uses of digital mapping for your local history research. Space is limited; registration is required by November 5.  Contact: programs@monh.org.

Image credits:

Historical Geography, [S.l.], 1888. John F. Smith.  llus. in: Harper's weekly, February 28, 1863. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, LC-2002624023. This and other maps can be explored at Schulten's website, Mapping the Nation.

Courtesy of John Rennie Short.

Courtesy of MetroBoston DataCommon.


Washington's Buttons or Shady Hoax?

86_62_10a-cDP1DBAt the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we love objects that have a good story. This framed pair of buttons, which were donated in 1986 as part of a large collection of ephemera and prints associated with George Washington (1732-1799), have a fantastic story framed with them. However, years of curatorial experience have also made us somewhat suspicious of stories that seem too good to be true.

According to the information with the buttons, they are “General George Washington’s Military Waistcoat Buttons,” which he wore during the Revolutionary War. The typewritten note framed with the buttons goes on to trace their descent from George Washington through several generations of his family to William Lanier Washington (1865-1933). At the bottom of the note, William Lanier Washington signed his name and had his signature notarized. The buttons were part of an auction in New York City in February 1922 – they are listed as lot #198 and a note in the catalog indicates that they are “framed, together with the statement, made under affidavit, setting forth the history of these Revolutionary War relics of General Washington, and line of descent to the present owner.”

However, a little research into William Lanier Washington turns up some questions about the authenticity of the buttons. The auction at which these buttons were sold was at least the third that offered items from William Lanier’s collection. A catalog from a 1920 auction also includes multiple lots of buttons from George Washington’s clothing. And, there had been an auction in 1917, as well. Some accounts suggest that William Lanier Washington was known as a pariah in his family, although little has been written by scholars about these auctions or William Lanier. One story related to the 1917 auction ends tragically. At the sale, G.D. Smith (1870-1920), who helped Henry Huntington (1850-1927) assemble his famed library, purchased a pair of candlesticks thought to have been used on Washington’s desk at Mount Vernon. Three years later, William Lanier came to see Smith and attempted to sell him a set of candlesticks that Washington used on his desk at Mount Vernon. Smith related that he had already purchased one such set, got into an argument with Washington and dropped dead in the heat of the moment.

While the stories about William Lanier Washington and the repeated sales from his collection call the authenticity of these buttons - and the other objects in his auctions - into question (see also the survey scale at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, and the seal ring at the Sons of the American Revolution), he did have a direct family connection to George Washington and some of the items he sold were owned by George. You can judge for yourself in our new exhibition (June 2014), Prized Relics: Historical Souvenirs from the Collection, where the buttons will be on view.

Pair of Buttons, 1770-1840, unidentified maker, United States, Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection, 86.62.10a-c. Photograph by David Bohl.