The documentary “Birth of a Movement” – which premiered on 30 January at the Somerville Theatre outside Boston, and airs nationally on PBS on Monday 6 February during African-American History Month – explores D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) through a modern lens. What caught my attention about the film is the documentary’s protagonist, famed civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934). Trotter lived nearly his entire life in Boston and founded the Boston Guardian, an independent African-American newspaper. He also established the Niagara Movement, in 1915, with fellow Massachusetts native W.E.B. DuBois, and participated in numerous other causes for civil rights until his death in 1934. Continue reading Remembering William Monroe Trotter
The seventy-second anniversary of the Yalta Conference, 4–11 February 1945, also marks the anniversary of my uncle’s death in Operation Argonaut, the Allied support mission that provided safe escort to the conference for President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill in their historic meeting with Joseph Stalin of Russia. The goal of the conference was to decide how post-war Europe would be governed, even though there was still heavy fighting in France (the Battle of the Bulge had just ended on 25 January). Hindsight reveals that many of the agreements and concessions made during the conference led to the Soviet Union’s domination of eastern Europe for forty years. Continue reading Yalta, 1945
Most of us will remember the childhood Alphabet Song used to teach children their letters (hum along if you’d like): “A-B-C-D-E-F-G… Now I’ve learned my ABCs, tell me what you think of me.” Vita Brevis has given a new variation on this “alpha-tradition.”
In my post “If This House Could Talk,” I mentioned my grandfather Rex Church (1883–1956) and his childhood handmade wooden alphabet blocks. The photo I provided showed only the four blocks representing the surname initials of the four families who have lived in My Old House since its construction in 1789. Continue reading A block buster
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]
The “fascinating but demoralizing” waltz was a comparatively recent addition to Boston social gatherings, and Regina Shober Gray’s daughter Mary was one young débutante who worried that waltzing (or “dancing the German,” as it was also known) might lead her astray – which would be de-moralizing, in Mrs. Gray’s parlance.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 26 February 1864: …At Mrs. Hemenway’s, we talked wholly about our young daughters, Amy H. and my Mary and their friends. We think they are going to make a very nice sensible, high-toned set of girls; and it is a real comfort to feel so. Mary used to think she should be quite isolated in her set, from not dancing the round dances, but as one and another of her young friends comes out with her protest against them, it quite pleases Mary to find that many of the nicest girls unite with her in the resolution to eschew the fascinating but demoralizing “German.” Continue reading Fascinating rhythm
Paul Revere’s famous ride is often the jumping off point for thinking about the Revolutionary War. But there is a lesser known patriot – a woman, too – who helped win the war and changed the course of history.
Her name was Sybil Ludington, and she was born 5 April 1761 in Connecticut as the eldest child of Henry and Abigail Ludington. On the rainy night of 25 April 1777, as British troops were advancing to attack Danbury, Connecticut, Sybil, only 16 years old at the time, took off on her famous 40 mile horseback ride to alert approximately 400 militiamen under the control of her father, Colonel Henry Ludington. She was chosen for the task because the original messenger, who had ridden to notify her father of the advancing British troops, was too tired from his first trip and could not proceed. Continue reading In praise of Sybil Ludington
I came across an interesting family story while working on the Early New England Families Study Project sketch for Henry Lamprey of Hampton, New Hampshire, that claimed his wife received a dowry from her family equal to her weight in gold!
The story apparently first appeared in print in the 1893 History of the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire by Joseph Dow (p. 783). Dow may have been a descendant of Henry Lamprey through his daughter Elizabeth, who married Daniel Dow. His version reads: “A pretty story (of the truth of which there is little doubt) has been handed down for generation to generation, that this little wife received for her marriage dowry a scale, containing her weight (one hundred twelve pounds) in gold.” Continue reading ‘There was a poor man in London’
The bins of my family memorabilia (my “squirrel bins”) occasionally allow a real gem or two to escape, those things I hope to find but which seldom surface: diaries, journals, or letters.
One such gem is a faded, handwritten letter dated Boise City, May 15, 1870. Written by Hannah (Brown) Libby to “Dear Mother Libby,” it is a poignant expression of homesickness while trying to maintain a positive outlook, an offer of more questions to be answered than answers given. I was intrigued, especially because this Hannah and “Mother Libby” are two faceless women in my long lineage. I have no photo of either woman, no other correspondence, writings, or stories. Continue reading A letter home
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]
The year 1864 would be marked by several important changes in Regina Shober Gray’s circle. The first was the announcement of Mrs. Gray’s friend Emily Adams’s unexpected engagement, which was soon followed by the death of an early Boston friend, Anna Powell Jones.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 3 January 1864: Every one is much surprised to [learn] of Emily Adams’ engagement to Caleb Curtis Jr. They have known each other all their lives, near neighbours and playmates from childhood – and have just discovered this penchant when she is 36 or 7 [sic] and he about a year younger. They know each other so well that each must be thoroughly aware what to expect from each other, in temper, character, intellect, & culture. So there can be little disappointment in that way. Continue reading ‘A kind faithful friend’
One early December a few years ago, my son asked if I would fill a cookie basket for his new landlord’s two little boys. I was making multiple dozens of cookies at the time, so I stuffed a green wooden Christmas basket for them and sent it off.
The following July when my son was visiting his landlord, the youngest boy approached carrying the basket as if to say “Please, Sir, may we have more?” Since then, the basket finds its way back to me in summer, and I overfill it for them every Christmas. It’s a new tradition of sorts, however short-lived it might be. Continue reading Christmas cookies
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 26 December 2015.]
In 1860, when Regina Shober Gray began keeping her diary, gift-giving was spread between Christmas and New Year’s Day: indeed, the latter day was the more important of the two in the eyes of the Gray children. For at least the period of the Civil War, the Gray family of Boston impatiently awaited the arrival of “the Philadelphia box” – containing presents from Mrs. Gray’s siblings – with shipment timed for the days around January 1. Continue reading ICYMI: The Philadelphia box