Monday, September 15, 2014

Amendment Article 48: What it means for Massachusetts Voters

In November, the people of Massachusetts will take to the polls to vote for Governor, Attorney General, Senators, Representatives, and other elected officials. Included on the ballot, will be a number of questions pertaining to state legislation. In 2013, over 30 petitions were filed to add or change a state law and four will be voted on this year in the form of ballot questions. How these questions got onto the ballot is not always understood, even though it is an important part of the Massachusetts Constitution.

In 1918, voters approved Amendment Article 48 to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This article states that, “the people reserve to themselves the popular initiative, which is the power of a specified number of voters to submit constitutional amendments and laws to the people for approval or rejection; and the popular referendum, which is the power of a specified number of voters to submit laws, enacted by the general court, to the people for their ratification or rejection.” This means that the citizens of Massachusetts have the right to affect the laws within their state. Voters have the ability to repeal laws, create new ones or even add amendments to the state Constitution.

Petitioning for a question to appear on the biennial state election ballot, while a constitutional right, can be a complicated process with many steps that follow a strict timeline over two years. An important part of this process is that once a petition is filed with the Office of the Attorney General, the Attorney General then must decide if the petition meets certain constitutional requirements as put forth in Amendment Article 48. The first requirements are simply that the measure is submitted in the correct format and that a substantially similar measure has not been submitted in either of the two proceeding state elections. The final qualification for certification is more complicated. It is stated that the measure can not contain any subjects that the constitution excludes from the initiative process. Some of these excluded subjects are religion, judges, local issues, and state constitutional rights. This review process can bring up difficult legal issues and so the discussion is open to both sponsors and opponents of the proposed law.  Interested parties are welcome to participate by submitting memoranda on if the law should be certified or not, or by reviewing and commenting on draft summaries of the measure. While it is up to the Attorney General to determine whether or not the petition is certified, these petitions come from the public and their input is crucial.

While this process can be arduous, there are multiple detailed guides and outlines to help you understand each step and meet each deadline:

You can also check out ballot questions from every election since 1919 on the Secretary of State’s site, as well as this year’s petitions and their current statuses on the Attorney General’s site.

Stephanie Turnbull
Reference Department

Monday, September 8, 2014

State Library’s New Exhibit: Legends and Lore of Massachusetts

Opening today at the State Library of Massachusetts: a new exhibition featuring selected stories based in the Commonwealth, from the ghosts at Edith Wharton’s home—The Mount—in Lenox to the famous Sea Serpent in Gloucester Harbor.

The exhibit runs from September 8 through December 31, 2014 and can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House. Library hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. This exhibit will be available to view online as a set of images on the State Library's Flickr site.

Reports on the Opioid Drug Crisis

The news today, in Massachusetts and across the country, is filled with stories of heroin and oxycontin abuse and of tragedy which follows usage of and addiction to these drugs. During this year in particular, Governor Patrick of Massachusetts has done much to help the state face this crisis. There have also been numerous earlier initiatives about this during his administration. In November 2009, Recommendations of the OxyContin and Heroin Commission Commonwealth of Massachusetts was published and emphasized the state’s commitment to tackling this crisis.

In the five years since the above report was written, there has been a tremendous increase in the numbers of people touched by these addictions.  In response, on March 27th of this year, Governor Patrick declared a Public Health Emergency and outlined new goals for addressing it.  This initiative echoed our neighboring Governor, Vermont’s Peter Shumlin’s 2014 address decrying the crisis in his State of the State Vermont.

Our Governor’s goals saw the development of a Task Force to study the crisis. Membership included not just experts in the field and community leaders, but also first responders, members of the judiciary and family members touched by these addictions. On June 10th their findings were released in a report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health titled Findings of the Opioid Task Force and Department of Public Health Recommendations on Priorities for Investments in Prevention, Intervention, Treatment and Recovery.

To view these two major state reports online please go to the State Library’s digital collections and search by subject. Because these two studies are available online, people from all over can learn about ways to address this epidemic.

The mission of the library includes the attempt to retrieve state documents such as these as quickly as possible. They are used by state agencies, by legislators, research organizations, by the medical community and also by the general public.

We would also be delighted to help you in person. The State Library is located in Rooms 341, 442 and 55 (our Special Collections Department) of the Massachusetts State House. The hours are 9AM to 5PM. We have public computers for visitors.

Pamela W. Schofield
Legislative Reference Librarian

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Brown Bag on Boston’s Cycling Craze: 1880-1900

Join us for a Brown Bag Lunch
on Thursday September 11th, 2014
State Library of Massachusetts
Room 442, State House
12 until 1:30 PM

Bring your lunch and join us to hear Lorenz J. Finison talk about the history of cycling in Boston, from his book:  Boston's Cycling Craze, 1880-1900: A Story of Race, Sport, and Society, recently published by UMass Press. You will hear about why Boston was the Hub of American cycling.  Also about the cycling personalities of the North, South, and West Ends of Boston, including Kittie Knox, a biracial cyclist of and seamstress from Irving Street, and about her 1895 fight against the "color bar" with support from some Boston cyclists.  You will get an account of the struggles over cycling space and time on the roads, the railroads, and in the parks, including an ill-fated attempt, supported by Boston's mayor, to create a cycle track across Boston Common in 1898.  Local racers, including the famous African American champion, Major Taylor, and the first integrated professional sports team in America - the Boston Pursuit Team will be featured as they defeated a cycling team from Philadelphia, at the Cambridge Cycle track, in 1898.

Lorenz J. Finison, PhD is Principal Consultant with Sigma Works, a public health consulting company, specializing in issues of health disparities.  He is a founding Board member of Cycling Through History:  The African American Heritage Bike Route, and has been actively involved in other Boston cycling organizations. Larry has published widely in public health and the history of bicycling. In addition, he helped to found the Boston cycling history archive at UMass - Boston.

To register, please visit: You may also call the Reference Department at 617-727-2590 or send an e-mail to to let us know you will attend.

Future Brown Bags include:
  • October 2nd, 2014 - National Park Ranger Michael R. Marciello, rescheduling of The Multiple Meanings of Faneuil Hall
  • October 16th, 2014 - state geologist Steven Mabee, The Massachusetts Geological Survey
  • November 25th, 2014- Hilary Jacobs from the Department of Public Health, rescheduling of the Brown Bag on the Opiate Crisis


Monday, August 25, 2014

Souvenir 73: Postcards Relating to Transportation in Massachusetts, 1902-2011

The State Library’s souvenir collections contain a wide variety of items of historical interest, in formats not usually found in research libraries: puzzles, banner, artifacts old and new, figurines, and postcards.  This new collection, assembled for our summer 2013 exhibition Moving Massachusetts: The History of Transportation in the Commonwealth, contains over one hundred postcards, as well as transit tokens no longer used by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA).  The postcards range in date by over one hundred years, from  1902 to 2011.  The images on the postcards portray the broad range of transportation options in Massachusetts and related buildings and locations.  There are eight different series in the collection, organized by image subject matter.

Series I, “Massachusetts Train Stations,” contains thirty postcards of  train stations, with the greatest concentration in the greater Boston area.  Included are several images of both South Station and North Station (in all its incarnations!) and several other stations across the Commonwealth.  Images show stations themselves, the trains arriving at stations, and well-known buildings and landmarks near the stations.  Series II, “Trains and MBTA,” contains eight postcards portraying MBTA vehicles including trains, snow plows, and a bus.  Series III, “Massachusetts Bridges,” contains thirty-eight postcards portraying bridges from various locations in Massachusetts, including Boston-area bridges such as the Harvard Bridge and the Charlestown Bridge, and others from as far west as Greenfield.  

Series IV, “Sites near MBTA Stations,” features images of well-known areas in the Boston area where stations such as Harvard Square and Tremont Street,  among others.  Series V, “Massachusetts Lighthouses,” features images of four lighthouses in Boston Harbor.  Series VI, “Boston Harbor and Ships,” includes images of the harbor  itself, as well as images of other locations such as the Boston “T” Wharf, and images of ships and boats.  Series VII, “Stevens-Duryea Automobiles,” features two images of Stevens-Duryea model automobiles from 1906 and 1907. The automobile manufacturer Stevens-Duryea was active in Chicopee Falls from 1901 until 1915, and again from 1919 until 1927. Series VIII, “MBTA Tokens,” contains six brass-colored MBTA tokens, a form of payment phased out by 2012.

Wes Fiorentino
Special Collections Intern

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Brown Bag on The Multiple Meanings of Faneuil Hall Postponed

Due to unexpected work in the main library today’s brown bag on The Multiple Meanings of Faneuil Hall has been postponed. We will let you know once the event has been rescheduled. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Vital Role of Vital Statistics in Massachusetts History

As a repository for official state documents, the State Library of Massachusetts has many annual reports from agencies and entities of the commonwealth. The Annual Report of Vital Statistics, or Public Document #1, is an interesting example of our documents collection due to its unique history and value to researchers.

Vital events in Massachusetts, such as births, marriages and deaths, have been kept through a government-operated system since 1639. At this time, most countries with any sort of system for recording and keeping vital events did so through religious officials. But Massachusetts mandated that the responsibility would be given to the clerks in the communities, keeping all vital events at a local level for many years.

This process changed in 1842 when legislature passed a Statewide Act requiring every town and city clerk to send copies of vital events to the Secretary of State, who would, “…prepare therefrom such tabular results as will render them of practical utility, and shall make report thereof annually to the legislature…” The first year covered was 1841, and Massachusetts has continuously collected, processed and published vital statistics every year since then.

Since 1964, some of the responsibilities of collecting and publishing the Annual Report of Vital Statistics were transferred to the Department of Public Health under Chapter 508 of the Acts of 1964. This was done so that vital statistics could be easily connected with health and population research. Nevertheless, the registration of vital records was still the Secretary of State’s job until 1974, when the entire process was taken over by the Department of Public Health.  While certain tables and formats were changed with the transfer of responsibility, the main information about births, deaths, marriages, divorce and population continued.

This data that has been continuously collected for over 150 years is incredibly important for developing policy and programs whether looking at demographics, education or health plans. Being able to easily notice trends in Massachusetts population can aid legislature, specialists and public programmers to better understand who is living, learning and working in our state. But these vital statistics are also a great tool for historians, genealogists and citizens hoping to do local history on their families or towns. The fact that the State Library not only has original copies in our stacks but also digital copies of the Annual Reports  going back to 1841 (as well as Vital Records up to 1850) allows access to data and information that can give anyone a better understanding of our state’s past.

To learn more about how vital records are received and processed under M.G.L 111, Section 2, visit: 

Stephanie Turnbull
Reference Librarian