Monday, July 28, 2014

Brown Bag on The Opiate Crisis in Massachusetts Postponed

Tomorrow's Brown Bag on the Opiate Crisis in Massachusetts has been postponed. We will let you know once the event has been rescheduled. 

Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association Collection

A photograph of the Bay State on top of technical drawings of
the ship from different angles. 

One of the United States’ less-remembered wars, the Spanish-American War took place over ten weeks in 1898. Reports of Spain’s repression in Cuba and the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in the Havana harbor combined to heighten hawkish public sentiment, and political and corporate interests pushed a reluctant President William McKinley to reject Spanish attempts at compromise. The U.S. sent Spain an ultimatum demanding the surrender of Cuba, after which Spain formally declared war. The war was fought in Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific.

The State House Special Collections department holds the records of the Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association (MVAA, Ms. Coll. 20), a voluntary relief organization formed in May of 1898 by prominent and wealthy citizens to assist the government during the war. It was a charitable endeavor meant to care for wounded veterans and to assist in furnishing supplies and relief to the men of the Army and Navy, particularly those from Massachusetts.  Although the MVAA was a private organization, it worked closely with military and naval authorities.

Page from a shipping log noting destinations of shipments and types of goods.
Note the columns dedicated to Soup, Malted Milk, and Jelly.
The initial ten-member, all-male Executive Committee appointed a Women’s Committee, who began to meet in June of 1898. The Women’s Committee immediately formed sub-committees and began promoting the formation of similar volunteer aid associations across Massachusetts, gathering supplies, and raising funds to buy what was not donated.

Committee members decided that one of the most practical ways of providing help would be to outfit a steamship to serve as a floating hospital, supply ship, and transport for the sick and wounded.  The MVAA was able to raise the funds to purchase and outfit the steamer Bay State, which received an authorization signed by President McKinley himself. The ship sailed from Boston on its first trip on August 6, 1898, returning to Boston on August 30, 1898, with 99 sick men on board.  The Bay State made a total of three trips from Massachusetts to Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The MVAA received an authorization signed by President
William McKinley to outfit the Bay State as a
hospital ship.

In addition to the items shown here, the Special Collections department holds more important records from the MVAA, including a two-volume set of carbon copies of correspondence sent out between May 6, 1898 and April 21, 1899, the ship’s log from the Bay State’s first trip in 1898, and a card file listing the admitting hospital and follow-up information on each returning wounded soldier. Together, they provide invaluable insight into the lives of numerous soldiers and the nature of civilian war relief work at the turn of the century.

Katie Seitz
Special Collections Intern

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Brown Bag on The Opiate Crisis in Massachusetts

Join us for a Brown Bag Lunch
On Tuesday, July 29th 2014
State Library of Massachusetts
Room 442, State House
12 until 1:30 PM

Bring your lunch and join us to hear Sarah Ruiz from the Department of  Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, speak about Opioid Use and Overdose in Massachusetts and the State Response.  She will relate how usage, addiction and overdose have increased here in the past couple of decades.
In response to the crisis, Governor Deval Patrick declared a Public Health Emergency on March 27th and outlined specific goals to address the problem.  Come and learn about the recommendations of the Opioid Task Force and the range of strategies being implemented by the Department of Public Health.

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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Treasured Reference Book in the State Library

As with all State Houses across the country, the Massachusetts State House constantly “buzzes” with political activity. The State Library is right in the center of all of that exciting work and the reference desk is constantly visited by those wanting to learn about their government.

Visitors to the library, in person or via e-mail, want information about members of the Massachusetts General Court (the legislature).  The Massachusetts Political Almanac is a source reference staff consult constantly to answer these inquiries.  This volume gives biographical backgrounds.  It includes information about the members’ districts.  Election results, organization membership and committee assignments are noted.  A section on key votes by a legislator includes explanations of the issues which have been catalysts for the votes.

The library has received renditions of this source for nearly forty years and a section or volume on the Executive Branch was added with the 1985/1986 session.  In early years, the Political Almanac was known as the Massachusetts Research Center’s Massachusetts State Officials, “an almanac.”

The 2014 edition has more information than ever.  It contains a special pull-out map of the House and Senate districts, a feature added in 2013.  Sections of note in the current volume include:

  • photographs and biographies of all of the members 
  • Information and staff listings for Executive agencies with photographs
  • Constitutional Officer profiles: (Governor, Lt. Governor, State Auditor, Attorney-General, Secretary of the Commonwealth and State Treasurer)
  • The Supreme Judicial Court profiles
  • Directory of the Appeals Court
  • The Congressional Delegation
  • Legislators listed by city/town

The current publisher, Craig Sandler, from the State House News Service, (a private newsgroup located in the State House), has included a section on State House News Service Top Ten Stories from 2013 and a section addressing Racial Change in the Bay State.  Another is entitled: Massachusetts Statewide Demographic Data.  There is even a section on Legislative House Values.

One other key section which helps with overall questions about the state is entitled Milestones in the History of Massachusetts.  It is a fascinating compendium.

In numerous ways, the political almanacs are what one might term “a reference librarian’s dream source.”  The current volume is out in the reference area.  Copies of many year’s volumes are kept in a separate area near the library’s main floor.  The arrival of a  new edition is a welcome “event” for staff.

Please visit us here in the State House to view the almanacs and our many holdings about state government.

Pamela W. Schofield
Legislative Reference Librarian

Monday, July 14, 2014

Boston in Glitter

The Special Collections Department of the State Library holds hundreds of postcards depicting the State House, and with few exceptions each one is different. Some are postally unused, but many have stamps, postmarks, and messages on the back.

This new postcard came to the Library in early May from one of our regular donors.  It probably dates from between the late 1890’s to the mid 1910’s; it shows the Brigham extension at the rear of the building, but doesn’t show the East and West wings, which were completed by 1917.

In the photograph below, you can see both of the State Houses: the Old State House on Court Street, which was the seat of the state government until 1798, is inside the letter “T” in the word Boston, and the New State House (which isn’t really new anymore) is next-door in the letter “O.”

The best part of this new accession: the letters are outlined in glitter!

For more images of our State House postcard collections, see a small selection on our Flickr site:

Beth Carroll-Horrocks
Head of Special Collections

Monday, July 7, 2014

A New Old Postcard

For the past several years the State Library’s Special Collections Department has been collecting postcards of both the exterior and the interior of the Massachusetts State House. The postcards come in as donations and are found almost exclusively at tag sales and flea markets.

This new (old!) card depicting the “Battle Flags of Massachusetts Regiments, at Statehouse, Boston, Mass.” has a postmark of 1913, and is addressed to Master Kermit Nickerson of Belfast, Maine. We are almost certain that this young Master Nickerson grew up to be Maine’s Commissioner of Education, Kermit Spearin Nickerson (1904-1982). The dates and the geographic location fit just right.

Here’s the text as written:
“Am going to Plymouth Mass Saturday and hope it doesn’t rain as it did last Sunday either. I am sending you this card for your collection as these are flags used in war. Some are very badly torn and some there are only parts of it left. Inez.”
We haven’t yet figured out who Inez is.

The State House still has an impressive display of battle flags on the second floor, though the original flags, as shown in the postcard, were moved by textile conservators in 1987 to environmentally controlled storage to keep the flags safe.

Beth Carroll-Horrocks
Head of Special Collections

Monday, June 30, 2014

Files and Indexes: Ms. Coll. 88 - The Burrill File

It’s not uncommon for libraries, or other institutions concerned with the collection and accessibility of information, to have home-made files and indexes in their collections; in fact, the State Library has many that were created by our own staff members over the years to assist with research questions. Files served to collect and organize subject-specific, often ephemeral, materials that were considered informational but supplementary to published items that could more easily be found within a card catalog.  Items such as pamphlets, brochures, newspaper clippings, photographs, and even menus are examples of what one might find in a file.
Zimmer index card with citations to newspapers covering
Pres. Theodore Roosevelt's Oath of Office at Buffalo, NY. (1901)
In the same vein, indexes aimed to organize bits of information for a specific purpose—often accompanied by citations to other resources for further research.  For example, our Zimmer newspaper indexes, covering the years 1878-1937 and 1962-1978, focus on what were the current events of those time periods.  It’s important to note that the terms “file” and “index” are sometimes used interchangeably, especially with index card formats.

These home-made files and indexes were labors of love (emphasis on the word labor), but with the emergence of computers and databases that can perform complex searches and organization for us, as well as companies that compile annotations and citations for us, they are not as commonly found today.  However, that isn't to say that they aren't tremendously useful.

Sergeant-at-Arms Thomas F. Pedrick turns the
first sod, marking the beginning of the construction
of the East Wing of the State House.
From the Burrill File. (1914)
One of my favorite files in the State Library is the Burrill File (a.k.a. Ms. Coll. 88)  It is one of my go-to resources for historical materials—materials that I will not find in our regular stacks—relating to the Massachusetts State House, state government, and political figures.  This large and fascinating collection, which includes everything from photographs to correspondence, newspaper clippings to pamphlets, was compiled by author and historian Ellen Mudge Burrill (1872?-1937).  Burrill, who penned a number of guides to the State House, was compelled to document particular events of her day for her own research and other purposes; it is not uncommon to find items, such as photographs, that she herself created for later use.  After her death in 1937, the collection has continued to grow with new items added frequently by State Library staff members.

You can access the Burrill File finding aid online in our DSpace electronic documents repository: For more information, please contact our Special Collections Department at 617-727-2595.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department