Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Adopting and Amending a Charter in Massachusetts

Chapter 4 Section 7 of the Massachusetts General Laws defines a charter as:
‘Charter’, when used in connection with the operation of city and town government shall include a written instrument adopted, amended or revised pursuant to the provisions of chapter forty-three B which establishes and defines the structure of city and town government for a particular community and which may create local offices, and distribute powers, duties and responsibilities among local offices and which may establish and define certain procedures to be followed by the city or town government. Special laws enacted by the general court applicable only to one city or town shall be deemed to have the force of a charter and may be amended, repealed and revised in accordance with the provisions of chapter forty-three B unless any such special law contains a specific prohibition against such action.
A charter works as a municipal constitution, acting as the authority on how a city or town’s government is structured and run; it is also subject to amendments and revisions by the municipality.  Municipalities have different options for plans of government:  “Model city charters” (A,B,C,D,E,F), which can be found in Chap. 43 of the M.G.L.; home rule charters (Chap. 43B); and “special act charters” granted by the Massachusetts legislature.  How are changes made to municipal charters?  There are three main routes through which a change can be made:

1. Electing a Home Rule Charter Commission:  Established by the 1966 Home Rule Amendment (Art. LXXXIX) to the Massachusetts Constitution, it allows a city or town, upon the initial petition of 15% of registered voters, to elect and create a 9-member charter commission to amend or prepare a municipal charter.  Once elected, the commission begins weighing the options for structural changes to the local government.  The process relies on the participation of the city or town’s residents through public meetings and public hearings, and both a preliminary and final report must be published by the commission.  When the charter proposal is submitted to the voters during a municipal election, it must be adopted by the majority of the voters.  Home Rule procedures can be found under Chap. 43B and in Article LXXXIX (89) of the MA Constitution.

2. Home Rule Petitions:  Some cities and towns have created their charters through special legislation passed through the Massachusetts General Court (“special act charters”).  Amendments to this type of charter are also usually submitted to the legislature, and when they are passed they become part of the group of statutes called “special acts.”  Before the adoption of the Home Rule Amendment in 1966, this type of petition was the only way for a city or town to make structural changes.

3. Bylaws and “permissive” legislation:  Any city or town can adopt enabling state legislation (“permissive” legislation) or create bylaws (ordinances) to make select changes to the administration, structure, or organization of the local government.  Various sections in Chap. 41 of the MGL offer options for permissive legislation, as well as in Chap. 40N and 43C.  These types of changes require a town meeting or town election vote.

Article I from Attleboro’s city charter.Currently, Attleboro is one of 20 Massachusetts cities,
or one of 90 Massachusetts communities total, that has adopted a “home rule charter”.

For more information, please visit the following web sites:

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Dept.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Some Mayors of Boston who had been members of the General Court

Martin J. Walsh
On January 6th of this year, Martin J. Walsh became Boston’s 54th Mayor. Walsh had had a long career in state government, having served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1997 until his swearing-in as Mayor. He follows a long list of Mayors of the city who were also in the Massachusetts legislature. When he was in the House of Representatives, Walsh represented the 13th Suffolk District. He had been elected in a special election in 1997 and was in that seat until his resignation on January 3rd of this year.

Raymond Flynn
Mayor Raymond Flynn, elected in 1983, was the city’s 52nd Mayor. He had represented the people of the 7th Suffolk District in the House of Representatives from 1971 through 1979. In 1978 and for the years directly before he was elected Mayor, he was a member of the Boston City Council. Flynn became Mayor in January 1984 and served until he resigned his position after being appointed on July 1st, 1993 by President William Jefferson Clinton to serve as the United States Ambassador to the Holy See.

John F. Collins
Mayor John F. Collins was elected to two Mayoral terms and was in the office of Mayor from 1960 through January of 1968.  He was the 50th Mayor of the city.  Previously, he was a member of both houses of the General Court, in the House from January 1947 until January 1951 and in the Senate from 1951 through 1954. The House district was the 10th Suffolk and the Senate the 5th Suffolk. After leaving the Mayorship, Collins worked as a news analyst for Boston’s Channel 7 and became a Professor of Urban Affairs at M.I.T.

James Michael Curley
Perhaps one of the best known politicians from Massachusetts, James Michael Curley, served as 41st, 43rd, 45th and 48th Mayors of Boston. His years in that office were 1914-1918, 1922-1926, 1930-1934 and lastly, 1946-1950. During his last term, having been indicted for mail fraud, he was imprisoned for five months. Curley’s political path took him to the Governorship and to membership in Congress. His term in the General Court was short and covered the years 1902-1903. The District he represented at that time was known as District No.17- Ward 17.

Massachusetts is  known for its political culture and for a history deeply touched by the political process.

The State Library of Massachusetts is the perfect place to research Massachusetts officeholders, such as these examples of Mayors of the capital city.  To learn more about these four political figures and to garner much more about their careers, please visit us in Room 341 of the Massachusetts State House.

Pamela W. Schofield
Legislative Reference Librarian

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Brown Bag on the History and Collections of the State Library

Join us for a Brown Bag Lunch
on Thursday, April 17th,  2014
State Library of Massachusetts
Room 442, State House
12 until 1:30 PM

Bring your lunch and join us to hear the State Library’s Head of Special Collections, Beth Carroll-Horrocks, talk about the Library’s history and its collections. She will bring examples of many of the formats, including maps, rare books, manuscripts, photographs, artifacts, and of course, state government publications.

To register, please visit: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SYKJLSG. You may also call the Reference Department at 617-727-2590 or send an email to Reference.Department@state.ma.us to let us know you will attend.

Future Brown Bags planned for 2014:
  • May 22nd, 2014 - Nancy Lusignan Schultz, author of Fire and Roses: the Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834
  • June 19th, 2014 - Stephen Puleo, author of The Caning: The Assault that Drove America to the Civil War

Monday, April 7, 2014

Early Legislators’ Biographical Data: Manuscripts 138 & 151

Memorandum filled out by Senator Moody Merrill of the
1st Norfolk District in 1874.
The State Library is home to a collection of documents that provides important insight into the personal and political lives of mid-to-late 19th century Massachusetts legislators.  From 1868 through 1892 the editors of the Boston Journal compiled what they called “memoranda” as part of an effort to collect data about contemporary state legislators. Also known as Manuscript 138, the collection consists of sheets of questions that were originally mailed out to the House and Senate members annually in order to gather information about their lives, occupations, political views, past offices they held, and military service—among others.  What makes this collection so interesting and unique is that each of the memoranda is filled out by the legislators themselves during their terms in office. They were subsequently returned to the Journal editors, and then at some point were bound together by year.  In the letters that were distributed by the Journal in Nov. of 1868 it states:

Our object is to obtain statistical tables for present use, assuring you that no publicity will be given to the information, offensive in the slightest degree to you personally. 
Such information, when properly presented, is of great value to the officers of the two branches, and facilitates public business, by making members acquainted with the antecedents of their legislative associates.
Memorandum filled out by Representative
Henry Cabot Lodge of the 10th Essex
District in 1880.
The responses (or lack thereof), and how legislators chose to respond, are fascinating to look at.  Some answers are short and concise; others required additional pages to fit everything they wanted to say.  Some political platform-based questions were answered confidently and with long explanations; other legislators refrained from answering them altogether. It’s also not uncommon to find additional materials inserted with the memoranda, such as legislators’ business cards or newspaper clippings, which may have been included by either the legislators themselves or the Journal employees.

Although the Journal’s collection does not extend past 1892 (with 1874 being incomplete), it’s important to note that this was not the only effort undertaken to gather information about members of the Massachusetts General Court.

State Librarian Caleb Benjamin Tillinghast was driven to collect as much biographical information about as many past and contemporary Massachusetts state legislators as possible.  From 1884 to 1909, he mailed letters out to anyone he felt might be able to give him the information he was seeking:  town clerks, librarians, legislators and their relatives, etc.  In fact, he estimated that he had sent out more than 75,000 letters and questionnaires total.  This 35-box collection of correspondence, also known as Manuscript 151, is the prime source for our “Legislators’ Biographical File”—a index file that continues to be updated today.

For more information about our collection of legislative memoranda and correspondence, please contact our Special Collections Department at 617-727-2595.  The library is open 9am-5pm Monday through Friday.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Librarian

Monday, March 31, 2014

President –Elect John F. Kennedy addresses the Massachusetts General Court

On November 8th, 1960, Massachusetts’ favorite son, Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was elected to the Presidency.  Elected at the age of  just forty three, he was the youngest man elected to that office.

A highlight of his career, perhaps most importantly for those in Massachusetts was his speech here in the Massachusetts State House, delivered on January 9th, 1961. Kennedy's speech as president-elect was delivered “To a Joint Convention of the Two Houses of the General Court of Massachusetts.”  He spoke here just ten days before his inauguration and the address has come to be known as "The City Upon the Hill" address.

The eloquent speech contains mention of Kennedy’s appreciation of history and of government. It also shines throughout with his love for this state, the state of his birth.   He notes that:

                For forty-three years---- whether I was in London, Washington, the South Pacific or elsewhere this has been my home: and, God willing, wherever I serve, this shall remain my home.
Reading this speech now captures the excitement of the times and the great hope Kennedy’s Massachusetts supporters had for their favorite son. The ending notes the profound future role for the President-elect:
       I ask for your help and your prayers, as I embark on this new and solemn journey.      
The speech is House Bill No. 2660  of 1961 located in the State Library. The text is scanned and available here.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has a recording of the speech.

Please visit the State Library to find a large collection of materials about John F. Kennedy  and the Kennedy family.   We are located in Room 341 of the State House.  Please view our website at

Pamela W. Schofield
Legislative Reference Librarian
State Library of Massachusetts

Monday, March 24, 2014

Congressional Budget Office “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2014 to 2023”

The Congressional Budget Office, commonly known as the CBO, produces various documents and reports during any given year.  The CBO, founded in 1974, produces independent analyses for the Congress of economic and budgetary issues.  Reports produced by CBO are available to the Congress and to the public on the website www.cbo.gov.  This nonpartisan agency’s employees are appointed on the basis of their competence.

Types of reports issued are: analysis of the President’s Budget, long-term budget projections, scorekeeping for enacted legislation, monthly budget review, reports on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, sequestration reports, reports on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and analytic reports.

The “options” report is a 305 page document detailing information about: mandatory spending options, discretionary spending options, revenue options, health options, budgetary implications of eliminating a Cabinet Department, and 3 appendices (deficit reduction options, spending options by budget function and options by major program or category). There are a total of 103 options to decrease or increase federal revenue. Some decrease federal spending or increase federal revenue.

Some of the options have come from proposed legislation, the private sector, Congressional offices, and budget proposals of various administrations. CBO makes no recommendations, nor does CBO claim to present all options. The report is available online as well as in paper at the Reference desk (call number Y19.2: D36/18).

Please visit the main reading room of the State Library (room 341) on Mondays through Fridays between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm to use our reference copy or our public access computers to view all the documents/reports produced by the CBO.    

Bette L. Siegel
Government Document Librarian

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mass State Guard Collection

Handwritten form letter on company letterhead
dated May 22, 1868. State Guard Clerk Samuel
Houghton hand-wrote these letters requesting
guardsmen's attendance at drills and ceremonies.
Sometimes processing a collection – describing its contents and researching the historical context of its creation – creates more questions than it answers. One of those collections is the Records pertaining to the Worcester State Guard, 1867-1888 (Ms. 50).

The Worcester State Guard was incorporated in 1863. Its members attended military funerals of Worcester soldiers who had died in the “War of the Rebellion,” as the Civil War was then known in the North. The state guard also drilled regularly and was occasionally called upon to keep the peace or to escort officials or new enlistees. In 1866, the act that incorporated the state guard was repealed, and it was disbanded. However, former members petitioned to reinstitute it, and the legislature decided in 1867 to permit their continued existence. They were disbanded when the state militia was reorganized in 1875.

List of signatures of new members of
the Worcester State Guard. Penciled
meeting notes on back, dated "Oct 5”
and “Oct 7.” Undated, probably 1867.

Because there is no accompanying information about its origins, some aspects of the collection remain a mystery. Why, for example, is the bulk of the collection from 1867-1868, with only two items dating from after that period? Is the receipt from 1888 meant to be part of the collection, or was it swept into the file by a careless clerk? Does the 1879 form letter of acceptance to the Guard mean that these records were transferred to the official guard after the state militia reorganization? Sometimes there are more questions than answers.

Newspaper clippings relating
to the Worcester State Guard,
probably cut from the
Worcester Daily Spy. Two
are undated attendance
requests from the “Notices”
section. The third is a
resolution of mourning
dated June 3, 1867,
marking the death of
Simeon Clapp, late State
Guard member.
The collection contains an assortment of materials, including newspaper clippings, receipts, handwritten documents, and stationery. It seems likely that the collection exists because someone at the early stages of the state guard’s reformation wanted to document its history. Thus, we have some pieces of information that help us get a sense of its regular activities, like the two tiny newspaper clippings cut from the ‘Notices’ section of the Daily Spy (the local Worcester newspaper) that request the attendance of guard members at Brinley Hall Armory, or the six copies of a form letter that ask guardsmen to attend a drill and to march in a memorial procession. One of the most interesting documents in the collection is the state guard’s handwritten bylaws. Dated June 21, 1867, they extend to several pages and have attached amendments from August 6, 1869. 

The Worcester State Guard's existence was brief and the records of its existence are scarce, but the documents it left behind give us an interesting window into Massachusetts history after the Civil War and the ways that the War was memorialized and mythologized.

Katie Seitz
Special Collections intern