A Truly Wonderful Summer, and a Truly Grateful Intern!

By Clare O’Connor, 2017 Tom Desilets Memorial Intern
August 9, 2017

As my time at the Framingham History Center dwindles down to only a few days, my thoughts pertaining to this summer are marked by self-growth and learning a lot about what I like to do, what I can do, and what I want to do. It seems cliche (well, is it cliche) to start my goodbye blog post with a bit of a flashback, but I will just imagine it as a classic story-telling device. When I first got the email from Laura (FHC Museum Assistant/Education Coordinator) that I had been accepted as the 2017 Tom Desilets Memorial Intern, I re-read it maybe three times and could barely contain my excitement.  I couldn’t wait for it to start and was imagining the work I would be doing. Since I had decided that my career was going to be involved with history, I had not had a job that supported this or offered any chance at getting my feet wet in the field.  I didn’t know exactly what I was in for, but I knew that no matter what the opportunity to get involved with my chosen career path was going to be exceptional.

(left to right) Katie, Jennifer, Clare, Stacen, and Laura

Despite my excitement, I was apprehensive.  I had started to think that I did not want to be a high school history teacher anymore, and wanted to possibly pursue working a museum or getting my PhD to teach at the college level, and this was my chance to see if those options were viable for me. But I was still nervous- what if I started this internship, and realized I didn’t want anything to do with museums, education, or history ever again? Going back to the drawing board as a senior in college seemed scarier to me than any Stephen King book I had ever read. Or, what if I discovered that I wasn’t good at it, and my confidence as a young historian was unfounded? These thoughts were invasive in the weeks that led up to starting my internship, but were gone in a matter of days as I started the various projects I was tasked with. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the museum world as Laura, Annie, Stacen, Katie, Jennifer, and all the volunteers at the FHC provided me with a wealth of knowledge and assurance that allowed me to be successful these past 10 weeks. I had no idea that Framingham had such an extensive, unique, and downright important history. Getting to know this town (soon to be city)  was not only enlightening but I also got to think about what I am capable of doing and learning. I can honestly say that I learned so much valuable information this summer – both historical content and about my future aspirations.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience many facets of working in a museum, from administrative tasks, to setting up exhibits, to costume collections and research. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the FHC and the Desilets family who sponsor this internship, because even though I still don’t know what’s in store for me after I get my diploma, the FHC has shown me that I love researching and learning, and helped me to think about my career goals.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Desilets family and everyone at the Framingham History Center for providing me the opportunity to truly have an amazing summer. Without this experience, I would not have known how much I enjoy working in a museum setting and doing research to put together stories of the past. Moving forward, I am excited for what post-graduation brings and cannot wait to visit the FHC in the future to see the great things I know they will continue to do!

Deborah Sampson’s Story – Summertime on the Centre Common

By Clare O’Connor, Tom Desilets Memorial Intern 2017

The Summertime on the Centre Common series, put on by the Framingham History Center and sponsored by Eastern Bank, has a great variety of programs for various ages to enjoy. Last week’s performance broke the mold a bit, as Judith Kalaora, founder of History at Play, masterfully told the story of Deborah Sampson – Massachusetts State Heroine and the first professional female soldier. Before attending this program, I recalled learning about Sampson at some point during my education and associated her name with “Mulan.” I wasn’t totally wrong (Judith, in character as Sampson, made mention of Mulan during the show) but I quickly learned there was so much I did not know.

Kalaora as Deborah Sampson

While signing in people on the downstairs level of Village Hall, I heard the fife and drum music playing upstairs and thought to myself “this is going to be so awesome”! The program was intended for children ages eight years and older, and there were some present but for the most part, the performance was attended by adults. As I watched, I felt like I was experiencing two different shows at once. There was Judith; who’s acting, period clothing, props and script were superb. Then there was Deborah; who’s incredible story of triumph and hardship seemed to be a show of its own. Deborah Sampson, born in 1760 in Plympton, MA, began work as a seamstress at the age of five years old. After growing up in poverty and taking various jobs, she ultimately enlisted in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Using her deceased brothers name, she hid any trace of her womanhood and fought for liberty for a year and a half before being honorably discharged. I found myself holding my breathe in anticipation throughout the performance, a testament to both Judith’s amazing acting and character portrayal, as well as the sheer impact of Deborah’s story.

I remember in the fourth grade, my class had to do a living wax museum project for which we had to write a script, wear a costume, and portray someone from the past. I chose “the unsinkable” Molly Brown (though admittedly I think this was because of my desire to wear  high heels, lipstick and costume jewelry as opposed to a true appreciation of Brown’s legacy) and to this day that project sticks out in my mind as one of the most effective learning experiences I ever had. So for me, living histories are really second to none, and Judith’s performance was no exception! She engaged the audience and brought some kids up to perform with her, so I am sure they will remember Deborah Sampson’s name.  The story and the performance came together in a way that had everyone captivated – the children in attendance were regularly on the edge of their seats. Textbooks have their place, but nothing beats a living history that completely acquaints you with an era long gone, and gets you so involved with the historical figures that are coming to life right in front of you. 

Judith Kalaora does various other productions through History at Play, and there is still one more Summertime on the Common program coming up, so make sure you check it out! 

Better Late than Never! – 2017 Desilets Internship

By Clare O’Connor, Tom Desilets Memorial Intern 2017

Hello! My name is Clare O’Connor, and I am the Framingham History Center’s Tom Desilets Memorial intern for the summer of 2017. I am about seven weeks into my internship, with only about three weeks left to go. Laura Stagliola, the Museum Assistant/Education Coordinator and I both realized I had yet to make a website debut, but better late than never, right? Without further ado, here is a little bit of what I have been doing for the past month and a half.

Clare O’Connor with some Dennison items that she favors: a 1906 Dennison Dictionary and two company letterheads from the early 1900s.

My first day at the museum was a bit of a whirlwind; we went to Cameron Middle School to put on a presentation for the students about life during the Civil War era. Upon our return, Laura gave me a tour of the museum (including the History in the Stitches exhibit, which is right up my ally!) and an overview of what I would be doing this summer. This was a bit intimidating as I did not have any prior experience working in a museum and only knew I had a passion for history that led me to this internship. One of the projects that has quickly become one of my favorite things here is the Dennison Manufacturing Company Timeline, based on the FHC’s 2014-2016 Dennison Manufacturing Company exhibit.

When Laura first mentioned the project during my interview, I went home to my mom and asked if she was familiar with the company. “Oh yeah, Dennison!”, she said “that name brings back memories. They were like Staples and made office supplies”. Okay, I thought, how can a museum make a whole exhibit out of a stationery company? I quickly got my answer as I began making the timeline online and learned about Dennison, which reminded me that everything (even shipping tags) has a history. I am a stickler for American history, 20th century American history, and old advertisements-luckily for me, Dennison encompassed all of these and more! Going through the archives and finding beautiful tags and advertisements, while also learning more about Dennison’s innovative products, commitment to employee welfare, and their role in major events such as the Civil War, both World Wars, and the changing social and cultural climate of America throughout the 20th century was absolutely my cup of tea! Pretty soon the timeline will be live on the website, so stay tuned!

Other projects I have been working on include a walking tour for the FHC’s app based around the Centre Common and the rich history that sits at the heart of Framingham. I loved working on this because it was a chance to do some research  and piece together different bits of information to put together a narrative of Framingham throughout the centuries. I consider myself to be somewhat of an old soul, and spending time in these buildings as well as researching the people and events that allowed Framingham to develop a noble history of its own was truly a great experience as someone who is fascinated with the past. The walking tour will also be launching shortly on the app, with more walking tours to come!

As is customary of time, it flew by this summer and I am forced to do a double take at the calendar. With what I have done so far, I feel accomplished, already a little nostalgic, but mostly grateful. I still do not know exactly what I want to do with my history degree once I graduate from Framingham State University next Spring, but my time at FHC has reaffirmed to me that I love teaching history, as well as “doing” history – doing research, looking through archives, and putting stories to artifacts and people who have long since passed (I picked up some snazzy museum lingo this summer learned that this is called provenance!). The people I have met and gotten to know while working here, including Laura,  Executive Director Annie Murphy, Curator Stacen Goldman, and Program/Development Coordinator Jennifer Toth have helped me to learn and think about Framingham’s unique and captivating past, and my own abilities and aspirations as I move forward – and for that, I could not thank them enough!

Reflections on the End of an Era

On December 31st of this year, 2017, the era of government by town meeting will come to an end in Framingham.  Since our incorporation more than three hundred years ago we have conducted our business in this manner, often called the “purest form of democracy”.  Reaction to becoming a city has been mixed.  It has saddened many while others view it as a step long overdue in a world that has changed in so many ways over the years.  As Framingham’s Town Historian, I have some thoughts on the subject which I would like to share with you.

The truth is that in the early days, this system had it flaws.  For example, only men, in fact only men who were property owners, had the right to vote.  And a good fifty percent of the town’s residents, i. e. women, were excluded.  So it was “pure democracy” in only a limited sense.  The so-called town fathers, men of power and wealth, met once a year to do the town’s business.  Much has changed since then.  The reality is that our form of government has been changing and evolving constantly over the past three hundred years. 

Perhaps the most dramatic change in America in the past three hundred years is the pace of all things – travel, commerce, technological development, etc.  For example, in 1800 the basic mode of transportation was the stage coach and the journey from Boston to Worcester took two days.  Framingham Centre was a perfect half way point, and hotels sprung up there to accommodate travelers.  Then in 1833 the railroad came to the south of town, and that journey was reduced to less than a day.  The center of commerce in town soon shifted to the south.  Today Boston residents hop in their automobiles and make the trip on the Mass. Turnpike in a couple hours.  Town government has struggled to maintain pace with changes like this in all phases of life.

In response to this shrinking of our world in space and time, voices were heard as early as the 1890’s, favoring a change to a city form, with a mayor and city council  The first official attempt to do so was begun in 1911.  I am struck by words in a report to town meeting produced at that time:

 “It appear[s] to be admitted on all sides that Framingham has outgrow the limitations of the town meeting form [of government]. It cannot be successfully contended that, with three thousand registered voters, we now have, or can again expect to have, a town meeting which will in the slightest degree resemble a deliberative assembly of the voters and tax  payers acting as a municipal legislative body.”

Today we have over 30,000 registered voters!  However, on this question change has come hard. It was not until 1921 that women were granted the right to vote.  Throughout the twentieth century our town meeting form has undergone constant change in response to constantly changing circumstances, economic, political, and social, and especially rapid growth in population.  Several attempts to pass a city charter were made and each was defeated.  However, a close examination of town records shows that certain key provisions contained in each of these proposals were quietly adopted by town meeting a year or two afterwards.  We were adapting to the times.  A good example of this was in 1950, when the town voted to adopt a representative form of town meeting, consisting of just 216 townspeople elected by precinct to conduct its business. 

By 1972, Framingham’s population was exploding and town government bodies staffed by citizen appointees were overwhelmed with work. The town began to hire staff professionally trained in various aspects of government, long range planning for economic growth and so on, shifting major responsibilities from citizen boards and commissions to these professionals.

At the same time the town established a permanent body called the government study committee, whose sole function was to constantly monitor and adapt the town meeting, government structure and bylaws to the changing needs of the times.  Another proposal was put forward which would have created a position of strong town manager, putting a professionally trained person in charge of the day to day operations of the town government.  It was defeated.  Two years later the town meeting passed an article creating a similar, if somewhat watered down, position of Executive Administrator, with many of the same powers!

Again, in 1993, another proposal was put forward, which called for a strong town manager.  Once again the goal was to improve the functions and efficiency of the town’s government.  Again it was defeated by the voters.  Shortly thereafter, in 1996, town meeting approved an act creating e strong town manager position, and it was approved by the voters the same year.  So the pattern of rejecting change, be it a city charter or other major structural change to town meeting, and then adopting some of the most important features of each plan has continued.  The process of patching up, modifying, adapting the old town meeting format to a twenty first century environment continued , but it was becoming more difficult with each passing year.  So this year we finally made the change – we have taken the leap!

As I reflect on these events, I see it not as the end of something but rather as one more step in an ongoing process to make town government the best it can be in meeting the needs of the times. Yes we are nostalgic for the old ways, and we can look back on a time when everything was simpler, but change inevitable.  Over the centuries we have built a fine town (now a city), one that looks a lot like America as a whole – diverse, urban, suburban and rural.  We have kept abreast of the times and our government is now doing the same.   And I am reminded of a line from another town report written in 1916, which I will paraphrase as follows:

  More important than the form of government which we adopt is the character of those, whom we elect to serve.

With this thought in mind I feel good about where we are.  Working together, we can create a bright future for our city, one which will create a strong sense of community, and make Framingham an even better place to own a home, to raise a family, or start a business, while preserving and celebrating the legacy of our past. 

Frederic A. Wallace
Town Historian

Tag Sale!

Saturday, June 10th from 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Edgell Memorial Library
3 Oak St, Framingham

Join us at the Framingham History Center Tag Sale rain or shine both inside and outside the Edgell Memorial Library (3 Oak Street).  Find your next treasure – Framingham collectibles, gently used household items, furniture, antiques, linens, glassware, Dennison Mfg. Co. duplicates, and more!Read more >>