Cleaning up History One Box At A Time

by Colleen Jenkins, 2016 Tom Desilets Memorial Intern

Last week, I asked my dad for a drill so I could take apart a cabinet at work. To which he replied, “I don’t understand what is historical about taking apart cabinets.” This has been an ongoing joke regarding my role here at the FHC. I thought coming in I would dress nicely every day and be sitting at my laptop writing up excel sheets and transcribing old documents. And while this has been a large part of my internship, an equally large part has required comfortable clothing and some physical labor.

attic 1

The Smith Collection has a new home!

I am not the cleanliest person in my daily life, so it is almost ironic that I spend so much of my time here cleaning! My first week, I started the project I have spent the most time on, which is cleaning out the attic. When I got here, the attic looked like a typical attic, filled with boxes from miscellaneous collections as well as tools and documents regarding the FHC. But Stacen (FHC Curator) had bigger plans for the attic, which required clearing the boxes out of half of the space and giving it a deep clean. This took some time because the boxes have to be put in the correct place, and if they do not have an established location, we have to figure out the best place for them.

Luckily, we were able to move enough out to create a space for our Smith Collection. This is one of our largest collections, containing Japanese items that we acquired nearly a century ago. So as you can probably imagine, this was taking up a lot of space in another collections room, which happens to be the same room that houses the Dennison Mfg Co Archives, so it was confusing and not conducive to house both collections in the same room. In fact, because of the spacing issue we couldn’t keep the Dennison Archives together. It was the perfect time move out the Smith Collection as we are getting closer and closer to making Dennison Archives a displayable collection.

attic 2

Another view of the Smith Collection’s new space

It took two days of work but Laura (FHC Education Coordinator) and I not only moved the Smith Collection out, but reorganized the rest of the collections room! Whereas before the Dennison Archives was in two different locations, it is now all together on one wall of shelves! After all the work that so many people have put into making this collection pristine, the fact that we now have made space to have it physically be an organized collection is so wonderful. I am glad to have been a part of that movement.

Though the duties of this internship haven’t seemed particularly traditional to what I thought someone who works for a museum does, they have helped me fully grasp that museum workers do everything. Everything that needs to be done in this building is done by the staff and volunteers, which speaks to the amount of work and dedication each member here puts in to making this place run as efficiently as possible. I think the multitude of jobs held by a person working in a non-profit museum is really undervalued mostly because they are not understood. It took a few weeks of being here consistently for me to really grasp that. I have a great respect for everyone I have come into contact with at FHC because they are all so dedicated to preserving history. Without people like that in the world, who knows how much of our history we would really know.

dennison collection

The newly renamed Dennison Room can now double as my office space since there’s room to move freely!


Political Action and Awareness 1960’s to the present

by Colleen Jenkins, 2016 Tom Desilets Memorial Intern

August 2, 2016

Framingham News, Framingham ACTION

Framingham News, Saturday October 18, 1969, pg. 24

Last week, after being accused by our Director of being “one of those kids” that isn’t paying enough attention to politics, I sat in on a meeting regarding an upcoming program on “grassroots political action” in Framingham in the late 1960s. I am familiar with what happened in the 60s, but I really couldn’t give you specific details as “modern history” has never been my strong suit.

Joining the meeting were Framingham locals Bob Dodd, Paul and Liz Fideler, and Judith Riegelhaupt. Each was a member of the group Framingham ACTION, which consisted of Framingham citizens “who wanted to increase citizen participation in government and politics” in reaction to the draft for the Vietnam War. What they had to say about their experiences was fascinating and, I think, would be fascinating to people who do know a lot about the late 60’s and those who do not.

The group took turns telling stories about their political activism in the late ‘60s. I’m not proud to admit this but I was lost through a lot of it. There were a lot of names that they were all using as second nature that I had never heard before, such as Margaret Mead (Cultural Anthropologist), and political activist Noam Chomsky. [Framingham ACTION members organized famous people, like Mead and Chomsky, to speak in Framingham regarding Civil Rights.] Paul Fideler was a professor at Framingham State College and led a small number of students in a protest of the Vietnam War on campus during a Senator Ted Kennedy speech.

Students Picket news article

Framingham State College Gatepost article, 1968

It was an odd realization for me to sit and listen to these men and women who had a part in Framingham’s political history because I forget that there are people who lived through major events and can still share their experiences. I spend so much time going through historical documents that I forget there were living people who wrote those documents. Sitting in on this meeting was a great experience because it reminded me that history does not have an end date. There are still plenty of people, in Framingham especially, that are involved in historic events every day.

Our meeting ended with an important question: where did all this passion and commitment go? Paul, Bob, Liz and Judy have shown that if we want the passion of everyday citizens back in our political system, it is within every person to voice their ideas and opinions. Whether that’s through organizing movements, writing well-informed blog posts that promote conversation, or simply educating ourselves, everyone can do something to influence their own history, no matter how small. I’m glad I was at the FHC this summer to be reminded of that.

Speaking of influential people from Framingham that I am surprised I never knew about, I just learned that the founder of the Red Cross was from Framingham. Clara Barton lived during the Civil War era, and led her organization with the tagline “If I can’t be a solider, I’ll help the soldiers.” She also established the first women’s reformatory prison in Framingham. I found out about Barton through our digitization process of our General Resource Files. I’m learning all about Framingham’s history while simultaneously making information more accessible online. Really, it’s a dream come true for a historian like me!  “This conflict is the one thing I’ve been waiting for, I’m well and strong and young.” – Clara BartonClara Barton


The Woman in the Wedding Dress — Anna Haven Foster

arm pit stained wedding dress

There’s nothing like a pit stain to remind you a real human wore this dress!

by Stacen Goldman, FHC Curator

I love studying history because it is so incredibly human. The subjects of history were real people, with feelings, worries, and ambitions. They all had families, they were all once children, they all made mistakes and learned, they all ate, drank, and slept. Historians take their own innate understanding of the human experience and try to project how that played out in times that are drastically different from our own. As I’ve settled into my new position here at the FHC, I have found myself constantly reminded of the inherent humanity of historical figures, especially when working with our extensive costume collection.

When I work with this collection, I am conscious of the fact that each garment is an historical source that (much like a written source) can be read to glean information about the time in which it was worn and, more importantly, about the wearer herself. Clothing is an especially helpful source when studying women in particular because the historical record surrounding them is often much sparser. Clothing reflects (among other things) a woman’s daily activities, economic status, and personality. Especially in times when women were excluded from government, scholarship, art, and culture, clothing was one of the few active choices she could make, and each choice tells us something we never could have known otherwise. These garments might be the richest sources we have available to interpret the personality, values, and status of Framingham’s historic women.

While examining the wedding dress of Anna Haven Foster of the extended Pike-Haven-Foster family (you may remember their remarkable First Period homestead featured on this year’s house tour), the first thing I was struck by was its sweetness. Though it is not a quantifiable characteristic – and there are plenty of things about the dress that can be quantifiably measured and which tell us a great deal about Anna – her personality was immediately clear to me. I just knew right away that the woman who wore this dress was warm, gentle, and kind. I pictured her on her wedding day, young and hopeful (perhaps even a little naïve), growing from girlhood into womanhood, getting ready to take on her new life. Looking at this dress, Anna sprung fully formed in my mind’s eye, and I loved her immediately.

Stacen - wedding dress detail

Details of Anna Haven Foster’s wedding dress, 1824.

I was surprised by how viscerally I felt all of this. As a trained historian, I am not usually content to draw conclusions so quickly from just one source. Still, I sat with my initial feelings for a week or so, a little bit afraid to do more extensive digging. What if other sources completely discredited it? I had become attached to the sweet young bride of my imagination and it would be incredibly disappointing to discover that I was wrong. Still, as any historian would tell you, imagination alone cannot sustain me. So I went on the hunt in our Special Collections to see what else I could find of Anna.

As I often do while working with original documents, I felt a chill when I found a small stack of letters labeled “Anna Haven Foster” in our Pike-Haven papers. These were mostly letters written to her by friends and family members, with only one written by Anna herself. Though they are few, these letters tell us that Anna was deeply loved by those around her. She was warm, comforting, affectionate, and tender. She was fun, social, and she brought her friends and family joy. She was humble, grateful to others, and (as I felt from that first glance at her wedding dress) she was sweet. I don’t want to give too much away – we will feature more about Anna in our upcoming exhibit, Opening the Closet: Framingham Fashion through the Centuries – but this process has lead me to realize one of the most wonderful things about studying history: you can spend a great deal of time trying to wrap your head around it, but sometimes the answers come from your gut. After all, it’s only human.

To see Anna Haven Foster’s wedding dress and learn more about the contents of her letters, be sure to visit our upcoming exhibit, Opening the Closet: Framingham Fashion through the Centuries.


Growing Up in Framingham Centre During the 1920s — Part I

Originally published in the Spring 1985 Framingham Historical & Natural History Society Newsletter by Dr. Bruce Brown (1917-2010)

centre common postcardNostalgia is an inevitable accompaniment of growing older, an entertaining asset considering all the other debits of aging. It can be startling to contemplate the “old days”, particularly if you still live in the same community where the “old days” occurred. This is my lot. Gradually I have accepted the fact that a radical transformation has taken place in the hometown that nurtured me during the years of five to fourteen. Those years by chance coincided with the decade of the Twenties. Now that is not very far in the past, but what a change has been wrought in Framingham Centre.

My family lived on State Street on Normal Hill, so named because of the Normal School which was situated on this elevation. There have been several changes in the name of this institution over the years. It was originally established in the nineteenth century. Normal School yielded to Framingham Teachers College, which in turn gave way to the modern terminology, Framingham State College[1]. Old town maps refer to Normal Hill as Bare Hill, but I have never heard it referred to as such. What was Normal Hill like in the Twenties? It was traversed north to south by State Street off which several roads branched. The major one, Maynard Road, ran down a steep portion to the west. One of its major purposes then was to serve as a rapid route to the railroad station at the bottom of the hill. This depot represented a major means of commuting to the outside world from the Centre area. My bachelor uncle, a Boston lawyer, lived with my parents and Monday through Friday travelled to Boston from this station. My father, who routinely visited the Lowell Bleachery[2] on Fridays, accomplished this task via the Centre depot.  The train stop was a popular haven for the young. You met parents and relatives there; you bought gum and candy from penny machines; and you watched the station master with his green eyeshade who both sold the tickets and presided over the mysterious clicking of the telegraph. The arrival of any train at such close proximity was a thrill, particularly if you received a friendly wave from the engineer, fireman or both.

Maynard Road had a sidewalk which ran from top to bottom of the hill. It was constructed of compressed cinders or clinkers from the coal furnaces of the Normal School. There was an uncontrollable urge to run on this track when going down to meet somebody at the train. Sometimes one’s acceleration exceeded one’s balance and painful cinder abrasions on palms, and during the summer, bare knees were the result. In the winter, sledding and even bobsledding were ideally suited to Maynard Road’s pitch; the only accepted danger being the occasional car that might be working its way up the hill. Peril was avoided by stationing a lookout at the corner where Church Street entered Maynard Road.

Normal Hill was not developed as a residential area until the turn of the century. Maps of Framingham drawn in the 1890s show Bare Hall occupied by the Normal School and the Episcopal Church on the corner of Church Street and Maynard Road and little else. My father’s family lived on Auburn Street off the Centre Common from the 1860s until the early 1900s, when a fire ravaged their house and adjoining barn. Rather than rebuild, they moved to a recently constructed house on State Street in the new residential area.

The east side of Normal Hill, however, did not participate in the building boom. This was attested by the fact that we shucked our corn at the back of the family property and threw the husks over the barbed wire fence to Eldridge Barber’s cows. At that time all the east side of Normal Hill was pasture for grazing or haying. By the end of the Twenties this pasture land had been sold to developers, and natural the road that replaced the barbed wire fence at the back of the property was called Barber Road.

In its original state “the back of the hill” supported a veritable goldmine of activities. Given the right conditions, tobogganing and sledding were superb; even the early toe-strap skis put in an occasional appearance. At the bottom of the pastureland was Duck Pond, created by surface water draining from the eastern face of Normal Hill. As a recreational asset, this water surpassed even the pasture, though it might more honestly be described as a wet swamp rather than a true pond. It was not more than three feet deep at its most fathomless section. This was very reassuring to parents. As it was not spring or stream fed, it froze early and rapidly. This was where we skated, sometimes on rubber ice during the early freezing but ideally on a good solid surface unsullied by snow. A large elm had fallen conveniently along the western shore of Duck Pond. This made an ideal seat for putting on skates and, in a different season, the launching of rafts. As true hockey enthusiasts we wouldn’t let a little snow stop us, so we frequently employed shovels to clear off a section for the shinny games. Ordinarily somebody’s shoes were used as goals but one winter, I recall, we constructed some real professional nets. These were made of chicken wire nailed to a wooden frame and were we proud of them! Police officer Ralston and his family lived near Duck Pond at the corner of Franklin and Maple Street. Bob Ralston, now head of the Framingham Tree Department, was a charter member of the hockey group. I well remember one bitter day when the Ralston family rescued one of the players, Chester Thompson, and thawed out his every cold feet by putting them in the warm kitchen oven. It worked well and was he appreciative!

Duck Pond supported no fish, as far as I know, but was perfect for frog breeding. One of the first signs of spring was hearing the hylas peeping as you lay in bed trying to go to sleep. Although they were never seen by me, some large snapping turtles were later caught in Duck Pond. Had I known these creatures lurked in the muddy bottom, the rafting trips might not have been undertaken so blithely. Today, what was Duck Pond is a playground at the corner of Maples and Franklin Streets. A sharp eye will notice that it is below grade, the only remaining evidence of its former life as a natural water playground.

[1] Framingham State College became Framingham State University in October 2011

[2] Lowell Bleachery was a textile mill, http://lowelllandtrust.org/greenwayclassroom/history/industrialization.htm


Museum Exploration and Expansion: Dennison Style

by Colleen Jenkins, 2016 Tom Desilets Memorial Intern

I have been focusing lately on the Dennison Mfg Co Archival Collection and I am hoping to complete as much as possible before my internship ends. The overarching concern with the Dennison Archival Collection is its size. The amount of items that were saved in the History Room in California is tremendous and impeccably detailed. It is a little overwhelming to think that all of these documents have to be organized in a finding aid (finding aids are used by researchers to determine whether information within a collection is relevant to their research) for researchers to easily go through.  Though it has been a lot of work for everyone involved, the possibility of researching whatever you want about Framingham’s most renowned company is satisfying.

Series 12 Marking Systems (mostly related to tags and labels)

Part of Series 12: Marking Systems (mostly related to tags and labels)

Knowing that Annie (FHC Executive Director) is intending to make the Dennison finding aid available online is very exciting. Each time former Tom Desilets Memorial Intern Samantha O’Connor (Sam volunteers twice a week at the FHC) and I go through a series of the Dennison Archival Collection, we perfect the finding aid. If someone wanted to chart how the Dennison Human Resources Department grew with the company and they keyword searched “HR” in the document, they would be brought to series five, which is everything on the human resource department. This keyword search allows the researcher to search efficiently through the archival collection instead of spending time searching aimlessly through thousands of archival documents. In my experience, finding documents that are relevant to a project can be the most frustrating part of research, simply because of the amount of time you can spend looking at information that could turn out to be irrelevant. The finding aid eliminates that worry because you can find out in an instant whether or not what you want is there.

poem about glue

Found in Dennison series 9: marketing campaigns

As a junior at Framingham State University, I wrote my honors thesis on incorporating technology into history teaching, entitled “History and Technology: Taking Stock”. A large part of my argument revolved around how new technological advances provide an advantage to traditional teaching methods. In the common traditional method of lecturing or writing notes on a board in front of students, their opportunity to interact with material is lost.The fact that so many archives have been made available online gives educators the opportunity to easily provide their students with hands on material for understanding of history.

Museums have just as much of a responsibility to utilize their collections in this way. The presentations the FHC does to spread local history are wonderful and so useful to engaging the community. But this second level of opportunity to explore the material on one’s own so they feel comfortable with Dennison before they even enter our collections room gives the people of Framingham the opportunity to see the history of their town in their own way.  This enhanced accessibility is what I find really satisfying about the Dennison Mfg Co. Archival Collection. Such a large collection would be overwhelming for someone to approach with little help from those that have perfected the collection, but a detailed finding aid will significantly lessen the amount of research for a student, professor, or researcher.

So many Dennison boxes!

So many Dennison boxes!

I truly enjoy that I am a part of something larger, something that will outlast my ten weeks here. I have already agreed to come back and volunteer after the summer is over, because I’d love to see this project finished. Projects like this reassure my love of history and reemphasizes the importance of the work we all do here at the FHC. I hope the Framingham community takes full advantage of this collection when the time comes to debut the finding aid.