"Margaret was admired by many friends at different places and in various fields of activity. Yet her reticence seldom allowed those friends much knowledge of the breadth of capabilities of this lovely lady." Thus begins an informal biography of Margaret Arnold Ruth Kimball Harsh, as prepared by her husband, Charles, after her death on February 13, 1975. Though Charles' sentiment is beautiful, it couldn’t be any more understated. Margaret was a spunky and progressive powerhouse of a woman, and she has recently become a heroine of mine.
Last April, I was contacted the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. Because the Phillips Library retains two other collections related to the Kimball family (Frank Reed Kimball Papers; Kimball Family Papers), Margaret's son, Richard, had recently donated a collection of Margaret's personal papers to them, as well. Margaret, however, had a very strong Lexington connection, especially in her early years. When asked if we would like to have this collection, I jumped at the chance.
Margaret Arnold Ruth Kimball was born in Boston, Massachusetts on December 1, 1906, and her family lived in Lexington on Massachusetts Avenue. To start with, Margaret was a talented artist. She took courses at Boston University, the Sorbonne in Paris, and the Boston Museum Art School. She also became a student of impressionist artist Philip Leslie Hale (1865–1931).
Margaret was also involved in Lexington organizations. She became a member of the Lexington Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) in 1926, and she was a founding member of the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society in 1935.
As if these credentials weren’t enough, Margaret’s most noteworthy hobby was flying, as an early aviatrix. Her entry into the world of flight is one of my favorite anecdotes, as told by her husband in Margaret's biography:
"Back in Lexington, at a party in late October 1930, the lion of the evening was Hank Harris, a handsome young sportsman pilot who flew the weather plane for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hoping to attract his attention, Margaret expressed her desire to fly, and Hank laughingly challenged her to show up the next morning at the East Boston airport. She did, and Hank arranged a demonstration flight with Bill Tanner at the Curtis (sic) Wright hanger (sic). Before noon she had signed up with Tanner for flight instruction, launching the colorful career of aviatrix Peggy Kimball."
Margaret proceed to attend the Curtiss Wright Flying School in Mineola, New York. She became a member of the National Aeronautics Association in 1933, the Soaring Society of America in 1935, and the 99 Club in New England (also known as the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots founded in 1929 and based in Washington, D.C.). And all of this essentially accomplished because of her refusal to lose a dare to Hank Harris….
Her list of credentials goes on, though. She earned a transport pilot's license in 1933, her non-commercial glider pilot’s license in 1934, her radio telephone operator license in 1936. In 1937, she passed tests qualifying her for the then highest rating in aviation, the "Non-Scheduled Instrument Rating" (NSIR). The rating was awarded by the Department of Commerce, and it enabled her to fly when the weather was so severe that it stopped every other aviator who did not hold this rating. To qualify, Margaret had to take a test in blind flying and radio-beam flying while under a hood in a plane that kept her from seeing anything but the instruments. She became one of three American women with an NSIR rating. Amelia Earhart was another.
As the world around us continues to see advancements in technology almost every day, a big topic of discussion at history conferences has become how museums and historic sites can incorporate these new technologies into tours and interpretive approaches. In our effort to remain one of the premier historical destinations in Massachusetts and the country, Lexington Historical Society has been exploring a variety of ways to keep our history accessible for everyone. Over the years we’ve instituted films, audio clips and even full-fledged audio tours (available at Buckman Tavern in eight languages) as a way to make sure visitors are able to access Lexington’s rich Revolutionary War history through a method of interpretation that best suits their needs.
Over the past few months Lexington Historical Society has begun exploring how 3D virtual tour technology might provide a new avenue for visitors to experience historic Lexington. After a suggestion by a board member about partnering with Mass 3D Spaces, a local company that “specializes in creating immersive 3D interactive tours (powered by Matterport)”; LHS Executive Director, Erica McAvoy, and myself sat down with Scott and Siobhan Loftus-Reid to discuss how the Matterport technology they use for real estate tours might assist in making Lexington’s history more accessible to a nationwide audience. After chatting with Siobhan and Scott about the technology and the passion they shared with Lexington Historical Society for sharing Lexington’s unique history the decision was made to move forward and work together on this project.
With the assistance of a collection of re-enactors and volunteers, Lexington Historical Society staff along with Siobhan and Scott have been meeting at Lexington Historical Society’s three historic houses and filming inside each location. During each photo shoot, we have been able to stage actors in our historic rooms to represent the historic people, periods and aspects of each house’s unique history. We’ve been able to capture the panic of Aunt Lydia and Dorothy Quincy as they prepare to flee from the Hancock-Clarke House as well as the calming moments spent by Lexington’s militia in Buckman Tavern as they await the arrival of the British Regulars. Once the sites have been photographed and the tours prepared by Siobhan and Scott, Lexington Historical Society staff and our Interpretation Committee members are able to highlight artifacts, embed audio and video clips which will allow visitors to gain a better understanding of what happened at each location.
Once completed, the project will allow schools nationwide who are unable to make the pilgrimage to Lexington to experience what it would be like to walk through these historic houses. These virtual tours will also allow visitors with physical limitations the ability to access the second floors of our historic homes and not miss out on any content discussed during that portion of the tours.
So far, we’ve been able to complete filming at the Hancock-Clarke House as well as Buckman Tavern with Munroe Tavern’s shoot being scheduled for later in the spring. Stay tuned!
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.