Anyone who is familiar with those who work in the museum world knows that we just cannot stop learning. In our spare time, we find ourselves attending lectures and symposiums, watching documentaries, and reading the newest, weightiest volumes that we can find on a variety of historical topics and civics issues. The fact that we love to continue learning and discovering new theories, methods, and points of view on a variety of topics also goes hand-in-hand with our professions.
All staff members regularly attend relevant annual conferences and meetings that pertain directly to our individual positions, but we also strive to do even more. We’ve written in the past about some of the ways we do this, but wanted to share an update and a new endeavor in which I am engaged!
Executive Director Erica recently completed a certificate program in nonprofit management and leadership at Boston University. Collections and Outreach Manager Stacey regularly attends workshops on collections care, marketing, and exhibit best practices, including two this past June on the latter topics, presented by the New England Museum Association (NEMA). Programs Manager Sarah attended a panel discussion at Old South Meeting House in February on interpreting slavery at museums, so as to better implement the history of slavery in our interpretation and programming. Education and Interpretation Manager Chris recently took part in a NEMA workshop on “Finding Your Way Through Interpretive Planning.”
And so, with the Society’s support, I recently embarked upon a new pursuit: obtaining an archival Arrangement and Description Certificate through the Society of American Archivists (SAA). SAA is the oldest and largest professional archival association in North America, and thus this is a very credible and reputable program dedicated to the successful teaching of archival best practices. This program requires that I complete eight courses within four tiers of study inside three years, and the courses can be offered periodically in locations across the country. In May, I attended an archival “bootcamp” which took place at University of South Carolina in Columbia and where I completed the three required courses within a four day period.
The courses that I completed were excellent – they were taught by engaging and qualified professionals who tailored the coursework to the needs of the attendees. The attendees themselves varied from an archivist at Linfield College working with the Oregon Wine History Archive, to an archivist from California working with Pixar, to a variety of university and museum archivists. It’s always interesting and informative to learn about what similar and different issues other archivists within the profession face daily. Building these networked relationships and connections with other professionals is incredibly beneficial.
The courses I attended were:
And with that, I’m nearly halfway to completing this program! The remaining five courses are electives, so this will be an excellent chance to choose courses that pertain most to our needs at the Society – especially as our needs grow, change, and professionalize with the opening of our new Archives and Research Center in the fall! I’m very excited to continue pursuing this certificate and to make sure that I am staying current with archival best practice. After all, I love to learn!
-Elizabeth Mubarek, Archives Manager
Visitors come from near and far to visit Lexington and walk in the footsteps of the militiamen and patriots who brought Lexington to the world’s attention in April of 1775. For some time now, Lexington Historical Society has used volunteers through our historic house greeter program to welcome visitors to two of our three historic house museums open to public: the Hancock-Clarke House (36 Hancock Street) and Munroe Tavern (1332 Massachusetts Avenue). Simply put, greeters welcome visitors to the houses, take and sell admission tickets, and orient visitors with the tour-style of that particular house museum. However, this does not fully convey the importance of these volunteers.
For a number of visitors to Lexington, a greeter is the first representative of Lexington Historical Society they will interact with. Being volunteers, greeters have chosen to be there, and visitors can tell that they are genuinely excited to share their significant local history with others. While we wish that every visitor to Lexington had the time to tour one or more of the historic houses, even if they don’t, greeters are still providing way-finding information and local restaurant recommendations, adding to that visitor’s experience of Lexington as a whole. So, for these visitors, greeters are not only the face of the historical society, but also of the community.
Given that the houses are open seven days a week for five months out of the year, it is a significant task to keep the welcome desks staffed. At any given time, the greeter program has 50-60 current volunteers. Starting in April, greeters begin welcoming visitors to the houses on the weekends, and after Memorial Day the greeters fill over 100 shifts each month, June through October. As of July 15, 2019 greeters have volunteered for over 550 hours since April, and we are not even half-way through the season!
Part of what makes this program so successful is how different styles of volunteering come together to build a strong, yet flexible, volunteer program. At the core, there are a handful of greeters who have made the commitment to fill the same shift (or two) each week for most weeks of the season. Others seek to volunteer at least once a week but have a more variable schedule that adapts to our needs from month-to-month. Finally, some greeters may find their availability better lends to volunteering twice a month, filling in where they see the greatest need. The volunteers themselves are equally diverse. They include high school and college students, working professionals, parents and grandparents, and retirees. They are lifelong Lexingtonians, 50+ year residents, new arrivals, and exchange students here for just a year. What they share though is a passion for Lexington’s history and a desire to welcome all those visitors who open the door to the Hancock-Clarke House or Munroe Tavern seeking to experience that history for themselves.
Are you interested in learning how to become a historic house greeter? Contact Melissa Drake at email@example.com.
-Melissa Drake, Weekend Manager
Long before the events of April 19, 1775, Massachusetts was already fighting the British government. As taxation soared following the end of the French and Indian War, early Patriots organized boycotts and protests against the Crown. Not everyone had an equal opportunity for voicing their concerns, however. While elite men could involve themselves in government, and men and women of the lower classes could take to the streets in protest, middle and upper-class women were forced by society to think of their reputations and remain silent. Apparently, women who set fire to the stamp-collector’s house just weren’t considered prime marriage material! However, this doesn’t mean that these women were not actively involved in politics in their own way.
At Buckman Tavern, I am often struck by the way gendered spaces in the building are arranged – we believe that the small parlor next to the kitchen at the back of the house was used as a ladies’ parlor, and it sits directly behind the West Room, a frequent spot for clandestine Patriot meetings. There is no closeable door between these two rooms, allowing the inhabitants of the back parlor to eavesdrop on conversations in the front. I like to think that that the women of Lexington hatched most of their patriotic plans in this room, including the Lexington Spinning Bee, which celebrates its 250th anniversary this year.
Fashion in the 18th century was serious business for both men and women. Your status in society was displayed by your clothing: how in style it was, and what materials it was made of. Fashion also benefited the British economy, as dressmaking fabric was made in England and then imported. Therefore, a fabric boycott was an obvious choice for the Patriot cause, and women, long stereotyped as textile producers, were able to step up to organize and implement these boycotts.
In urban towns like Lexington, most women had only a basic knowledge of textile production. Many were taught to spin, but most houses were producing only coarse, basic linen fabric that could be used around the house for utilitarian purposes. This all changed during boycott years. Sales for spinning wheels skyrocketed as women rushed to be seen creating homespun fabric for the Patriot cause. Ads in newspapers and protest songs proclaimed that local women were refusing marriage proposals from anyone not following the boycott, and tying up their hair with twine instead of silk ribbon.
This culminated in Lexington on August 31, 1769, when forty-five women congregated with their spinning wheels at the home of Daniel Harrington, facing the town common (the house, torn down after the Bicentennial, is now the empty lot on Harrington Street). Over the course of the day, from sunup to sundown, they spun 602 “knots” of 40 yards each of linen and 546 knots of cotton, almost enough thread to cover a marathon route. The thread produced at these spinning matches was often lumpy and unusable, but, as it was ceremoniously presented to Anna Harrington at the end of the day, the crowd would have been proud that they had not only created something that could further the Patriot cause, but that they had been able to hold a public protest nearly fifty people strong under the guise of “genteel women’s work”. Anyone from that point forward seen wearing homespun would automatically be recognized as a true Patriot.
250 years to the day, the Historical Society is recreating this event in its original location. Both historical reenactors and modern spinners alike will be gathering at the Harrington property to demonstrate their craft and talk about the politics of the original protest. Visitors will be able to get a sense of the whole process of creating clothing from start to finish in the 18th century, from combing freshly shorn wool and flax, to spinning, weaving, cutting, and sewing.
We will also be kicking off this event earlier in the month with a special lecture, “I Am An Honest Woman: Female Revolutionary Resistance” by Dr. Emily Murphy of the National Park Service. Join us on August 8th at 7:00 PM at the Depot to find out just how revolutionary these protests were before you see it live for yourself. Space is limited for lectures and reservations are required; email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your seat. Be sure to keep an eye on our events page over the summer for more information!
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.