As the Hingham Historical Society turns 100, a look back at its first year

2014 is the Hingham Historical Society’s centennial year.  Riding the tide of a national Colonial Revival movement, which began in the last years of the 19th century and reached a peak in the 1920s, manifesting itself in a fascination with colonial architecture and furnishings and an often romanticized vision of an heroic Revolutionary past, a group of Hingham’s leading citizens formed an association dedicated to preserving the past of one of the nation’s oldest towns.

1917 photo of Society founder and benefactor Susan Barker Willard, posed in 18th century dress

1917 photo of Society founder and benefactor Susan Barker Willard, posed in 18th century dress

The Hingham Historical Society’s organizational meeting was held on June 11, 1914 at the Town Office Building.  Those present included Clarence H. Knowlton, William W. Lunt, Henry W. Cushing, Walter C. Shute, Susan Barker Willard, Edith Andrew, Oscar W. Stringer, Elizabeth L. Crosby, and Allen P. Soule.  John D. Long, former Governor of Massachusetts, representative in Congress, and Secretary of the Navy, was voted our first President.

After several additional organizational meetings, the Society hosted Dean George Hodges of the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge for its December 1914 meeting.  Dean Hodges’ topic was “The Hanging of Mary Dyer.”  Meeting minutes note that this “most interesting paper . . . was much enjoyed, it being regretted,” however, “that his audience was not larger.”  After the paper, the minutes go on, “an informal discussion among the members brought out some forgotten facts regarding witchcraft in Hingham.”

At later meetings during its first year, the Society relied upon local talent for its programming.  Papers presented to the Hingham Historical Society during 1914-1915 included Mr. Samuel A. Cushing on “The Cushings of Rocky Nook,” Mr. Walter B. Foster on “Old Local Names,” Mrs. Henry W. Cushing on the old Cushing houses, and Thomas L. Sprague on “Hosea Sprague and Sprague’s Chronicles,” an early Hingham newspaper.  Mr. Clarence Knowlton gave a well-received tribute to local scientists Isaac Sprague, Charles J. Sprague, Thomas T. Bouve, and the Rev. John Lewis Russell.

At the first Annual Meeting, held on June 30, 1915, the Society once again looked abroad for its speaker.  Brooks Adams, author, historian, brother of Henry Adams, and  grandson of John Quincy Adams–but billed for this appearance as “President of the Quincy Historical Society,” addressed the membership on “the relation of the past to the present democracy.”   While Mr. Adams is reported to have presented his subject “in a most lucid and entertaining” manner, it seems that his views on history and democracy did not go down easily with his Hingham audience.  The meeting minutes note that “in the discussion following the speakers did not altogether agree on some of his address.”

The Society accepted gifts of books, manuscripts, and antiques from Hingham residents, recording its thanks in the monthly meeting minutes.  It lacked a place to keep its acquisitions, however, and a prime early goal was to raise funds to build a secure, fire-proof building for its holdings.  At the December 1914 meeting, Susan Barker Willard, an early benefactor who served on the Building Committee, suggested that “post cards representing the ‘Old Garrison House’ be placed on sale, the proceeds to go toward the creation of a building fund . . . .”

If the capital account grew slowly, the Society had ample operating funds after its first year.  At the first annual meeting in June 1915, the Treasurer reported that the Society had $61 in income (all from membership fees) and a scant $21.60 in expenses, which covered expenses of incorporation, purchase of record books, stationery, and postage, and the speakers’ expenses.

As the Hingham Historical Society enters its second century, much has changed and much remains the same.  The Society salutes these founders and the efforts they set in motion to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret the history of the town of Hingham, Massachusetts.

3 thoughts on “As the Hingham Historical Society turns 100, a look back at its first year

  1. […] Sarah. Her essay, a typescript of which was placed in our archives by early society benefactress Susan Barker Willard, consists mainly of fond character sketches of the three maiden sisters who lived together on North […]

  2. […] public library was founded close to a hundred years later. Early in the 20th century, the Hingham Historical Society was formed by townspeople interested in Hingham’s venerable […]

  3. […] of our Society’s co-founders, Susan Barker Willard, bequeathed a treasure trove of art, furniture, and documents which she had inherited from her […]

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