Autograph albums were all the rage in mid-19th century America—and Hingham was no exception. We have a collection of the small books in which Hingham boys and girls exchanged signatures, messages, and verse during the 1860s and 1870s. The albums themselves came in all shapes and sizes–the boys’ albums more conservative and the girls’ more elaborate, with illustrations, decorations, and fanciful covers. Willie Leavitt’s album was compact and business-like,
but the photograph below does not do justice to Minnie F. Burr’s autograph album, which was covered with deep-pile, chartreuse green velvet with the word “Album” inlaid in shiny celluloid letters.
Some boys and girls (mostly boys) simply signed their names in their friends’ albums but many penned a few lines of poetry or prose. As would later be the case with high school yearbook inscriptions, there must have been some pressure to write memorably, and to meet this need, collections of autograph album inscriptions were published. The Album Writer’s Friend, a copy of which is in our archives, helpfully asked,
Who among the readers of this preface has not been invited to write a few words of sentiment in the Albums of a friend? As an aid to the many thousands who have received this invitation and have not known what to write, we offer this collection of choice verse and prose . . . embracing sentiment, affection, humor, and miscellany . . . .
Its offerings ranged from the florid–
Our lives are albums, written through
With good or ill—with false or true—
And, as the blessed angels turn The pages of our years,
God grant they read the good with smiles
And blot the bad with tears
to the light-hearted–
In the storms of life
When you need an umbrella
May you have to uphold it
A handsome young fellow
The young people of Hingham did not appear to have needed much help, and the entries they made in their friends’ albums sound original and genuine, whether penned in verse (like Maud Cushing’s entry in Lizzie Hersey’s album, April 8, 1876),
or with a touch of sophistication (like Eliza Cushing’s perfect French in Hattie Cushing’s album, August 14, 1863).
Otis Remington’s humor, penned in Minnie Burr’s album on April 23, 1879, is corny but funnier than The Album Writer’s “humorous” suggestions:
And inside jokes must have been as prevalent then as they are now: who knows what Frank Pollard meant by this vaguely ominous note made on April 4, 1872 in Willie Leavitt’s album?
These Hingham young people left often-endearing reminders of their daily life and friendships in their autograph albums. They never imagined that their schoolroom would become an historical society’s archives or that these notes exchanged among themselves would survive as “artifacts.”