A Roycroft Book, the Perfect Gift for a Jesuit Professor

cover of Essays of Elia

Cover from Essays of Elia, Charles Lamb, East Arurora NY: Roycrofters, 1899 PR 4861 .A1 1899 GENERAL

The John J. Burns Library has many interesting and historic books that are also noteworthy for their bindings. One such book is the Essays of Elia, by Charles Lamb (1775-1834), an English writer and essayist. This particular edition of Lamb’s collection of 14 essays was printed and then bound in suede leather at the Roycroft Shop in East Aurora, New York. Elbert Hubbard began the Roycroft Press in 1895, choosing the name “Roycroft” because he admired the printing works by Samuel and Thomas Roycroft, London printers from 1650 to 1690. Hubbard, born in 1856 in Illinois, had been a soap salesman prior to changing careers and becoming an editor, publisher and best-selling author.

The housing of the Essays of Elia boasts a heraldic cover design created by W. W. Denslow, who also illustrated The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The small seahorse, visible in the corner of the design stamped on the suede leather cover, is Denslow’s signature.


The chapter headings are graced with charming hand-colored initials, or “illumines,” as described in advertisements by the Roycroft Shop. This book, number 318 in an edition of 970, is signed in the limitation statement by Elbert Hubbard and is  the 27th title printed by the Roycroft Press.


In addition to the noteworthy binding, the Burns Library copy of Essays of Elia is significant to Boston College because it is inscribed to “Father D N Dwyer from the Sears Family.” Daniel N. Dwyer, S.J. was born in Medford, MA and graduated from Boston College High School. After attending Boston College briefly, Dwyer entered the Jesuit Order in 1932 at Shadowbrook. He attended Weston College and Fordham University, and then taught English at the College of the Holy Cross. Fr. Dwyer was ordained in 1942 and taught English at Boston College High School. After further studies at Yale University, he taught in the Boston College English Department from 1947-1979. Fr. Dwyer, in addition to teaching, supported Boston College clubs such as the Fulton Debating Society. The student publication, The Heights, reported on March 1, 1957 “Senate sponsors Skit Competition at Campion Hall,” and  listed the judges, including Rev. Daniel Dwyer SJ, within the article  A second Heights article from October 23, 1959, “Young Poets Series Slated for Spring,” mentions faculty lectures given in support of the series, stating that on April 14 Rev. Daniel Dwyer SJ, was to give a lecture titled “Hart Crane.”

Other than the inscription to Fr. Dwyer, there are no marginal notations in the volume. Whether the book was gifted to him because Charles Lamb was a favorite writer or because he admired the work of the Roycroft Press is not known. The Sears family, in selecting and giving this beautifully printed and bound volume, signaled their high regard for a beloved educator. Perhaps they embraced the Roycroft advertising, “As a gift you probably cannot present anything at equal cost that would be more acceptable than an illumined Roycroft book. Our work is the product of the three H’s: Head, Heart and Hand.”

  • Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, John J. Burns Library

Works Consulted:

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The Genius of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci’s fame and influence is indisputably unparalleled. His works are renowned throughout the world, especially his best known piece, the Mona Lisa. What I respect most about Leonardo Da Vinci is that he is not only a great artist, but also a scientist, an architect, a botanist, a strategist, a sculptor, and more. Da Vinci’s impressive versatility in  knowledge and expertise is made apparent in in his book, Thoughts on Art and Life.

The book begins with Da Vinci’s thoughts on life. He includes information on the human senses, the meaning of life, how the soul and the body are separated, how nature designs and affects all living beings, and much more in the span of only a few dozen pages. The topics change quickly, some lasting only one sentence before Da Vinci goes on to write about another matter that usually does not seem to relate to the previous topic at all.

Drawings Of Water Lifting Devices

The writings clearly show how highly Da Vinci values personal experience, and he cites it as the most important part of Life, Art, and Science. Da Vinci discusses the importance of knowledge in great detail and compares people who remain willfully  ignorant to simple beasts, stating, “For they seem to me to have nothing in common with the human race save the shape and the voice; as far as the rest is concerned they are lower than the beasts” (p.7). Da Vinci also places strong emphasis on the importance to pursue knowledge before wealth, “The fame of the rich man dies with him; the fame of the treasure, and not of the man who possessed it, remains…Knowledge which shall always bear witness like a clarion to its creator, since knowledge is the daughter of its creator, and not the stepdaughter, like wealth.” (p. 8-9). Through his writings, it shows that Da Vinci understands the importance of not rushing the art of learning. These ideals are what helped Da Vinci become so educated in so many different fields of study.

Nature is also very important to Da Vinci, and he sees Mother Nature to be the best artist and designer. “Although human ingenuity may devise various inventions which, by the help of various instruments, answer to one and the same purpose, yet will it never discover any inventions more beautiful, more simple or more practical than those of nature, because in her inventions there is nothing lacking and nothing superfluous” (p. 17).

Many of Da Vinci’s ideals are still very much relevant today. For example, he strongly emphasizes the importance of studying topics that are interesting and enjoyable to the individual. Very similar to what many students are being advised during their search for their best majors and career paths. Overall, Da Vinci’s thoughts on life are philosophical and have many ties to nature. Each point is carefully thought out and often compared to mundane items or events to help the reader better understand. I was surprised at how deep his examination of philosophy was and how much it aligned with the great philosophers such as  Aristotle and Plato.

The second half of the book focuses on art. Da Vinci believes that it is important to draw from nature, and not just one’s imagination; Da Vinci states that to become a good painter, one must learn from nature and not merely from the work of other artists. This ideal can be seen clearly in Da Vinci’s studies and sketches. A prime example is his study between the flow of water and the movement of the human hair.


Da Vinci strongly views paintings as superior to all other works of men, even stating that it is better to be deaf than blind, for the deaf can still see art but the blind cannot. Through a set of reasoning and deduction, Da Vinci argues that paintings are far greater to poems and therefore painters better than poets. “Painting stirs the senses more readily than poetry” (p. 124). Furthermore, paintings can give a sense of depth and perspective that is unachievable by sculptures. Paintings also require more mental capacity and intelligence, as it requires a great deal of knowledge and expertise to draw out the correct proportions and perspectives to achieve the correct sense of depth and space. Da Vinci also states a painter is able to create whatever scene he wishes, be it a bright sunny day or a raging storm at sea.

Self PortraitDa Vinci’s dedication to art is remarkable; to ensure complete and accurate knowledge of the workings of human anatomy, he dissected several corpses. He also gives advice to painters on the importance of having the right proportions for the human body and the need for different facial expressions and body motions. “It is a great fault in painters to repeat the same movements, the same faces and manners of stuffs in one subject, and to let the greater part of his faces resemble their creator” (p.118). This can be easily seen in all of Da Vinci’s paintings,  where his subjects are easily distinguishable from each other in both appearance and movement.

Lastly, Da Vinci moves onto the topic of science. Years ahead of his time, Da Vinci already understood the basics of friction and the Law of Motion.  He also understood the issue with distance and perspective which cause the planets and the stars to appear much smaller than they actually are. “If you look at the stars, they will appear so small as to seem as though nothing could be smaller; it is owing to their great distance that they appear so small, for many of them are very many times larger than the star which is the earth with its water” (p. 152). Through reasoning and logic, Da Vinci was able to show that the sun is much larger than it appears to be and that the sun is high in temperature.

Thoughts on Art and Life offers a glimpse into Leonardo Da Vinci’s thoughts. I can imagine Da Vinci occasionally jotting down notes and ideas in his notebook that later became this book. The writing clearly shows just how varied and widespread Da Vinci’s abilities, interests, and understanding of various forms of knowledge are. Da Vinci’s passion and love for what he is doing also shines through in the book.

  • Lilly Sun, Boston College Class of 2020 and Burns Library Reading Room Assistant

Works Consulted:

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Fenway Park: Boston’s Bandbox

Fenway Park is one of the long-standing treasures of New England, that contains within it the history and tradition of many generations and their beloved baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Nestled on the intersection of Lansdowne and Yawkey Way, it was originally situated to accommodate the crowded surrounding streets and neighborhood. It is the oldest surviving venue in American professional sports, and its reach in Boston extends beyond that of the baseball team that has called Fenway home for 106 years.

On November 18, 2017, Boston College will compete at Fenway Park against The University of Connecticut, along with four other storied New England universities: Brown, Dartmouth, Maine and The University of Massachusetts. This will be the 77th contest for the Eagles at the storied ballpark. Many great BC games and memories have been staged at Fenway Park, including, most recently, the 2015 Shamrock Series showdown against Holy War rival Notre Dame, in front of a sold out crowd of 38,686. Prior to that November evening, it had been over 40 years since Boston College last played in America’s bandbox. The owner of the Red Sox had put a stop to football being played on the ballfield because of the damage that cleats would cause to the turf, especially if the game took place in poor weather conditions.

Image of Fenway Park, Boston MA

Fenway Park, Boston, MA

In the 20th century, Boston College played many pivotal and historic games at Fenway Park, including many of their match-ups against Jesuit rival Holy Cross. In BC’s first 43 years playing at Fenway, they posted an overall record of 67-21-6. One of their most notable match-ups took place in 1942, when BC entered the contest as a heavy favorite at 8-0. Holy Cross stood at 4-1-1, and, as three touchdown underdogs, no one gave them a chance to keep the game competitive, not to mention winning the game. To everyone’s shock, not only did Holy Cross compete with Boston College, they throttled them 55-12, forcing 10 turnovers.

Fenway Park has also seen its share of events other than baseball. It has hosted football games (many involving BC), boxing matches, soccer, Irish hurling, ice hockey, and concerts. Just as the ballpark structure itself was modified to fit within the surrounding streets, the playing surface could transform to accompany most other major events. Boxing stars commonly fought at Fenway in the first half of the 20th century. The National Hockey League’s 2010 Winter Classic drew 38,112 spectators, who watched the Boston Bruins square off against the Philadelphia Flyers, amidst the snow and chilly conditions. Over the last 20 years, summer concerts by artists like The Grateful Dead, Florida Georgia Line, Billy Joel, and Lady Gaga  have generated a strong crowds and revenue while the Red Sox are on long road trips.

Image of NHL winter classic in Fenway Park, 2010

NHL Winter Classic, 2010. David Day, Boston, MA

Fenway Park has also served as a place for the community to come together. Catholic masses were commonplace at the ballpark for the influx of Irish immigrants coming to the city in the early 1900’s. Additionally, a pro-Jewish service, during which 40,000 people were present, took place following World War II. Another packed house of 40,000 gathered to hear a speech from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, right before he ran for his record fourth straight term in office. More recently in 2008, over 3,000 immigrants took their oath of citizenship at the park during a naturalization ceremony.The only bill to be signed into legislation at Fenway Park was done so in 2010 by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who supported legislation to guarantee insurance coverage for services for people with autism.

The integration of the ballpark into the community and surrounding neighborhoods played a role in the decision to extend its life and revitalize the Back Fens area. New ownership, led by principal owner John Henry, took over the team in 2002 and pitched their vision for the revitalized Red Sox and preservation of Fenway Park. Despite the pressure  to knock down the park and replace it with a new, modern venue, the new ownership advocated heavily for saving historic Fenway Park. They argued that the ballpark stood before any of them had even been born, and dedicated themselves to ensuring it would also be there long after they were gone. The ownership group pumped millions into improvements to bring Fenway Park up to the modern standards while retaining the unique historical features that make the park so beloved. Today, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places at local, state, and national levels of significance.

Fenway Park is a linchpin of modern New England tradition and history. Many boys and girls grow up playing wiffle ball in their backyards and dreaming of getting the chance to hit at Fenway Park. Fenway has seen seven generations pass through its turnstiles, and thanks to the renovation efforts of the new ownership, its legacy will live on for a long time.

  • Matthew Sottile, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Boston College, Class of 2020

Works Consulted:


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Dialogo di Vincenzo Nobile Fiorentino della Musica Antica et Moderna

Vincenzo Galilei’s Dialogo di Vincenzo Nobile Fiorentino della Musica Antica et Moderna is well known to music historians as a book that marked the beginning of a transition from praising the idea of musical polyphony to believing in modernity and is often cited as contributing to the beginning of opera. Vincenzo Galilei was the father of the scientist Galileo Galilei, and he was a musician of note in his day. His book includes information that had only recently been translated from ancient Greek and had not been published elsewhere. Yet it is not only the content of Galilei’s book that makes it fascinating; the book’s history and evidence of its use are also of great interest.

photograph of musical diagrams with notations added

P. 37. There are musical diagrams to help the reader understand the ideas that are discussed within this book. As you can see the original owner added sharps in the places where they were missing.

When Galilei tried to publish the Dialogo he ran into some difficulties, which he mentions in his dedication to his patron, Giovanni Bardi. He claimed that the first publisher to whom he sent his manuscript delayed production under pressure from one of Galilei’s rivals. Galilei then sent a draft of his Dialogo to another publisher in Florence, resulting in many mistakes in this first edition. These complications also meant the work was not translated from Italian into Latin, the scholarly language of the era.

photograph of handwritten annotations in printed book

P. 48. The owner’s handwritten annotations as he painstakingly went through the book in search of mistakes

The copy of Galilei’s book in the John J. Burns Library has all of these mistakes. This fact was not lost on an early owner of this copy; though we have no information about who this person was, he or she left their mark by meticulously correcting all the mistakes in the edition. It is likely that the owner was able to do this by looking at a later edition that did not have the same errors as the first edition. This is not the only evidence of that the book was read and used—someone apparently also took the time to have the book rebound in a vellum cover, and also added a few blank pages to the front. Though the book has been rebound, evidence of the original bookbinder is not completely lost. There are splotches of red ink on the dedication page, which were likely the work of the bookbinder as he painted the edges of the book. This red ink is no longer on the outside of the pages due to later trimming, but, because of the original binder’s hasty work, we can see what the book’s outside edges originally looked like.

photograph of foldouts in printed book

P. 120. The book also contains worn fold outs, indicating a good deal of use from the previous owner.

Through this book, we can see that many people’s interactions shaped the books that are in the Burns Library today. Books are more than simply an author’s writing on a page and sending a work to a publisher. They show the work of many different people, from author to publisher, binder, and owner.

  • Angelica Carberry, Boston College, Class of 2019 and Student in Prof. Virginia Reinburg’s Fall 2016 Early Modern Books and Their Readers Course
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18th century Conduct Literature

For a female writer in 18th century Britain, the path to literary publication was marred by deep prejudice and obstacle; for a woman to publish was to go against what society expected of her. Conduct literature was one of the primary ways in which images of femininity were constructed and circulated. Many examples of conduct literature are housed in the John J. Burns Library, two examples being Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) and Hester Chapone’s Letters on the Improvement of the Mind (1773).[1]

In 18th century Britain, people believed that men and women were innately different: men ruled and women nurtured the rulers. The primary image of “woman” was that of the “guardian of domestic happiness,” maintaining the household and creating a good life from her husband’s earnings. A woman’s most powerful asset was her social capital, which was inextricably linked with her honour, virtue, and reputation.[1] This simple idea provided a staunch obstacle to women publishing. Conduct literature called for women to be virtuous, modest, reticent, and, above all, not to be talked about, let alone published.[2] For a woman to publish her literary work was to risk being seen as immodest and almost monstrous by the conventional notions of the period.[3] Yet between 1750 and 1800, the number of published females doubled each decade. In this era, women’s greatest literary contributions were to the epistolary form, especially the novel.[4]

In the literary market, letters were valued for their authenticity and natural qualities, and there existed a strong belief in a female affinity for this specific kind of epistolary writing.[5] Women were believed to have a natural skill for the letter form because they were not hemmed in by the restrictions of formal education. Reading and writing novels were thought to be beneath the abilities of men, and the novel eventually became seen as a feminine genre. The epistolary conduct novel became popular, and a female archetype began to emerge in these works. An idealized model of femininity would be embodied in naturally intelligent, virtuous, and sensitive heroine, who, like the female reader, was finding her way in the world and discovering what it meant to be a woman.[6] This archetype is identifiable in Burney’s protagonist, Evelina.

Looking at the Burns copies of Evelina and Letters on the Improvement of the Mind, it becomes immediately evident that the books in their current condition reveal much concerning their use and popularity. Both books are in a poor state. In each copy, the binding is compromised and the thin paper has become patchy and oily with the passage of time. The books appear to have been printed and bound in haste, with little concern for individual quality. This is consistent with what we would expect of a work that was commercially popular, as there would have been a demand for rapid and large scale production. Chapone’s Letters on the Improvement of the Mind was very influential and saw at least 16 separate editions printed in the last 25 years of the 18th century.[7] The weathered condition of the Burns copy is testament to this popularity. It is also of interest to note that while each text was written by an English author and originally published in London, both the Burns copies were printed and published in Massachusetts.

Frances Burney and Hester Chapone took a risk when they published their works, as doing so did not fit expectations of the ideal reticent, retiring woman. As authors, women drew the short straw in the 18th century. Yet authors such as Frances Burney and Hester Chapone, while perhaps not planting it, nor seeing it grow to its full potential, very much fertilized the seed of female literary accomplishment and helped expand the possibilities that women could make for themselves in the world.

  • Beth Burns Dans, Student in Professor Virginia Reinburg’s Fall 2016 Early Printed Books: History and Craft

Works Consulted:

[1] Michelle Dowd and Julie Eckerlie, eds., Genre and Women’s Life Writing in Early Modern England (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 169.

[2] Elizabeth C. Goldsmith, ed., Writing the Female Voice: Essays on Epistolary Literature (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1989), vii.

[3] Dowd and Eckerlie, eds., Genre and Women’s Life Writing, 171; and Gina Campbell, “How to Read Like a Gentleman: Burney’s Instructions to her Critics in Evelina,” ELH 57 (1990): 559.

[4] Elizabeth Johnston, “Deadly Snares: Female Rivalry, Gender Ideology, and Eighteenth-Century Women Writers,” Studies in the Literary Imagination 47 (2014): 5.

[5] Ibid, 46-47.

[6] Johnston, “Gender Ideology,” 3.

[7] Kathryn Sutherland, “Review of Conduct Literature for Women, by Pam Morris,” Keats-Shelley Journal 56 (2007): 228.

[1] Frances Burney, Evelina: Or The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World (London: T. Lowndes, 1778), and Hester Chapone, Letters on the Improvement of the Mind Addressed to a Young Lady (London: publisher, 1773).

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Interning in the Conservation Lab

My name is Sarah Kim and I am a conservation/preservation intern at the John J. Burns Library. I am entering my second year in the Bookbinding program at the North Bennet Street School.

This summer, under the guidance of Burns conservator Barbara Adams Hebard, I had the wonderful opportunity to repair De Bello Belgico, a two-set 17th century series, written by Galluccio Angelo, SJ (1593-1674), about the early history (ca. 1592 – 1609) of the Dutch War for Independence from Philip II of Spain.  This book was previously owned by Carlo De Poortere (1917-2002), the scion of a famous textiles family who was known for his prestigious book collection.

Photo of Carlo de Poortere’s red leather bookplate.

Carlo de Poortere’s red leather bookplate.

Our first step was to document the condition of the book before treatment with standard images, including a label with the date and the condition of the book, a color grid, a detailed description about the book, and a ruler to show scale.

multiple photos of book before treatment

These are some examples of what the “before” photos should look like: a label with the date and the state of the condition of the book, a color grid, a detailed description about the book, and a ruler to show size.

It’s important to take pictures to show the condition of the book before, during, and after treatments so future users can see how it was conserved. Along with the images, conservators also prepare a treatment report to document the condition of the book before it is treated, the treatment that was performed during the repairs, and the result of the treatments. For pre-treatment condition reports, conservators make detailed notes about materials the book was made from and any damage. For example, this book is a full-leather, brown, mottled sheepskin binding, with bumped corners (see explanation below) on the boards, and red and blue flower patterned endpapers.

For the treatment, the first thing that I did was surface clean the books. First, I used a soft, goat hair brush to gently remove any dirt and dust on the boards, spines, edges of the text blocks, and the endpapers. Then, with the Gonzo sponge, which is made of dense latex, I would gently dab on all the surface to pick up finer sediments.

photograph of damaged ("bumped") corners of a book

The corners are damaged (“bumped”), curling into the textblock.

After the surface cleaning, I did some corner repairs. As you can see in the picture above, the corners are damaged (“bumped”), curling into the textblock. This is a common damage to books that have been used over long periods of time. Using a syringe, I carefully inserted a thin wheat starch paste into the boards at the corners to make them slightly damp and flexible. Then, with  binder clips, I clamped the corners with small support boards to assure that they dry flat.

Photograph of a book being repaired with boards, binder clips, and helping hands

The small mechanism holding open the board is called a helping hand.

These are now left to dry overnight. The next day, I performed the same process on the back board corners.

As you can see in the above pictures, the cover boards are much straighter than they were.  The corners are now much smoother after the treatment. “Unbumping” the corners also helps preserve the textblock too, reducing the risk of pages getting caught in the corners and tearing during use.

Finally, I sat by the lab’s fume hood to gently brush on leather consolidant—a solution of klucel-g and ethanol—on all the leather parts of the book. Have you ever experienced dark red or brown streaks or powder on your hands after touching an old leather book? That’s called red rot. The leather consolidant helps prevent leather from becoming parched and flaking off. In a way, it’s like putting lotion on your skin to keep it from drying out. Klucel-g is mixed in with ethanol because the ethanol will evaporate, leaving behind the consolidant to seal the leather. If you were to mix the solution with water instead,  you risk dampening the leather to the point where it can be permanently darkened. The ethanol acts as a carrier to the klucel-g until it is exposed to air and evaporates.

After the leather consolidant dries, the repair process is finished. To complete the treatment, we take the “after pictures.

Photos of volume after repair

Other than the “unbumped” corners, the repair does not show a significant difference. Nonetheless, after pictures are taken to be documented.

Book repair and conservation is part of the bookbinding curriculum at the North Bennet Street School. I am glad for the opportunity to put the skills I have learned at school into practice on a rare book at the Burns Library. I am also glad to have had the opportunity to be in a conservation lab working on other rare books as well. This summer, I also worked on preserving English novelist Graham Greene’s (1904-1991) collection of books by placing the dust jackets into protective, archival mylar sheets. I  also helped with emergency preparedness, monitoring the temperature and humidity levels in the Burns Library, and preparing supports for the Being Social Before Social Media exhibition. Working with Barbara has been an invaluable experience, because I was able to see the many overarching responsibilities a library conservator has and it only affirmed the importance of conservators in the bookbinding world. As I continue to study bookbinding this coming fall, it is my hope that I will be able to help preserve books and other materials that continue to tell stories of how the world has changed.

  • photograph of conservation intern working at bench

    Working hard in the conservation lab! You can see the brush and the sponge that was used to surface clean at the bottom of the picture.

    Sarah Kim, Burns Library Conservation Intern and North Bennet Street School Bookbinding student (’18)

Works Consulted:





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Charitable Irish Society St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, March 17, 1953

A January 27, 1953 Western Union Telegram invited the newly elected, Senator John F. Kennedy (D. Massachusetts), to respond to the traditional toast to the United States at the 216th anniversary dinner for the Charitable Irish Society of America. Senator Kennedy responded to Robert H. Montgomery, then President of the Charitable Irish Society, asking for additional information about this tradition.

Image of Telegram

Western Union telegram from the President of the Charitable Irish Society, Robert H. Montgomery, dated January 27, 1953 to Senator John F. Kennedy. The telegram represents a request for the Senator to make a response to the Toast to the United States of America at the Annual St. Patrick’s Dinner planned for March 17, 1953. Box 17, Folder 3, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Image of Letter from John F. Kennedy

Typewritten signed letter dated February 25, 1953 from Senator John F. Kennedy in which he asks then President of the Charitable Irish Society, Robert H. Montgomery, for background on what kind of remarks typically make up a response to the toast to the United States of America.Kennedy inquired about any tradition or subject matter around the response. Box 17, Folder 19, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


While the Burns Library  collections contain no affirmative response to the invitation, we do know  that the future President did participate in the ceremony. How? The archival records of the Society contain a program for every annual St. Patrick’s Dinner (excluding the year 1847 when in acknowledgment of the Great Famine of that year, no dinner took place).

Image of Charitable Irish Program

Inside pages of the invitation to the Annual Meeting of the Charitable Irish Society, March 1, 1953. Nominations for officers of the Society appear as well as the list of speakers for the Annual St. Patrick’s Dinner planned for March 17, 1953. Box 17, Folder 19, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


The Charitable Irish Society, started in Boston in 1737 , was formed to assist newly arrived Irish immigrants in adapting to a new city and new country. As the oldest Irish society in the Americas, the Society has a rich history, an interesting and diverse membership, and an ongoing commitment to its charitable goals today, to assist new immigrants from any country.

The Massachusetts Historical Society holds the earliest records of the Society. The Burns Library holds additional records of the Society dating from the 1890’s to the present.

Each year the format of the annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner of the Charitable Irish Society was the same, and remains so to this day.  There is a toast to the United States of America, and a response.  Then a toast to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a response.  Finally, there is a toast to the City Of Boston, and a response.

On the night of March 17, 1953, in the Sheraton Plaza Hotel, three key figures of government appeared and spoke:

For the United States: Senator John F. Kennedy

For the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Governor Christian Herter

For the City of Boston: Mayor John B. Hynes

The remarks of this powerful political trio offer an insight into the ideology, culture, society, and politics of the day in the City of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, the United States and beyond.


Image of typewritten letter

Black and white typed copy of a press release dated March 17, 1953 that contains the response to the Toast to the Commonwealth by Governor Christian A. Herter, a new member of the Charitable Irish Society. Box 17, Folder 19, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Image of the City Record from March 21, 1953

Page one of “City Record: Official Chronicle of Boston Municipal Affairs,” Volume 45, Number 12 dated March 21, 1953. Mayor John B. Hynes’ response to the Toast to the City at the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner of the Charitable Irish society is included in this publication. Box 17, Folder 12, Charitable Irish Society records (MS.1993.012), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

While Charitable Irish Society records in the Burns Library do not contain the response to the Toast to the United States,it was not difficult to locate a copy with a bit of thought, and realizing where we sit geographically.  The John. F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is just about 9 miles away from the Burns Library, in the Dorchester section of Boston. A search of the Library’s collections resulted in a copy of Senator Kennedy’s response available in digital format on the website.


First page of speech. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Speeches and the Press. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Saint Patrick’s Day speeches by various speakers. JFKSEN-0894-012. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum


last page of speech.Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Speeches and the Press. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Saint Patrick’s Day speeches by various speakers. JFKSEN-0894-012. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The greater Boston area, rich in history, monuments to that history, and records of historical value, offers valuable opportunities to anyone who might want to research and write.  As one might glean from this brief article, information abounds in libraries and archives in the area, and what might not be held in one institution might very well be held in another. Knowing what is available and where is key to piecing together the puzzle that history can be. Consult this very helpful Harvard Library Research Guide for Finding Manuscripts and Archival Collections, Boston- Area Repositories.

  • Kathleen Williams,  Senior Reference Librarian, Bibliographer for Irish Studies, John J. Burns Library

Works Consulted:

Works Related to the Charitable Irish Society Records:

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