A Heckler in Washington

Imagine walking into the House of Representatives on your first day as a newly-elected member of Congress and seeing only ten other women among a total of 435 Representatives. That was Margaret Heckler’s reality as she began her career in Washington in January, 1967. Having won her seat by defeating Republican incumbent Joseph W. Martin, Jr., a former Speaker of the House who had been serving since 1925, she was described as “perky” and “petite” but also “no shrinking violet.” She had already earned a reputation as an astute politician from her two terms on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, and she was ready to make her mark in Congress. Heckler would go on to champion women’s issues and co-found the Congresswomen’s Caucus, all while navigating the male-dominated world of politics.

Photo of Headline from a Boston Globe article about Heckler, January 15, 1967.

Headline from a Boston Globe article about Heckler, January 15, 1967. Margaret Heckler papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

John J. Burns Library holds Margaret Heckler’s Congressional papers as well as materials from her later career as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and ambassador to Ireland. For the past year, I have been arranging and describing her papers (what archivists call “processing”) to make them available to researchers. As Alison Harris mentioned in her blog post about processing the Edward P. Boland papers, Congressional collections often do not come to a repository in a well-organized manner, due to a number of circumstances surrounding reelection, staff changes, and committee assignments. It has been a challenge to make sense of all of the materials documenting different parts of Heckler’s career. As I near the end of this project, I am gratified to see the collection coming together in a way that I hope will be meaningful to researchers.

Margaret Heckler began her Congressional career during the period of second-wave feminism, when women’s rights advocates turned their focus to a broader range of issues: legal rights, domestic violence, reproductive rights, and workplace equality. She often described the difficulty she had getting a job in a Boston firm in the late 1950s  as a recent law graduate. One congratulatory letter from another Representative stated that “We need more good men like you in Congress,” and, throughout her career, she would receive letters addressed to Mr. Heckler or Dear Sir. But Heckler appears to have been unshaken in her quest to advance her career and the rights of women. As a staunch proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), she fought unsuccessfully to keep support for passage of the ERA on the Republican platform at the 1980 Convention. Heckler was particularly interested in women’s economic rights, and was involved in the 1974 passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act which prohibited discrimination in credit transactions on the basis of sex or marital status. She fought for Social Security benefits for homemakers and widowed women, and for affordable, safe child care for working mothers.

Poster advertising child care hearings in Fall River, MA, 1971. "Security of knowing your children are safe while you work" Support the need for more Quality DAY CARE CENETERS in Fall River

Poster advertising child care hearings in Fall River, MA, 1971. Margaret Heckler papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

I was excited to discover, however, that women’s issues were not the only thing that Margaret Heckler cared deeply about. A member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee during her 16 years in Congress, she was a tireless champion of veterans’ health care and education benefits. Her papers include extensive files on G.I. bills, Agent Orange hearings, and veteran senior citizen health care legislation. Heckler also served on the Agriculture Committee where she was involved in food stamp and nutrition legislation. Although not from a large agricultural state, she felt that these issues were important and that her voice on the Agriculture Committee would benefit her constituents. She was also a proponent of the development of alcohol fuels and gasohol, pumping the first gallon of gasohol in the state of Massachusetts at a Raynham gas station in 1979. She was deeply concerned about the cost of home heating oil in Massachusetts, and worked as part of the New England Congressional Caucus on energy issues.


Margaret Heckler lost reelection to Rep. Barney Frank in 1982, but was quickly chosen by President Reagan to replace retiring Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Richard Schweiker. Despite having no background or experience in medicine, she vowed to be a “catalyst for caring” at her Senate confirmation hearing. During her two and a half years at HHS she named the AIDS epidemic as the department’s number one priority, increasing research funding. One of her biggest accomplishments at HHS was the landmark Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health, known as the Heckler Report, which identified the differences in health outcomes of whites and minorities in America. In late 1985, after criticism about her HHS management and commitment to conservative Republican values from White House aides and officials, she was asked to give up her HHS position and become Ambassador to Ireland. Heckler seems to have thrived in her role representing U.S. interests in the country of her parents’ birth. The papers from her time in Ireland include warm correspondence between her and government officials, business leaders, and friends.


Photograph of Margaret Heckler with her Irish wolfhound, Jackson O’Toole, in the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Dublin, Ireland, circa 1986-1989.

Heckler with her Irish wolfhound, Jackson O’Toole, in the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Dublin, Ireland, circa 1986-1989. Margaret Heckler papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Processing the Margaret Heckler papers has been an eye-opening experience for me, both in terms of learning about Congressional collections and in getting a glimpse of what it was like to be a woman in politics in the 1960s-80s. One of the primary conclusions that I can draw from my experience with Heckler’s papers is that bipartisanship and collegiality were very much alive during most of her career in Washington. I’ve been surprised to discover that, as a moderate Republican, many of Heckler’s views would be considered liberal today. Senator Ted Kennedy introduced Heckler at her Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Health and Human Services. It would be hard to imagine a Democrat presenting a Republican Cabinet Secretary nominee today. Collections like this document important periods in our nation’s political history, and John J. Burns Library is looking forward to opening the Margaret Heckler papers to researchers early next year.

  • Katie Lamontagne, Project Archivist, John J. Burns Library


Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, congressional archives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s in a Game? Some Examples of Board Games at Burns Library

Detail of gameboard with portrait of Queen Victoria,

Detail of gameboard with portrait of Queen Victoria, Historical Pastime: A New Game of the History of England

As we enter the season when cozy indoor activities beckon, the appeal of board games endures despite, or perhaps because of, digital distractions. Burns Library collections include several games, intended to teach, make social commentary, or pass companionable time.

Gameboard, Abbasso le Code!!

Gameboard, Abbasso le Code!!, GV1312 .A23 1848 FLAT STORAGE

Abbasso le Code!! is a satirical board game printed on a single sheet of paper. It can be played, but is also akin to a political cartoon. Published in 1848, its Italian title in English means “Down with the Reactionaries” (literally, “Down with the Tails”). The game’s anti-Jesuit bias is related to their conservative opposition to Pope Pius IX (1792-1878), Cardinal-Deacon Giacomo Antonelli (1806-1876) in mid-19th century Italy. Its decorative artwork features a man thumbing his nose at a priest and caricatures of Catholic clergy. 

The game is played in  a “game of the goose” style, where players start at the outside of a spiral, and move 59 spaces in turns, based on the roll of a die, toward a goal at the center of the board. The rules of the game are printed on its gameboard, and, roughly translated, read as:

Detail of gameboard, Abbasso le Code!!

Detail of gameboard, Abbasso le Code!!, GV1312 .A23 1848 FLAT STORAGE


  • Whoever lands on the white stars goes on, and doubles the number.
  • Those who meet the Jesuits go back to where they were.
  • Whoever lands on the black stars goes out of the game and starts again.
  • Whoever goes to #49 gets stuck until someone else comes to take him out, and he will put himself in the place where he was taken away.
  • Those who arrive at #59 but have surplus numbers go back.
  • The winner is the one who makes the precise number and stops at 59.

Continue reading

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art, Identity, and Symbolism in Tarot Cards

Boston College Libraries supports faculty teaching and student learning in a variety of ways that can go far beyond a paper assignment. The Burns Library Instruction Team has worked with Professor Jane Cassidy’s Introduction to Digital Art classes for several semesters to prepare them for a key assignment: design two tarot cards, one a recognizable self portrait, and the other a design of the students’ choosing.

We worked with Professor Cassidy to develop a class plan that would give students the skills they needed to tackle this creative challenge.  The learning objectives for the sessions at Burns Library included: 

  • Recognizing symbols and understanding how they work
  • Being able to communicate complex ideas through the visual art medium
  • Drawing on historical/primary sources to generate and refine their own interpretations
  • Examining and synthesizing a variety of sources in order to construct and support an artistic argument

Our class plan includes an introduction to special collections and an overview of symbolism and allegory given by Nina Bogdanovsky, Art History Librarian.  Students then viewed a variety of illustrated materials from Burns Library Collections, and, using some guiding questions, identified a few symbols that they found interesting. Librarians helped students use reference resources—and the papers of G. William Patten, a Boston-area monument designer and artist with copious notes on symbolism—to learn more about symbols and meanings that they might include in their artworks. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Professor Cassidy and this class/assignment for many semesters to come. 

Burns Library staff is always happy to encourage wider use of Burns Library’s unique materials for teaching and research, and will work creatively with faculty and others to develop customized classes, activities, and assignments around course topics and learning objectives. Instructors interested in using special collections materials to enhance the learning outcomes of their courses and/or research assignments should contact Burns Library staff.

We’re always happy when instructors follow up to tell us how a Burns-assisted assignment went, and are pleased to provide the artwork of  Professor Cassidy’s Fall 2019 Introduction to Digital Art below. What symbols do you see?



So much creativity from our Boston College Students!

  • Katherine Fox, Head of Public Services and User Engagement, Burns Library
Posted in Instruction Program | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

History of the Azores, or Western Islands

Image of frontispiece of "History of the Azores" showing a man riding a bull and woman carrying a square, wooden pale.

Frontispiece, History of the Azores, DP702.A86 A88 WILLIAMS

You don’t see many books on the Azores in Burns Library, so having traveled to the volcanic islands myself, once in 1995 and once in 2010, this particular book immediately caught my eye. I found it was a fascinating look at the state of the islands 200 years before I visited. It was remarkable to see how some aspects of the islands remain almost the same as they were two centuries ago, such as the caldeiras (more on that topic below).

In 1810, on his way home from South America, Irish writer Thomas Ashe spent time on the Azorean archipelago. While in the Azores, Ashe wrote a series of letters to the Earl of Moira, Francis Rawdon-Hastings. The Earl, an important figure in British politics, was wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill, a Major General in the French Revolutionary wars, and was even considered to replace William Pitt the younger in 1797 as Prime Minister. These letters were eventually collected and published in 1813 as a book titled History of the Azores, or Western islands; containing an account of the government, laws, and religion, the manners, ceremonies, and character of the inhabitants: and demonstrating the importance of these valuable islands to the British Empire.

Image of Map showing the relative position of the Azores to North America, Europe, and Africa,

Map showing the relative position of the Azores to North America, Europe, and Africa, History of the Azores, DP702.A86 A88 WILLIAMS

Thomas Ashe’s goal in writing these letters was to convince the Earl of Moira, and therefore the British government, to obtain the Azores. In letter III Ashe reminds the Earl that Portugal owes Britain large sums of money due to the support of Britain during the Peninsular War, which lasted from 1807-1814. The Portuguese could easily erase that debt by transferring sovereignty of the Azores. Ashe lays out further reasons for acquiring the nine Azorean Islands in letter IV. His first reason is that the Azores, situated between America, Africa and Europe, would make an excellent port for trading with the rest of the world. Second, Ashe argues that Britain needs a colony that can produce wine, which the Azores is perfect for. The third argument is that the Azores would make an excellent military depot for soldiers before they traveled to Africa or the West Indies in order that a soldier’s “blood may be prepared to meet the vicissitudes of those destructive climates.” Ashe further argues that the islands add another military advantage by allowing Britain to deploy troops from there, rather than directly from Great Britain. This would allow troops to reach the Cape of Good Hope and the East and West Indies more quickly. Ashe also suggests that instead of sending prisoners to the colony of New South Wales (Australia), convicts could be sent to the Azores where they could help improve the infrastructure of the islands. While Ashe’s arguments were ultimately unsuccessful in persuading the Earle and the rest of British parliament, his line of reasoning highlights the British empire’s strategic thinking and concerns of the time. Continue reading

Posted in Rare books | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Generations of Fans: Rex Stout, the Baker Street Irregulars, and the Wolfe Pack

The new exhibit here in Burns Library—Golden Spiders and Black Orchids: A ‘Satisfactory’ Look at the Life and Writings of Rex Stout—inspired us to delve a little deeper into the life of American mystery writer Rex Stout.

Rex Stout’s stories featuring armchair detective Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie Goodwin, have inspired many devoted fans through the years. The Rex Stout related collections in Burns Library all contain examples of fan art and fan events celebrating Stout’s colorful characters. So it is interesting to learn that Rex Stout himself was a fervent fan—of mystery author Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.


Stout’s review of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Box 18, Folder 27, Rex Stout papers (MS1986-096)

Stout’s writings show a clear admiration for Doyle’s famous literary creation. Stout’s own books follow the archetypes set forth by Doyle: the cerebral lead detective (Holmes: Wolfe) and his more down-to-earth partner (Watson: Archie), solving crimes as private detectives. Stout wrote impassioned essays about Sherlock Holmes. The Rex Stout papers include a carbon copies of both Stout’s introduction for The Later Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Heritage Press, 1952), and his review in The New Republic of Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Macmillan, 1933).

Continue reading

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Exhibits & Events | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Thomas J. Shamon’s mystery recommendations

While we’re most well-known for our our major collecting areas in Irish history, Jesuitica, and Catholicism, Burns Library also has a strong mystery collection. With over 5,000 volumes, our mystery collection ranges in date from 1827 to 2018, and in language from English to Dutch to Swedish and several in between. It contains books, journals, audio recordings, and one doctoral thesis, all devoted to the mystery genre.

On May 18, 1994, our mystery collection grew even further when Burns Library finalized a gift from Thomas J. Shamon. We don’t know much about him, other than that he came bearing a formidable collection of 19th-21st century English-language mystery fiction, criticism and reference, and he wanted to give all 40 boxes of it to us.

This year we were able to devote the resources to more thoroughly catalog these books.

shows the embossed stamp TSJ, a handwritten rating of C-, and the words “Very, very tiresome” in pencil.

The front flyleaf of Death at Swaythling Court PR6037.T4627 D43 1926

And while we were going through it, we discovered a fun little feature Shamon built in to his collection: In addition to his personal monograph stamp, which is present on the front flyleaf of every book he gave us, he also penciled in his handwritten ratings and reviews of the novels.

Continue reading

Posted in Rare books | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Digging into Funeral Home Records: The Ledgers of J.D. Fallon & Son, Jamaica Plain

Image of Detail of index page, Funeral ledger

Detail of index page, Funeral ledger, 1907-1918, Box 1, J. D. Fallon & Son ledgers, MS.2003-061, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Funeral practices in the United States moved from personal residences to funeral homes in the late 19th century. Until that period, families laid out their own dead, wakes were held in houses, and burials — by necessity — swiftly followed deaths. Undertaking was professionalized in the 1880s as embalming became common, coffins became more elaborate, and other services were offered to mourners. Funeral homes were often founded as family enterprises, remaining so for generations. These businesses built close ties to their neighborhoods, and clientele often came from particular religious, ethnic, or racial groups within their communities. 

Funeral home records were created as business accounts. While some of these records have been transferred to historical societies or libraries, most are still held by the businesses that created them. Burns Library holds one such collection. J.D. Fallon & Son ledgers (MS2003-061) are from a funeral home in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. It includes four ledgers of funeral transactions covering the period 1907-1943. 

Image of entry for Mary K. Flate

Entry for Mary K. Flate, p.236, Funeral ledger, 1929-1934, Box 4, J. D. Fallon & Son ledgers, MS.2003-061, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Like many undertakers of their time, Fallon & Son used pre-printed ledgers specifically designed for their work, with each page a template to record the details of the transaction. Depending on the thoroughness of the funeral parlor in completing the template, records could include details:

  • About the deceased: name; address; date, place and cause of death; birthplace; age at death; gender; race; marital status; occupation; parents’ names and birthplaces. 
  • About the funeral: type of casket; service date, time, and place; apparel supplied; candles and flowers; conveyances (carriages, hearse, cars); chairs; newspaper notices; name of church; type of service; date of interment. 
  • About the business transaction: deed information; arrangements to have the body moved or grave opened; name of person making arrangements; itemized charges and payment information.

In addition to providing an avenue for understanding the social customs of communities, these types of records are useful for genealogical and historical research. One ledger entry adds shades to the story of the Owen F. Cummings family. John Cummings, age eight, died of diphtheria and was buried January 4, 1907. His mother, Bridget, was buried fifteen days later. Online genealogical sources provide more information about the Cummings. Bridget’s death certificate gives “acute dilation of heart, one week” as her primary cause of death, with a contributing cause of “intense grief, three weeks.”  Her Boston Globe obituary also provides an account of her death – seemingly of a broken heart over John’s death.

Image of entry for John and Bridget Cummings

Entry for John and Bridget Cummings, page 51, Funeral ledger, 1907-1918, Box 1, J. D. Fallon & Son ledgers, MS.2003-061, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The ledger entry begins with the name of Owen F. Cummings, a stone mason who came to Boston from Vermont with his family in the 1890s. Owen arranged for the funerals of his wife and child through the Fallon funeral home, located a few blocks from the rented apartment where he now lived with three of his four grown children. Eldest son, Eugene (age 25), no longer lived at home at the time of John’s death, because he was studying to be a Jesuit at Woodstock College in Maryland.

The Fallon record shows that Owen bought the deed to a cemetery plot from New Calvary Cemetery at the time of John’s death. Expenses for the two funerals totaled $131.40 (approximately $3700 in 2019). It took the family 11 payments over more than 4 years to settle the bill. With its detailed entry, the record of the funeral and payment adds a layer of information that cannot be seen in other sources.

At a broader level, records like these may be used to uncover evidence of the social customs of the communities they served. An example can be seen in the doctoral dissertation Revelations from the Dead: Using Funeral Home Records to Help Reconstruct the History of Black Toledo by Camillia Z. Rodgers. Using statistical analysis, Rodgers uses data about individuals from funeral home records similar to Fallon & Son’s to build a profile of a community’s development between 1912-1917, adding to the historical record of an under-documented community. Although small in scope, the J.D. Fallon & Son collection likewise provides a lens with which to look closely at individual experiences, and, more comprehensively,at the customs of a Boston neighborhood in the early 20th century.

  • Shelley Barber, Outreach & Reference Specialist, John J. Burns Library


Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Boston History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment