The Vietnam War at the Burns Library: The Tip O’Neill Congressional Archives

Another Mother for Peace

“Another Mother for Peace.” Complimentary close from a letter from Pat Eden to Tip O’Neill, February 28, 1973. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA.2009.001) Box 300, Folder 3.

Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. (1912-1994) served as a Representative for Massachusetts’s Congressional delegation from 1953-1987, including ten years as Speaker of the House (1977-1987). He was also a Boston College alumnus (’36). O’Neill donated his Congressional papers to Boston College in 1988. The collection, which sprawls across 428 linear feet of shelf space, includes not only legislative memos and drafts, but also photographs, news clippings, plaques, trophies, and a collection of donkey-themed bric-a-brac. It also contains many letters from constituents. During O’Neill’s decades-long Congressional tenure, some of the defining events of the American post-war period occurred, including President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Watergate, but no single event cast its shadow over the midcentury American political landscape quite like the Vietnam War. The highly controversial conflict in Indochina inspired seven boxes of correspondence from Massachusetts residents eager to express their opinions on the war and Tip’s stance on it. Arranged chronologically, the Vietnam subject files form a record of civic participation in the political process.

O'Neill Card 001

This design appears on many cards O’Neill received regarding the war; this example is  from a card sent by Darryl and Irene Baskin, September 1967. Box 297, Folder 2. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA.2009.001).

Readers familiar with O’Neill’s strong opposition to the war in later years may be surprised to learn that he shifted to an anti-war position in late 1967. Prior to that, O’Neill’s stance was decidedly more equivocal. He sometimes hedged his responses to his constituents’ anti-war letters, expressing concern while also refusing to take a definite stand: “I know of no American who is at ease with the thought of wars, but I know of no American who would willingly yield to Communist aggression. It is my firm belief that we must stand strongly behind our President who alone bears the awesome task of protecting our freedom.” O’Neill’s attempts to navigate the controversy surrounding the war could sometimes embroil him in difficulties.On January 7, 1966, he spoke at a rally in support of U.S. policy in Vietnam in the Massachusetts State House. Organizer Larry Straw wrote him a thank-you letter in which he hoped that “news of these rallies will reach the President and give him strength to make the necessary policies to see that freedom prevails in South Viet Nam.” However, many more letters took umbrage to one particular quote that O’Neill delivered at that rally, as reported by the Boston Herald: “I believe in academic freedom, but not as it is expounded by kooks and commies and egghead professors.” This remark would return to haunt him as multiple letters quoted it in outrage at its characterization of dissenters from official policy. O’Neill’s letters to President Johnson around this time reveal how beleaguered he felt by the barrage of anti-war activity. He informed Johnson on July 18, 1967, “I found the climate of my own District changing rapidly with reference to Vietnam,” adding a note of surprise that the 3,000 attendees of a recent Cambridge Peace Fair “were mainly from a solid middle class social and economic status and there was no evidence of the youthful agitators [he] had expected.” A year and a half after his controversial remark, he found the growing crowds of dissenters harder to dismiss.

Two months after sending that letter to Johnson, O’Neill officially repudiated his earlier support for the President’s war efforts. The September 1967 edition of his newsletter to his constituents, Report from Washington, opens with an essay, “Vietnam: Solution or Stalemate?” in which O’Neill reverses years of his defensive posturing on the issue:


A constituent who regularly corresponded with O’Neill sent his Vietnam newsletter back to him with approving annotations. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001) Box 297, Folder 2.

“By August of this year, more than 12,000 young Americans had been killed and 75,000 had been wounded in an exotic land 8,000 miles from home… As a citizen, Congressman, and father, I cannot help but wonder whether this may not be too high a price to pay for an obscure and limited objective. Nor am I alone in my doubts over the growing U.S. involvement in an inherently civil conflict. Judging from the thousands of letters I have received in the past few months, the great majority of you are also upset by the specter of further escalation and an ever-widening war…”

The “thousands of letters” O’Neill received regarding the war up to that date were a trickle compared to the deluge of communication, expressing both support and condemnation, that followed this announcement. The September 1967 letters directly responding to that newsletter occupy two folders in the collection: “Opposition” and “Support.” To give some quantifiable idea of the relative volume of correspondence in each category, I weighed the respective files. The “Opposition” file comes to six ounces; the “Support” file, almost exactly two and a half pounds, or six and two-thirds times greater than the opposition. Both sides invoke the dead. In the “Opposition” file, one constituent writes, “I spent ten months, six of which were in the ‘field,’ the rest in so-called safe areas. Five of my friends died there, two directly for me. I would be very dismayed if we were to halt the bombing of North Viet Nam.” In the “Support” file, another writes, “I have known four boys so far that have been killed in Vietnam and they have ranged from the ages of 19 to 21. It seems now that the parents of this country raise children to have them killed.”

Image of a telegram to Tip O'Neill

Many constituents contacted O’Neill via telegram. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001) Box 298, Folder 3. [Note: Address redacted.]

Tip O’Neill’s position shifted at a time when public opinion as a whole tilted further away from supporting the United States’ involvement in the ongoing conflict. Further developments as the war progressed continued to trigger surges of letters from constituents, up to and even after the war’s termination in 1973. I will explore what the O’Neill Papers contain regarding these developments in my next post.

  • Eric Pencek, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & PhD Candidate in the English Department

Works Consulted

Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Papers (CA2009.001), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

  • “400 at Rally Here Back Viet Policy.” Boston Herald, January 8, 1966. Box 296, Folder 2.
  • MacLeod, Stanley. Letter to Tip O’Neill. September 6, 1967. Box 297, Folder 1.
  • Murphy, Mary. Letter to Tip O’Neill. September 5, 1967. Box 297, Folder 2.
  • O’Neill, Tip. Letter to Irene J. Westing, January 6, 1966. Box 296, Folder 2.
  • —. Letter to Larry Straw, January 18, 1966. Box 296, Folder 3.
  • —. Letter to Lyndon B. Johnson, July 18, 1967. Box 296, Folder 8.
  • —. “Vietnam: Solution or Stalemate?” Report from Washington, September 12, 1967.
  • Straw, Larry. Letter to Tip O’Neill, January 8, 1966. Box 296, Folder 3.
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Jane Jacobs Exhibition Explores BC’s Connections to Famed Urban Theorist and Activist

Jane Jacobs would have turned 101 today. She died just short of her 90th birthday following tours for her last book, Dark Age Ahead. Yet, as a letter on exhibit from her archives at Burns Library indicates, she had plans for at least two more books.


Jane Jacobs letter to editor David Ebershoff (11/26/2003) with ideas for her next book. Jane Jacobs Papers (MS.1995.029), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Jacobs had a hard time letting go of her Remington typewriter, even after suffering a stroke and broken hip. And the world, it seems, just won’t let go of her. Or is it that her ideas about what makes cities successful and economies work won’t let go of us?


Poster for Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, released on April 21, 2017

On April 21, 2017, Altimeter Films/Sundance Selects released Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a documentary that revisits the successful protests that Jacobs organized against New York City “master builder” Robert Moses and his efforts during the 1960s to replace older neighborhoods like Jacobs’s own Greenwich Village with multi-lane expressways and cookie-cutter high-rise apartments. Their legendary struggle will also be memorialized on Times Square billboards every night during the month of May with animations from Joshua Frankel’s forthcoming multimedia opera (yes, opera) A Marvelous Order, I LIVE HERE.

While the visual arts community continues to draw the world’s attention back to the David- vs.-Goliath showdown that played out on sidewalks and parks of Lower Manhattan, a far-flung network of Jacobs enthusiasts have been spawning “Jane’s Walks” around the world since 2007. The idea is to encourage people to become more familiar with each other and the streets where they live by walking and talking about them together. The Boston Globe has reported on several walks scheduled in the Boston neighborhoods of Roslindale and West Roxbury as well as surrounding cities.


Cover of Ethics in Making a Living: The Jane Jacobs Conference, proceedings of the 1987 BC symposium.

In Burns Library, we are running an exhibition on Jacobs that explores her close ties to Boston College and the ways these connections shaped her later writings. It opened on April 10, 2017 to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Jacobs’s first visit to campus to participate in a symposium devoted to her work. Jacobs gave a pair of talks on “Systems of Economic Ethics” that she subsequently reworked into her 1992 book Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics, thanks in part to her continued engagement with several BC faculty and students.

Jacobs returned to the Heights several times during the next several years, the last for a November 2000 symposium “Jane Jacobs & The New Urban Ecology,” organized by the Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review.

Jane Jacobs exhibit - Burns Library - Case 2 - 03

Photo of Burns Library exhibit, showing section devoted to Jacobs’s activism

Our exhibition documents Jacob’s involvement with Boston College, the influence it had on her, and her impacts on our community. It is based on our extensive collection of her personal papers, which she began transferring to Burns Library in 1995. It focuses on the evolution and publication of Systems of Survival and Dark Age Ahead two key works in the Jacobs canon in which she outlines the ethical underpinnings of economic systems and how they shape societies. It also includes an overview of Jacobs’s careers as a journalist, activist, and writer. A concluding section contrasts the effects of urban renewal on Boston’s West End and neighborhood revitalization in its North End, illustrating the divergent outcomes Jacobs envisioned in her pioneering study The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It also highlights how BC’s PULSE Program and social enterprise agencies like Boston’s Haley House can embody the principles and values that surface in Jacobs’s writings.

Dark Age Ahead or Systems of Survival? Jane Jacobs and the Ethics of Economies” will remain on display in Burns Library through June 23, 2017. Check the hours and contact/directions pages on our website for details. We’re giving away buttons, bookmarks, posters, and even books, so come by for a visit and find out why Jacobs continues to have such a hold on us you won’t want to let her go!

  • Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian & Associate University Librarian, John J. Burns Library

Related Resources:

  • Read a review of the exhibition in the April 26 edition of The Heights, Boston College’s student newspaper.
  • A finding aid for the Jane Jacob’s Papers in Burns Library may be downloaded from our online catalog. The collection is open and available for research. Please contact our reference staff for assistance by writing or calling our reading room at 617-552-6489.
  • For further background on Jacob’s visits to Boston College, read the articles that appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Boston College Magazine and the Carroll Connection, an online publication of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.
  • Ethics in Making a Living: The Jane Jacobs Conference, proceedings of the 1987 BC symposium.


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A Programmed History of Boston College’s Theater

One aspect of Boston College’s Robsham Theater Arts Center stands out above the rest: its windows. The lure of its elongated mirrors is too great to resist, reflecting both banners of previous productions and the people who walk by the building. Windows like these are built to display the surroundings and to broadcast the breadth of BC dramatic arts from the interior.

These windows have not always boasted years of dramatic success. Robsham and the BC Theatre Department are relatively new, with the former not completed until 1981 and the latter absent before 1993. Despite the lack of a theatre department, BC has had a strong dramatic tradition since its early days. Fortunately, we can trace its history through the programs and other materials held in the University Archives at the Burns Library.

Joseph and His Brethren cast sheet

Joseph and His Brethren, performed in 1865. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 11. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Without a theatre department, the dramatic arts were in the custody of passionate students who established the Dramatics Society (DS) two years after Boston College opened in 1864. DS was the theater-producing arm of BC for nearly 130 years. At its inception, it emphasized classical playwrights, running a single production each year along with annual stage-readings of Shakespeare.

Because BC was an all-male institution back then, female roles posed a tricky problem. Interestingly enough, DS decided that rather than have males play female roles, they would simply omit the female characters. While this was a convenient solution that worked for almost 50 years, Macbeth is a very different story without the overwhelming dominance of Lady Macbeth.


Cast of Macbeth, 1892. Note the absence of both Lady Macbeth and Lady MacDuff in the credits. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 13. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

As BC theater evolved into more complex productions, the programs become thicker, more informative, and increasingly professional. Indeed, the programs of the early 1900s could be mistaken for those of a much longer established theatre company.

It is around this time that women were introduced into the scene. Although DS still performed with a male-only cast until the mid-1900s (with males finally starting to play female characters in 1904), the Boston College Philomatheia Club – Boston College’s female fundraising club – worked with professors and DS to produce musicals. These musicals often had a female lead or an exaggerated number of female characters. BC was not fully coeducational until the 1970s, but women had begun to make their mark on BC through the dramatic arts.


Portrait of Florence Martin, Peg in the 1915 production of Peg O’ My Heart. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 15. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Although interest in campus theatrics declined during and after World War I, it was revitalized in the 1930s by John Louis Bonn, SJ. Bonn acted as both director and moderator of DS for over 20 years, as he oversaw both the individual productions and the everyday operations of the club. His passion for theater carried DS through the hardships of World War II, inspired future celebrities such as Leonard Nimoy and Ed McMahon, and founded the Summer School of Dramatic Arts and other programs. In BC theater, Bonn is a person of legend; the Bonn Studio, a black box theater in the Robsham Theater Arts Center, is named and dedicated in his honor.


Portrait of John Louis Bonn, SJ in program for Second Spring, 1939—a show moderated by Bonn. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 18. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Although Bonn increased the standards of BC theater, BC performers were still without a performance space. DS held their shows anywhere they could. However, the venues – such as Boston’s Repertory Theater or Boston College’s lecture halls and lawn – often left performances cramped or rushed for time.


Ticket for the ‘Open Air Production’ of The Comedy of Errors, performed on Bapst Lawn in 1920. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 15. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The need for a theater was great. Luckily, BC had professors Joseph M. Larkin, SJ and J. P. Marcoux to spearhead the campaign for a highly technical, professional theater. Larkin and Marcoux petitioned the administration, designed the entire theater, and solicited funds for its construction. What is now the Robsham Theater Arts Center opened in 1981 after less than 2 years of construction: the dream of over 100 years of theater at Boston College realized.


The front and back of an advertisement for the new Boston College Theater Arts Center. This space was named “Robsham” in 1985 in honor of the deceased son of E. Paul and Joyce Robsham, major benefactors of the Theater’s construction. Student Organizations, Box 1, Folder 27. University Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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Joachim Bouvet: the History of Cang-Hi, the Present Emperor of China

engraving of Joachim Bouvet, SJ

Joachim Bouvet, SJ, from Bouvet’s French history about Kangxi / Cang-hy and contained in Du Halde’s French encyclopaedia.

Joachim Bouvet was born in Le Mans, France, on July 18, 1656. In 1673, he entered the Society of Jesus in hopes going on a China mission. His wish was granted when King Louis XIV sent him and five other Jesuits to Beijing in 1685. The Cang-Hi Emperor welcomed the Jesuits and Bouvet, along with a fellow Jesuit, Jean-Francois Gerbillion, remained in the imperial court and taught European sciences. In 1679, the Cang-Hi Emperor sent Father Bouvet back to France with a gift of forty-nine Chinese volumes for King Louis XIV and to retrieve new missionaries. During his time back in France, Bouvet published two works about China, one of which is The History of Cang-Hi, the Present Emperor of China, held by Burns Library in the Jesuitica Collection. Father Bouvet returned to China in 1699 with ten new missionaries and a collection of engravings from King Louis XIV for the Cang-Hi Emperor. Father Bouvet became the interpreter to Cang-Hi Emperor’s son, the heir-apparent. Bouvet would stay in China until his death on June 28, 1730.

Title Page of History of Cang-Hy

Title Page. Bouvet, Joachim. History of Cang-Hy the present emperor of China. London : Printed for F. Coggan, 1699

Bouvet composed The History of Cang-Hi, the Present Emperor of China to King Louis XIV shortly after he returned to France from China. In the letter, Bouvet describes his experiences in China in detail, focusing on his interactions with the Emperor, Cang-Hi. He describes the Emperor as, “Well-proportioned in his limbs, and pretty tall, the features of his face very exact, with a large and brisk eye. He is a little crooked nosed, and pitted with the small-pox, but not so as to be in the least disfigured by them”. Bouvet greatly praises the Cang-Hi Emperor’s intelligence, stating that, “His natural genius is such as can be paralleled but by few, being endowed with a quick and piercing wit, a vast memory, and great understanding”. He also presents the Emperor as extremely capable in archery and talented in musical instruments. In his letters, Bouvet calls the Cang-Hi Emperor “the most potent Prince in the World,” and “a declared Enemy of a Lazy and Idle Life, for he never go’s (sic) to bed but very late, and rises early.” During his contact with the Emperor, Bouvet also developed great respect for the Emperor’s sons, brothers, and court officials.

The Cang-Hi Emperor believed a strong education to be crucial for a successful kingdom and sought out ways to increase his own knowledge in hopes that his subjects would follow his example.  In his letter, Bouvet recounts how he and the other Jesuits translated Euclid’s Elements of Geometry into Tartarian, which highly delighted the Cang-Hi Emperor. The Emperor then personally wrote a preface for the translated versions of the Euclid, printed a great number of them, and distributed them widely throughout China in both languages. The Emperor was also deeply fascinated with the scientific and mathematical instruments brought by Bouvet and spent a great amount of time examining their uses.

Portrait of the Kangxi Emperor in Court Dress, late Kangxi period

Portrait of the Kangxi Emperor in Court Dress, late Kangxi period

Toward the end of his letter, Bouvet compares the Cang-Hi Emperor to King Louis XIV, stating, “I will make bold to say, that in so many respects he resembles your Majesty, that like you, he would be one of  the most accomplished monarchs that ever wore a Crown.” However, in order for the present Cang-Hi Emperor to achieve the same happiness as King Louis XIV, he must “embrace the Christian Faith, and profess it with the same sincerity as you.” Because the Cang-Hi Emperor allows his subjects the freedom of religion, Bouvet is optimistic and believes that many Chinese can be converted to Christianity in a relatively short amount of time; especially if the Emperor himself becomes a Christian. Due to China’s large population, Bouvet writes, “we may promise ourselves all the hopes for success from those sent into China, which alone are more valuable than all the rest together, because they are likely to bring a greater number of infidels to the church, than may be expected from all the other parts of the world.” Bouvet appears to have enjoyed his time in China and, based on his experiences and observations, asks King Louis XIV to send him back to China with more missionaries.


The Kangxi-Emperor in armor

During his time in Beijing, China, Joachim Bouvet wrote several mathematical treatises and also served as the Chinese emperor’s envoy to France. Bouvet also made huge improvements in the field of map-making and mathematics. His efforts greatly advanced the interest of Christianity and facilitated the entrance and the labors of other missionaries.

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

Works Consulted:

Bouvet, Joachim. History of Cang-Hy the present emperor of China. London : Printed for F. Coggan, 1699

MENTAG, J. V. “Bouvet, Joachim.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2003, p. 571. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.

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Programs, Reactions, and Outcomes to the Irish Women Rising: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Ireland, 1900-1923 Exhibit at Burns Library

The acquisition of the Loretta Clarke Murray collection, a collection that provides a unique perspective on the Irish nationalist movement through the eyes and words of female activists, lent significant impetus to create an exhibit based on women’s involvement in the revolutionary period, 1900-1923. The Thomas and Kathleen Daly Clarke papers filled in the gaps with strong content on this topic and period.

Items on display reflected issues and events leading up to the Easter Rising of 1916, the ensuing Anglo-Irish War, and the Civil War that took place after the much contested 1921 Treaty with England. Some of the items on display were: a handwritten journal logging events of Easter week in Dublin, two versions of the constitution of Cumann na mBan (Irish Women’s Council), memorabilia from activist groups such as Inghinidhe na hEireann (Daughters of Ireland), and autograph books circulated by women imprisoned during the Civil War. Objects and texts gave viewers the opportunity to see through material objects how events affected the lives of so many. Several brooches—some styled after the Tara brooch, another incorporating a rifle and the abbreviation for Cumann Na mBan—added an opportunity for an intimate reflection of the events, issues, and the organizations that arose during this period of cultural and political activism. A particular highlight was a large and colorful embroidered panel featuring the Four Jewels of Ireland that was designed and executed by Maud Gonne.

Autograph book of women prisoners held in Kilmainham Jail, July-October, 1923.i

Autograph book of women prisoners held in Kilmainham Jail, July-October, 1923. Loretta Clark Murray Collection (MS.2016.016), cat. no. 18.

We also displayed an original copy of the Proclamation, on loan from The Irish National Famine Museum in Strokestown, Ireland, thanks to support from the Irish Heritage Trust.

Two events held in conjunction with the exhibit offered enhanced opportunities for understanding, adding threads of knowledge to weave a greater understanding around and through the objects on display. On November 18, collector Loretta Clarke Murray visited and was on hand for a reception co-sponsored by Burns Library and The Eire Society of Boston (below, left). The evening’s discussion, facilitated by Burns Visiting Scholar Louis de Paor and BC English professor Joe Nugent, focused on the continuing importance of the Irish language. On February 3, Lucy McDiarmid (below, right), the Marie Frazee-Baldassarre Professor of English at Montclair State University, gave a talk titled “Fairies, Rebels, and the Boundaries of the House in 1916” based on her award-winning study At Home in the Revolution: What Women Said and Did in 1916.

Burns Library has continued to reach out to interested audiences by highlighting six of the leading women of the Irish Rebellion in a series of entries on the John J. Burns Library blog. Posts have allowed us to provide more extensive information about these extraordinary women than could be contained in the exhibits panels and to reach those who cannot visit in person. These entries will also remain as an online reminder of the physical exhibit and act as advertisement for Burns Library’s Irish holdings.

The exhibit also offered students the opportunity to gain further insight into the time in Ireland’s history. At least seven classes visited the exhibit. Feedback from students and other visitors has been rich and varied.

Katherine Oksen, Burns Library student conservation assistant, helped to create mounts for items in the exhibit. Oksen wrote a blog post about her work creating supports and handling the pieces of jewelry in preparation of the exhibit, and commented:

“The opportunity to be able to work on the Irish Women Rising Exhibit was rewarding in that it took elements of events that I had been learning about in my history class and expanded on it, while simultaneously zeroing in on the people my textbooks have tended to ignore. While it would be naive to declare that I can understand exactly what these women went through, I was given a fresh set of stories and materials to at least try to. I really loved having my work and my studies complement each other.”

Catherine McKenna, the Margaret Brooks Robinson Professor of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University and department chair, brought students from her “Ireland Rising” course to see the exhibit and remarked:

“[They] couldn’t stop talking … about the dozens of interesting things they’d seen and learned. And as for me, it was a revelation—Mollie Gill, Margaret Skinnider, about whom I’d known nothing at all…”

The Boston Irish Reporter and The Heights Newspaper featured reviews of the exhibit. (See page 8)

In addition to showing previously unknown documents and artifacts associated with prominent Irish women activists, the exhibit also brought to light roles played by lesser-known women. It highlighted the significant but often overlooked contributions that hundreds of women made to Irish nationalist movements during the early decades of the twentieth century. Indeed, many members of the public enjoyed sharing compelling stories on how grandmothers, grandaunts, and other relatives participated in some way to foster the nationalist cause in this turbulent period.

Photograph of Loretta Clarke Murray

Loretta Clarke Murray , Boston College, November 2016. Photo by K. Tringale.

It is with great sadness that we must close our exhibit and blog series with a memorial tribute to our beloved collector, inspiration, and friend, Loretta Clarke Murray, who passed away yesterday as we were composing this posting. May you join in the splendor of eternal freedom the kindred spirits of the Mná na hÉireann – the Women of Ireland – whose brave struggles and strivings gained independence and human rights for your native land. May “Irish Women Rising” be your glory and ever our joyful refrain.

With admiration and affection, the staff of John J. Burns Library


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


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Edward Hartwell Savage’s Police Department Questionnaire of 1877


Number of miles of streets in your jurisdiction?

– Edward Harwell Savage, Chief of Police, Boston, Massachusetts


A Philadelphia Lawyer could hardly answer this interrogatory.

–  A. Erickson, City Marshal, Houston, Texas


Edward Hartwell Savage. Frontispiece, Police Records and Recollections, or, Boston by Daylight and Gaslight, Boston: J.P. Dale, 1873.

Edward Hartwell Savage (1812-1893) joined the Boston police in 1851, a time when officers were still called “the Watch.” Three years later, reorganization created the Boston Police Department, and Savage was promoted to captain and placed in charge of the station on Hanover Street in Boston’s North End. He knew the bustling neighborhood well, having previously worked at his brother’s North End grocery and as a “handcart man” at nearby Haymarket.

Boston’s population was growing quickly due to the annexation of adjacent cities and towns, an influx of newly arrived immigrants, and New Englanders moving from rural areas to the city in search of work. Savage’s career advanced, too: he became Boston’s Chief of Police in 1870.

In February 1877, Chief Savage sent a questionnaire to police jurisdictions across the United States and to several cities in the British Isles. The 122 responses he received are bound together in one volume at the Burns Library. They contain answers to:

  • Is your system municipal or metropolitan?
  • Number of square miles in your jurisdiction?
  • Number of miles of streets in your jurisdiction?
  • Number of the population in your jurisdiction?
  • Number of your police force in rank and file?
  • Pay of the chief of police?
  • Pay of patrolmen?
  • Average hours of patrol duty each twenty-four hours?
  • Days of vacation during the year under pay?
  • Do your officers receive their witness [court] fees?
  • Have you a mounted police? How many?
  • Do your officers wear uniforms? What color?

Scrapbook of questionnaire replies, Edward Hartwell Savage collection (MS2004.069), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Chiefs, commissioners, and superintendents of police, city marshals, sheriffs, and others signed the forms. Jurisdictions and replies varied considerably – from such diverse places as London, England and Montpellier, Vermont. They include answers to questions about demographics, work hours and compensation, and even about use of uniforms – including their color. No surprise – when departments did have them, the vast majority were shades of dark blue.

In addition to this collection of questionnaire returns, the Ellerton J, Brehaut collection of Edward Hartwell Savage papers includes other Boston Police Department records: a listing of watchmen and records of duty, 1826-1851; a listing of police officers, 1854-1878; a record book of the North End, 1854-1859; and a ledger containing the signatures of owners of lost or stolen goods recovered by the Boston Police, 1861-1875. Savage also had a great interest in the history of his city, and the collection contains personal papers and manuscripts of his two published works: A Chronological History of the Boston Watch and Police, from 1631 to 1865, and Boston Events; brief mention and the date of more than 5,000 events that transpired in Boston from 1630 to 1880, published in 1884.

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

Works consulted:

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Matrix and the Whittington Press

Long may Matrix continue to excite mind, fingertips, and eye, for it is the unique                     ability of printing to be able to appeal to and satisfy these three senses                                       simultaneously that has given Matrix such a wide variety of material to choose from             in its first five issues.

                                                                                                                              —John Randle, Matrix I

          Print is a visual music which requires a highly trained organ of sensibility.

                                                                                                                     —Richard Kennedy, Matrix I

The Whittington Press was founded in 1971 by John and Rosalind Randall. An internationally acclaimed press, Whittington prints and publishes all of its work in letterpress. They have published over 250 books as well as thirty-four issues of Matrix, a periodical of book arts that is a triumph of letterpress and fine printing in and of itself. The Burns Library holds an entire run of Matrix as part of its fine print collection. The journal is concerned with fine printing and typography and serves as an annual review for printers and bibliophiles. Beautifully crafted, each issue contains tipped in items such as paper samples, pamphlets, and illustrations, providing a tactile as well as visual reading experience.

The Whittington Press is located in Whittington, Gloucestershire, England where it holds an Open Day every year, welcoming printers, book lovers, and other interested parties to view Whittington’s three presses in action as well as vendors, published materials, and other fine-printing resources. The press’s archive, including the only complete library collection of every book the press has published, is held by the University of Minnesota Library. If you would like to see the Burns Library’s collection of Matrix journals they are available in the Reading Room. Please call (617)-552-4861 or email to schedule an appointment.

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  • Rachel A. Ernst, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & PhD candidate in the English Department
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