Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Slavery in Massachusetts, and Afterwards

In this time of national introspection about prejudice against people of color, perhaps this is a time to revisit the history of slavery in colonial New England, and its aftermath. Massachusetts was the first British colony to legalize slavery. The year 1641 saw the passing of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. This set of 98 rules established rules of law governing how men, women, children and servants had essential rights. Rule 91 stated that there shall never be slavery, serfdom or captivity "... unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us."

And there it was: strangers sold to us could be owned as slaves. And de facto, their children.

Prior to 1641 there had been a handful of slaves owned by colonists. In colonial Massachusetts the real impetus for this part of the Body of Liberties document was wars with Native Americans. The colonists did not want to free their prisoners of war, but could not decide what to do with them. The decision was reached to sell them into slavery in the Caribbean colonies. Returning ships started bring back a few Negro slaves as cargo.

Slavery never took hold in the northern colonies as it did in the southern colonies mostly because there were no labor-intensive cash crops - no tobacco, indigo, rice or cotton. Instead, northern slaves were primarily prestige property for the upper class, especially for wealthy men who did not intend to have themselves or their wives do much physical labor about home and farm.  

These ministers, lawyers, doctors, judges and military officers typically owned one to three slaves. Increase Mather, President of Harvard College, owned slaves, as did his minister son, Cotton Mather, author of Rules for the Society of Negroes, and The Negro Christianized.   

By the numbers: 550 adult slaves in Massachusetts by 1708 grew to 2,720 in the town-by-town slave census conducted in 1754 (an undercount, as children under 16 were not included). This was a bit more than one percent of the total population, but heavily skewed toward higher percentages in Boston and coastal cities. For example, Boston was ten percent Negro in 1754 (counting both slaves and free). In that same census year Concord was recorded as having 15 adult slaves, Sudbury 14, Acton 1 and Stow none. Maynard did not yet exist.

The end of slavery in Massachusetts was hastened by the Revolutionary War. Many Loyalists fled to British-controlled territory, often abandoning their slaves. The Continental Army under the command of George Washington (slave owner), initially opposed enrolling any Negro men, but changed this edict in 1776. Slave owners received a cash compensation for any slave freed to serve in the Army. Massachusetts was the first of the newly forming states to end slavery. With the war still raging, Massachusetts passed a state constitution in 1780. Key wording: "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness."

The State legislature may not have intended this to mean the end of slavery; draft versions proposed in 1777 and 1778 had been clear that slavery would continue. But the 1780 wording was what became law. The right to vote in state elections was gained a year later, after black businessmen pointed out that “no taxation without representation” applied to them, too. The first United States census, conducted in 1790, reported no slaves in Massachusetts and a population of 5,463 people who were not white, out of a total of 378,787, or 1.4 percent. [Present-day, Black, 7.0 to 9.0 percent (conflicting reports) for the state, under two percent for Maynard, under one percent for Stow.]

Lucy Chester (1774-1849), daughter of Cate and Prince, is
buried in the north Boxborough cemetery. Her parents are
thought to have been buried in a different Boxborough
cemetery, but the markers and records no longer exist.
Free was not equal, neither legally nor economically. Freed slaves often continued to work in the households where they had been owned, basically accepting room and board in return for labor. Their children were unlikely to attend school, and once reaching adolescence, were often indentured until they were 21 years old. The book “Black Walden” describes the lives of former slaves and their children in Concord. Marginalized to poor-quality land in Walden Woods and elsewhere, succumbing to poor nutrition, disease and prejudice, former slaves died, their children too, or else moved to cities where there were larger populations of Black families. By 1880 there were no descendants remaining in Concord from the several score who had lived there as slaves and descendants of slaves. Concord’s “whitewashed” official history had become descriptions of white revolutionaries, authors and abolitionists.

The first mention of an African American living in Maynard is a photo caption in the Maynard Historical Society archive identifying John Adams as a chauffeur for Dr. Frank Rich, circa 1910. There is no mention of whether he lived on the Rich family property or elsewhere, or if he had a family. In Stow, on land that later became part of Boxboro, a woman named Cate was owned from around 1750 to 1772, when at age 31, she was declared free by her owner, Phineas Taylor. Cate married Prince Chester, also a freed slave, from Lexington. Their descendants include Chesters and Hazards, in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - All Things DEC

On June 17, 7-8:30 p.m., I will be presenting an on-line talk titled “All Things DEC.” The talk’s description: “Digital Equipment Corporation (digital, DEC) had a glorious arc that started with some rented space in the mill complex in 1957, furnished with office furniture bought on credit from Gruber Bros. Furniture, then rising to make Maynard the "Minicomputer capital of the world," as a multi-billion dollar company second only to IBM. Mark's talk, with many images from the archives of the Maynard Historical Society, will span the origin, rise, peak and decline of DEC. He will touch on the work experience of women at DEC, and the company's commitment to diversity training.” Registration (free) is at the Maynard Public Library website, under Virtual Events. Refreshments will not be served.

With a bit of luck, AltaVista could have been Google.
After ten years of NOT writing about DEC, a company that was headquartered in Maynard for 41 years, and at its peak employed thousands of people in Maynard (a fraction of the 100,000+ employed worldwide), I finally started a series of articles about DEC in November 2019, with an origin story. All this stretched to a tenth article in March 2020, about DEC’s approach to anti-discrimination and diversity training. In between, the columns (all posted at covered not just the rise, peak and fall, but also DEC’s faltering and flawed efforts to be in the minicomputer business, and then the impact on Maynard once DEC was gone.

DEC’s demise was not unique. The myth is that DEC missed the advent of mini-computers because of president Ken Olsen’s blind spot, but in reality, there were multiple, major, corporate missteps. And not just at DEC. Just in the greater Boston area Data General, Wang Laboratories, Prime Computer, Lotus Development Corporation and Apollo Computer faded, and either folded or were acquired. 

This trend of short corporate lifespan actually continues today and extends beyond tech. An interesting report by Innosight [] observed that the average lifespan of large companies has been declining for decades, either because they lose to the competition (Monster, Yahoo) or are acquired by larger companies (Monsanto, Aetna, Time-Warner). Locally, our example is Acacia Communications, headquartered in Maynard’s mill complex (!), which started in 2009 with about the same building space as did DEC back in 1957, expanded, expanded more, went public in 2016 with a valuation of several billion dollars – and then was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2019, a deal that will be completed in 2020. What the future holds for the mill complex’s largest tenant is unknown. Will it grow in place, or will Cisco force a relocation?

For most of its history, Maynard has been a company town, in the sense that its survival and prosperity depended almost entirely on one company. From 1847 to 1950, that was wool. A period of diversification began in 1953 when the empty mill complex was bought and repurposed as Maynard Industry Incorporated, with dozens of industry and office space tenants. DEC started renting space in 1957, expanded over the years, until buying the complex in 1974, reverting Maynard to a one-company town again. DEC closed operations in the mill complex in 1993, then the Parker Street complex and the corporate headquarters on Powdermill Road in the years following. At the mill complex, Wellesley Rosemont (Clock Tower Place; 1998-2015) reverted to the practice of multiple clients, which carried over to current-day, Mill & Main operations. Looking forward, the Town of Maynard hopes to sustain the idea of being a commercially diversified community rather than hitch its wagon to one star. But it would still be helpful if the mill complex was 100 percent rented.   

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Swimming Pools

Using Google Maps aerial view, 141 swimming pools were counted in Maynard, a mix of above-ground (round) and in-ground (not round) pools. Assuming a few were missed, let’s call it 150 swimming pools. Equals 3% of Maynard's 5,000 housing units (includes homes, condos and apartments).

Swimming pool on the Titanic. Filled, would have been seven feet deep. Note
electric light bulbs. Men, women and children had separate hours. The ship
 also had a gymnasium that included rowing machines and stationarybicycles.
The very idea of a privately owned swimming pool is a relatively recent concept. For that matter, recreational swimming is a relatively recent concept. Wealthy people did not own pools, first, because rich people didn’t do that (swim), and second, because there was no pool water filtration technology. The lower classes did start taking trains or buses to beaches. Summers, the Maynard-based Lovell Bus Line (1923-1953) had a route to Revere Beach that was $1.25 round trip.

Municipal pools were built by cities to provide a safe place for people to swim. One account has it that the first public pool in the United States was in Brookline, in 1887. [England had already had pools for decades, and swimming competitions.] By the turn of the century, many U.S. cities had large outdoor and indoor pools. Hotels began to construct pools. The Titanic had a heated, saltwater, swimming pool, 30 x 14 feet, for use by first class passengers only. [It also had a gymnasium with rowing machines and exercise bicycles - separate hours for men and women.]

Not until after World War II did pool technology improve to the point that the middle class could aspire to having a home pool. One interesting catalyst for increased interest in having a pool is that starting for WWII, the U.S. Army and Navy incorporating swimming into basic training. Men were coming home from the war wanting homes, and in many instances, home with pools. A recent article in the New York Times estimated that in 1949, approximately 10,000 American homes had pools, a number that ten years later has grown to 250,000, and by today, more than 10 million. The majority of Maynard’s pools are in post-WWII developments that have larger lot sizes than the old factory-era properties. There are only three (above-ground) pools in the Presidential Village district.     

Bathing attire changed with the times. In England, until around 1900, there were separate beaches for men and women. Against vigorous protests, the practice of men swimming in the nude was banned in 1860. First, it was a requirement for wool shorts, a style that lengthened over time to knee-length. Next, wool shirts became required wear – initially long-sleeved, in time shortening to short-sleeved and then sleeveless. Coloring was mostly black or else horizontally striped. In both England and in the United States, it was illegal for men to expose their chests. Only in the 1930s did men start to go topless!    

Annette Kellermann, famous early
20th century swimmer, in swimsuit
of her own design, novel for the time.
Women’s bathing attire was designed to cover the entire body. During the 1800s, women wore long dresses or bathing gowns made of fabric that did not become transparent when wet, meaning wool or flannel. Design was basically a dress to the knees, over loose-fitting trousers, over leggings. Women would sew weights into the hem of the gowns to prevent their dress from floating up. A radical change took place on the turn of the century. Annette Kellermann, a young Australian woman, had taken up swimming as a child as physical therapy. She became a professional swimmer, doing swimming and high-dive exhibitions, swim races, and appearing in silent films of the era. In The Mermaid (1911), she was the first actress to wear a swimmable mermaid costume – of her own design.

More germane to women’s swimwear in general, Kellermann designed and wore a form-fitting, one-piece swimsuit. In 1907, preparing for a promotional coast swim, Annette Kellerman was arrested at Revere Beach for indecent attire. She argued before the judge that her swimsuit was practical, not provocative. She said that “…swimming in a Victorian swimsuit with its ‘shoes, stockings, bloomers, skirts, corsets and a dinky little cap,’ made as much sense as ‘swimming in lead chains.’” The case was dismissed, and her swimsuit became popular as "the Annette Kellerman". When female swimming was introduced as the 1912 Summer Olympics, all the women were wearing suits similar to Kellermann’s design.

Maynard, MA swimming program, Hansen's Beach, Stow, MA. Photo by
Samuel Micciche, 1954 (courtesy of Maynard Historical Society)
Competitive swimming went through a singular “not invented here” moment in 1844. British swimmers were competing using the breaststroke combined with a frog-like kicking motion. Two Ojibwe Native Americans were brought to London by the Swimming Society. Their swimming style, described as flailing at the water with arms in a windmill-like fashion and violently kicking feet, was much faster than anything the English managed. They were thanked, sent home, and the British continued with the non-splashing breaststroke. Not until decades later did Englishman J. Arthur Trudgen and Australian Frederick Cavill separately observe native swimmers elsewhere in the Americas and in the Pacific islands, and then copied and taught the much faster overhand stroke and flutter kick that came be known as the “Australian crawl.”

Aside from private pools, there was a time when Maynard provided children’s swimming lessons at Hansen's Beach, Lake Boon. Samuel Rosario Micciche (1915-2003), owner of Samuel’s Studio (photography), took several photos at Hansen’s Beach the summer of 1954. These are in the collection of the Maynard Historical society.