Odds’n’Ends in the Healey Archives



MiMi Yeh

UMass Boston’s Healey Library was fortunate enough to receive a 700-piece collection of pottery from the Larsen family. UMB is also home to Dorchester Pottery Works, acquired in the 1980s. The pieces include pitchers, cups, and serving plates that look no different than contemporary tableware available at Crate & Barrel. Most of the pieces are done in blue and white with the traditional New England motifs of pinecones, ships, and scrolls. The whole display amounts to four cases, showing selected pieces from an enormous collection that has been photographed in its entirety. Some pieces will be auctioned off to help pay for the maintenance of the rest of the donation.

However, half the fun I had was not just in looking at the pottery but the rest of the special collections. It’s not a place often visited by students. Most people who do walk in have specific requests. None of these materials, ranging from a letter of receipt from Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, to the pictures of Vietnam War reporter Gloria Emerson, may be checked out. But you are allowed to handle them within the confines of the Special Collections Room, located on the fifth floor of Healey Library. Also available for perusal are records of Dorchester, the South End, and Jamaica Plain, demonstrating the changing urban landscape of Boston.

Unfortunately, the budget for this rarely visited but highly prized room is slight. Restoration alone can run into the thousands for a single rare book. The various odds and ends are kept in a dusty room off to the side, which is a shame considering the wealth of information available to the curious.

The archives house an extensive history on the welfare movement in Boston, dating back to the mid- to late-1800s. One can track the blossoming of an ideology of entitlement to a decent standard of living in sorting through the records of an old girl’s school. Besides information on charitable organizations, it is also home to extensive data on the Vietnam War, with photographs, films, and prints, as well as documents, the archives also curate on behalf of the William Joiner Center.

The fine print ephemera tends to be eclectic, including the works of Jakob Wasserman and Anais Nin’s poetry and nearly 70 years’ and 4,000 songs’ worth of sheet music from the days of Tin Pan Alley. Also kept within Healey are the photographs of Lotti Jacobi, a Prussian photographer who fled WWII Germany, who has such famous faces to her credit as physicist Albert Einstein, artist Marc Chagall, and writer Theodore Dreiser.

Yet, there is also a place for the mundane. Whether it’s the speeches from 1975 or even a yearbook from the previous decade, it is all treated with the same respect. Archivist Dale Freeman was kind enough to show me around the collections, pointing out bits and pieces that belonged to familiar historical figures. Hard to believe its been sitting here all along and I’ve only just had a chance to visit it now. The UMass Boston Archives are open 9am-5pm, Monday thru Friday.