Sunday, March 31, 2013

Boston's Film Debut: 1901-1905

I just wanted to share this link to four short films made in Boston at the very start of the 20th century, courtesy of the Boston Public Library. The quality isn't good, but then again it comes from the start of the cinema era. Enjoy.

Boston's first movies.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Telegraph Hill

"View of Boston from Telegraph Hill, South Boston" by Bernard Spindler, 1854.

George Washington famously brought cannon to bear on occupied Boston from Dorchester Heights, and forced the British to evacuate the town.  In the early years of the 19th century, what had been Dorchester land was annexe to Boston, and the district of South Boston came into being. Dorchester Heights, so called, was a pair of adjacent hills,

Dorchester Heights, 1806. The left of the two adjacent hills became Telegraph hill.

This 1839 map (turned 90 degrees from normal orientation) shows Telegraph street, showing the earliest example of the name I can find.

When I decided to write a post about Telegraph hill, I assumed there would be a source giving the origin of the name.  In fact, there is no source I can find that gives the history of the name. Rather, the story comes roundabout from multiple sources. And like all such inventions, many people in many places contributed to what is now called a the telegraph. For our story, we can begin in France, where Claude Chappe developed a semaphore system in 1792 that eventually spread from city to city across the nation. Signals were sent by manipulating two flexing arms that could represent 196 characters. The arms were placed on towers in sight of each other, and could relay messages much faster than a man could travel.

Claude Chappe's telegraphe. Jonathan Grout's mechanism would have looked similar.

In 1801, Jonathan Grout, a Massachusetts, built the first such optical telegraph system in the United States, spanning 70 miles between Boston and Martha's Vineyard, to serve the commercial shipping business. Mechanisms similar to that used in France were built on hills running down the South Shore of Massachusetts and across Cape Cod to Woods Hole. Little is available on the actual system used, but apparently it differed somewhat from Claude Chappe's original design. Grout used the name telegraphe, so he must have known of the Frenchman's work.

Grout's system was not a money-maker, and went out of business by 1807. In 1822, John Rowe set up a similar system in Boston harbor, which remained in operation until the 1850s. The problem is that there is no reference I can find to the use of Dorchester heights in either Grout's or Rowe's system, although it certainly must have been so. There is a reference to Rowe's signals being transmitted from Boston to a harbor island, and from there to Hull, but I cannot find South Boston's Telegraph hill in any of the sources that are online. And unfortunately, the older books that may contain such citations are hidden away in libraries.

Of course, Boston has a place in the history of the electric telegraph as well, but that is a story for another blog post.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Old Girl's Trade High School

The Students of Girl's Trade High School, circa 1914 (all photos, taken from glass slides, courtesy of the City of Boston Archive).

In a previous entry, I posted a photo of Girl's Trade High School on Hemenway street.  At the time, I didn't know that Girl's Trade had an earlier home in the South End. Although the school may have had a still earlier home, I suspect that Girl's Trade started its life in the former Academy of the Sacred Heart on Chester Square.

Academy of the Sacred Heart, 1888. The name of the street was, from the Harvard bridge, West Chester Park, Chester Park, Chester Square, and East Chester Park to Edward Everett Square. In 1894, the name was changed to Massachusetts avenue throughout.

The Academy of the Sacred Heart was a Catholic school for girls, first located in Boston's South End. Wikipedia says it was founded in 1880, but an 1883 map doesn't show it present at the Massachusetts avenue site. The school moved to Commonwealth avenue, and then to Newton, where it continues today as the Newton Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. 

Girl's Trade High School, 1928.The school has expanded into two adjacent buildings.

The city of Boston took over the property, and kept its use as a girl's school, in this case the Trade School for Girls. The city bought the two adjacent buildings as well, and expanded the school into them. 

Working out in the gymnasium.

I particularly like this photo, because it shows what I imagine would have been the chapel of the Sacred Heart school. I assume this was the back of the building that extended behind the Puritan Theatre, as shown in the map directly above.

A future draper, working on a dress.

The caption for this tinted photo describes this girl as doing draper's work. A draper was the highest level of dressmaker, working to fit the individual as she assembled the dress, rather than working for measurements. This would have been high end work, so these girls were not all being prepared for low-income drudge work. 

A costume design student sketching at the blackboard.

Apparently, senior students could study costume design and do real creative work. I love that hat.

Evening class students making themselves dresses.

In the early years of the 20th century, Boston had many evening school programs. Some were for young people who had to work during the day, and others must have been for adults. We can see we're in one of the bow-front rooms that can be seen in the first photo above. And of course we can also see that this school was integrated. Most of the day students shown in the photos are white, so this may have been particular to the evening school. 

Learning to use stitching machines.

This scene is more like what I'd expect out of a trade school - learning to use machinery to do factory work. Or course the factories may have been quite small, and the girls could have worked doing alterations, or even started their own businesses. I've seen quite a few listings for dressmakers that were located in private homes.

Addendum: I just stumbled on this video from a 1911 short film showing the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, and it immediately reminded me of the photos above.