And We Are Around the Front!

Pillow AnchorInstall Dec.2014

Well, I am rather excited. Much of the work to the rear of the MMA Library is now completed. The chimney re-pointed, the large crack repaired, and the portion of the wall that is part of the foundation has been repaired. Today, Wayne Morris, the mason, made the large cut into the crack that runs across the north façade of the building and around the east side all the way to where the east façade meets the southern façade. Now, he will be inserting the pillow anchors and filling them with the grout. I mentioned the process in a previous post. He will not insert all of the anchors side to side but leave a space between each one that is large enough for the insertion of pillow anchors in a few days’ or a week’s time. So every other section will be blank at first. This is to make sure they set properly. Once set, he can insert the remaining anchors and fill them. He is blazing through his special wet saw blade due to the toughness and thickness of the stucco on the building. We knew this would happen based on tests – a special saw had to be purchased for this project. The photograph here shows him filling the pillow anchors – this part is easy compared to the sawing as it requires a lot of his own strength to push the saw in continually to make the cuts (exhausting and not easy).

Morris will also be pulling out the first portion of steel that sits under the windows (the lintel) – it has rusted and rotted over all these years due to water damage. He will replace the steel in portions – the entire piece cannot be removed at once or else the support of the windows will be lost. The steel was specially ordered with specific specifications, including being dipped to prevent corrosion (which the original piece had as well but that was 80 plus years ago). Morris will also place in weep holes so that if there is any water that penetrates, it will have a means of escaping so that it does not sit on the steel and rot it over time as the last piece had happen.

Stay tuned – there is more MMA Library (soon to become Ecology Lab) preservation and conservation fun to come! (Yes, this is fun – learning and fun!)


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria in her chair

Dec 16, 1870

Alfred Stone,

I have a lecture on the Seven Stars of the Great Bear, which I shall be pleased to give before your “Union.” I shall probably be in Boston from Dec 22 to Jan 3d and can come down to Providence in that time, or (what I should prefer) stop at Providence on my way to Po’keepsie, and Lecture Wednesday evening Jan 4.  I have never spoken to an audience of more than 400, and am therefore glad that your hall is a small one.

My charge to a Lyceum is $50. I charge $20 to a school, and should be glad to make some engagements in schools in and around Providence.

Maria Mitchell

My address after Dec. 21 is 81 Inman St., Cambridgeport, Mass.

Alfred Stone, a prominent architect of Providence, Rhode Island invited Maria to speak. Stone was well-known and a founding partner of his architecture firm. He designed the Providence Public Library, buildings at Brown University and the University of Rhode Island, as well as numerous private homes, in addition to quite a few other private and public buildings. Her Cambridgeport address for the school holidays was that of one of her younger sister, Phebe Mitchell Kendall, who lived in Cambridgeport with her husband Joshua and son, William Mitchell Kendall – a young man who would become an architect with McKim, Mead, and White (see an earlier post for more on WMK). Phebe Mitchell Kendall, like Maria, was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Women, serving as the head of the Dress Reform Committee at one point; was the first woman to serve on Cambridge’s School Board; and was an artist of quite some talent, once opening an art school on Nantucket.


Maria Given More “Face Time” by the NWHM


A few posts ago, I mentioned that Maria Mitchell was being honored by the National Women’s History Museum by having an award named in her honor this year. The awardee was Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician who has accomplished a great deal in her long life, including starting college at age fifteen. She is a pioneer among women and blacks in our country.

Mitchell House’s membership renewal for NWHM came across my desk today and when I opened it, I was pleased to see that a small brochure highlighting some of their awardees and other accomplished American women was included. And, as you can see, Maria Mitchell is front and center right next to Ms. Johnson. Maria was featured in a short film that the NWHM created for the award ceremony and MMA brochures went home with the hundreds of attendees at the ceremony in their gift bags. Thank you NWHM for including Maria; for honoring her and recognizing her accomplishments!


More From The Special Collections

Birds North America

While the cover of this booklet is not in wonderful shape – note the very old tape “repairs” and the further damage they have created – it is still a wonderful part of the collection with fantastic hand colored plates. It is the Birds of North America, Part 12 by Theodore Jasper, A.M., M.D. I will not go into detail – just look at the few plates I have included. They are wonderful. You don’t find this anymore.


Bird Plates

Bird Plates 2

Chamber Pot?

Chamber Pot Shards?This spring, thanks to a generous grant, we were able to replace the cedar board fence behind the Mitchell House that was in long need of replacement. It was likely from the late 1960s and did its part for a very long time. Part of the area where this fence runs was once the home of “Neighbor North” as the Peleg Mitchell Junior family called it. Neighbor North was the Mitchell family outhouse and was located in the north part of the backyard. Mary Mitchell, wife of Peleg Jr, surrounded it with nasturtiums in summer and Peleg himself planted a grape vine that grew over it (I mentioned this is a previous post).

As with any digging in the Mitchell House yard, or even a hard rain, pottery shards are often revealed and as you might know from another previous post, I love pottery shards. As you can see in this image, there is an overwhelming amount of one design of pottery and we can assume it is all from the same piece. Since it is in the area of Neighbor North, I believe this may be the remains of a chamber pot that was brought in the morning to be emptied in the outhouse but never made it back into the Mitchell House because it was dropped or accidentally shattered during the process of emptying. These are the white, blue, and brown striped shards. I have also found a straight, thick piece that could be a portion of the handle of a chamber pot. You can see other pieces too in this image. They could be chips from other chamber pots that were damaged in their emptying process or were discarded in the outhouse hole when broken. Or, simply, other pottery pieces that were tossed behind the outhouse when they were damaged beyond use or could not be made into a “make-do.” What’s a “make-do” you ask? Now that is for another blog. But keep this in mind, even the simplest and smallest piece of “trash” can tell you something about the people who came before us and what the site it is found in was used for or even the economic status of a family. A little piece of trash can be another woman’s treasure – in many ways, including knowledge!


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

1872. Nov. 4. Sorosis.

Lunch was at noon, but it was noon neither mean nor apparent {a reference to mean solar time and apparent solar time} but a Sorosis noon.

Some 100 guests arrayed themselves around tables or around the walls of the room. Mrs. Wiler presided at the central table with Miss Faithfull on her right and jenny June Croty on her left. AT the same table were Dr. Emily Blackwell, Dr. Mary Putnam and Mrs. Bullan of the Revolution . . . . A question for discussion then came up whether most good would be exerted by Sorosis if it had a special aim or aimed only at a general expression of views . . . .

Maria Mitchell was one of the founding members of SOROSIS, a woman’s group that formed in 1869 in response to female journalists being barred from a press conference and dinner held for Charles Dickens on his first trip to the United States. In response, women reporters, authors, educators, doctors, and scientists and others came together at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City, forming Sorosis where women could discuss topics of the day and further the educational and social activities of its women members and other women so that all could be helped. It was the first professional women’s club in the US. Sorosis would expand to have smaller groups around the country, including here on Nantucket, and island born women such as Anna Gardner and the Reverend Phebe Hanaford were members. Maria’s humor is readily apparent – note her beginning lines – obviously Sorosis meetings and luncheons did not start on time.


National Women’s History Museum and Maria Mitchell

Yes, in case you were not aware, there is a National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) – well, not a bricks and mortar building yet! This organization has been working diligently for many years to secure the last place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to honor American women – just as all the men folk have been honored. We tend to forget that where male history took place, there were always females too – even on the battlefield!

The NWHM has for a few years been honoring women of today in the name of women from our past. This year, Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician, is being honored in the name of Maria Mitchell! The thought behind these honors is that the women of today are standing on the shoulders of these ground-breaking women of the past. A short video is being created by the NWHM that incorporates Maria and Katherine Johnson and they are using numerous historic photographs from the collection of our archives. Take home gift bags will include a MMA brochure. The attendees are women from all walks of life here in the US – from US senators and US representative to CEOs and movie stars (Meryl Streep pledged one million dollars to the NWHM a few years ago) to business owners and even curators (though while invited, I am not going to be in attendance unfortunately).

It’s a very exciting recognition of Maria and as a Charter Member of the NWHM, the Mitchell House might have a button or two popping. So congratulations to Katherine Johnson and yeah for Maria!

To learn more about the NWHM Honors and the NWHM, please visit


Update: Conservation of the MMA Science Library Building

photo 2

And we are off! In these photographs, you see island mason Wayne Morris along with his mason tender daughter, Andrea, the engineer, the grout and pillow anchor fabricator representative, and myself (we were a crowd!) testing the pillow anchors that are inserted into the holes they sawed into the northern façade of the MMA’s Science Library building. These pillow anchors, developed by John Wathne of Structures-North, an engineer who specializes in historic buildings and who has worked on Mitchell House, will be pumped with grout to a set PSI. In one image you see one that has been filled and resembles a pill package. Those areas were where holes in a cement block existed and where the grout filled the pillow and pushed up into the voids in the block. This is what will happen to the MMA building. The pillow will expand and fill the voids in the terracotta tiles of the NatCo system that make our building’s walls. This will stabilize the walls where you see cracking. Pillow anchors are not a new thing – they are typically long and resemble a sock. But these flat, square anchors were developed by the engineer specifically for our building.

Pillow anchor

Now that the test is complete, anchors and grout are on order. Scaffolding is up around the chimney on the back of the building where the mason will be re-pointing and rebuilding the top of the chimney which vents the furnace. Then, he will move to the front of the building and replace the steel lintels under the windows, install the pillow anchors, and repair the terracotta tiles where there has been map cracking. Once this work is complete, stucco will be reapplied to fill in the openings on the face of the building, work will be completed to the gutters and downspouts, and then painting will be completed to the building. The building will also likely get darker, returning to more of a grey tone as it was when it was built. All of this exterior work has been funded by the Community Preservation Act. Stay tuned as the work progresses!


Filling Pillow Anchor

Putting grout into machine.JNLF and Cintec Rep




Toys blog

The plastic orange duck you see here is approximately forty-one years old. Yes, I just gave away my age. That plastic duck, made in Germany and speaking very much of the age it was created in both design and color, was mine. Then, it was my brother’s. Then, it was used by my dolls, including my beloved Rub-a-Dub (she could go in the tub! And my Rub-a-Dub had a curl on the top of her washable hair – not many did). Then, that same duck was used by my niece and nephew when they were babies and spending time with Nana and Grandpa. And now?  Well, now it is just about my son’s favorite baby toy. Who would have thought? It is a rattle as well – it has a small bead or two inside and it makes a very soft but pleasant sound. It also gives him some places to rub his itchy gums on – he is teething in a most serious manner . . . we still await teeth after at least two months of teething.

Toys have not changed too much since Maria’s day. Yes, there are entirely too many, they are unfortunately heavily made of plastic, they are brightly colored. But, there were rattles and teethers, dolls and stuffed animals, tea sets and dollhouses, toy soldiers and tin horses. Granted, Quaker toys were far simpler than toys of non-Quakers but they all had a purpose for life stages of infants and children, helping them advance, to get through teething, to remain quiet at meeting or while mother was busy, and teaching children how to be proper adults. Well, my duck did not help me to be a proper adult but it did occupy me quietly for a time as it now does my son and provided me with something to chew upon.

Mitchell House has a small but wonderful assortment of mid to late nineteenth century toys. Once piece in the collection is this tin horse made by Peleg Mitchell Jr’s tinsmith partner, James Austin, for his grandchildren. Its tin tail may have at one time had a small amount of real horse hair tufting from it and it was also likely attached to a larger stand. I will tell you that one wrong move with it and a child would have quickly found out what sharp meant! Its tin mane has a “nice” edge to it that could still make a slice of a delicate hand. So toys taught a little more than some of our toys do today. Child safety was not the same obviously but a child then quickly learned a little respect and caution – not that I condone that way of thinking! We have come a long way, no? And just think, when you see the cradle in the birth room at the Mitchell House, rocking a baby was not the soothing gentle act we all think about when we see one. Women rocked those babies in the 18th century and earlier; hard. Babies were not necessarily soothed to sleep. After a mother’s rocking, they were probably semi-conscious or on their way to nausea and dizziness that forced them to quiet down and possibly fall asleep. Ugh!

Tin Horse