Monday, December 16, 2019

The winter before the war in Washington: The Civil War era recollections of Henry Laurens Dawes

Henry Laurens Dawes

This paper was presented to the Club by Henry Laurens Dawes on Monday evening, November 22, 1886, at a meeting of the Club he hosted at his home in Pittsfield, Dawes presented this paper about events in Washington, D.C. between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November, 1860 and his inauguration in March, 1861. 

Dawes (1816-1903) was a founding member of the Monday Evening Club in 1869 and remained a member until his death, hosting and presenting papers often.

As Dawes notes in the paper itself, “some of the incidents of those days [were] not recorded in the history of the time and … will soon be beyond recall if left alone to the memory of contemporaries and participants.” In this paper Dawes presents many details that only an eyewitness and participant could know.

According to notes on the manuscript, Dawes later presented this paper to the Wednesday Morning Club[1] (also of Pittsfield) on November 28, 1886; to the Social Senior Club of Ware, Mass. on November 20, 1888, and at a public meeting at South Congregational Church in Pittsfield on Saturday, May 10, 1890.

Judging by the manuscript (a copy which was obtained from the National Archives where the original is among its holdings of Dawes’s papers), for these subsequent presentations, Dawes made small edits and appears to have inserted some new passages. In transcribing the paper, we have generally included these changes, but have retained some passages that Dawes bracketed —‘ he appears to have intended to skip over for brevity. In other instances Dawes made changes for modesty — for example, changing “I” to “one of the committee” or the like. In those cases we’ve generally retained the original first person version. Because of these changes and interpolations made over time this final version differs somewhat from the original presentation to the Monday Evening Club.

The first half of this paper was published, under the same title, in the Atlantic Monthly of August, 1893. The text of that article very closely follows the manuscript text we have used here. A small portion of this article has been used here to fill in a gap where one or two pages of the original manuscript are missing. The second half is published here for the first time.

For the reader’s convenience we have added a few subheadlines not found in the original manuscript. For some events, dates have been added in brackets to help illuminate the timeline. A few spelling corrections and punctuation and capitalization changes have been made for clarity.

Thanks to Megan Hoffenberg for her transcription of the manuscript.

Looking back over the graves of more than a million brave men who, on the one side or the other, laid down their lives in the struggle for mastery which began at Washington in the winter of 1860-61, the recollection of the flippancy and air of lightness and almost sportiveness with which it was entered upon fills me with a shiver of amazement. How great things were trifled with as if they were playthings and great stakes were played for as boys play for pennies, no one could now, in the lurid light of subsequent events, ever be made to believe, had not his own eyes been the witness. Much that happened would have been impossible but for the impenetrable veil which shut out the future. What seemed to us before whose eyes they were enacted as absurdities, arrant nonsense, and which it is difficult to recall after thirty-five years, with a sober face, were in truth the beginnings of Andersonville and Gettysburg and the assasination of Lincoln. I sometimes think it almost wicked to hold up their ludicrous side to public gaze, in the light of such a terrible realization. It is with no purpose to belittle the great events, the beginnings of which I saw that winter, that I venture, for your entertainment if not instruction, to present some of the incidents of those days not recorded in the history of the time and which will soon be beyond recall if left alone to the memory of contemporaries and participants.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Cleveland Amory: The Hub of the Universe

Presented to the Club by Roger Linscott in 1999. Roger was, for many years, the associate editor of The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield's daily newspaper. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial writing in 1973, and died in 2008 at the age of 88, having been a member of the Club since 1950. We are indebted to Roger's daughter, Wendy Lamme, for a treasure trove of Roger's Monday Evening Club papers. Photo of Cleveland Amory by Ron Bull for the Toronto Star, used under Toronto Star Photograph Archive License.

The genesis of this paper, such as it is, was a lengthy obituary that appeared in The New York Times shortly before this past Christmas. Its subject was Cleveland Amory, a writer and editor whose tireless work in behalf of animal rights over recent decades had produced several best-selling books and an impressive body of state and federal human legislation.

But before becoming an animal activist in middle age, Cleveland Amory was a social historian, and a very good one at that. His first three books. The Proper Bostonians (published just 50 years ago [1947]), The Last Resorts, and Who Killed Society? were beautifully researched accounts of the mores and foibles of the American upper crust before it began crumbling under the pressure of the mass media and increasing social mobility.

And before that, Amory was an undergraduate at Harvard where – like a number of luminaries before him, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt ’04 – he was president of the Harvard Crimson, the undergraduate daily newspaper. In that role he was something of a mentor to me, who was admitted to the staff as a sophomore when Amory was a senior. He taught me a good deal more about newspapering that I could have learned from any school of journalism.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Who says life has to be fair? The rise and fall of broadcasting’s Fairness Doctrine

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, January 14, 2019, by Brad Spear

The headline in the Saturday, December 22 Washington Post article said it all, “‘This Is Tyranny of Talk Radio Hosts, Right? ‘: Limbaugh and Coulter Blamed for Trump’s Shutdown of Portions of the Federal Government.” Here we are 23 days later, and the “partial shutdown” of the federal government continues.

Two days before, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and conservative podcaster Ann Coulter separately ridiculed the President over a compromise that had been reached with Senate Democrats to avoid a government shutdown by partially funding the construction of a wall at the Mexico-US border. Upon hearing the ridicule, Mr. Trump suddenly reversed his position, thereby closing the federal government on Friday, December 21. According to the Post article, CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin was quoted as saying, the reason for the President’s reversal of position was because Limbaugh and Coulter “had questioned his manhood.”

Have these two pillars of right-wing talk radio always had such sway over the nation’s affairs? The answer is “no;” at least not until the repeal in 1987 of a longtime tenant of American broadcasting: the Federal Communications Commission’s “Fairness Doctrine.”

Monday, March 11, 2019

The most hated man in America

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, March 4, 2019 by Martin C. Langeveld

During much of the time between the two World Wars, if you had asked an average person on the street, or the average journalistic pundit, who they considered to be the most hated person in America, ranking high among the possible answers would have been the name of Grover Cleveland Bergdoll. But why?

Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, the playboy scion of a Philadelphia family of beer brewers with German roots, was born in 1893. After the Wright brothers set up their first school for airplane pilots, at Huffman Prairie near their home base of Dayton, Ohio, Grover enrolled in April, 1912 and became one of the first 119 people who learned to fly there. Once proficient, he purchased from the Wrights a 40-horsepower Model B flyer, for the sum of $5,625 (nearly $150,000 in 2019 dollars). (The young man, just 18 years old and a student at the University of Pennsylvania, had been receiving a $5,000 allowance annually since he was 15.) The Model B was the first Wright plane to have wheels, enabling it to take off on its own rather than with the catapult system used until then.

Within a few months, Grover was entertaining large crowds in Philadelphia by making exhibition flights. At the time, flying was quite a hazardous pursuit. In 1910, the Wright Brothers had assembled a team of nine expert exhibition pilots to demonstrate their planes around the country — by the end of 1912, six of the nine had been killed in airplane crashes. But Grover was not only fearless but highly proficient. While still working to qualify for a pilot’s license in the spring of 1912, he was offering rides to friends, buzzing crowds, reaching altitudes of 2,000 feet, and staying aloft as long as 34 minutes. That summer, with a passenger on board, he flew from the suburban air field to Philadelphia’s downtown City Hall, circled the statue of William Penn atop its dome three times, and flew low over a westbound train for 22 blocks before revving his engine and passing it. In August, he flew from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, reaching altitudes over 7,000 feet, the first flight between the two cities. After more flights, in September, just five months after his first lessons, Grover passed the necessary trials and was awarded a pilot’s license. He was the 169th person in the U. S. ever to receive one.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

E = mc2: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

INTELLIGENCE — Photo by David Bruce, used under Creative Commons License. (Inscription carved by Roger Babson at Dogtown Common, Gloucester, Massachusetts, about 1930)

Presented to the Club by David Noyes on Monday evening, November 26, 2018

NEWS FLASH from the front page of the Boston Globe May 21, 2018:

“Massachusetts ponders hiring a computer to grade MCAS essays. Each year, students generate more than six million essays requiring a small army of graduate students, educators, and other professionals to read and score them — a laborious task that takes most of the summer. In an effort to speed up the delivery of the MCAS results to schools and families, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is exploring the option of replacing human test scorers with a computer program. This technology would help the state deliver the results in the summer instead of the fall so that schools could analyze the results and make any necessary adjustments before the school year begins. “

Yes, that’s correct. It’s possible that no human eye would ever see a student’s effort. Can you imagine the Board of Trustees of the Nobel Prize Committee submitting their choices for the Literature Prize to the same algorithm!

Last year Martin gave an intriguing, thought provoking, yet somehow, disquieting presentation about Artificial Intelligence. Tonight, I would like to discuss: Native Intelligence.

I can distinctly remember being in seventh grade, studying what was then called “New Math”. (To this day, I really can’t explain what was “new” about it) We had a two-inch thick paper back workbook with lessons, examples, and problems to be solved. I can even remember our teacher — Mrs. Mansfield. She was spry, agile, and always impeccably dressed. But we took turns guessing what color her otherwise naturally white hair was going to be on Monday morning. Sometimes it had a slight pinkish tone — other times a blue pattern. Once, I recall her head having a distinct green halo.

I soon discovered that I had a knack for this subject and relished the challenge. But I was also struck by how non-universal that experience was. For the first time, I recall being mystified that another student struggled to understand a concept which seemed so obvious to me.