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Boston Athenæum

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10 ½ Beacon Street
Boston, MA United States
857-210-6973

The word “athenaeum” is borrowed from the Greek, originally a designation for temples of Athena, goddess of wisdom, justice, and craft. The Boston Athenæum was founded on these principles, as an attempt by the Boston elite—or “Brahmin,” from the Hindu class of intellectuals and teachers of sacred wisdom—to bring culture to the city. This began with The Monthly Anthology, a magazine of “polite literature,” which became The Monthly Anthology and Boston Review in 1804. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson—whose father was a founding member—described the journal as “mingled extracts and original contributions, theology and medicine, with all manner of literary chips and shavings.” The following year, the Anthology Society was formed; in 1807, with a desire for a society reading room, the group began to build what became the collection of the Athenæum.

In its early years, the Boston Athenæum moved from rented rooms on Congress Street to Tremont Street near the present Government Center, to a site purchased beside the King’s Chapel Burying Ground, to a donated mansion on Pearl Street. In 1849, architect Edward Clarke Cabot completed the first three floors of the present neo-Palladian structure at 10½ Beacon Street, overlooking the Granary Burying Ground. The ground floor was a sculpture gallery, the middle floor held the library, and what was then the top floor contained second gallery exclusively for paintings. Many of the works in the original art collection were used to help establish the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The fourth and fifth floors, including a reading room, were added in the early 1900s.

The library, which is available only to members, was once patronized by figures such as John Quincy Adams, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John F. Kennedy, and George Ticknor. Today, the Athenæum contains over half a million books—many of which are rare—the majority of George Washington’s personal library, early American newspapers and broadsides, 17th century theological texts, the papers and some works of John Singer Sargent, a first edition of The Birds of America by Audubon, 19th century political ballots from early American elections, late-1920s drawings from the design studio of Cartier, and Confederate stamps and currency.

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January 2020

Kerri Greenidge presents BLACK RADICAL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF WILLIAM MONROE TROTTER at the Boston Athenaeum

January 20, 2020 | 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Boston Athenæum, 10 ½ Beacon Street
Boston, MA United States
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Free

Registration is required Free and open to the public This long-overdue biography reestablishes William Monroe Trotter’s essential place next to Douglass, Du Bois, and King in the pantheon of American civil rights heroes. William Monroe Trotter (1872– 1934), though still virtually unknown to the wider public, was an unlikely American hero. With the stylistic verve of a newspaperman and the unwavering fearlessness of an emancipator, he galvanized black working- class citizens to wield their political power despite the violent racism…

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Michelle Marchetti Coughlin presents PLYMOUTH COLONY FIRST LADY PENELOPE WINSLOW: RECONSTRUCTING A LIFE THROUGH MATERIAL CULTURE at Boston Athenaeum

January 28, 2020 | 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Boston Athenæum, 10 ½ Beacon Street
Boston, MA United States
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Free - $10

Registration is required Members Free and Non-members Free with admission ($10) Plymouth Colony First Lady Penelope Winslow: Reconstructing a Life through Material Culture with Michelle Marchetti Coughlin Penelope Pelham Winslow was a member of the English gentry (her third great-grandmother was Anne Boleyn's sister Mary) who was married to Plymouth Colony Governor Josiah Winslow. Although she was one of the most powerful women in Plymouth's history, she, like most of her female contemporaries, has been largely forgotten. Penelope authored or…

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Christina Wolbrecht presents A CENTURY OF VOTES FOR WOMEN: AMERICAN ELECTIONS SINCE SUFFRAGE at the Boston Athenaeum

January 30, 2020 | 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Boston Athenæum, 10 ½ Beacon Street
Boston, MA United States
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Free - $15

Registration is required Members Free and Non-members $15 How have American women voted in the first 100 years since the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment? How have popular understandings of women as voters both persisted and changed over time? In A Century of Votes for Women, Christina Wolbrecht and J. Kevin Corder offer an unprecedented account of women voters in American politics over the last ten decades. Bringing together new and existing data, the book provides unique insight into women's…

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Did You Know?

Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.