Virtual NHA

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During these unprecedented times, the Nantucket Historical Association is sharing digital resources weekly to enrich the lives of our members and friends at home through video lectures, kids activity kits, our transcription program, history articles and more! All the information in our newsletters is being gleaned from the resources presented below. We hope you’ll dive in, enjoy, and give your mind a rest from thinking about today’s challenges.

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Celebrating Women’s History Month, today we highlight one of the island’s notable female artists. Emily Hoffmeier (1888-1952) spent summers on Nantucket, painting in the waterfront studios—first Harborview No. 3 and later moving to the Red Anchor Studio on Washington Street. She exhibited in the Easy Street Gallery, the Candle House Studio, and later at the Kenneth Taylor Galleries.

After the death of Maud Stumm in 1935, Hoffmeier took over the direction of the annual Sidewalk Art Show, which she ran for the next eighteen years “with untiring cheerfulness and unflagging interest.” She was one of the founding members of the Artists Association of Nantucket and served on its first executive committee.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Hoffmeier taught art classes at the college for several years. From 1917 to 1951 she was a teacher at West Chester High School in Pennsylvania, where she headed the mathematics department. In addition to enrolling in the plein air classes of Frank Swift Chase on Nantucket, Hoffmeier studied off-island some summers with Henry B. Snell in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and Hugh Breckenridge in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She also exhibited in her home state of Maryland and in Pennsylvania.

Her fine Nantucket landscapes, wharf scenes, and views of historic buildings make up the body of her island work. She lived with her sister, Helen Hoffmeier, on Washington Street and off-season in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Painting: The Whaling Museum, Emily Hoffmeier, 1938. NHA Purchase, 1987.170.1.

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We are excited to announce we will open a new featured exhibition, Summer on Nantucket: A History of the Island Resort, at the Whaling Museum this season! Containing more than 200 artifacts from the NHA’s collection, the exhibit tells the story of Nantucket as a summer destination, from the opening of the first tourist hotels in the 1840s to the multi-billion-dollar real-estate, construction, and rental economy of today.

Visitors will be invited to explore iconic impressions of Nantucket summer through paintings, trade signs, souvenirs, and more. As well as exploring the most important questions a resort town faces, “what to do, where to eat, and where to stay.” The exhibit will then dive into how “It’s Not All Roses” by recognizing the hard work of seasonal employees and year-round residents throughout the history of the island’s transformation, with many downsides to its popularity from one hundred years ago still existing today.

Summer on Nantucket: A History of the Island Resort will open at the Whaling Museum for a special member preview on Thursday, May 25, and to the public on Friday, May 26. The exhibition will run through November 2023.

Photo: Steamship rounding Brant Point, August 1949. Gift of Elizabeth Caldwell, P17928.

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Aerial view of Brant Point, showing the lighthouse, observation tower, Coast Guard Station, and neighboring houses in 1949.

Photo SC587-10.

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It’s time for another Mindful History-inspired share today to help guide us all to see, think, connect, and uncover!

▫️What do you see?
▫️What does the visual suggest to you?
▫️What catches your eye?

Join us & discover your personal connection to art & history through a variety of Museum-based experiences, including participant-based conversation and reflection using the Whaling Museum collections, yoga and meditation, and free-flow Decorative Arts. Sessions this week include:

▫️Saturday, March 25, from 9-10 am, Connecting Through Art at the Whaling Museum (FREE)
▫️Saturday, March 25, from 10:30-11:30 am, Yoga with Chip Davis at Greater Light ($20 fee)

Learn more and register for one of our Mindful History programs, now available for registration on!

The Tupancy-Harris Foundation generously supports this program. The program is in partnership with @fairwindsnantucket

Painting: Portrait of Charles Myrick, 1879. Eastman Johnson (1824-1906). Gift of Mr. F.S. Church, 1895.14.1.

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We recently acquired a number of important manuscripts for our research collections, including James Barker’s letter books.

Whale-oil and candle maker James Barker (1759–1832) kept letter books that contained letters to his extensive network of business associates in Boston, New York, and elsewhere from 1794 to 1803, including letters to his younger half-brother Jacob Barker (1779–1871), who was later a leading figure in antebellum American finance. The NHA holds a great many individual business documents from the late eighteenth century but very few complete letter books from this time. The book promises to open a window on the daily operations of one of the island’s less-understood whale-oil concerns.

Stay tuned as we highlight more of our new acquisitions in the coming weeks!

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Explore The Real Women of Petticoat Row!

The women-run retail district on Centre Street was an entirely post–Civil War institution, which developed in the 1860s and lasted into the 1930s. It comprised between two and twelve businesses at a time and involved about thirty female proprietors in all. During the island’s whaling period, which began in the 1690s and started to close in the late 1850s, women were deeply involved in Nantucket’s economy but ran just a small minority of the island’s commercial enterprises, few of them on Centre Street. Even with large numbers of island men traveling the globe by the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was no shortage of men at home, debunking the common myth that women ran the island during the whaling period.

While whaling created conditions that led some island women to enter the commercial sphere, it was actually the economic and population disruptions that followed the collapse of whaling that brought Nantucket women into the paid workforce in significant numbers.

Of the known stores on Petticoat Row, a number of the businesses were exceptionally long-lived. The store of Charlotte Riddell, later run by her daughter, Mary H. Nye, lasted about thirty-two years.

To learn more about the real Women of Petticoat Row, read the full article – link in story!

Photo: Interior of Mary H. Nye’s store on Centre Street, 1880s. Photograph by Henry S. Wyer. P3425.

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Today we share this Nantucket friendship basket purse with a swing handle and ivory top with a carved seagull affixed to the center of the lid.

This basket belonged to Isabelle P. Seeman (April 16, 1945–April 15, 2017), a Nantucket summer resident who volunteered in the collections of the Nantucket Historical Association during the last years of her life. She spent many summers on the island throughout her life, as her parents owned a cottage on the island. The maker of this basket is unfortunately unknown.

Gift of Chris Craig, in honor of Isabelle Seeman, 2017.3.1.

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Do you know the history of our Research Library building?

It is significant in the history of the development of reinforced concrete and was one of the first poured-in-place concrete structures built in the United States in 1904 to house the NHA’s collection in a fireproof building.

Just three years after its inception, the NHA recognized the need for safe storage of the treasures in its care. Recording secretary Mary E. Starbuck wrote in her 1897 report: “More than anything, we need a fireproof building. We have land enough at the rear of the Meeting-house for a brick extension of sufficient size for our purposes, and when we have such an addition, many valuable relics will come back to the island.”

Instead of brick, concrete was chosen as the building material. As an early adapter of this building technology, the Research Library is the second reinforced concrete structure in the State of Massachusetts (after Harvard Stadium) and the first reinforced concrete structure in Massachusetts, if not the United States, with a flat roof.

The collection of artifacts and documents that had been growing for ten years was moved to the new fireproof building in 1905. The fireproof building was for years known as the Fair Street Museum, the primary exhibition space of the association, but as the NHA expanded its properties, which created additional exhibition and storage spaces, the aging fireproof building sat ripe for a new use that honored the aspirations of the founders of the NHA.

What better place for a library and research center than a fireproof building? Therefore, it was retrofitted, restored, and enlarged in 2001 for irreplaceable primary-source documents, including logbooks, account books, family papers, maps, journals, business records, and photographs that record the history of Nantucket to be housed in a climate-controlled space.

Today, the building serves as a research center for historians, students, journalists, homeowners searching for information about their Nantucket houses, genealogists filling in the branches of their family trees, and more!

Photo: Exterior façade of the Fair Street Museum (Research Library) circa 1910. GPN2841.

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Celebrating Women’s History Month, today we highlight Florence Carter Johnston Smith.

Florence was a school teacher and entrepreneur. She and her sister Isabel ran a to-go lunch business on Nantucket during the summers called “Florabel Carter’s Boxed Lunch.” At first, the sisters ran the business out of their home, but later, they moved the shop to 23 Federal Street. For 90 cents, customers received a sandwich, cole-slaw and a brownie.

Florence and Isabel grew up largely in Philadelphia and were introduced to Nantucket by their mother, Mabel (Pugh) Carter, a talented dressmaker who first came to the island in 1925 to sew for summer residents. According to Frances Karttunen’s “The Other Islanders: People who pulled Nantucket’s oars,” Mabel was drawn to Nantucket’s beaches because they reminded her of her childhood home in North Carolina. She and her husband, John Carter, decided to build a house, Windsor Cottage, on the island so that their daughters could escape crowded, hot Philadelphia during the summer months.

The Carters’ home was the first black-owned summer residence on Nantucket. Their house offered a community space for black college students and summer visitors.

Photo: Florence Carter Johnston Smith, circa 1920s. Sc438-4a.

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The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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