Still Making History

In the archives field, we are often charged with describing, cataloging, and preserving memories in their physical form. A key first step is actually acquiring historic items and collections that can speak volumes about the past.


Our flyer requesting historic photographs

In 1980 the CHC initiated a project to document photograph collections in private hands. The Polaroid Foundation donated a copy stand, a camera, and cases of 4×5 instant film that also made high-quality negatives. The flyer, pictured above, was sent out with utility bills and generated hundreds or responses.

The staff had copied about 2,000 images when the CHC published A Photographic History of Cambridge in 1984. Donations, which included including the corporate collections of the Cambridge Electric and Gas companies and the Cambridgeport Savings Bank and many, many scrapbooks, slowly tapered off, but the recent donation of this photo shows that the simple flyer of 1980 continues to bear fruit.


Our appeal – “Don’t let our history fade away.”

A family residing in Buzzards Bay discovered our flyer while going through the papers of their mother, Julie Ferguson.


Sally Howes as a nursing student weighing “Baby Hope” in 1926.

Along with the flyer, the family included this photograph featuring nursing student, Sally Howes.



Program for graduation exercises at the Cambridge Training School for Nurses, 1927. Sally Howes is the second graduate listed.

Ms. Howes is listed as a graduate of the Cambridge Training School for Nurses class of 1927. It is possible that she was a family friend or acquaintance of the donor’s mother.


Verso of the program featuring the Florence Nightingale Pledge.

These materials will soon be available for research. We are open for research Mon: 4:00-7:00PM and Tue-Thur: 9:30-11:30AM & 2:00-4:00PM. Contact us today for an appointment!


Preservation at CHC

Recently, the staff here at the Commission performed some summer cleaning in our archives and library storage. After relocating a few boxes, our archives assistants assessed the physical states of some of the materials. Among the collections were a collection of Civil War memorabilia, photographs, an oversize atlas, documents, and an oversize volume of architectural plans.

Many of the items had already been stabilized and were properly housed. Others were in need of repairs or other types of preservation. Two items were in need of immediate preservation work: a volume of architectural plans and a photograph.

The architectural plans are bound in a volume measuring around 24 x 20 inches. This volume represents personal collection of plans of an engineer at the Cambridge Water Board, and the plans date ca. 1860s-1870s.

Our digitization assistant, Meta, dry-cleaned the area, and repaired the tear using Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.



Before the tear is repaired


Wheat starch paste


Weighting the pasted tissue until dry


After the tissue has dried


Trimming the excess


The final product

The photograph, titled “Survivors of the First Company Raised in the United States for Suppression of the Rebellion” comes from the George H. Hastings Civil War Memorabilia Collection and was taken ca. 1880.

The photograph had been held to a mat frame with adhesive. Glues manufactured during this era were often made from animal products and rubber. These products are now known to congeal and harden over time.


Emily removing hardened adhesive from the back of a photograph

Our archives assistant, Emily, carefully removed the hardened glue from the verso of the photograph with a micro-spatula, thus protecting this photograph from any chemical or physical damage.

In the archives field, professionals and students are always working hard to provide access to our materials, both physically and digitally. Our work here at the Cambridge Historical Commission is no different.