October might be almost over, but it’s still American Archives Month — and in celebration of all things archive-y, we will be highlighting some of our fabulous archives volunteers. This week we would like you to meet Kathleen Fox.
Kathleen began volunteering at the Historical Commission in October 2017, and says she is “driven by curiosity.” We asked Kathleen a few questions to learn more about her volunteer work, and her life outside of the Historical Commission.
What collections have you worked on at the Commission? Tell us about them.
I began with processing a very large collection of maps and plans in the E.F. Bowker Collection, creating a spreadsheet listing each map or plan, the streets it pertained to, the owner, the surveyor, the date, etc. Bowker was a mainstream and very successful civil engineer/surveyor in Cambridge. This was interesting work because of the light it shed on real estate development in the city, and because it was the first collection I had processed.
What is your academic and career background?
I received my B.F.A. in 1967, and went to work as a secretary in the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection of American Art at the Yale University Art Gallery. After two years in New Haven I moved to Boston where I worked briefly for an architecture firm, and then as an administrative assistant in the Department of Humanities at MIT. Following that, after two years at a private research commission I spent the remainder of my working life at the Harvard School of Government (1980-2009), ending up as Assistant Dean for Teaching Support.
At the same time as I was working in academe I was a practicing artist, and taught watercolor painting at Brookline Adult Education. In about 1970 I was co-founder of an art studio in Boston next to Symphony Hall – – the Kaji Aso Studio. The studio gave classes in watercolor and oil painting, calligraphy and ceramics. It also had a poetry program and a music program. The Studio continues to this day. I drifted away in the mid-80’s , but continued my work as an artist while I worked in academe to support myself.
Somewhere along the line in the late 1990s I drifted once again – this time away from making art as I got more and more interested in history.
Do you volunteer anywhere else?
I volunteer in the Historical Collections at the Mount Auburn Cemetery and also at the Massachusetts Historical Society. I do whatever needs doing – – mostly background research and elementary preservation work.
What do you like to do in your free time?
After researching the history of my own 1893 house I got interested in researching the history of equally old houses on my block in Arlington. This haphazardly expanded – – and now people commission me to research the history of their homes. I am now working on my 29th history . Most have been in Arlington, but I have done two in Cambridge and a couple in surrounding suburbs. In the spring and summer I am also in the garden as much as possible.
What is the best (or your favorite) thing you’ve found in an archive?
At the CHC right now I am processing the papers from the real estate firm of Ellis and Andrews [old finding aid here; new one in progress]. The collection spans the period from c. 1893 to c. 1935. These real estate transactions provide a very interesting and enlightening view of the cultural and financial values of the time, not to mention the growth of the city of Cambridge in the late 19th and early 20th century . This and the Bowker collection together have completely changed the way I view the cityscape as I walk around Cambridge.
At the Massachusetts Historical Society there have been many memorable moments – – finding a flyer for a slave auction, listing the slaves by name; holding a book printed in 1504 (the oldest thing I have ever held); and a letter from a local Massachusetts businessman to President James Garfield offering to send him the water bed he had developed for good health – – in 1881!! At Mount Auburn there have been more interesting finds than I could possibly list.
Thank you, Kathleen!
Stayed tuned for another installment of our Focus On: CHC Volunteers series.