By Kim Clark, FOSEL board member
On Tuesday February 27 at 6:30 PM, the South End Writes will host Lauren Prescott, executive director of the South End Historical Society, who will introduce her first book, Boston’s South End, published in January. It illustrates the story of the South End neighborhood through vintage postcards that depict a series of local scenes and landmarks that define the feel and flavor of the neighborhood. She will be introduced by District 3 City Councilor Frank Baker who, with district councilors 2 and 7, Ed Flynn and Kim Janey, respectively, represent different parts of the South End on the Boston City Council.
Drawing from the approximately 200 postcards that she discovered in the SEHS collection archive, augmented by photos that were also in the collection, Prescott presents an intimate and charming view of South End history, illustrated by pictures of private residences, schools and churches, theaters and nightclubs, businesses, industries and more. Many of the buildings shown are, sadly, no longer in existence but a number of them remain and, thankfully, continue to house families and businesses.
Many postcards date from what is known as the "golden age of postcards," a period from about 1898 to 1915. Postcards were so popular during that era that demographic records show that in 1905, some seven billion postcards were mailed around the world. The number of postcards in circulation, which did not calculate those created by businesses for advertising purposes or the collections of individuals, is truly astounding when we consider that the world population during first decade of the 1900s is estimated to have been 'only' 1.7 billion.
Prescott was born and raised in New Bedford, MA. She is a public historian, who received a B.A. in History at UMass Amherst and M.A. in Public History at UMass Boston. She has previously served as a Collections Management Intern at the Arlington Historical Society. In 2015, she became temporary administrator at SEHS but advanced to executive director in May 2016. The postcard collection, which was donated in 2012 and contains a number of unique examples, inspired her to choose this art form as the innovative theme for her book.
Prescott hopes that the postcard history will raise the profile of SEHS, which was founded in 1966. Her primary goal is to make the collection more accessible to researchers and neighborhood residents. She also plans to explore and catalogue SEHS documents, photographs, maps and related historical records, and create “finding aids" that will make it possible for researchers to determine through an online search whether certain items are available at SEHS, and deserve a visit for further research. Her long-term vision is to establish SEHS as a true archive and research library, one that offers valuable information through its collections.
Located in a classic and totally funky Victorian town house at 532 Massachusetts Avenue, Prescott invites all to visit the SEHS and join neighbors and friends in the Drawing Room to hear an enlightening lecture on local history or meet there to start a neighborhood walking tour. For a schedule of events and more information, please visit http://www.southendhistoricalsociety.org.