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Salem Charitable Mechanic Association (1817-1932) Records

Salem Charitable Mechanic Association (1817-1932) Records

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Salem Charitable Mechanic Association, (1817-1932)
Title:Salem Charitable Mechanic Association (1817-1932) Records
Quantity:3.5 linear feet (4 boxes, 6 volumes)
Abstract:The records of the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association document the activities of this charitable organization which provided financial assistance to those employed in certain kinds of manual labor.
Collection Number:MSS 261

Series List

SERIES I. Administrative Records
SERIES II. Financial Records
SERIES III. Educational Records
SERIES IV. Mechanic Hall Corporation Records

Scope and Content Note

The records of the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association document the activities of this charitable organization which provided financial assistance to those employed in certain kinds of manual labor. The records are divided into four series.

Series I. Administrative Records contains the constitution and by-laws, minutes of meetings, and membership lists. The four record books, which contain minutes from annual meetings and trustees' meetings, include treasurers' reports, receipts, payments and balances of admissions, dismissals, deaths, and balances of membership, reports of all other committees, and the proceedings of annual elections of officers. Membership lists are nearly complete through 1890. For subsequent years, 1891-1932, membership information may be gleaned from the minutes of meetings. Also included in this series is a copy press letter book containing the outgoing correspondence of G. Arthur Bodwell, a secretary of the association. The correspondence details routine matters of the association: notifications of meetings, letters regarding overdue monies, notifications of meetings, letters releasing the payment of monies for funeral expenses etc. The folder of miscellaneous papers contains items such as notes of meetings, suggested amendment changes to the constitution, complaints brought against members and more.

Series II. Financial Records records the association's fiscal transactions and membership dues. The account books, which are complete from 1819 to 1900, itemize expenses and credits and list yearly balances. Additional information on receipts and payments may be found in the treasurers' reports given in the minutes of the annual meetings. Several different types of records of members' dues are fines are found in this series. The dues books, which are available only for 1833 to 1889, record members' names and the membership dues these individuals paid. The memorandum books are similar in nature, but record members' dues in the form of debits in a dues account. Members' names appear in roughly alphabetical order. The assessment lists were compiled in 1850 and cover the years 1833 to 1850, listing membership dues collected, current members, deceased members, members dismissed, etc. The miscellaneous financial papers include a bond and two fire insurance policies from 1870.

Series III. Educational Records includes the addresses and lectures of John Russell and James Kimball, two of the association's early officers, and are largely concerned with the arms and history of the association. The records of the library reveal how the library was established, and give various recommendations of the library committee. The committee's annual report includes inventories of the library, which reveal its growth and use for that year. Library bills and receipts reflect purchase of specific books for the library. The library book records members' library fines.

Series IV. Mechanic Hall Corporation Records pertains to the building, operation of, and activities that took place in the hall. Included are shareholders' certificates, minutes of the board of directors, treasurer's papers, building papers, and material relating to the two Mechanic's Fairs and other celebrations.

Historical Sketch

The Salem Charitable Mechanic Association was formally instituted on October 1, 1817, as an organization aimed at the dual goals of self-improvement for Salem's mechanics and the elevation of the societal status of mechanic laborers as a class. The "mechanic" class included carpenters, masons, sailmakers, rope makers, bakers, brewers, cabinetmakers, and all others employed in manual labor. The impetus for this organization was provided by a small group of Salem's master mechanics who felt that measures needed to be taken to protect workers in times of distress and difficulty. Among these master mechanics were: John Howard, who was elected the association's first president; Nathanial Frothingham, the first vice-president; John Russell, the first treasurer; Thomas Needham, the first secretary; David Perkins; John Derby Jr.; Samuel Gray; and Benjamin Blanchard. The association began with 156 members in all.

One of the association's first primary functions was to provide financial assistance to members in need. Donations to sick members unable to provide for their families were made by voting on proposals submitted by members representing the recipient. A funeral fund insured all members received dignified burials.

In 1820, a library was founded by the association to contribute to the intellectual improvement of its members. The original library of three hundred volumes grew to six thousand by the turn of the century. This library, the second in Salem, enjoyed a high level of popularity among the members of the association.

Extending its interest in the education of its members, the association began an annual lecture series on variety of topics and sponsored two fairs. The Mechanic's Fair, held in 1849 and 1875, consisted of exhibits of machinery, new inventions, and products from local manufacturers.

In time, it was recognized that the association needed a suitable meeting place. A stock subscription was begun in 1839 to provide funds for construction of a building. The Salem Mechanic Hall on Essex Street was opened in 1839. The association was disbanded in 1932.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Bodwell, G. Arthur
Kimball, James
Russell, John
Mechanic Hall (Salem, Mass.)
Mechanic's Fair (Salem, Mass.)
Account books--1819-1900
Account books--Massachusetts--Salem
Lectures and lecturing--Massachusetts--Salem
Self-help groups--Massachusetts--Salem
Working class--Massachusetts--Salem
Salem (Mass.)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Salem Charitable Mechanic Association (1817-1932) Records, MSS 261, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The bulk of the material was donated to the Essex Institute on June 15, 1927. One volume of shareholders certificates was presented to the Institute on July 20, 1925. The record book (B1 F3) was received May 25, 1925 as a gift from the estate of Milo A. Newhall. The folder of addresses and lectures by James Kimball, circa 1867, was donated from his estate, but it is uncertain whether the original donation was made to the institute or to the association itself, which perhaps, in turn, donated it to the institute. The rest of the collection is of unknown provenance. Newspaper clippings relating to the Salem Female Employment Society have been removed from the collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Robert Hall, 1989 and Jane E. Ward, 1994. Updated by Jessica Cosgrove, November 2015.

Related Material

Dennis, William A. "The Salem Charitable Mechanic Association," Essex Institute Historical Collections, 42 (1906): 1-35.

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