The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Salem Charitable Mechanic Association, (1817-1932)
Salem Charitable Mechanic Association
3.5 linear feet (4 boxes, 6 volumes)
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.
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
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
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.
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
Mechanic Hall (Salem, Mass.)
Mechanic's Fair (Salem, Mass.)
Lectures and lecturing--Massachusetts--Salem
Restrictions on Access
This collection is open for research use.
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
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 processed by Robert Hall, 1989 and Jane E. Ward, 1994. Updated by Jessica
Cosgrove, November 2015.
Dennis, William A. "The Salem Charitable Mechanic Association," Essex Institute Historical Collections, 42 (1906): 1-35.
Salem Charitable Mechanic Association (1817-1932) Records
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.