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History of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants: 1910-1919

While Society dinners had always been fancy formal affairs, they were not noted for attracting nationally prominent guests. In the teens and soon in the twenties, however, the growth of "society" and the corresponding growth of newspaper coverage of same, brought these dinners into the limelight. The hereditary society became an outward trapping of society, and because the meetings were bright and pretty, they were newsworthy.

It began with William Howard Taft, a classmate and friend of Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants incorporator, Arthur Dana, who was made an "Honorary Member" in 1914. The award was presented to Taft, then a professor at Harvard, at the Compact Day celebration on December 8, 1914 at the Copley Plaza. Nearly three hundred people listened to Taft's long, witty and historically well-versed remarks, including the comment that the Mayflower Society was the only one of those which had given him honorary membership into which he could have gotten on his own (at the time it was believed that Taft was a descendant of Francis Cooke, a line that has since been disproved):

It suits me to be a member of the Mayflower Society; I think we belong to the middle class, that is where I feel at home. We were not the aristocrats when we left England, and I think we have always retained that element of strength, of not being too high and not being too low, but just ourselves.

In 1916 the 20 th anniversary dinner was attended by Lt. Governor Calvin Coolidge and Speaker of the Massachusetts House (later Governor of Massachusetts) Channing H. Cox, among many other local politicians. Cox's wife was a member, as later were Massachusetts Governor Alvin Fuller's wife and the Mayor of Boston, Andrew J. Peters. This close association with the State House and City Hall led to the Society's social prominence culminating in the 1927 dinner. In 1916, Cox was the main speaker of the evening, and looking forward to the 300 th anniversary celebrations in 1920, he noted:

Greater than all else, we should strive to create in America a regard for what the Pilgrims stood for...that after all we are not descended from cowards, but from brave men, we will have reached the true spirit of the occasion...With more than half the population of Massachusetts of foreign descent, it is time to teach that only by adherence to the fundamentals on which the Pilgrims founded it can we hope to endure ...

At the same meeting the Reverend Julian C. Jaynes noted that pride of ancestry "is one of those few great things which a man acquires without personal effort, because a Mayflower descendant, like a poet, is born, not made."

One of the few times the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants ventured into the political arena was in 1919 after the famous Boston Police Strike. The Society's social ties with Governor Coolidge (who was not eligible for membership but was the honored guest at the Society's annual meetings of 1916, 1919 and 1920), as well as its membership's ideals of law and order (three men who served as Governor of Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants during the 1940s participated in breaking the strike), spurred the Board to write a resolution "emphatically" supporting the stand of the Governor and Police Commissioner, and stating that "none of the men who 'deserted their posts of duty, letting in the enemy' should be reappointed as members of the Police Force ..." There is no record of the Society ever issuing another statement on any political topic.