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History of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants: 1960-1969

The Society's house at 9 Walnut Street was increasingly feeling its age and the neighborhood was badly deteriorating. The first thought of moving came in 1961 when the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) was forced from its Ashburton Place location because of the construction of a government building. Stephen Thrall, chairman of the House Committee, was asked to take up the matter of joint occupancy with NEHGS in their new location. The treasurer of NEHGS was Frederick Kimball, also a Mayflower Society member. However, because of the lack of space in the new NEHGS location at 101 Newbury Street, the matter was not developed at that time.

In 1966 when the custodians of the house moved out without notice, the matter was brought to a head. Discussions included selling while real estate values were high or combining with other organizations to renovate. Architects from Plimoth Plantation were invited to make a survey of the house, and it was found that $50,000 would be needed to renovate the building. An offer from the First Corps of Cadets, which had recently purchased their building at 227 Commonwealth Avenue, of the third floor plus a meeting room in their facilities, turned the tide in favor of renting instead of buying a new property. On November 14, 1967, 9 Walnut Street was sold for $60,000, just about double its purchase price 40 years before, leased space for five years at 227 Commonwealth Avenue.

Needless to say, after forty years in one place, moving from a five-story house to a little over one floor caused a great upheaval. Most of the valuable items of furniture were moved and eventually were loaned to the General Society's Mayflower House in Plymouth, but a significant amount of valuable china, books, archives, and miscellanea were put into "temporary" storage.

Between the 300 th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims in 1920 and the 350 th anniversary in 1970, America had changed considerably. Whereas the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had funded the 1920 program and appointed a special commission for its planning, in 1970 even the town of Plymouth could not be coaxed into monetary support for a "private" celebration. The population of Plymouth had changed dramatically and descendants of the Pilgrims were now outnumbered by descendants of later immigrants. While the town selectmen did vote an appropriation, it was canceled by a referendum vote, and the entire fund-raising burden was placed on the private sector despite the town's close reliance on the tourist trade.

The General Society decreed that it had no funds at all, throwing the responsibility for celebrating the anniversary into the laps of the individual state societies. Robert Bartlett, Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants' Elder, was on the Plymouth Committee established by private interests in the town. Bartlett and the Committee asked for $10,000 from the Massachusetts Society, but the Board of Assistants, besides not having that amount of money to give, felt it also had an obligation to support the General Society's Five Generation Project established in 1960 to publish authoritative books on the first five generations of Mayflower descendants. Massachusetts finally donated $500 to the General Society and $1,500 to the Plymouth Committee. The Committee then turned to federal and state assistance matched by private funds. Plans included the purchase of land for a Mayflower Park in Plymouth to begin "the decade of rededication." In the end, the anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims was a local event, neither approaching the national recognition of the Tercentenary, nor the media excitement of the sailing of Mayflower II.

Until the house at 9 Walnut Street was sold in 1967, social events continued very much in the same form as in the Fifties. The May meeting at the house, traditionally a "garden party," was changed in 1961 to a "new member" party, Governor Eugene Carver noted that in his time they had never gone out into the garden and he would personally rather not show it to anyone. Among the topics of monthly meetings were: "Pilgrim Houses of Plimoth Plantation," "Herbs and Medicines of the Pilgrims," "Old Books of the Pilgrims" (given by John E. Alden of the rare book department of the Boston Public Library), and "Boston Illustrated 1670-1775." A series of these lectures was given by staff members of the Museum of Fine Arts and another by the Boston Public Library.

In the early years of the decade, the Annual and Compact Day meetings were held at the Harvard or Union Clubs. In 1964 the Compact Day dinner became a feature at the Boston Museum of Science for four years. Members of other patriotic and hereditary societies, such as Colonial Wars, Founders and Patriots, and Colonial Dames, were invited to join Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants at the Compact Day meetings.

At the Peregrination to Plymouth, catered for the first time in 1961, attendance continued to be high. After several years at the Plimoth Plantation, the luncheons were returned to the Mayflower House, but the Plantation was open to members. In 1965 members helped fasten the sills and frames for the Alden, Cooke and Soule houses at the Plantation.