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The Sanitary Society of Cambridge, located at Lyceum Hall in the heart of Harvard Square, was a local Soldier’s Aid Society that likely interacted with the United States Sanitary Commission. Lyceum Hall was built in 1841 and replaced a Court House in Harvard Square. The building was demolished in 1924 by the Harvard Cooperative in order to build a new store.
The U.S. Sanitary Commission was authorized under Abraham Lincoln by order of the Secretary of War on June 9th, 1861 and coordinated the activities of local Soldier’s Aid Societies, one of which may have been the Sanitary Society of Cambridge. These local Societies were organized to fund and supply the U.S. Sanitary Commission’s larger mission of providing aid to soldiers. This was done through the offering of medical support, housing, clothes and other living supplies such as food and letter writing materials. Sanitary Commissions also often aided soldiers in fiscal matters, helping them receive bounties, pensions, and pay. The Sanitary Society of Cambridge gathered funds from various donors in the Cambridge area to purchase sewing, knitting, and writing supplies. They also used the funds for the printing and distribution of circulars, tool repairs, hiring independent workers, and renting rooms in which to work. The Sanitary Society most likely advertised their cause in local newspapers like the Cambridge Chronicle and used their purchases to produce towels, handkerchiefs, and other wares to send to soldiers in need. They would also use the donations to hold fundraising events such as children’s fairs, private operas, and performances at people’s homes to raise more money for their cause.
For the remainder of their existence the Sanitary Society of Cambridge continued its donation efforts and their purchase of materials to aid soldiers in the war effort. It is unclear when the Sanitary Society of Cambridge disbanded but it is most likely that their dissolution coincided with the end of the Civil War in 1865.
Charles M. Sullivan. “Harvard Square History and Development: Harvard Square in the Mid 19th Century.” Cambridge Historical Commission. cambridgema.gov/Historic/hsqhistory2.html (accessed August 24, 2009)
Charles M. Sullivan. “Harvard Square History and Development:The Gold Coast and River Houses.” Cambridge Historical Commission. cambridgema.gov/Historic/hsqhistory3.html (accessed August 24, 2009)
The Stamford Historical Society, Inc. “Stamford’s Civil War: At Home and in the Field a 2003 Exhibit and More.”The Stamford Historical Society. http://stamfordhistory.org/cw_sancom.htm (accessed August 24, 2009)
The Cambridge Historical Society, Cambridge, Massachusetts holds the collection of The Bee, an organization run by women that was a social club and a group that produced bedding, towels, bandages, quilts, and nightclothes to support the Massachusetts forces.
Harvard Divinity School Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts holds the records of the First Universalist Society of Cambridge, Massachusetts, which contain the record book of the Soldier’s Aid Society, 1861-1864.
Scope and Content Note:
The Sanitary Society of Cambridge (Lyceum Hall) records consist of one account book, containing the records of donations made to and purchases made by the organization. It is arranged in one series, Series I. Records.
The account book begins by documenting the donations and purchases from October 1862 to March 1863. The donation records document the names of donors, the amount donated, and the date of the donation. A number prominent Cambridge figures and Harvard affiliates appear as donors with many of these people donating on a regular basis. Some of the more well-known figures listed are listed are Alexander Agassiz, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the wife of Charles Norton Eliot, James Russell Lowell, Professor Daniel Treadwell, John Chipman Gray, Professor John P. Cooke, and Professor Francis J. Child. Several organizations are listed such as the Employment Society, the Cambridge Brass Band, the Burnside Brigade, Dr. Albro’s Society, and Christ Church. Purchases include sewing supplies, knitting supplies, writing supplies, and mail supplies. There are purchases made from various stores and area newspapers. It appears the Sanitary Society of Cambridge paid for the printing and distributing of circulars, advertising in the Cambridge Chronicle, sign making materials, accounting supplies, shipping materials, tool repair, bleaching equipment, room rental, and hired labor.
After March 1863 the account book changes, listing 10-month paid subscriptions and purchases from March 1863 to January 1864 only, instead of individual donations and dates. There are sections in writing that appear periodically highlighting the approval of the account by an independent accountant.
Additional records for the Sanitary Society of Cambridge may exist, although their location is not known.
- Soldiers Aid Society (Cambridge, Mass.)
- Cambridge (Mass.) – Social life and customs.
- United States Sanitary Commission.
- United States – History – Civil War, 1861-1865 – War Work.
- Massachusetts – History – Civil War, 1861-1865.
- Military Hygiene.
1|1|Account Book, 1861-1864