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Cambridge Mayor Letter Books

Identifier: 001

Collection Overview

This collection contains carbon copy typescript letters from the office of J. Edward Barry (April 1911 – April 1914), Timothy W. Good (April 1914 – January 1916), Wendell D. Rockwood (January 1916 – January 1918), and Edward W. Quinn (January 1918 – January 1930), mayors of the City of Cambridge from 1912 to 1920.


  • 29 April 1912 to 6 October 1920

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to research.

Conditions Governing Use

The materials in this collection are in the public domain.


The City of Cambridge is located in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Middlesex County. It is a part of Greater Boston and borders the Charles River. The area was settled by Puritans in 1631 hoping to populate the land between Charlestown and Watertown. Its original name was Newe Towne, which changed to Newetowne soon after, and it was planned to be a fortified town, as well as the prospective place of government by Governor Winthrop and his council. However, these ideas were eventually abandoned in favor of Boston. Still, many moved to Newetowne, and William Wood, an English chronicler of New England said the town was, “one of the neatest and best-compacted towns in New England, having many fair structures with many handsome-contrived streets.” By 1636, Harvard College had been established, and Newetowne became home to the first institution of higher learning in the Americas. Therefore, in 1638, the town was christened Cambridge, in honor of the English college.

For the first two centuries after its birth, Cambridge was most closely associated with education and Harvard. It grew as a town, but it was still considered an agricultural community. However, the town experienced rapid growth following the American Revolution after the West Boston Bridge was built in 1792, thus connecting the town directly to Boston. By this time, the town had become a place of prosperous businesses, increased transportation, and higher learning. Therefore, it became an industrial town that was also known for its fisheries along the Alewife and Charles Rivers. In 1846, Cambridge was officially named a city.

Cambridge also boasted some of the most influential literary poets of the nineteenth century, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. During this period of time, many progressive ideas were brought forth, such as feminism. Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) was a Cambridge native who advocated for women’s rights. From 1839-1844, she offered a series of seminars for women, and out of that came the publication of the influential feminist tract Women in the Nineteenth Century in 1845. She was also part of the transcendentalism movement that developed around Harvard University and included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, among many others. Abolitionism was another progressive movement in Cambridge during the nineteenth century. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) was a graduate from the Harvard Divinity School, and he was a captain of African American volunteers during the Civil War. This was the nation’s first black military unit, and it became the model for later units.

Throughout the rest of the century, the city continued to grow, and with the help of philanthropist Frederick Hastings Rindge (1857-1905), many city buildings were established. Between 1888 and 1990, he funded the construction of the public library, a new city hall, and the Manual Training School, a vocational school for boys. This expansion continued into the twentieth century, and Cambridge experienced some defining changes. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology moved its campus from Boston, and the subway was engineered to connect the two cities. A melting pot of different cultures formed as more immigrants moved to the city. Political and social movements revolved around social services, education, regulation of the economy, and religion. In 1902, Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House was established, and it was inspired by Fuller. Its main goal was to help immigrants successfully assimilate into American culture.

The government at the time was a bicameral system with a mayor, a twenty-one member council, and a board of aldermen. The non-partisan era ended in 1902 when John H. H. McNamee, a bookbinder was elected the city’s first Irish Catholic mayor. After that, political parties played a strong role, which brought about charges of political favoritism and nepotism. Many citizens initiated reform movements to combat the corruption. Political reformers introduced Plan E in 1937, which changed the structure of government. Now, there was a nine-member council. The new plan encouraged proportional representation, which means all voters and political groups deserve representation in government based on voting numbers. Plan E changed how candidates campaigned because slate balloting was very important. This influenced the politically-charged atmosphere of the time, something that continued throughout the century. When the City of Cambridge entered the new millennium, many of the social issues of the twentieth century were still relevant. A process of urban renewal and economic development, from women’s suffrage to rent control, helped the city retain its appeal.

J. Edward Barry (1874-1932) was mayor of Cambridge, Mass. from 1911-1914. He graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas College, and worked in the railroad business before entering politics. He served on the lower body of City Council from 1900-1902, and he was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1906. He became the Democratic candidate for mayor in 1911, serving for two terms. He was also elected president of the Association of Railroad and Steamship Agents in 1912.

Timothy W. Good (1872-1951) was mayor of Cambridge, Mass. from 1914-1915. He was educated in the public schools of Cambridge, and once he graduated, he started working as a banker. His positions include director of the Guarantee Trust Co. of Cambridge, trustee of Hibernia Savings Bank, director of the Cambridge Realty Co, and a vice president of Manufacturers National of Cambridge. In 1899, he started his political career by becoming a member of the 21-member City Council of Cambridge (also known as the Common Council). Good then went on to become the president of the Board of Aldermen in 1903, and he was the Democratic candidate for mayor of Cambridge, elected in 1914.

Wendell D. Rockwood was a direct descendant of the Puritans of New England. He was a member of the Citizen's Municipal Party and was mayor of Cambridge, Mass. from 1916-1918.

Edward W. Quinn was involved in the politics of Cambridge, Mass. and was the mayor from 1918-1930 during the early part of the twentieth century. In 1912, he was the Superintendent of the Streets under Mayor J. Edward Barry. In 1918, he was the Democratic candidate for mayor, and he held office for 12 years. Quinn died in 1931.


8.5 Linear feet

7.9 Cubic Feet

21 boxes (20 Hollinger boxes and 1 half Hollinger box.)

Organization of Collection

Approximately 6,7000 items grouped chronologically. Every letter book volume was arranged in reverse chronological order.

Custodial History

Transfered by the Cambridge City Clerk. Date of transfer unknown.

Physical Description

6,700 Items

Processing Information

Processed by Veronica Boeve in March 2011.
Finding Aid to the Cambridge Mayor Letter Books, 1912-1920 001
Veronica Boeve
1 July 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge Room, Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections Repository

Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway
Cambridge MA 02138 USA