A Short History of the Connecticut League of History Organizations  

The Connecticut League of History Organizations was incorporated 60 years ago, but the ground work for its formation began in June 1948. In June of that year Elmer D. Keith invited a small group of men and women to meet at the Thomas Lee House in East Lyme, to discuss whether there was “sufficient desire on the part of the Historical Societies of the State of Connecticut to warrant the formation of some sort of an Association, such as found in Massachusetts and other states.”  It was quickly decided to form a committee of five that would meet in Litchfield in August and draft a report to be read at the first gathering of historical societies from around the state that fall. The report stressed that the organization was to be a cooperative enterprise and that the members were to devote the necessary time and effort both as a group and individually as members of special committees.” The members must be willing to share information and experiences that might improve the museum practice in

Connecticut .

The first meeting of the League was held in October 1948 at the “Morris-Pardee House in East Haven” (even historians get it wrong since the name of the house is the Pardee-Morris House and it is located in New Haven ). Twenty historical societies were represented by 5fifty-four people and the keynote speaker was The Rev. Dr. Barber, President of the Bay State Historical League who eased their fears that that such a group would not impose “any unwanted obligations.” Barber was chosen to be the main speaker since the founder of the Connecticut League envisioned it to be similar to the Bay State League that was formed as a regional group in 1903 and grew to a statewide organization by 1948. Another New England States would soon follow with the founding of the Association of Historical Societies of New Hampshire (1951), Vermont League of Local Societies (1953) and Maine League of Historical societies and Museums (1961).

At the 1948 meeting a committee was formed to write the by-laws for the CT League. On February 5, 1949, at the New Haven Colony Historical Society, this committee completed the bylaws in the morning. After lunch a general meeting was held with the representatives from historical societies across the state and the new bylaws were passed. A slate of officers was presented, with the explanation that the six Vice-Presidents had been chosen with a view to giving representation to the different areas of the state. Edgar F. Waterman of Hartford , past President of The Connecticut Historical Society and amateur genealogists was elected President of the League. The Vice-Presidents were Charles R. Harte, New Haven; Elmer D. Keith, Clintonville; Rawson W. Haddon, Waterbury; Miss Ella F. Wood, Hamden; Williams Haynes, Stoningtonand Miss Ruth Newcomb, New London . The group also appointed its first Executive Director, Ralph W. Thomas, who was also the Curator/Librarian at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

The first annual meeting of “our young Society” was held in the Parish Hall of Christ Church at Guilford on May 7, 1949 where it was decided that the League would maintain a calendar of events planned by its members, have a speakers list and print a “directory of all member societies which would include their structure, history, possessions, elements of strength, and problems.”  In 1950, the Ct League was incorporated by the State of Connecticut and its papers state that it was organized for “the Stimulation of activities of societies interested in historical materials…and to act as a clearing-house for exchanging information among its members.” Historical societies were required to apply for membership and applicants were reviewed and voted on at each meeting. The membership list would grow from the first twenty to over 150 by 1971.   

Publishing of the newsletter and the planning of programs was the major focus of the group. The League Bulletin went from mimeographed sheets to a glossy, illustrated booklet and then back to simple printed sheets as funds costs went up and available funds did not.  In addition to announcing upcoming programs and reporting on recent programs, the publication also announced events that had taken place at its member organizations, as well as new acquisitions of artifacts and buildings. Meetings were held on Saturdays at different locations throughout the state and sometimes discussions groups were part of the program. These groups covered such topics as “Problems of Curators” “Membership a Problem?” and “Administration Problems.”  The “Problems of Curators” was so popular that it was repeated at later programs. Some programs were site-specific with either show-and-tells or demonstrations. By the 1960s programs often included topics on pending and recently passed legislation such as the establishment of Historic Districts (1962) and the Connecticut Preservation Action (1982). Lunch was an important part of the meetings with members bringing their own brown bags or ordering a box lunch. Coffee was provided by the host society and the Fairfield Historical Society added a lovely touch by serving butterscotch bars to their guests in 1949. If the weather warranted it, groups spread out blankets and picnicked on the grounds. One program was devoted solely to “Ageless Recipes.”

 

In 1959, a group of members meet to discuss the possibility of presenting awards to members. It was decided that the League “shall make an award, annually, if such action is justified, to a Member Society which, during the previous year, has made an outstanding contribution to the enlargement of an interest in local history or for any significant development in the management or improvement of the activities of Historical Societies in general.” In addition to members the League also gave awards to newspapers that wrote articles on Connecticut historical topics. The newspaper award was discontinued in 1965. 

In addition to their own programs, the League members were active in the Conference of New England Historical Societies that was founded in 1962 and disbanded about 1983. Members travelled to meetings in Concord, New Hampshire, Providence and Mystic where they attended workshop on preservation of buildings and artifacts and cataloguing and maintaining collection records.

The League has evolved into a different organization than it was over 60 years ago, but its core mission of providing support for its members who preserve and share the history of the state has not wavered. It continues the legacy put forth in 1948 that the League is an organization that “could make an important contribution toward the better development of museums and museum practice in Connecticut .”

Elizabeth Pratt Fox

June 1, 2010

Connecticut League of History Organizations
Central Connecticut State University
Department of History
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain, CT 06050
(860) 832-2674

Email: info@clho.org

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