In the Archives: Columbia Point and UMass Boston

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Color photograph of the UMass Boston campus as seen from the water

UMass Boston campus on Columbia Point in Dorchester, circa 1974

From the university’s inception in the mid-1960s, UMass Boston trustees started to plan where to put the permanent campus, as Park Square was always intended to be temporary. Originally several sites were considered, including Highland Park in Roxbury, Copley Square, and North Station, but the final choice was Columbia Point. Many students and faculty members disapproved of the decision, while others were pleased and looked forward to the new space. It was a contentious time for all parties involved. Even so, the plan went forward and the construction of our current campus began.

Our University Archives Historic Photographs digital collection consists of more than 3,600 digitized photographs documenting the Columbia Point campus from its creation through 2009. The collection includes aerial shots of the peninsula before, during, and after construction started in 1971. The main structures on the land at the time were the Calf Pasture Pumping Station, Boston College High School, and the Columbia Point Housing Project, all of which are represented in our collection. 

Our photographs also document events that took place at the Columbia Point campus, including festivals, dinners, commencement ceremonies, receptions, lectures, open houses, and many others. The images show us the buildings on campus and give us a peek into the lives of UMass Boston students, faculty, and staff, both in and out of class.

We expect our photograph collections to grow as the campus continues to evolve. Check out our University of Massachusetts Boston, historic photographs, 1964-2009 collection to see the photographs we’ve collected so far, as well as the collection’s finding aid.

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In the Archives: Boston Normal School, “The most outstanding institution of its kind”

Black-and-white photo of young women performing a play outside of a school building

“Students performing a play.” Here we can see some of the Boston Normal School students putting on a play. I am unsure as to where this play took place, but given the photograph’s estimated time frame, it was probably at the Rice Building, the home to the Normal School from 1876-1907 (Flynn 1980, XVI).

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Black-and-white photo of children sitting at tables in a classroom

“Primary school students in Appleton Street School within the Rice Building.” This is one of my favorite photographs from the collection. Here are young children in the model classroom at the Rice Building. Normal School students would get practical experience by teaching these little ones and working with master teachers. There were some beautiful classrooms in the Rice Building!

In the nineteenth century, the education of young children was changing. The standards a teacher had to meet before getting their own classroom were improving and more and more young women were encouraged to obtain an education beyond elementary school. One school that followed these educational trends over a century was the Boston Normal School (BNS). The City of Boston formed the Normal School to train girls to become teachers in the Boston Public School (BPS) system. The school grew and morphed and changed, eventually becoming the Teachers College of the City of Boston, then a state college, then Boston State College, and was then absorbed into the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The time frame for the University Archives and Special Collection’s Normal School digital photograph collection is from 1872 to 1922. This is the period after the Normal School separated from Girls’ High, its original partner, and became its own institution solely focused on the training of teachers. The school moved from a shared building with Girls’ High to the Rice Building on Dartmouth and Appleton Streets, and a couple of decades later, moved to its final space at 625 Huntington Avenue. At both of the newer locations, the school developed model schools with children from the community, staffed by some of the best teachers in the state who became mentors to the Normal School students (Flynn 1980, 47). 

Black-and-white photo of the exterior of a Boston Normal School building

“Boston Normal School exterior.” This is the Boston Normal School as it stood at 625 Huntington Avenue. To its left (our right) is the gymnasium that they shared with the Girls’ Latin School. Girls’ Latin had a similar building to the Normal School on the other side of the gymnasium. Behind the gymnasium was a courtyard, and behind the courtyard was the Patrick A. Collins Building, which also connected the Normal School and Girls’ Latin (Flynn, 37). Essentially, the buildings altogether made up one large square.

During this span of fifty years, the Normal School training program moved from two years long to three years long, and when students graduated, they did not get a degree but instead received certification that they could teach in the BPS system. The standards for teacher training changed greatly over the years of the Normal School, and at some points, the curriculum was different each year. Following the history of this school is similar to following the history of teacher training throughout the United States. One thing that made our Normal School particularly special is that up until 1931, Boston students did not have to pay to attend and students from outside the city had to pay very little (Flynn, 3). The City of Boston wanted any young woman interested in becoming a teacher in their schools to be able to do so, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Eventually, in 1922, following the trend of normal schools across the country, Boston Normal School became a teachers college and developed a curriculum that would allow students to get a bachelor’s degree in education in four years and a master’s in five. At this point, BNS had been allowing male students for a little over a decade. Clearly, times were changing, and the standards for teacher training were starting to settle into the ones we have today.

Be sure to check out the Normal School digital photograph collection and the finding aid for its home, the Boston State College collection. There are some gems waiting to be discovered!


Black-and-white group photo of Boston Normal School students outside of a school building

“Boston Normal School Class of 1919.” This photograph shows the students of the 1919 Boston Normal School graduating class with a man I believe to be Wallace C. Boyden, their headmaster. It is a particularly striking image; the girls’ faces look as if they’re floating in a sea of white. With the brick and marble facade of the building, it’s probable that this photo was taken on the Normal School campus at 625 Huntington Avenue.

The most invaluable source of information for this blog post was the 1980 History of Boston Normal School – Teachers College, 1852-1952 by Elizabeth D. Flynn, which we have in our digital collections. Flynn was once herself a student of Boston Normal School and created this text as an effort to preserve the school’s story. If you are at all interested in the history of teacher training in the United States or the Normal School itself, Flynn’s work is a fascinating read. 

The quote in the title of this blog post is taken from the article “How Vivid the Memories,” by Lillian Towne, Normal School class of 1885, in the Centennial issue of The Torch, a Normal School publication. Her article is quoted in Elizabeth Flynn’s book on page twenty-seven.

All images shared here are courtesy of the University Archives and Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston: Boston State College collection.

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Historic university records, publications, and photographs now available for research

University Archives & Special Collections (UASC) in the Joseph P. Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston is pleased to announce that six collections of previously unavailable archival material are now open for research.

Man leans against a pole with street signs for Arlington Street and Columbus Avenue in front of a University of Massachusetts building

UMass Boston’s original campus at Park Square in downtown Boston, circa 1964-1974. From UAPHO-0001, box 2, folder 34.

This is the second in a series of posts to announce newly available collections, toward the goal of making all of UASC’s collections, both processed and unprocessed, open for research. Collections that have not been processed, or that are minimally processed, will be made available upon request to researchers in approximately two to three weeks, depending on the size and complexity of the collection. Contact library.archives@umb.edu for more information.

To learn more about the collections that were made available this week, click the collection title in the list below.

  • University of Massachusetts Boston. Office of University Events and Ceremonies records, 1965-2016: Materials include convocation and commencement programs, invitations, and photographs. The programs include the order of events, names of degrees, honorary degrees, certificates, award recipients, and commencement facts and acknowledgements.
  • Publications Office records, 1979-1991: The Publications Office produced the majority of the university’s publications. On August 1, 1998, Chancellor Sherry H. Penney conducted reorganization of several departments at the administrative level to strengthen communication and enrollment efforts. This reorganization created one unit that was responsible for enrollment and communication services. Materials consist of files kept by regular staff and include receipts and correspondence for creating publications such as catalogs, invitations, and posters for various departments across campus. Some of these publications can be found within this collection.
  • University of Massachusetts Boston historical photographs, 1964-2009: These photographs document the history of the University of Massachusetts Boston from its founding in 1964 through 2009. Topics include the planning and establishment of the campus, campus construction, the founding convocation, commencements, student life, campus landscapes, campus building interiors, and campus events. Formats include photographs, slides, negatives, DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes.
  • University of Massachusetts Boston. Government Relations and Public Affairs Office, 1982-2005: The Division of Government Relations and Public Affairs serves as the primary point of contact and source of information about the University of Massachusetts Boston, university events, and achievements. These photographs, negatives and CDs in the collection document the activities of the division.
  • University of Massachusetts Boston. Faculty Senate, 1967-1984: The Faculty Senate is the governing body of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA). Its primary task is to attend to collegiate matters, and its actions and views are to be considered the official actions and views of the college. These records document the activities of the Faculty Senate. Materials include by-laws, minutes, reports, correspondence and notes. Materials on various university committees can also be found in the collection.
  • University of Massachusetts Boston. Chemistry Department records, 1971-2012, bulk 1990-2005: These records document the activities of the Chemistry Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Materials consist of files kept by regular staff and faculty, and include semester highlights, annual reports, program proposals, a proposal for the Science College, and correspondence.

For questions about these collections or to schedule a research appointment, please contact library.archives@umb.edu or 617-287-5469.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives & Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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Six archival collections now available for research

Open flat box with stack of newspapers

Jamaica Plain Arts News: volume 1, number 1, September 12, 1984

University Archives & Special Collections (UASC) in the Joseph P. Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston is pleased to announce that six collections of previously unavailable archival material are now open for research. This is the first of a series of posts to announce newly available collections, toward the goal of making all of UASC’s collections, both processed and unprocessed, open for research. Collections that have not been processed, or that are minimally processed, will be made available upon request to researchers in approximately two to three weeks, depending on the size and complexity of the collection. Contact library.archives@umb.edu for more information.

To learn more about the collections that were made available this week, click the collection title in the list below.

  • A New Place: A Narrative Photograph Exhibit of the Southeast Asian Refugee/Immigrant Experience, 1993: “A New Place: A Narrative Photograph Exhibit of the Southeast Asian Refugee/Immigrant Experience” was donated to University Archives and Special Collections in 1994 by Richard Lee Sheehan. Materials consist of photographs, personal narrative, and poems documenting the experience of five University of Massachusetts Boston students and one staff member, all Southeast Asian refugees or immigrants.
  • Jamaica Plain Art News collection, 1984-2000, bulk 1984-1999: The Jamaica Plain Art News collection was donated to University Archives and Special Collections in 2000 by Helen Hummel. The collection includes a full run of Jamaica Plain Art News and the records of the organization, as well as records related to the Jamaica Plain Art Council and the Footlight Club.
  • West family of Nantucket collection, 1860-1964: The West family of Nantucket collection was donated to University Archives and Special Collections in 2006 by Adele H. Ames, a descendant of the West family. The collection contains historic photographs (including nineteenth-century daguerreotypes) of African American residents of Nantucket. Additional items are West family photographs and newspaper clippings, collected historical items, and several personal and business-related items.
  • Roland Geist scrapbooks, circa 1930-1950: The Roland Geist scrapbooks were donated to University Archives and Special Collections in 2015 by Lorenz Finison. Roland Geist was a bicycle historian and collector during the 1930s and 1950s who compiled the scrapbooks in this collection. Geist, originally from New York, was active in cycling organizations and bicycle events.
  • Schlesinger Library peace movement newsletters collection, 1892-1997: The collection of peace movement newsletters were donated to University Archives and Special Collections in 1998 by the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, a research library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. These collection documents the publication output of various peace movement committees and organizations, mainly in the Boston area.
  • Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Vietnam Movement ephemera, 1969-1971: The Vietnam Movement ephemera of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) was donated to University Archives and Special Collections in 2019 by Sean M. Fisher, DCR Archivist. The items in this collection were found by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) in a review of the files of a former (and deceased) staff photographer who had a life-long personal passion for New England coastal defense military history, and personally collected in this subject area. This collection documents part of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the Boston area in the 1960s and 1970s.

For questions about these collections or to schedule a research appointment, please contact library.archives@umb.edu or 617-287-5469.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives & Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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“Bless you for guaranteeing survival / Of poem after poem. In a home archival”: Remembering Duncan Nelson

Professor Duncan Nelson sits with a bunch of light pink carnations, holding one in his hand.

Professor Duncan Nelson handing out carnations at the 1996 Commencement.

Describing his career in 2015, UMass Boston’s Professor Duncan Nelson said: “I’m in the English department. I’ve been here since 1967. I came from two years at Harvard, three years at MIT, and then came home. This is the greatest school I could ever want to teach at.” Professor Nelson earned his BA at Wesleyan University in 1952 and his PhD at Harvard University in 1964. One of UMass Boston’s earliest faculty members, he taught at the university until his retirement in 2016. Professor Nelson passed away on December 20, 2018.

Known as UMass Boston’s “Poet Laureate,” Professor Nelson wrote more than 1,000 odes commemorating university events, such as building groundbreakings and openings, commencement breakfasts, chancellor farewell parties, and Years of Service galas, which he often wrote and delivered on the spot. Professor Nelson appeared on the cover of Lux, UMass Boston’s student magazine, in 2008. In 2010, he received the university’s Shining Beacon Award.

In 2015, Professor Nelson participated in the UMass Boston Mass. Memories Road Show, where he delivered one of his most well-loved pieces, “Butterfly Poem”:

Duncan Nelson at the UMass Boston Mass. Memories Road Show: Video Interview from UMass Boston Archives on Vimeo.

In 2017, Professor Nelson and his family began the process of transferring his large body of odes to University Archives and Special Collections, where they will be preserved and made available for research. He even wrote an ode in honor of the transfer:

Bless you for guaranteeing survival
Of poem after poem. In a home archival
We’ll amass hordes of odes — full of adjectival
And adverbial tropes — that I trust have no rival
In terms of both volume and traces of wit
That match with what Swift, Pope, and Dryden hath writ!

Professor Duncan Nelson stands on a chair and recites an ode at the 1999 Years of Service event.

Professor Duncan Nelson reciting a poem at the 1999 Years of Service event.

Contact library.archives@umb.edu for more information about Professor Nelson’s collection. View digitized historic university photographs of Professor Nelson, his contributions to the Mass. Memories Road Show, or a video of his ode “UMass Boston Runs on Duncan (Nelson).” You can also listen to and read a transcription of a 1998 oral history interview with Professor Nelson.

An integral part of UMass Boston’s history, Professor Nelson was beloved on this campus for many years. He will be greatly missed.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives & Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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