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Park Rangers Discuss Sumner/Longfellow Friendship at Houghton Library

Presentation features letters, speeches and poetry from Houghton Library collection.


August 6, 2013—Park Rangers Ryan McNabb, Rob Velella and Rick Jenkins recently presented “The Tender Heart and Brave: The Politics and Friendship of Charles Sumner and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow” in Houghton Library’s Edison and Newman Room. McNabb serves with the Boston African American National Historic Site; Velella and Jenkins with the Longfellow House.

Velella said he and his Longfellow House colleagues became interested in the friendship between Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow while designing a Sumner bicentennial exhibition in 2011. “We realized that Sumner was the most frequent visitor to the Longfellow House—and through their letters, speeches, journal entries and Longfellow’s poetry, we were also able to prove Longfellow’s dedication to the abolitionist movement,” Velella said. The majority of the materials for the reading came from the Houghton collection.

“The purpose of ‘The Tender Heart and Brave’ is to show, rather than tell, that these two men had a close personal friendship and similar concerns about the social/political world of the period, using their own words to prove it,” Velella concluded. “The readings can be somewhat intense. We often expect people to cry.”

The reading at Houghton reprised an earlier presentation delivered at the Massachusetts Historical Society—and in conjunction with a seminar McNabb co-taught at Harvard with Professor John Stauffer. The course’s culminating project is the Houghton exhibition, “Boston’s Crusade Against Slavery,” which is on display through August 23.

“I am most grateful to Professor Stauffer for inviting his students to delve deeply into the library’s rich Civil War-era collections as part of their course work, and for establishing a partnership between the library and the National Park Service,” said Peter X. Accardo, coordinator of programs at  Houghton. “The objects in the cases, in many cases unique and unknown to scholars, provided a material gloss to the content of the rangers’ dramatic presentation.”

Han Yan ’13 created an online version of the exhibit with help from Enrique Diaz, a Library designer/multimedia specialist.

Read an article about the exhibit in the Harvard Gazette here.