The Fenway Victory Gardens Est. 1942

Fruits of Investigation

Written by Bruno Rubio, FGS Member

 

The FGS archives are in the care of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). Founded in 1791 and located at 1154 Boylston Street in the Fenway, the Massachusetts Historical Society is an independent research library and a tremendous resource for American history, life, and culture. The FGS archives are a collection of member records, meeting minutes, by-laws, and election results dating from 1944 to 2007.

Because of space limitations, the numerous boxes holding the archives are stored off-site, but members can indulge their curiosity by planning a research visit to the MHS building. Prior registration is required in accordance with MHS policies as set forth at www.masshist.org/2012/ library/visit. The MHS staff is friendly and helpful, and you can browse the FGS archives in an exquisitely appointed reading room decorated with historical paintings and comfy leather chairs!

My first visit to the MHS to view the FGS archives was fascinating. The librarian wheeled out a cart loaded with several boxes packed with files all neatly arranged by year and topic. Most of the older documents in the collection are handwritten on legal pad paper, others on thin and brittle typing paper turned out on an old-fashioned typewriter. Some of the items I read made me chuckle. In 1945 the garden award judges were paid $3 for their services and given monogrammed cigarette lighters. The ‘Best Garden’ award was a five-dollar bill and a gold star pin, but the honoree was upset when told that the pin had to be returned so that it could be presented again the following year.

In 1960 the Parks Commissioner promised that the reeds down by the Muddy River would be ‘taken care of’ by burning them down and pulling them out by the roots. The president of the Victory Garden triumphantly announced, ‘I am sure that all members will be happy to learn that come fall, they will no longer be plagued by this problem.’ Did you know that the name of a candidate running for the Victory Garden Board of Directors in the late 1960s had to be scratched off all the ballots the night before the election because he was caught stealing soil from several gardens?

Some of the items I read put me in a more reflective mood. Richard D. Parker, for whom the Victory Garden was named in 1980, makes his first appearance in the archives in 1944 when serving as Secretary. By 1962 Mr. Parker was president and in 1965 he was named Board of Directors member-forlife. In 1972 the Victory Garden hosted Mr. Parker’s eightieth birthday party. But no mention in any archived material was ever made of Mr. Parker’s death in 1975 after undergoing hip surgery.

The Victory Garden’s struggle to thrive and survive pervades the first twenty years of the park’s existence. The 1945 slogan ‘Organize and keep the gardens another year!’ hints at the totally temporary footing the gardens were on by the end of World War II. Even though gardeners gathered petition signatures calling for the park’s continuation, Boston mayor James Michael Curley said in 1946 that he was unsure of ‘need’ for the Victory Gardens.

Developers have wanted to construct a VA hospital (1946), a blacktopped parking lot for the Red Sox (1960), and a 55,000-seat sports stadium (1967) on the location. The Chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority went so far as calling the Victory Garden a ‘waste of space’ when he presented a proposal to legislature that a sports stadium be built. The archives show how much things have changed. Water pipes had to be laid down in spring and picked up in fall throughout the 1950s. Gardeners volunteered for day, evening, or night patrol duty in the early years.

Of course, a lot has remained the same, too. ‘To promote the planting and growing of vegetables for home use’ was the garden’s first motto. It is inspiring to read in the archives about the longterm commitment to community service of current FGS members Philip Bibb (Assignment Officer and Vice President, 1978-1983) and Joan Murphy (Secretary, 1981). Some things never change.