Table of Contents
Inventory of the Virginia M. Adams Papers
In the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library
Born in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) in 1930, Virginia “Po” Adams graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951 and later received her Master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Rhode Island. In 1969, Po served as the first Curator of Special Collections at the Providence Public Library until 1980 when she became the first full-time professional Librarian at the Old Dartmouth Historical Society / New Bedford Whaling Museum, overseeing the construction of a new building in 1982 to house library collections. Adams served as Librarian at the Museum until her retirement in 1995, becoming Librarian Emerita.
While at the Whaling Museum, Po’s discovery of writings by a young African-American soldier from New Bedford serving as a corporal in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment named James Henry Gooding marked a significant advance in Civil War scholarship. Adams eventually published an annotated compilation of Gooding’s letters and poems titled On the Altar of Freedom: A Black Soldier’s Civil War Letters from the Front (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991), and the publication was named a 1991 Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and a selection of the History Book Club.
Po was also active in many local organizations including The Handicraft Club, The Pottery and Porcelain Club, and the Fox Point Neighborhood Association in addition to being longtime members of the Providence Athenaeum and a subscriber to the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2004, Po authored a book titled A History of the Handicraft Club, 1904-2004: Centennial Celebration (Providence, RI: The Club, 2004) published as part of the Club’s centennial celebration. Po also served as a past Vice President of the John Russell Bartlett Society for the book arts and remained a scholar and archivist to the end for the Society. Po passed away at the age of 91 at her residence in Providence (Rhode Island) on October 13, 2021.
Scope and Content Note
Papers in this collection date from 1826 to 2014, with the bulk of the materials spanning 1983 to 2014 documenting the research interests and career of Virginia M. “Po” Adams. Po’s correspondence covers the years 1983 to 2014 and relates chiefly to the business and events of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society / New Bedford Whaling Museum. There are several work related letters in the collection from 1983 up until her retirement in 1995 concerning Library affairs, volunteers, and Museum business. Correspondence following Po’s retirement also focuses on Museum affairs due to the fact that Po was Librarian Emerita and still held a Museum membership. There is a set of letters from 1995 to 2000 from the University of Massachusetts Press concerning the publication, publicity, sales, and royalties of her book On the Altar of Freedom (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991). Po exchanged many letters with her friend and colleague John Bockstoce in 1997 as Bockstoce consulted with Po several times while he worked on various writing projects. Correspondence from 1998 to 1999 reflects her time and efforts as part of the 54th Regiment Memorial Committee and the dedication of the 54th Regiment Volunteer Infantry Plaza and Memorial.
During her professional career, Po compiled notes related to various research topics of interest. These materials span the years 1826 to 1996 and consist of reproductions, handwritten notes, bibliographies, and printed articles. Research items related to the Catalpa rescue date from 1987 and consist of notes, song lyrics, photographic reproductions, and an essay titled “New Bedford’s Role in a Political Postscript.” Documentation related to Gideon Nye Jr. dates from 1988 and consists of reproductions of his 19th century correspondence, notes, a bibliography, and an essay titled “The Publications of Gideon Nye Jr.” Po’s Phebe Mendall research spans from 1972 to 1996 and contains not only Po’s notes on Phebe Mendall, but notes documenting 19th century cookbooks and culinary authorities in addition to material related to Phebe’s son John who had ties to the whaling industry.
One of Po’s primary research pursuits was whaling, and in 1990, she compiled a significant amount of material related to the Rhode Island whale fishery. Po’s documentation includes reproductions of 19th century letters related to Rhode Island whaling, a bibliography related to Rhode Island whaling resources, notes on Rhode Island whaling vessels, and material sourced from Rhode Island Ship Registers and Enrollments pertaining to the ports of Bristol, Greenwich, Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, Tiverton, and Warren regarding whaling vessels and voyages. In addition to Rhode Island whaling, Po also collected bibliographies relating to whaling narratives, whaling logbooks, shipwrecks, mutinies, and maritime women. Po’s whaling bibliographies span the years from 1941 to 1990 and highlight American, British, and French sources. Po also collected a reproduction of a poem written in honor of William H. H. Drew who was onboard the Jireh Perry and died at sea in 1863.
In addition to whaling, Po compiled documentation related to William H. Meyers and Jeremiah N. Reynolds. Meyers was an amateur watercolor artist and gunner on the U.S. sloop-of-war Dale during the final battles of the Mexican-American War, illustrating several wartime engagements. His sketchbook is in the collection of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, and Po’s research related to Meyers includes biographical and bibliographic material from 1937 to 1984 in addition to reproductions of 1855 documents produced by Meyers and a 1938 letter written by Franklin D. Roosevelt regarding his artwork. Reynolds was an American newspaper editor, lecturer, and explorer who advocated for several scientific exploring expeditions, most notably to Antarctica. Po collected a great deal of information related to Reynolds, including reproductions of his 1831 to 1836 correspondence in addition to annotated biographical and bibliographical notes compiled between the years 1937 and 1995 by Po and Richard Woodbridge. Po also collected several newspaper articles from various different sources related to Reynolds and Antarctic exploration spanning the years 1826 to 1871. Additionally, Po also compiled 1929 notes on Mocha Dick, notes from 1939 to 1996 on Edgar Allen Poe in relation to Reynolds, and documentation published in 1835 related to Francis Glass, who was Reynolds’ teacher.
The collection also contains material related to Po’s professional career as a librarian, including a 1970 report on Special Collections at the Providence Public Library and documentation related to the Institute on the Development and Administration of Programs for the Preservation of Library Materials that Po participated in at Columbia University in 1978. Po’s papers also contain a program for the Grolier Club’s 2000 Massachusetts excursion and documents related to Po’s 60th class reunion from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011.
The bulk of the items dealing with her professional affiliations consist of papers related to the New Bedford Whaling Museum / Old Dartmouth Historical Society from 1981 to 2010 and her time serving on the 54th Regiment Memorial Committee from 1998 to 1999. Her Museum papers contain materials related to her work, retirement, career highlights and milestones, Library planning documents, items related to volunteers she worked closely with throughout the years, brochures, and newspaper clippings. From 1998 to 1999, Po served on the 54th Regiment Memorial Committee, with documentation consisting of business notes and meeting reminders. The Committee met to discuss plans to commemorate the 54th Regiment by constructing a monument in memory of the Regiment and dedicating the 54th Regiment Volunteer Infantry Plaza in 1999. Po’s 54th Regiment Committee materials reflect this planning process and include proposals, photographs of the 1999 dedication ceremony, pamphlets, and informational cards, in addition to a letter from the City recognizing the Committee’s work and newspaper clippings about African-American Civil War soldiers.
During her career, Po contributed to several publications, including Stuart C. Sherman’s Whaling Logbooks and Journals, 1613-1927: An Inventory of Manuscript Records in Public Collections (Garland Publishing, Inc.: New York & London, 1986) and her own publication On the Altar of Freedom. This collection contains a 1987 book review for Whaling Logbooks and Journals, while there are publishing contracts, royalty statements, book reviews, and promotional materials for On the Altar of Freedom from 1990 to 2000. The collection also contains the texts of several lectures Po delivered from 1987 to 1996 on a number of topics including whaling, local history to the New Bedford Whaling Museum Library. Lectures include a 1987 talk on the Catalpa rescue, a 1988 talk titled Gideon Nye Jr., a 1993 lecture delivered to the Descendants of Whaling Masters on the history of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, a 1996 lecture titled Phebe Hart Mendall: New Bedford’s Cake Lady, and a 1996 lecture titled Jeremiah Reynolds, Mocha Dick and the Wilkes Expedition.
Arrangement of Collection
Information for Researchers
Access to Collections
Unrestricted. Consult librarian for an appointment.
New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 201, [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]
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Materials in this collection were donated to the New Bedford Whaling Museum by Virginia H. Adams and Josephine L. Adams on 6 January 2022 in memory and in honor of their mother, Virginia M. “Po” Adams, as part of Accession 2022.5.
Processed by: Mark Procknik, 2022
Encoded by: Mark Procknik, 25 May 2022
54th Regiment Memorial Committee (New Bedford, Mass.)
Adams, Virginia M.
African-American soldiers--Massachusetts--New Bedford
African-American soldiers--Massachusetts--New Bedford--Monuments
Antarctica--Discovery and exploration
Anthony, George Smith, 1843-1913
Bockstoce, John R.
Drew, William H. H.--Death and burial
Glass, Francis, 1790-1824
Gooding, James Henry, 1837-1864
Gooding, James Henry, 1837-1864. On the altar of freedom : a Black soldier's Civil War letters from the front
Institute on the Development and Administration of Programs for the Preservation of Library Materials (1978 : Columbia University)
Lectures and lecturing
Library buildings--Massachusetts--New Bedford
Massachusetts--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American
Memorial service programs
Mendall, P. H. (Phebe Hart), 1801-1887
Meyers, William H., 1815-
New Bedford Whaling Museum
New Bedford Whaling Museum--Centennial celebrations, etc.
Nye, Gideon, 1812-1888
O'Reilly, John Boyle, 1844-1890
Old Dartmouth Historical Society (New Bedford, Mass.)
Old Dartmouth Historical Society (New Bedford, Mass.)--Centennial celebrations, etc.
Older volunteers in museums
Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809-1849
Providence Public Library (R.I.)
Providence Public Library (R.I.). Special Collections
Reynolds, J. N. (Jeremiah N.), 1799-1858
Sherman, Stuart C. Whaling logbooks and journals, 1613-1927 : an inventory of manuscript records in public collections
Soldiers' monuments--Massachusetts--New Bedford
United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842)
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American
United States. Army. Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 54th (1863-1865)
University of Pennsylvania. Class of 1951. Reunion
Volunteer workers in libraries
Volunteer workers in museums
Whaling ships--Rhode Island
Women and the sea