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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 338

Records of the Fragment Society, 1812-1993


Minutes, annual reports, correspondence, etc., of the Fragment Society (Boston, Mass.), a philanthropic organization and the oldest continuous sewing circle in Boston.


  • Creation: 1812-1993

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Most of the records are open to research, but there are some records access to which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy. Folders #54v-66d, 92-93, 128-177, and 179 are closed to all researchers, except present and former Fragment Society board members, for 80 years from the date of the most recent document in the respective folder. Individual documents removed from otherwise open folders are also closed for 80 years. To ensure the privacy of the aid recipients, each researcher wishing to use the Fragment Society records must sign a special permission form in addition to the manuscript request form.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by the Fragment Society is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. As long as the organization exists, those wishing to publish quotations from the records must obtain the written permission of the president or vice president of the Fragment Society. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


8.72 linear feet ((13 file boxes, 3 cartons) plus 1 oversize volume, 1 folio+ folder, 3 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder)

The bulk of the Fragment Society records (1812-1981) was originally processed in 1982, and has not been reprocessed. The addenda, processed in 1995, contained some documents that overlapped the original archive in both topic and date; these have been interfiled where possible. In most cases, however, the addenda are inventoried separately at the end of the original folder listing. Although most cover the years 1982-1993, there are earlier records as well. Copies of documents, from which names or street addresses have been removed, are available for many of the records closed for privacy reasons (see "Access," page 1) in Series I-V; copies were not made for the addenda.

Series I, History (#1-9v), includes a history of the Fragment Society written by its president in 1962 for the society's 150th anniversary, and the society's intermittently published "annual" reports, which since 1905 have been called yearbooks. These reports span the years 1834-1974, and usually include the constitution and by-laws, lists of members, and reports of work. There are also constitutions and lists of subscribers (1813 and 1817), and two scrapbooks containing correspondence, meeting information, and clippings about Fragment Society events.

Series II, Meetings (#10v-29). The minutes provide a complete record of the Fragment Society's meetings (1812-1981) and include agendas and annual reports. Series II also contains correspondence about meetings, invitations, programs, and clippings. The Fragment Society's anniversary celebrations, especially the 150th, are well documented by reports, programs, and photographs.

Series III, Membership (#30v-37). The membership lists include information on dues and donations paid by each member (1812-1927), and a special list of members compiled for the 100th anniversary. Correspondence concerning membership can be found with correspondence about meetings (Series II). The membership records show that many Fragment Society members are from prominent Boston families.

Series IV, Charity records (#38v-66d). Though incomplete, these records document the society's philanthropic work. Included are an account of all clothing distributed from 1818 until 1961 and the managers' "List of Work," which lists the people assisted each month from 1926 to 1963 and from 1969 to 1974. The record of transactions with Jordan Marsh Company, the department store from which the Fragment Society usually bought clothes, dates from 1964 to 1971 and is similar to the managers' record books. Since 1961 "manager's record" slips and purchase order forms have also been used to document the society's charities. Samples of both forms are in Series IV; all other "manager's record" slips are closed. Correspondence in this series includes requests for assistance and letters of thanks; the bulk of the correspondence dates from 1959 to 1980 and is from hospitals, social workers, and charitable organizations. A book of shoe orders, some price lists, and President Louise Coburn's record book of assistance provided from 1952 to 1960 are also in Series IV. Although many of the original documents less than 80 years old are closed to research, copies without names or street addresses are available for most. There are no copies for #54v-56v.

Series V, Financial records (#67v-97v). Besides the treasurer's account books (1812-1963), there are treasurer's annual reports (1935-1949); other treasurer's reports are in the minutes of meetings in Series II and in the yearbooks in Series I. Series V also includes purchasing committee payment and receipt books (1849-1894); bills (1865-1874); tax records (1892-1978, scattered); and correspondence, appraisals, and other papers about the society's investments. The charity records (Series IV) and membership lists (Series III) contain additional financial data, and minutes of the Finance Committee are interfiled with other meeting minutes (Series II).

Series VI, Addenda (#98-192), contains similar material to that in Series I-V, arranged in parallel order. Included are papers re: the 175th anniversary (1987); meeting minutes, agendas, and notices (1982-1992), and samples of invitations (1953-1992); correspondence, clippings, etc.; lists of members and letters of nomination for membership; annual reports to the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare (1925-1931); information on layettes, shoe orders, cost of clothing, policies, and agencies helped; requests for assistance, thank-you notes, Fragment Society order slips; and financial records. The requests and thanks for assistance (128-175) were received in three batches, each with a different filing system. The batch received in 1982 was arranged alphabetically by Fragment Society case worker; this order has been maintained. The two sets received in 1990 and 1994, one of which was chronological and the other arranged by case worker, have been interfiled at the folder level in one mostly chronological sequence. The original records contained all bills and receipts of every Fragment Society transaction, most of which were with Jordan Marsh department store. A few representative samples have been kept (see #180), as well as a sampling of the various bank statements (checking, assets and income, listing of assets).


The Fragment Society, the oldest continuous sewing circle in Boston, Massachusetts, held its first meeting on October 19, 1812. At a second meeting, held on October 22, a constitution was adopted and the society's work began. The name was taken from the New Testament story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes: after feeding five thousand people, Jesus enjoined his disciples "to gather up the fragments that remained that nothing be lost." Echoing this advice, the Fragment Society's first constitution stated the society's purpose: " do something towards relieving the want and promoting the comfort of the suffering poor." More specifically, "the design of this Society shall be to assist in clothing the destitute, more especially destitute children, and to loan bedding and infants' garments to such mothers as are not able to procure things necessary for their comfort during the period of their confinement." During the first year 506 families received aid, including many who felt the effects of the War of 1812. After a few years the Fragment Society abandoned its loan policy, but it continues to give clothing, shoes, and bedding to the needy.

The clothing that the Fragment Society gives away is purchased, with the exception of layettes, which the members sew at their meetings. The Fragment Society rarely gives other forms of assistance, but some cases require special consideration, such as the purchase of a prosthetic device or a small allowance for an impoverished scholarship student. While most requests for assistance come through charitable organizations, any manager may request assistance for an individual known to her. The Fragment Society usually limits assistance to the greater Boston area; during times of national emergency, however, such as war, aid has been more widespread.

In 1816 the Fragment Society was incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is administered by a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and a board of managers that has ten to fourteen members. Initially the officers met monthly and the members annually. Today there are five meetings a year that any member may attend; the board of managers continues to meet separately. At the annual meeting, which usually includes a guest speaker, the members vote for officers by "touching the Ballot" to indicate approval.

Membership in the Fragment Society is selective. There are usually about 200 dues-paying members; many are daughters or granddaughters of past members. These memberships formed the basis of the Fragment Society's permanent fund, which has been increased by bequests and investments. The interest on this principal supplies most of the funds for the society's charitable work.


The records of the Fragment Society provide details about the society's charitable work, financial transactions, and meetings. They are arranged in six series, the first five of which constitute the bulk of the records (1812-1981):

  1. Series I. History
  2. Series II. Meetings
  3. Series III. Membership
  4. Series IV. Charity work
  5. Series V. Financial records
  6. Series VI. Addenda

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 81-M285, 82-M5, 82-M80,82-M130, 90-M93, 94-M47

The records of the Fragment Society were given to the Schlesinger Library by the Society through its president, Deborah Webster Greeley, from December 1981 through April 1994.


  1. Box 1: 1-8
  2. Box 2: 9v-12v
  3. Box 3: 13v-18
  4. Box 4: 19-26
  5. Box 5: 30v-34v
  6. Box 6: 35v-41
  7. Box 7: 42-53, 57va-57vb
  8. Box 8: 57vc-63
  9. Box 9: 64-65, 67v-71v
  10. Box 10: 73v-83
  11. Box 11: 84-97v
  12. Box 12: 98-118
  13. Box 13: 119-127, 178, 180-192
  14. C.14: Items removed from #14-16, 39-1953; file units 54v-62v. CLOSED.
  15. C.15: 63-66d, 92-93, 128-145. CLOSED.
  16. C.16: 146-177, 179; items removed from #180. CLOSED.

Processing Information

Reprocessed: June 1995

By: Katherine Gray Kraft

Fragment Society (Boston, Mass.). Records of the Fragment Society, 1812-1993: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
The collection was processed with help from the donors.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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