Publication Date

November 1, 1991

Perspectives Section

AHA Annual Meeting

In a four-page Program sent to all 622 AHA members, the indefatigable AHA Secretary Herbert Baxter Adams “respectfully invited” them to attend the Eighth Annual Meeting, December 29–31, 1891, in the city of Washington, DC, with morning sessions at the National Museum (Smithsonian), and evening sessions at the Columbian University (now a part of The George Washington University). The meeting headquarters was at the Arlington Hotel on Vermont Avenue, between H and I Streets “where first-class accommodations are promised to members of the Association at reduced rates.” Appropriately, the site is now covered by the sprawling Veterans Administration Building. Round-trip tickets from New York on either the Pennsy or the B & O railroad were ten dollars, and other railroads promised reduced fares throughout the country, that is a fare and a third for a round-trip ticket.

No less than twenty-three sessions were held for the edification of members attending, beginning on the evening of the twenty-ninth and lasting until very late on New Year’s Eve. The meeting opened with the inaugural address by the AHA’s president, distinguished Richmond lawyer and amateur historian William Wirt Henry, grandson of Patrick and a bona fide FFV (first family of Virginia). The sessions were an interesting mix of subjects, chiefly U.S. history, by twenty-three individuals presenting papers. Slightly more than half were from universities and colleges, including such famous names as W.E.B. DuBois and the presidents of William and Mary (Lyon G. Tyler), Columbian (James C. Welling), and Cornell (Charles K. Adams, president of the AHA two years earlier). The Librarian of Congress (A.R. Spofford) delivered a paper on lotteries in American history. Future AHA presidents William A. Dunning, Columbia College, New York and Simeon E. Baldwin, Yale University both of whom also were later were elected to the presidency of the American Political Science Association, spoke on Irish land legislation and the statutes of the Andover seminary, respectively. Two women historians gave papers, one a nonacademic, Mrs. Lee C. Harby of New York on “The Earliest Texas,” and the other, Miss Mary Parker Follett of Harvard “Annex” on “Henry Clay, the First Political Speaker of the House.”

In 1891 as in 1991 the Association endeavored to get the jump on the following year’s Columbus centenary. All three of the last day’s evening sessions (New Year’s Eve) were devoted to Italian and American history with papers on “The Present Status of the Subject of Pre-Columbian Discovery by the Norsemen,” James Phinney Baxter; “Recent Discoveries Concerning Columbus,” Charles K. Adams; and “The History and Determination of the Line of Demarcation Established by Pope Alexander VI, between the Spanish and Portuguese Fields of Discovery and Colonization,” by Edward G. Bourne.

Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Williams, William and Mary, and Cornell were represented among the thirteen academic historians presenting papers, but such non-Eastern institutions as the University of Minnesota and Adelbert College, Cleveland, were also represented. Public and amateur historians were also presenters, including a retired general, the president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, and a distinguished Canadian who gave two papers!

Attendees were informed in the program that “The author and former postmaster general and Mrs. Horatio King, 707 H St., NW, extend a cordial invitation to the members of the American Historical Association, and the ladies accompanying them, for Wednesday afternoon, December the 30th, from 4 to 7 o’clock.”

The concluding paragraphs of the 1891 program deserves quotation, if only to establish that it is not always the case that “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!”:

The American Historical Association now numbers 622 members, with 104 life members. Any person approved by the Executive Council may become a member by paying three dollars; and after the first year may continue a membership by paying an annual fee of three dollars. On payment of fifty dollars, any person may become a life-member exempt from fees. (Constitution, Art. III). Nominations made be made at any time by persons already members of the Association, and should be addressed in writing to the Secretary, with a brief statement regarding the nominee. The Secretary will bring such nominations before the Executive Council for election if duly approved by them. Sixty-one new members joined the Association since the last meeting.