It’s all in the timing

Proof that humor is not a modern invention:  a joke to lighten our Wednesdays direct from John Davis to AAS Librarian Christopher Columbus Baldwin in the close of a February 4, 1832 letter.

Can you tell why a catterpillar [sic] is like a woman churning butter? catterpillar

Do you give it up?

Because she makes butterfly.

No groans please.  This joke comes from a very dignified source. In 1832, John Davis was serving his third term in Congress. He would go on to become governor of Massachusetts as well as a senator.  And most importantly (of course), he served as AAS president from 1853 until his death in 1854.

Known as “Honest John,” Davis distinguished himself as an uncompromising anti-slavery Whig, an adversary of President Andrew Jackson, and a staunch opponent of the Compromise of 1850.  After his death at sixty seven, one newspaper described him as a “very practical and honest”  statesman.  In the April 1854 AAS Proceedings, council member Thomas Kinnicutt remembered him warmly as, “social in his habits, genial in his disposition, and constant in his friendships.”

The papers of John Davis are held in the AAS manuscript collection.

Published by

Diann Benti

Assistant Reference Librarian

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