Bill Barry Retiring from Maine Historical Society at End of Year


Bill Barry, Research Historian, at the Maine Historical Society, Portland.

Two of Bill’s Books – Both Available at the MHS Gift Shop, Next to the Library, 489 Congress Street.

James Sullivan, the First President of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

“I’ll go out with the old year,” said Bill Barry, 72, who has worked as the research historian at the Maine Historical Society, for the past twenty-four (24) years on a part-time basis.  He plans on retiring on December 31, 2018.  What the  future holds for him is unclear right  now, but it most certainly will involve freelance writing.

His spare time has been devoted to writing – writing books, writing catalogue material and serving as curator and an organizer for numerous art and historical exhibitions for a wide range of non-profit organizations.  Bill’s resume is replete with writing, editing and contributing credits for a wide range of creative projects. He formerly was employed at the Portland Public Library and the Portland Museum of Art.

For years, Bill has been the go-to-guy when members of the MHS needed assistance on special projects  – whether it is a graduate school paper, a subject of personal interest or research for a book project, Bill probably has information on the subject and can steer you in the right direction to expand upon the subject.

Perhaps less is known about the number of books he has written. However, the modest author is currently working on a history of the Maine Historical Society, the third oldest in the country.   (New York is the second oldest in the country). The so far unnamed manuscript is  intended to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the non-profit in 2022.  It is half written with more research to be done Bill said late last month at the 489 Congress Street office.  It may sound dry initially, but it is anything but that as he tells its story.

The Maine Historical Society was part of the country’s first historical society when it was part of the Massachusetts Historical Society back in 1793.  It was located in the Beacon Hill area of Boston.  The first president of the Massachusetts Historical Society was James Sullivan.  He did not earn a college degree, but received an honorary degree from Harvard College.   The year he was forced out from the Massachusetts Historical Society, he was elected Governor of Massachusetts.

Forty-nine (49) people from Maine established the Maine Historical Society in 1822.  “They were all bright, interesting people with different politics at the Portland capitol.  They were all curious people and no women were allowed,” said Bill.  However, the nationally known writer Sarah Orne Jewett, “The Country of the Pointed Firs,” became the first women to become a member.  By the 1830s Maine Historical Society had one of the best publishing records in the country – largely because it was modeled after the Massachusetts Historical Society.  Poet Henry H. Longfellow was once president of the Maine Historical Society when it was located at Bowdoin College where Longfellow taught “languages.”

Bill is highly responsible for keeping the publishing tradition going here in Maine.  He has written, edited and contributed to a large number of books and magazines – too long to list herein.  Some of them are for sale at the MHS Gift Shop next to the library at 489 Congress Street.  He said recently he’d like to write a biography of John Neal – a writer and critic of the local art and literature scene.  Does that sound like anyone written about herein?!

“I love to write.  It’s all I do,” said Bill. “I like to write about peoples’ lives I admire.  Maybe even people I wish I were.  But it’s important to me to see the story told well.  I’ll be looking for  free-lance work when I retire.  I’m open to ideas.”

2 thoughts on “Bill Barry Retiring from Maine Historical Society at End of Year

  1. Thank you so much for the wonderful blurb on my retirement from MHS. You captured me perfectly!

    I will continue to be at Maine Historical as a patron and working half days on Saturdays.

    Again, thank you!
    Bill Barry

    • Thank you Bill for allowing this “blogger” to do the story! I’m glad to hear that you will still be there part time on Saturdays. Best,

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