Suffolk County’s Controversial Holidays

Since Evacuation day and Bunker Hill day have been getting a lot of attention lately, I thought I would post something about the legislative and social history of the two holidays.

The first major celebration of Bunker Hill day, by the people of the Commonwealth, was in 1875. The battle was commemorated with a military parade and a reception, at which the Vice president at the time, Henry Wilson, spoke[1]. Previously the event had been celebrated on a lesser scale, with Bostonians recognizing the holiday in a more conservative manner. From 1875 forward, June 17 would serve as a day for celebration: a major parade through Boston, the closing of public schools, and the early closing of banks and businesses. It wasn’t until April of 1932 that the holiday became officially recognized in the state (Chapter 6: Section 12C ).

In the early 20th century, enthusiasm for celebrations on June 17 began to diminish. In 1912, the Christian Science Monitored reported that the holiday “will not be celebrated by Bostonians with as much zest or hitherto.” As time went on, the holiday lost further popularity with the public: “Interest in Bunker Hill day as a holiday in Boston is waning.”[2] Not until 1925, the battle’s one hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary did the holiday return to its former grandeur. In his first year in office, Governor Fuller issued a proclamation for the observance of Bunker Hill day. He aroused feeling of nationalism, once again stimulating interest within the Commonwealth: “we again meet this year to honor the spirit which through the years has held in loving memory those who fought for liberty and freedom.”[3]

Evacuation day’s history does not go as far back as that of Bunker Hill’s. The recognition of British troops departure from Boston, Evacuation day “gained some recognition as [a] holiday of merely district significance”[4] in 1912. The bill that recognized March 17 as a state holiday entered the House in early January of 1938 (Chapter 6: Section 12K). The Governor at the time was Charles Hurley, who succeeded James Curley.

In March of 1939, a bill entered the Senate that would make Evacuation day a Suffolk County holiday. The bill was voted on twice and was not passed. It was not until 1941 that an act was passed that closed the public offices in Suffolk County only, on March and June 17 (Chapter 4: Section 7 clause 18). When the two holidays were originally recognized in the Commonwealth, in the 1930’s, they were not exclusive to Suffolk County. The status of the public offices and schools were left up to the discretion of the governor.

[1] Celebration of the Centennial Anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Boston, MA: Boston City Council. 1875


[2] Christian Science Monitor: June 17, 1913

[3] “                                            ” June 17, 1913

[4] “                                            ” June 17, 1912

One reply on “Suffolk County’s Controversial Holidays”

  1. Thanks, Peter, for this helpful background. Your history suggests that the origins of these two holidays differ, but I voted to eliminate both of these holidays. My take is that it is unnecessary to shut down the state on these days. Education institutions and others can choose to observe these holidays in a respectful way without a state shutdown.

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