In Cousins, Kristen Joy Emack explores the innocence and intimacy of girlhood. Photographing for over a decade, the artist pictured her daughter and three nieces as they grew into themselves, chronicling their developing relationships, maturing confidence, and expanding worlds. Over the course of the project it became collaborative, as the girls began posing and presenting themselves to the camera, aware of their role within the frame.

A sense of communion permeates the series as dangling arms, small hands, and braided heads fit perfectly together. Beyond each other, through their poses and presence the girls integrate into the landscape, harmonious with the patterned shadows, rippling water, and curved branches that surround them. An intuitive bodily connection and shared emotional and spiritual knowledge bonds the girls together. Cousins offers a glimpse into the under-examined world of young girls of color, powerful in their relationships and secured in each other’s connecting presence.

About the artist: Kristen Joy Emack is a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, a MacDowell Fellow, a Saint Botolph Fellow and a Massachusetts Cultural Arts Fellow. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally, in both galleries and photo festivals, and has been published in magazines including Vogue Italia, National Geographic, OATH, The Horn Book and The Sun. She has lectured at multiple universities including Harvard, Hofstra and Boston University, and her work is in multiple private collections and institutions in the US and Europe. Emack has recently released her first monograph, Cousins, published by L’ARTIERE in Italy. Kristen is a public school educator who lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

On view through July 31, 2024

Albums could be found in almost every household in the United States by the late nineteenth century. The rise of commercial photography and color printing at this time created an abundance of pictures, and albums provided a way to organize, preserve, and share them. Some albums feature family photos, colorful advertisements, or portraits of celebrities; others document travel, war, or historical events. Though most albums contain images that were mass produced, each is a unique assemblage. This exhibition highlights a small sample of the many different types of nineteenth-century albums in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum.

Framing Freedom: The Harriet Hayden Albums

Framing Freedom: The Harriet Hayden Albums retells the story of Harriet Hayden, a remarkable woman who played a crucial role in the city’s — and the nation’s — fight against slavery.

Harriet Hayden was a courageous anti-slavery activist who ran a vital stop on the Underground Railroad, located on Beacon Hill. She and her husband, Lewis Hayden, were well-known leaders in Boston’s fight against slavery.

This exhibition centers on Harriet Hayden’s carte-de-visite portrait photograph albums. These albums reveal the social networks of Boston’s thriving community of Black activists and encourage us to examine home-based activism and women’s contributions more closely.

Harriet and her community used then-new technology to have their portraits taken. These photographs were more than keepsakes—they were a form of activism for the Black community. Using refined clothing and poses, they took control of their image and challenged stereotypes.

Alongside the photographs are rare artifacts of abolitionist activity in Boston, including responses to the Fugitive Slave Act.

Pre-purchase tickets here.

What You Will See

Portrait photographs of

  • Dr. John V. DeGrasse. An accomplished surgeon, Dr. John V. DeGrasse was the second African American to receive a medical degree in the United States.
  • Louise DeMortie. Had a successful career reading classic novels and poetry to audiences and later fundraised for and opened an orphanage in New Orleans.
  • Virginia L. Molyneaux Hewlett Douglass. Active in the anti-slavery and women’s suffrage movements and spoke out against school segregation and prejudice. Was married to Frederick Douglass, Jr., son of leading activist Frederick Douglass.
  • Leonard A. and Octavia J. Grimes. Leonard served as minister of Twelfth Baptist Church, whose congregation included Anthony Burns. Grimes played a key role in mobilizing the Black community in response to the Fugitive Slave Act.
  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, poet, groundbreaking author, lecturer, abolitionist, suffragist, and reformer.
  • Robert Morris. One of the first Black lawyers in the United States and second African American to practice law in Massachusetts.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe. Lewis Hayden’s personal experience played a direct role in her documentary text, A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
  • Sara Wilkins. Active in Philadelphia, Wilkins’s portrait provides an indication of the Haydens’ national network of friends and acquaintances.

Important abolition artifacts

  • The only two known photographs of Harriet Hayden, on display together for the first time.
  • Currier & Ives hand-colored lithograph of The Gallant Charge of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment.
  • The Hayden’s commemorative copy of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that hung in their parlor.
  • Items from the trial of Anthony Burns.
  • Declaration of Sentiments of the Colored Citizens of Boston, on the Fugitive Slave Bill!!!, a broadside written by Lewis Hayden, William C. Nell, and others, part of a coordinated response to the Fugitive Slave Act by Black anti-slavery activists and other abolitionists who organized resistance to the law immediately after its passage.
  • A rare book, The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, introduced and promoted anti-slavery values to young audiences.

This exhibition is a must-see for anyone interested in

  • Black and African American history
  • Beacon Hill social history
  • Boston history
  • Women’s history
  • The Underground Railroad
  • Social justice movements
  • The power of photography as a tool for activism


  • Makeda Best, PhD, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Oakland Museum of California, a specialist in nineteenth-century photography, race, and gender.
  • Virginia Reynolds Badgett, PhD, former Assistant Curator at the Boston Athenaeum and scholar of American art and material culture.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, Cabot Family Charitable Trust, Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Mass Humanities, Mass Cultural Council, and Fiduciary Trust. In-kind media sponsor is WBUR.


Exhibition Tickets and Events

Exhibition Tickets

Due to our gallery’s limited capacity, we encourage visitors to reserve a date to view the exhibition by purchasing an Arts & Exhibition ticket in advance. Your ticket is good during the business hours on the day you select. Purchase Tickets

People looking at special collections in a study center

Exhibition-related Events

From docent- and curator-led tours to special talks and music events, check out the events related to the current exhibition. See Events



Re-Reading Special Collections at the Boston Athenaeum

Ongoing installation beginning November 15, 2022

Re-Reading Special Collections at the Boston Athenaeum encompasses several permanent collection installations in our historic building, ranging from a long-term reinstallation of paintings and sculpture to short-term, focused exhibitions of light-sensitive items.

Re-Reading Special Collections reinterprets our National Historic Landmark building’s publicly-accessible first floor to reflect a more expansive view of American art and history across a range of media. The reinstallation focuses on the Henry Long Room, a large multi-functional area used as a permanent collection gallery, lecture hall, event space, and starting point for tours. By deploying archive-driven historical research and theoretically-informed interpretive frameworks, Re-Reading presents collections items with a critical eye toward the past. Showcasing a diverse array of rare books, works on paper, paintings, and sculptures, the installation brings a fresh perspective to lesser-known and beloved materials alike. This project was made possible by a Re-envisioning Permanent Collections Grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art.