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City Council Committee records

Identifier: 0140.001

Scope and Contents note

This collection includes records of various City Council committees during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The collection spans the years 1828-1912 with the bulk of the material dating from 1860-1895. These records were kept by the Clerk of Committees and include minutes of committee meetings, correspondence, reports, bids, petitions, programs, etc. Committees represented include Police, Fire, Claims, Arrangements, Common and Public Grounds, Underground Wires, Public Instruction, Public Institutions, Stony Brook, Harbor and many others.

The collection is divided into 5 series: Summary minutes, Summary minutes - Individual committees, Committee dockets, Docket documents, and Correspondence. The Summary minutes span the period 1851-1912 and include minutes of the different committees recorded together in volumes by the Clerk of Committees. The Summary Minutes - Individual Committees span the period 1847-1911 and include minutes of individuals kept separately in single volumes. The Committee dockets span the years 1833-1876 and record each item referred to a committee. The Committee docket documents span the years 1828-1893 and include supporting documentation that went before committees but did not become an official part of the Board of Aldermen or Common Council docket documents. These records were previously stored trifolded in boxes with no organization except for rough chronological groupings. Interns unfolded, cleaned and grouped these records chronologically and by City Council committees using the minutes and the municipal registers as guides. There is some overlap in the dates so it is best to search a few years around a given date. The Correspondence series includes three letter copy volumes of correspondence from the Clerk of Committees for the years 1867-1890.


  • 1828-1936 (bulk, 1860-1895)


Historical note

Boston was incorporated as a city on 23 Feb 1822 by chapter 110 of the Acts of 1821. This act was adopted by the voters on 4 Mar 1822. The City Charter established the form of government as a Mayor; a Board of Aldermen, consisting of eight elected at large; and a Common Council, of forty-eight elected by wards; to be called when conjoined, ‘the City Council.” The Mayor and Aldermen were vested with the administration of the police, and executive power of the corporation generally, with specific enumerated powers. All other powers belonging to the corporation were vested in the Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council exercised by concurrent vote. City Council committees oversaw the operation of the city. With the executive power shared by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, early Mayors ensured unity by appointing themselves as head of committees.

The Mayor served as ex officio Chairman of the Board of Aldermen until 1855. Section 29 of Chapter 448 of the Acts of 1854 , an act to revise the charter of the City of Boston, provided for the choice of a permanent chairman by the Board of Aldermen who presided at all meetings of the board and at conventions of the two branches in the absence of the Mayor. The administration of the police, together with the executive powers of the corporation generally, all the powers formerly vested in the Selectmen of Boston, and all the powers subsequently vested in the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, as county commissioners or otherwise, were vested in the Board of Aldermen. The Mayor if present continued to preside but without a vote. All other powers belonging to the corporation continued to be vested in the Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council, exercised by concurrent vote.

The charter revision of 1854 and the removal of the mayor from participation in the committees of the City Council strengthened committees and the Committee system reached its height of power in the 1860s. However, the committee system began to decline by the 1870s for many reasons. Defects in the system included a lack of responsibility, difficulty from getting efficient service from an unpaid board and the changing composition of committees on a yearly basis. Also, due to the rapid growth of the city, the committees were not qualified to deal with the executive powers. In the early 1870s, a movement began towards taking away the executive powers of the Aldermen. The first result of this movement was the appointment of the Board of Street Commissioners in 1872. Powers relating to the laying out and construction of streets were transferred from the Aldermen to the new board. At this time, the reformers were unwilling to transfer executive power to the mayor fearing so much authority in the hands of one man. Other boards established in the 1870s include the Parks Commission, Water Board and the Police Commissioners.

This movement towards the separation of the legislative and executive powers led to the charter revision of 1885. Chapter 266 of the Acts of 1885, an act to amend the charter of the City of Boston, transferred to the Mayor the power to appoint, subject to the approval of the Board of Aldermen, all officers and boards elected by the City Council or Board of Aldermen, and all offices that may be established in the future. The positions of City Messenger, Clerk of Committees and other clerks of the City Council were exempted from this provision. All executive powers vested in the Board of Aldermen were transferred to the Mayor to be exercised through the several officers and boards of the City in their respective departments, under the general supervision and control of the Mayor. The Mayor no longer would be a member, nor preside at any meeting, nor appoint any committee of the Board of Aldermen.

Chapter 486 of the Acts of 1909, an act relating to the administration of the City of Boston and to amend the charter of the said city, abolished the City Council and both branches thereof and the positions of City Messenger, Clerk of Committees, Clerk of the Common Council, Assistant Clerk of Committees and subordinates. The act established a City Council consisting of nine members elected at large. The City Council, subject to the approval of the Mayor, could establish such offices that it deemed necessary for the conduct if its affairs and at such salaries it may determine. The City Council retained the power to approve ordinances and loan orders presented by the Mayor and the budget. All heads of departments and municipal boards, excluding the school committee and those appointed by law by the governor, would be appointed by the mayor without confirmation by the City Council.


36.0 Cubic feet (250 volumes, 26 record cartons, 5 oversized boxes and 1 document case)

Language of Materials


Related Archival Materials note

City Council proceedings (#0100.001)

City Council meeting and hearing transcripts (#0100.002)

Committee on the Extension of Faneuil Hall records (#0140.010)

Committee on the Alien Passenger records (#0140.011)

Committee on the Army and Navy Monument records (#0140.012)

Committee on Public Celebrations records (#0140.013)

Guide to the City Council Committee records
Kristen Swett
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Repository Details

Part of the City of Boston Archives Repository

201 Rivermoor St.
West Roxbury MA 02132 United States
617-635-1194 (Fax)