January 24, 1851


Jan 24 Friday.  Was very busy this morning about house  Sent

for Abby to go to Augustus’s.  Mr Torrey called to say that

she could not go & made a long call and was as plausible

and good as ever.  Went to Augustus about ten

and alone, but had the pleasure of Mr Whitwells

company back as far as his house  This evening have

called at Mr Holmes but did not see Miss Eaton

Have finished both of the dolls frocks of pink, blue lace  Fine day

The doll that Evelina has been working on since the beginning of the year was finished today.  Wooden with painted features and lace dresses, it was fashioned as a miniature adult.  Baby dolls didn’t come in until almost the 20th century. Isn’t it interesting that the doll was handmade and not store-bought?  It was just a few years too early for Evelina to be able to buy a porcelain doll out of Germany and France, the ones with the big glass eyes, leather hands and silk dresses that speak to us today of Victorian taste. Those manufactured dolls began to enter the American market in the 1860s. With Yankee ingenuity, and not a little help from others, Evelina made her own doll for her daughter. How did Susie like the it?  We don’t get to find out, nor do we know when Evelina gave it to her daughter, but we can guess it was a pleasant surprise.

John Torrey called at the Ames house today.  A former colonel in the local militia, Torrey was also Evelina’s brother-in-law.  He had been married to Evelina’s late sister, Hannah, who died in December, 1848, leaving behind two daughters, Abigail and Mary “Malvina”.  The Torrey family lived right in the village of North Easton, so Evelina was able to see her nieces often.  Abby is 20 years old as the diary opens, Malvina only ten.

Reverend Whitwell featured in Evelina’s diary again today; she certainly seemed to enjoy his company.  She may have been someone who placed ministers up on a pedestal; they were the spiritual leaders of the day and she was a woman of sincere faith.  But, despite his being described by Chaffin as a serious, scholarly type, he may also have been an attractive novelty at a gray time of year.  He was new to the neighborhood and sought the acquaintance of Oakes and Evelina. Did Evelina have a little crush on him?

January 23, 1851


23 Jan  Thursday.  Went again to Elisa Quinns this

morning to get another dolls dress cut & staid untill

about noon to work on it & left it to be finished.  This

afternoon have been to Mr Whitwells to the sewing

circle.  There were but few members present a part over

there yesterday  We carried a piece of striped shirting

and I cut out a part of it.  Abby came to pass the

afternoon but did not stop.  The boys all went to Canton

for an assembly.  Very pleasant

Evelina, and probably her sisters-in-law, made their way to the Whitwells’ home today for the monthly meeting of the Sewing Circle.  The gathering was smaller than usual, as some members had attended the original meeting, held the day before, despite the snow storm.

The Sewing Circle was a regular meeting of about twenty women from the congregation of the Unitarian Church.  Led by Reverend Whitwell, it moved each month from house to house, giving each member a chance to host the event.  The program itself consisted of sewing, each woman bringing her own work, or helping a friend with a project, or perhaps sewing together in concert for a purpose; Evelina is unclear on this.  Mr. Whitwell probably opened the meeting with a prayer, and may even have read to the women as they worked or rendered his  thoughts on topics either scriptural or secular.  The meeting may have been less formal than that, but the minister’s presence made it a sanctioned event.  Ordinarily, women didn’t gather regularly outside their homes for recreation. No book clubs!

In fact, Easton’s sewing circle was an iteration of a female benevolent society, such as ladies in towns and cities in many parts of the country were forming in the first fifty years of the 19th century.  The purposes of the societies varied.  Some, like the Fragment Society in Boston (which formed in 1812 and is still active today) provided clothing and bedding for poor women and children.  Some, like the Worcester Anti-Slavery Sewing Circle, were abolitionist,  while others focused on missionary work, or simply helped raise money for their local parish.  And though their purposes were quite specific, the consequences of the sewing circles were broader than their participants imagined.  These gatherings were a tiny but important early step toward allowing women to contribute to society outside their own homes.

By the time the Ames women returned home from their meeting, Evelina’s boys were on their way to Canton to another assembly.  Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) (even with his chillblains) and Frank Morton rarely missed an opportunity to go to a dance or a “sing” or a party.  They were lively young men.  All in all, a sociable day for the Ames family.

January 22, 1851



1851 Jan 22 Wednesday  Commenced working on the sack again this

morning quite early.  Went to Elisas about ten

to get her to make a dress for Susans doll staid

untill twelve and left her to finish it

Got ready to go to the sewing Circle at Mr Whitwells

But it commenced snowing very fast which prevented

our going.  This evening have finished Susans sack

Oliver poor fellow sits here almost crying with the chillblains

Evelina finished sewing a sack (a kind of apron) for her daughter that she’d been working on for several days, and turned to another ongoing project, doll clothes.  At mid-morning she left the house and went to Elisa and Patric Quinn’s home along Stoughton Road (today’s Elm Street).  Elisa was a dressmaker while Patric was employed at the shovel factory.  Like so many employees in that period, they had emigrated from Ireland.  Elisa was going to help Evelina finish two dresses for Susie’s new doll.

Leaving the little dresses in Elisa’s capable hands, Evelina returned home for midday dinner, just before snow began to fall.  She and her sisters-in-law had planned to go to the monthly meeting of the Sewing Circle, held this afternoon at the parsonage where the Whitwells lived, but poor visibility put an end to their travel.  The ladies stayed home.

Oliver Ames (3), Evelina and Oakes’ middle son, was suffering from chillblains, an unsightly and uncomfortable affliction of extremities: toes, fingers and ears.  Cousin to frostbite, chillblains are an itchy, painful inflammation brought on by exposure to moist cold air.  Some say it’s caused by too-rapid warming of skin and tissue after exposure to cold.  Different treatments were offered: poultices, soaking or rubbing with salt.  Lydia Maria Child, author of The American Frugal Housewife, offered a specific remedy:

“The thin white skin, which comes from suet, is excellent to bind upon the feet for chillblains.  Rubbing with Castille soap, and afterwards with honey, is likewise highly recommended.  But, to cure the chillblains effectually, they must be attended to often, and for a long time.”

It appears that Oliver (3) was in for several days of discomfort.

January 21, 1851


Jan 21  Tuesday.  This morning commenced working on

Susans sack but had some things to do about house so

that I could not accomplish much.  Mrs. Holmes called

to get some potatoes for Miss Eaton  says she (Miss E) is

failing and the Dr had told her that he could not help

her  Mr Robinson came this afternoon to varnish the

chimney pieces & spilled the varnish over my carpet

which prevented me from going to have Susans doll


Harriet Holmes, a neighbor, came to the Ames house to fetch potatoes for the ailing Miss Eaton, the same Miss Eaton on whom Evelina and Sarah Ames called during the cold spell earlier in the month. The spinster lived with Harriet and Bradford Holmes, their children, Harriet’s mother and a shovel worker named Oliver Eaton – a relative, possibly.  Mr. Holmes was a teamster who probably worked with Old Oliver’s oxen. Many folks who lived in North Easton were connected to the shovel works in some way.

The potatoes that Evelina gave away would have been grown either by Old Oliver or by Alson Gilmore, Evelina’s brother, who owned the Gilmore family farm.  Potatoes were common fare at the dinner table, and particularly a favorite for winter use.  The Irish called them “pratties.” The challenge for a housewife lay in how to serve potatoes: mashed, roasted, and boiled were familiar variations, then and today.  Sarah Josepha Hale underscored the dietary importance of potatoes in her book, The Good Housekeeper.  “To boil Potatoes in the best manner, is a very great perfection in cookery,” she said.

In the Ames sitting room, hapless Mr. Robinson had to contend with a displeased housewife after he spilled varnish on the carpet.  He was already in Evelina’s bad graces from having taken too long to paint around the fireplaces. How do you suppose Evelina got the varnish cleaned up?

January 20, 1851


Jan 20th Monday  This morning worked about the house as usual

on washing days & varnished Susans wooden doll.

Jane put her clothes out but soon had to take them

in again as it commenced raining.  This afternoon

I have been mending Oakes Angiers black pants

and finished cutting Susans plaid sack

This evening have been working on Susan’s plaid

apron and reading Mr Lovell’s paper

Keeping clothes clean is always a challenge, but it was especially so in the 19th century when doing laundry was an all-day, manual chore.  Small wonder, then, that little girls wore “sacks” or aprons over their dresses to keep their outfits from getting soiled.  Sacks had no buttons, so were easier to wash than dresses. They were rather shapeless, sleeveless tunics, often made from simple muslin; aprons were the same idea except fitted with a sash. There were no hard and fast rules about the design or material, however.  To imagine the approximate outline of what Evelina was making for Susie, think of the little girls in John Singer Sargent’s famous 1882 portrait, “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” at the MFA.  Three of the four daughters are wearing something over their dresses. Later in the century, sacks and aprons  would evolve into pinafores, an iteration that became as much decorative as protective.  Aprons never went away, however.

After sewing for most of the day, Evelina took up “Mr. Lovell’s paper” to read. Reverend Stephen Lovell lived in Easton and was, for a few years, minister of the short-lived Protestant Methodist church.  Although Rev. Lovell “gave general satisfaction,” attendance at his church was “feeble,” according to town historian William Chaffin, so the congregation disbanded about this time.  Still, Lovell remained visible in town through his involvement with Olive Branch.

Olive Branch was a popular weekly newspaper published in Boston by Reverend Thomas F. Norris .  Although Chaffin writes that Lovell was editor of this paper, all other sources assign that honor to Norris.  Olive Branch proclaimed itself to be “Devoted to Christianity, Mutual Rights, Polite Literature, Liberal Intelligence, Agriculture, and the Arts.” *  It advocated peace in the increasingly divisive period leading up to the Civil War.  Norris, Lovell and others who worked for the paper – women among them – must have been disheartened by the elusiveness of their goal.  The paper ran from January 1837 through December 1860.

* Joanna River, “Eliza Ann Woodruff Hopkins and The Olive Branch,” josfamilyhistory.com

January 19, 1851


1851 Jan 19th Sunday.  It was rather earlier than common this morning

when we had our breakfast as Jane was going to

meeting   We have all been to meeting all day

Mr Whitwell gave us two good sermons, though not

as interesting as usual.  After hearing the class in

the Sunday school I called at Mr Whitwells

This evening have been into Mr Bucks to a prayer meeting

Three Ladies spoke & a number of men.  Very pleasant

Before the Ames family left for church, their servant Jane McHanna was on her way to a Catholic service.  Every few weeks, an itinerant priest would ride into town to conduct Sunday mass in the dining room of a boarding house owned by the Ames shovel company.  Although North Easton offered several Protestant options to its church-going citizens, it had no Catholic church for the influx of faithful who had recently immigrated from Ireland.

The number of Roman Catholics in North Easton, as elsewhere in Massachusetts, was rapidly expanding.  In 1849, Reverend William Chaffin tells us, there were 45 Catholics in town.  By 1852, there were 150; when the Civil War began, there were 400.   As the number of Irish immigrants grew, a dedicated facility was clearly needed.  Recognizing this, in 1850 the Ames family donated a piece of land on Pond Street to the Irish to build their own church.  It was under construction as the year 1851 opened.

Evelina’s day was full of religious activity.  Not only did she hear “two good sermons,” she visited the Sunday school and, in the evening, went out to a prayer meeting held by Benjamin and Mary “Polly” Buck, who lived in a house in the near neighborhood that they rented from Old Oliver.

January 18, 1851


/51 Jan 18 Saturday  I was very lazy this morning as usual after

being in Boston.  We tried out the suet & salted the 

quarter of beef & boiled the tripe  Jane has been

busy all day but I have not done much.  Have mended

the stockings painted Susans wooden dolls head & arms

Mr Robinson has at last finished painting our chimney

pieces.  it is 5 weeks since he commenced them & I could

not nail down the carpet  Mr Ames has been to Boston.  Pleasant.

It was back to domestic life today after an enjoyable trip to the city.  No more dining on oysters. The kitchen was humming with more familiar fare as Jane McHanna processed a huge gift of meat that Old Oliver had sent a few days back.  She may have kept it cold in the snow or in an ice house until today when they had time and table top to deal with it.

“Ox beef is considered the best,” noted Sarah Josepha Hale in her 1841 guide, The Good Housekeeper.  Lucky for Evelina’s family that Old Oliver raised his own oxen. Jane salted it, salting or “corning” being a time-honored way to preserve it. Typically, the beef was placed in a container – likely a barrel – and covered with a brine solution.  One recipe for brine in an 1858 cookbook* called for four gallons of water, two pounds of brown sugar and six pounds of salt.  Beef stored this way could keep for months.

The suet, which, strictly defined, is the fat from around the kidneys, was “tried,” meaning that it was boiled and rendered into lard.  The tripe, from the stomach, was boiled as well.  The odor from both these boilings was strong and would have been noticed throughout the house.

By her own confession, Evelina didn’t get too involved with anything going on in the kitchen today, leaving it to Jane’s good offices. Instead, she puttered here and there, unpacking, doing a little mending, painting her daughter’s wooden doll and standing over Mr. Robinson’s shoulder as he finally completed painting the mantels.   We might describe her day as “re-entry.”  Oakes, meanwhile, was in Boston on shovel business.

* Mary Peabody Mann, Christianity in the Kitchen