March 25 Worked on Olivers shirt this forenoon
In the morning read to Mother awhile
Mrs J Porter spent the day with Mrs Witherell
I called to see her. Her youngest boy was with
her between three & four years. Her oldest daughter
15 & her other son 13 years. Has lost four children
Abby & Malvina were here to tea. Pleasant
Augustus went to Boston. I received a letter from Louisa
J. Mower Oliver went this morning to New Jersey. Helen to school
A quiet weekday in Easton, punctuated by departures. Augustus Gilmore went into Boston, perhaps on errands for the new boot factory. Helen Ames returned to school and her father left for New Jersey on shovel business. Pleasant weather facilitated everyone’s travels.
Sarah Witherell had a visitor today, a Mrs. J. Porter, who brought three children with her. Evelina, who “called to see her,” noted that Mrs. Porter had borne four other children who had died, a sorrow Evelina would have been especially sympathetic to, having lost a child of her own. So had Sarah Witherell. Surely there was a tinge of loss hovering on the edges of this modest gathering, “frail forms fainting round the door,” as Stephen Foster’s classic ballad* from 1854 would soon suggest.
In the United States in 1851, average life expectancy was less than 50 years old. No small variable in that number was the high rate of infant mortality. The expectation that an infant might not survive was so prevalent that some parents didn’t name their children until after the child had lived through its first twelve months. It wasn’t unusual for census records to show entries for two- or six- or nine-month old babies described as “Infant Not Named.” Children and young adults died, too, from diseases that we have since held at bay, but babies were especially vulnerable.
*Hard Times Come Again No More