January 21, 1852



Jan 21st  Wednesday.  Had quite a job to thaw out the boiler

in the bathing room which was left Saturday evening

for Mr Ames to take a bath which he chose not

to take & was forgotten.  A tin pail of water was frozen

so hard as to burst out the bottom, so much

for forgetfulness & carelessness.  Oliver came home

this evening and brought me a picture a present from my 

sons.  Mrs. Witherell & Ames spent part of the evening

Bathing in 19th century America was an improvement over the hygiene practices on the 18th century, but still less frequent than today. Where we might shower once a day, people like the Ameses might bathe once a week, often on a Saturday night in order to be clean for Sunday service.  Others bathed less, or differently. For some, sponging off was preferable to full immersion in a tub.

Oakes Ames had his Saturday night bath lined up to go, but decided against it and left the water behind to the mercy of the cold bathing room, where it froze.  Evelina had to clean up the consequent spill, tsk-tsking all the while about “forgetfulness & carelessness.” This small vignette does suggest just how cold the room was where they bathed. Regardless of the temperature of the water, stepping in or out of the tub was chilly. No wonder they didn’t bathe every day.

The day wasn’t all bad, however. Evelina’s sons, led by middle child Oliver (3), gave her a gift, a picture.  What was the occasion? Not her birthday, not Christmas. Perhaps just a spur-of-the-moment thank you for being their mother. The gesture seems sweet, thoughtful and generous.

January 20, 1852


Jan 20th Tuesday  Have made Susan two pr of fur cuffs

one pair for school and one for best.  Hannah called

for me to go with her to call upon Augusta, went

with her found Julia Pool there stoped but a few

moments. This evening Mrs Witherell Emily & Mrs

S Ames brought in their work and passed the evening

They say I never give them the credit of coming here

at all. I certainly will this time

In what Evelina considered to be a rare occurrence, her two sisters-in-law, Sarah Witherell and Sarah Ames, “passed the evening” at Evelina’s. The women brought their work boxes or baskets and sewed together, young Emily and perhaps young Susie with them. Usually, Evelina went over to one of their sitting rooms.

On this same date in 1865, when Evelina’s life had changed, and she and Oakes were in Washington, D.C. while Oakes served as U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts, Oakes was called to the White House.  Winthrop Ames, who once possessed the diary in which Evelina recorded her days in Washington, tells us that Evelina wrote “today Mr. Lincoln sent for Oakes to come to the White House.  He went immediately after dinner and talked with the President until after midnight.’ ”

Winthrop went on to add, in his own words:

“Ames reported that the President said to him then, and in later conferences, ‘Ames, you take hold of this. If the subsidies provided are not enough to build the road ask double and you shall have it. Take hold of it yourself.’ And he added,’by building the Union Pacific, you will become the remembered man of your generation,’ The President said further that if the railroad could be so far completed that he might take a trip over it when he retired from the Presidency it might be the most memorable occasion in his life. Alas! his next railroad trip was to be in the funeral car that bore him to his grave in Springfield, Illinois.”*

*Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, 1937, p.


January 19, 1852


Fashion illustration from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1850



Jan 19th Monday  Susan washed the dishes and after doing

my usual mornings work commenced sewing some pieces

of fur that was taken off my cloak for Susan a muff

to carry to school.  Finished it before dark and in

the evening made over her best muff and it looks

as well if not better than when new. feel very well

satisfied with my days work  Very cold.


The snow continued today. According to Old Oliver Ames, “it snowd all last night + more than half the day to day and it was a verry cold storm – it did not snow fast any part of the time and all that has come now will not measure more than 6 inches on a level. it drifted considerable and is dry + light.”*

Susan Ames probably would appreciate the muff that her mother was making for her to keep her hands warm.  She already had one for “best” to wear to church, but this one would be for everyday. Made from recycled pieces of fur off her mother’s cloak, Susie would be making quite a fashion statement for a nine-year-old school child, most of whose classmates would likely have worn mittens.  Even Meg and Jo March had to walk to their jobs without muffs, holding instead warm popovers fresh from the oven to keep their fingers from numbing up.

At day’s end, Evelina was “very well satisfied” with the muffs she had reworked.  The household today appears to have been running well which would have amplified Evelina’s happy mood. Jane McHanna must have worked some magic to get the laundry done despite the snow storm.

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

January 18, 1852



Jan 18 Sunday  Has snowed quite hard all day.  The

gentlemen all went to meeting & Mrs S Ames & Emily,

Mrs Witherell staid at home because she looks so bad

& Susan & self on account of a cold & cough  Have

read The Vale of Cedars by Grace Aguilar & have

written a letter to Pauline Dean.  Made a long

call in the other part of the house this evening.  Mrs

S Ames there with me

Feeling under par, Evelina and her daughter stayed home from church today while the men of the house pushed through the “fine cold dry snow”** to get to meeting. Sarah Witherell stayed home, too, still recovering from having had her teeth pulled.  It was a luxurious opportunity for Evelina – and Susie and Sarah, perhaps – to sit and read in relative quiet.

Evelina’s choice (which she probably read in serialized form in a periodical, as the tale wasn’t published in book form until 1853) was The Vale of Cedars or The Martyr’s Tale by Grace Aguilar. It was a tale of a Jewish father and daughter trying to hide from the Spanish Inquisition in 1479. The “Vale of Cedars” was their hideout. Eventually discovered and imprisoned, the daughter resisted the church’s demand that she convert to Catholicism.  Thus, the “Martyr’s Tale.”  The dramatic plot with its medieval overtones, exotic location, and anti-catholicism probably captivated Evelina, just as the author meant it to. Aguilar included these words from Byron’s [Oh! Weep for Me] in her introduction to the book:

“The wild dove hath her nest – the fox her cave –

Mankind their country – Israel but the grave.”

George Gordon, Lord Byron

**Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archive, Arnold Tofias Collection

January 17, 1852


John Ames Mitchell


Jan 17 Saturday  Finished Susans morino hood and mended

stockings & some other things  Finished Susans Delaine

dress that Julia Mahoney cut Dec 23  Mr Ames brought

Sarah W some fitch cuffs from Boston  Frederick

came home to night  Ruth Swan that was and

her husband came home to night  Heard of Mrs

Colin Harlowes death

Some months back Evelina’s sister-in-law, Harriett Ames Mitchell, had departed Easton with her three children to join her husband, Asa, in Erie, Pennsylvania  One of those children was John Ames Mitchell, who turned seven years old on this date.

John Ames Mitchell would lead an irregular childhood, moving around western Pennsylvania but eventually landing back in Massachusetts, in Bridgewater. His father, a coal trader who had worked for the Ames family, would succumb to mental illness or dementia and spend out his days in the Taunton Hospital for the Insane, his residence there supported by his brother-in-law, Oliver Ames Jr..  John’s mother, Harriett, and older brother, Frank Ames Mitchell, a Civil War veteran, would also live lives greatly indebted to the financial support of family; John, too, looked to his uncle for support on occasion.

John attended Harvard, but didn’t graduate, and studied abroad. Endowed with artistic and literary talent, he became an architect.  Under the guiding patronage of his Uncle Oliver Jr., John designed the Unitarian Church on Main Street in Easton in 1875, and worked on other projects in the Boston area before returning to Europe again, this time to study at the Beaux Arts. When he finally returned to the States, he used his ample talent to write novels, draw illustrations and, most lasting of all, create Life magazine.

With a racehorse owner named Andrew Miller, John started publishing Life in 1883. John and his staff, which included the Harvard grad and founder of Harvard Lampoon, Edward Sandford Martin,  saw Life as a publication that would “have something to say about religion, about politics, fashion, society, literature, the state, the stock exchange, and the police station.” He vowed “to speak out what is in our mind as fairly, as truthfully, and as decently as we know how.”* He also worked to bring wonderful illustrators on board, most famously Charles Dana Gibson, whose Gibson Girl would come to life in Life.

John also was a co-founder with Horace Greeley of the Fresh Air Fund.  He married but never had children of his own. His 75% ownership of Life lasted until his death in 1917.

January 16, 1852




Jan 16th Friday  Made the bed in the front chamber and 

put the room in order swept the stairs &c &c

worked on Susans morino hood  Mrs Wm Reed &

Mrs Hall called  Augusta & Edwin here to tea and

spent most of the evening  Edwin put the casters

on my hourglass table and I nearly finished putting

on the cover  Mrs S Ames called a few moments.

In between the day’s activities of choring, sewing and finishing up a project for newlyweds Edwin and Augusta Gilmore, Evelina received several callers, including Abigail Reed, wife of the elderly William Reed, and a Mrs. Hall. Evelina had called on Mrs Reed the day before; Mrs Reed returned the courtesy today. Paying calls was an intrinsic part of social life in the nineteenth century, especially among women and especially in cities, but also in smaller country towns such as Easton. Social exchange, which in the country had been a somewhat relaxed occurrence based on an informal combination of need, opportunity and desire, was becoming ritualized.

As of 1850, social visits were beginning to follow a proscribed pattern, like the one described in The Art of Pleasing,* written about this time. On the topic of “Receiving Visitors”:

“To receive visitors with ease and elegance, and in such a manner that everything in you, and about you, shall partake of propriety and grace, – to endeavor that people may always be satisfied when they leave you, and be desirous to come again, – such are the obligations of the master, and especially of the mistress of a house.

“Everything in the house ought, as far as possible, to offer comfort and grace. Perfect, exquisite neatness and elegance, which easily dispense with being sumptuous, ought to mark the entrance of the house, the furniture, and the dress of the lady.”

In a cautionary paragraph, the author goes on to advise against sewing when company calls: “If a lady who receives a half ceremonious visit is sewing, she ought to leave off immediately, and not resume it except at the request of the visitor.”  That stricture may have been a difficult one for Evelina to follow, given how incessantly she sewed. But she and her sisters-in-law would have striven to be au courant with the etiquette of the day.

Before many more years went by, the phenomena of calling cards would be introduced, creating “an increasingly complex etiquette which determined the length and frequency of calls, whether a call should be returned or not and the sorts of people to whom a family was, or was not, ‘at home.’ Families connected by kinship, business and politics interchanged calls and invitations, but ranked and classified their acquaintances in ever more precise grades of social acceptability.”** These new rules would apply particularly to the next generation of Ameses.

H. M. Rulison, The Art of Pleasing, Cincinnati, 1853, pp. 27-28

** Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1988, p. 265


January 15, 1852


Charles Wentworth Upham

(1802 -1875)


Jan 15 Thursday  Spent some time this forenoon in reading

the papers and fixing Susans work & pasted some pictures on

a mahogany box.  Called on Mr Whitwell, Reed & 

Howard with Mrs S Ames.  Evening to a lecture on

education by Mr Upham of Salem at the meetinghouse

hall. a very good lecture and a goodly number

present for a snowy evening.  Had two tripes from father.

The guest lecturer at the meetinghouse was, presumably, Charles Wentworth Upham. A minister and politician from Salem, on the north shore of Boston, Upham had traveled no small distance to deliver a “lecture on education.”  Well spoken and well read, he had written, some years before, a history of the witch trials in Salem. Lately, however, Upham had been speaking on the progress of normal schools, which were schools that taught teachers. Education was on his mind.

Also on Upham’s mind was politics. He was a Whig, which may have been his connection to the Ames family and Unitarian congregation in Easton. Previously Upham had been a member of the Massachusetts State Senate, and within the year would become Mayor of Salem. From 1853 to 1855, he would be a representative to the U.S. Congress, but would fail to be reelected.

Upham was married to Ann Holmes, a sister of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. He had been at Harvard with Ralph Waldo Emerson with whom he corresponded later in life.  Their friendship faltered, however, over Transcendentalism, which Upham disliked. Upham also famously acted against Nathaniel Hawthorne, leading the local fray in getting Hawthorne, a Democrat, fired from his politically-appointed job at the Salem Custom House.

Some disliked Upham; Charles Sumner called him “that smooth, smiling oily man of God.”* What did the Ameses think?


*Carlos Baker, Emerson Among the Eccentrics, New York, 1996.

January 14, 1852


Jan 14th Wednesday  Have been to work some on a 

morino hood for Susan to wear to school  Augusta called 

this forenoon and I went home with her to assist her in

cutting her cake to send to her friends  This afternoon

have been to N. Bridgewater and called on Miss Foss

with Mrs S Ames Emily & Susan  bought Edwin a clock

Called at Edwins and staid till about eight Oclock this

evening spent the rest of it at Olivers

Orinthia Foss is back.  “Miss Foss,” as Evelina calls her, more formally than usual, had taught school in Easton the previous year, living part of that time with the Ames family.  Although twenty years younger than Evelina, the two women had become close friends, often sewing, gardening and socializing together. When Orinthia left to go back to her family in Maine, Evelina had missed her. Now, Orinthia had returned and was teaching in North Bridgewater (today’s Brockton).

Evelina, Sarah Lothrop Ames, and the girls Susie and Emily rode to Bridgewater to call on Orinthia, a reunion that was presumably happy and animated.  The women also did some shopping.  Evelina, feeling pleased, bought a gift for her nephew Edwin Gilmore, despite having made a table for him and his bride, Augusta.  She had been over at the newlyweds’ home earlier in the day, in fact, showing Augusta how to cut up the wedding cake that she herself had made.  Pieces of the cake would be sent out to friends and relatives as a keepsake.  Wedding cakes were meant to bring luck to the new couple.

Back in Easton, Old Oliver noted that “we kild a yoke of oxen I bought at randolph for 125$ one of them weighd 1359 + the other 1277 one of their hyde weighd 116 lb and the other 104 pounds”.  There would be beef and tripe headed for Evelina’s kitchen.


January 13, 1852



Jan 13 Tuesday  Have not done much work to day

can scarcely tell what I have been doing  Have

been trying to fix Susan some work to learn her to sew

Have got out an apron and commenced a stocking

for her to knit.  This afternoon called on Mrs Richards

Holmes, Torrey Savage & Hannah  Spent the evening with

Augustus and wife at Olivers.  Mrs Witherell been to Dr Washburns

& had her teeth out.  Mrs S Ames George & Emily went with her.  Father

& Oliver dined here & the others when they came back from Bridgewater

This was not Sarah Witherell’s best week. Limping from a bad burn on her foot, she kept an appointment with a dentist, Dr. Nahum Washburn, to have her teeth pulled. Dr. Washburn had his office in Bridgewater, in an historic building known as “the Tory House.”  It was the same office that Evelina had been to several months earlier to have her own teeth worked on.

Modern historian Jack Larkin has noted that “[h]undreds of thousands of Americans had at least some of their teeth badly rotted, a source of chronic pain and foul breath to many, with extraction its only cure […] Dentistry, which most rural American physicians practiced, was by far the most effective form of surgery; extraction was a decisive and relatively safe procedure (although infection always posed some risk).”*

While Sarah Witherell suffered today, her family united to support her. Her children and sister-in-law accompanied her to the dentist’s office.  Evelina (with Jane McHanna in the kitchen, of course) fed the entire family, which made for twelve around the dining table. Old Oliver, whose midday meal was usually prepared by Sarah Witherell, came over from the other part of the house. The Ameses from next door were there, too. Everyone came together for Sarah Witherell.

Evelina managed to socialize today, too.  She called on various friends and relatives around town, perhaps sharing the news of poor Sarah’s painful dentistry.


*Jack Lardin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1988, pp. 92 – 93

January 12, 1852



Jan 12 Monday  Susan washed the dishes this morning

and I went to work on my plants making some frames

for them and was to work on them and about the

house all the forenoon.  This afternoon have been

mending pants for Oakes Angier.  Have put a new

pocket into one pair  Jane washed and has been to see

Mrs Savage  Carried Augusta’s cake over to her and

Called a few minutes on Mrs Sarah Ames  Very cold


After breakfast each morning, a stack of dishes awaited washing in the Ames kitchen, numbering approximately seven plates, seven cups, seven saucers, 14-21 pieces of cutlery, various serving platters and bowls and serving spoons, plus the pots and pans used in preparation.

Hot water would be boiled and poured into a bucket or perhaps a basin set inside a dry sink. Using a cake of homemade soap, either chipped into the water or swirled by hand, Susie Ames or Jane McHanna or Evelina herself from time to time, washed each item with a washrag, rinsed the piece in a separate pan of clean water and placed it on a rack to dry or be wiped dry with a dish towel. The chore could take 30 to 45 minutes, and had to be repeated at dinner and tea.  It wasn’t as convenient as hand-washing dishes today – no liquid soap, no faucet spray – and it certainly wasn’t like loading the dishwasher.

Inventors, in fact, were trying to develop a machine that would wash dishes; the first such patent was filed in 1850. It wasn’t until 1886, however, that a wealthy woman named Josephine Garis Cochrane would make the first successful dishwashing machine. She didn’t wash dishes herself, but her servants did and often chipped the ceramic plates in the process.  Impatient with the damage, as well as the length of time it took to wash all the dishes after the many dinner parties she gave, she decided to make a machine to do the work.

Mrs. Cochrane  contrived a wire rack shaped for various specific dishes to fit inside a wheel inside a copper boiler. “A motor turned the wheel while hot soapy water squirted up from the bottom of the boiler and rained down on the dishes.”* The dishwasher was born. It went on to be displayed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where it won a prize.  The Garis-Cochrane Company was formed and manufactured dishwashers until bought by KitchenAid, which in turn is owned by Whirlpool.

All this was a far cry from nine-year old Susie Ames washing up the breakfast dishes, plate by plate.


* Wikipedia, “Josephine Cochrane”, January 10, 2015