March 18th Thursday A very heavy rain storm to day
Amelia Orinthia & self have had a quiet day
but mine has not been pleasant work, have
mended Mr Ames old shop coat have put new
cloth in the under part of the sleeves, mended
button holes so, think it will last some time.
Also mend Franks pants Orinthia has been
to work on her delaine dress
The women at the Ames residence stayed indoors today, held inside by “a cold driving rain storm.”* They sewed, naturally, but Evelina didn’t particularly enjoy herself. Orinthia got to work on a new dress, but Evelina had to mend her husband’s shop coat and her son Frank’s pants. Mending was never as much fun as sewing, but it was essential. As we have noticed before, Evelina was devoted to making things last. Like other Yankee housewives, she had been brought up to: “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”**
Yet as the family grew more wealthy, Evelina began to enjoy the luxury of not doing without. She shopped in Boston for fashion accessories and household items that she would never have had in her youth. As modern historian Jack Larkin has pointed out, a “household’s furnishings constituted a material world that defined the limits of comfort, heating and lighting, and filled functional needs for sitting, sleeping and eating, but they also spoke of Americans’ economic status and aspirations.”***
Old habits die hard, as we know. The Ameses had money, and Evelina didn’t have to mend her husband’s shop coat; she could have insisted that he buy a new one, or she could have sewn one for him, perhaps. Her ingrained sense of economy, however tempted by the changing world around her, wouldn’t allow it. William L. Chaffin, the town historian who knew the Ames family, described Evelina as “economical” in his late-life remembrance of Oakes Ames, and shared the tale that Oakes joked about Evelina at the dinner table, suggesting to guests that his wife wanted them to help themselves to preserves that were going bad so she could use them up.
On this day, rather than demand that her husband purchase a new work coat – which we can surmise he had no interest in doing – Evelina fixed up the old one, and sighed that she wasn’t sewing a new dress instead.
*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection
** A 20th century, World War II-era version of this maxim was “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
***Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1988, p. 264