May 15, 1852

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May 1852

Saturday 15th  Have been mending a lot of stockings

that have bee[n] put by for a week or two  Spend

too much time in the garden  Gave Mrs Gilmore

Augusta & Abby some plants & flower seeds

Abby stoped a couple of hours  Gave Susan a bath

and took one myself and the afternoon thus passed

Spent the evening   Helen is much better she has

had a sorry time of it  Quite pleasant

 

Today was “cloudy all day but a little warmer,”* according to Old Oliver. The bath water that Evelina and her daughter Susie used was in no danger of freezing, as it had earlier in the year when Oakes had planned to bathe but forgot and left the the water to freeze in the pail.  The water in the pail should have been poured into a tub not unlike the one in the illustration above, copper-lined, claw-footed, and rimmed in oak.  That Evelina mentioned taking a bath suggests that bathing was not a regular event; personal hygiene operated under a different set of standards in the 19th century.

The baths, taken in the Ames’s indoor bathing room, probably felt quite relaxing, even therapeutic after the stress and grief of the week gone by. For Evelina, even just mending the hose that had sat untended would have been a welcome return to normalcy after the death of young George Witherell.  Working in the garden, too, would have been a pleasure.  Her plants were doing so well, in fact, that she had plenty to spare and give away to some of her female relatives.

Next door,  fifteen year old Helen Angier Ames was finally recovering from an infection on her face, an abscess or boil, that had  been lanced the day before.  The procedure had been successful, and the family’s health concerns seemed to be put away, at least for now.

January 21, 1852

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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.

October 17, 1851

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Friday Oct 17 Was working about house most of the

forenoon and have been sewing on Susans

and my dress.  Carried my work to Augustus

for a couple of hours this afternoon.  Lavinia

and Abby were there  Mr Ames has been quite 

unwell for a day or two and to night has taken

a warm bath  I have written a letter to Oliver

this evening  Mr Ames sent him a check for 25 Dls.

 

Oakes Ames had taken ill. Had he caught the nettlerash from his wife and daughter? Or was his illness something closer to a simple bad cold? He was “quite unwell.” Whatever he had, Oakes chose to palliate his ailment with a hot bath. Did he take a sitz bath, one that would alleviate itching from a rash?

That Evelina makes note of her husband taking a bath insinuates that his bathing was something out of the ordinary, which wouldn’t be unusual for the era. Regular bathing, which for many meant a weekly bath, was only just becoming the norm, and indoor plumbing was only just taking hold in urban areas.  Unlike the image in the illustration (which was published circa 1877), most bathtubs at mid-century were still free-standing.  The bath water was poured from buckets of hot water, which had been drawn from a well or cistern or kitchen pump and heated on the stove.  (Thus the expression, “to draw a bath.”)

The Ameses were fortunate in having their own indoor plumbing, a fact we know from Winthrop Ames’s mention in his family history of a “bathing room” in the house. Was this room shared by both families, as the brick oven was?

Oakes wasn’t too ill to write a check for his son, Oliver (3), who was away at college. Evelina wrote to Oliver and perhaps enclosed the check with her letter.  Had Oliver written home asking for money?  Such a scenario is certainly time-honored.