February 10, 1852



Physician-assisted childbirth, mid-19th century

Feb 10th, Tuesday

1852  Went out shopping about 11 Oclock staid untill

that time with Mrs Harris who was confined with

a daughter born about two Oclock.  looked at engraving

again today purchased Allhalloween  Oliver returned 

home to night but I did not get through with my

shopping and concluded to stop another night

Mr Harris came in the cars this afternoon heard of her

sickness just in time to take them  Oliver Jr called at Mr Orrs

While shopping for art in Boston with her son Oliver (3), Evelina had another memorable day. Per usual, she stayed with the Robert Orr family in the city. While there, one of the Orr daughters, Julianne Orr Harris, went into labor and gave birth to a girl.  Evelina stayed with Julianne for a time, which would have been normal in the older tradition of a “circle of women” being present at childbirth. Evelina’s timetable is a bit confusing, but it sounds as though she was there for much of the labor – or “sickness” –  if not at the actual delivery.

It’s likely that a male doctor presided at the birth, because by this period, especially in urban areas, physician-assisted births had become the rule rather than the exception. Midwives were phased out, although they never entirely disappeared. One result of this change was that strict propriety in the birthing room prevailed over medical accuracy, at least in the 19th century. Modern historian Jack Larkin notes:

“Embarrassment and constraint became part of the birth process; physicians were greatly hindered, as midwives had never been, by firmly established canons of female modesty. Men could not look directly at their patients’ genitals, but had to examine them only by touch while they remained fully clothed.Often deeply uncomfortable with a bedchamber full of women looking on – sometimes critically – doctors tried to persuade expectant mothers to clear them out of the birthing room.”

Julianne’s husband, Benjamin Winslow Harris, was away when his wife went into labor, but got a message, somehow, and just made the train home. He would not have participated in the birth itself, but he may have had a hand in the naming of his first child: Mary Harris, after his own mother.


*Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life,New York, 1988, p.97.


July 14, 1851



July 14 Monday  Mr Norris left in the stage this

morning  Mr & Mrs Harris & Mrs Norris for

Bridgewater.  Jane has not done her washing as she

usually does but we have put the house in order

Scoured all the knives &c &c.  Have passed most 

of the afternoon in the other part of the house

the whole family took tea there

The Harrises and Norrises left this morning, releasing Evelina from her hostessing obligations. The house was in disarray; probably, one of the couples slept in a bed in the parlour, the other stayed who-knows-where.  Furniture had to be put back, linens stripped and so on.  Jane McHanna had so much to do in the aftermath of the houseguests that she couldn’t do the Monday washing.  That was unheard of.

Jane and Evelina picked up in the kitchen, too.  One of them scoured the knives. In 1851, knives were made of mild steel, typically high in iron. Stainless steel, which has an alloy of low iron and high chromium, had not yet been developed, and wouldn’t appear until the turn of the 20th century. Knives in the 19th century corroded easily and needed to be cleaned periodically, often by being rubbed with fine sand.  Evelina or Jane might have sharpened them, too.

In the afternoon, Evelina and her whole family had tea at her father-in-law’s, served by her sister-in-law Sarah Witherell.  After a weekend of catering to houseguests, being served tea must have been a pleasure.



July 12 1851



July 12 Saturday  Have been very much engaged to day

in putting my house in order & have been to work

on the cushion to the lounge, and put the cover

on to the arm.  called in Olivers awhile.  Mrs

H Ames and Mrs Mitchell spent the day there

Mr Norris came in the stage to night & Mr & Mrs

Harris Mrs Norris from Bridgewater, Miss Foss

came with Oakes A who had been that way on an errand

Company! From Boston by way of Bridgewater came the Orr daughters and their husbands. Melinda Orr Norris with her husband Caleb, who had visited Easton just the other day, and Julianne Orr Harris and her husband, Benjamin Winslow Harris, arrived for an overnight stay with the Ameses.  Evelina spent much of the day “very much engaged” in getting the house ready for the two young couples, although she did manage to slip next door to sit with her sisters-in-law. The whole Ames property was full to the rafters.

Everyone had tasks to do today, which wasn’t unusual in that hard-working family. Old Oliver and a crew were outdoors:

“it was cloudy half the fore noon but the afternoon was pritty fair wind north part of the time + south west a part we mowd the high land back of the Factory pond and that on this side of the old pair trees. to day”  Was this mowing a forerunner of haying season?

* Pear tree