May 21, 1852




Friday May 21st  Mrs Patterson came to help clean house

to day and has done very well.  We have

cleaned the boys chamber and put down the

carpet & the store room,  all […] that is necces-

sary for painting the dining room.  have put

some clean paper on part of the dining room.

Have not changed my dress to day and have not

had a chance to sit scarcely a moment.  Have a

trellis from Lucius Clapp

“[T]his was a fair day neither verry cold or warm,” recorded Old Oliver in his journal; he was beginning to look for rain for his crops, as the spring was turning dry.

Evelina probably paid less attention to the weather than her father-in-law, because she was focused on the ritual spring cleaning. She hired extra help in the form of Mrs. Patterson, who may have been Mary Patterson, the forty-ish wife of Thomas Patterson, a farmer in Bridgewater.

Whoever she was, Mrs. Patterson proved a boon to Evelina. The two women were busy all day cleaning, washing the floors, putting down carpet, and putting up new wallpaper. Evelina never changed out of her work dress, as would have been customary in the afternoon, and barely sat down. Meanwhile, the regular servant, Jane McHanna was preparing the meals and tending to the ordinary chores of the house.

The trellis that Evelina and Oakes ordered from Lucius Clapp arrived today, and was most likely placed, free-standing, somewhere in the yard. It could well have been a centerpiece for Evelina’s flower garden.

*Illustration from “Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgings,” 1863, published in Charles Dickens’ periodical, All the Year Round

May 19, 1852



Wednesday 19th May  Washed the windows in the 

parlour and cleaned it   all that is necessary this spring

Was about house until about four Oclock

when Mrs Swain came and spent the 

afternoon  Mr Swain came to tea  Worked

on the garden about an hour  Susan has

the nose bleed almost every day.  This afternoon

came home before the school was done


Spring cleaning was late this year, as the women’s attention had been given over to family illness. The kitchen had been repainted some weeks earlier, but other rooms hadn’t been dealt with. Evelina set out to rectify the delay and, probably with support from Jane McHanna, donned her apron to tackle the best room in the house, the parlor, much of which had been redecorated back in February, so needed little attention beyond its windows and a basic cleaning.

One imagines Evelina and Jane in working clothes as they went about with their brushes, rags and mops. But what did Evelina wear under her apron, or after she changed out of her choring dress? Was she wearing any mourning attire? Did her outfit signify at all the recent loss of her nephew George?

In the 19th century, “[m]ourning was particularly a woman’s affair,”* perhaps because of a societal norm that women were sentimental and emotional, and men were not. There were rules about attire to be followed after the loss of a loved one. At the beginning, black crepe dresses, black veils or headgear, and even black jewelry – onyx, usually, or pins netted with a lock of hair of the departed – were expected to be displayed in some manner. After a certain period, black was put away and lavender, grey or purple dresses were acceptable. The closer the relative was to the deceased, the more exacting the expectation.

In her fine book about death in the Civil War, This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust notes:

“By convention, a mother mourned for a child for a year, a child for a parent the same, a sister six months for a brother. A widow mourned for two and a half years, moving through proscribed stages and accoutrements of heavy, full, and half mourning, with gradually loosening requirements of dress and deportment. A widower, by contrast, was expected to mourn only for three months, simply by displaying black crape on his hat or armband.”**

By these calculations, Sarah Ames Witherell had been dressed in black or lavender too often before. Her husband had died in August, 1848, her young son Channing in May, 1849 and now her son George. Sad to say, she would have had a black dress or two, plus the appropriate accessories, in her cupboard. But what was Evelina obliged to wear? Perhaps not a black dress – although she had one – but an armband? Or a black ribbon in her bonnet? What was the expectation for an aunt?


Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 102

**Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering, New York, 2008, p. 147





May 12, 1852


Wednesday May 12th  Helped Mrs Witherell make Georges robe

Planted some seeds that Mrs Howard gave me

and African rose sent from Andover.  Have ripped

the skirt from Susans borage delaine to lengthen

it Swept & dusted my chamber &c &c Jane had

finished the ironing  Have not felt very well

have not got over being broken of my rest.  It has

rained since nine Oclock quite fast

A new gardener commenced work today

What sad sewing went on today. Sarah Ames Witherell, a thoughtful, dutiful woman who had sewn so many things for friends and family, now sat and made a shroud for her first-born child, George. Only fourteen years-old, he had died the day before after a painful bout of rheumatic fever. Of the three children Sarah had borne, only her middle child, Emily, was still alive.

The steady rain must have enhanced the gloom. Old Oliver wrote that “it began to rain before noon wind north east and it grew cold and raind all the afternoon.”* Evelina must have done her planting first thing in the morning, after which she helped Sarah with the robe for George. She also worked on a skirt for Susan, and swept and dusted while Jane McHanna ironed. She was probably not the only family member who was recovering from “being broken of my rest.” Everyone was trying to return to a normal routine after the disruption and sorrow of George’s illness, although next door, Helen Angier Ames was still suffering from a case of blisters and facial swelling.

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


April 2, 1852


1852 March [sic] 2d Friday  Have been mending pants for Frank

Made a long call on Mrs S Ames in the morning

Have been sweeping and dusting.  Mrs S Ames dined

in the other part of the house  I carried my sewing

in there a couple of hours this afternoon  Oakes A

went to Mr Howards after Orinthia this evening

Frank is not well and did not go  Have

written a letter to Mrs Norris  Augusta here this evening

After yesterday’s April Fool’s fun, Evelina resumed her domestic routine. She swept, dusted, mended, sewed and wrote a letter to a friend. Same old, same old. Her son Frank Morton, however, was under the weather, but her oldest son, Oakes Angier, was fine and even went out for the evening after work.

Old Oliver Ames, meanwhile, also resumed some of his routine, most of which had been disrupted by the shovel shop fire a month earlier. He was occupied by planning for the new stone factory buildings, but as he listened to the rain fall, he knew it was almost planting time. The farmer in him was getting ready for a new growing season. Perhaps in recognition of that, he “bought a yoke of oxen to day of Samuel Clap for $117-50.”*



March 29, 1852


Moreen Fabric*


March 29 Monday.  Orinthia returned with us from meeting

yesterday  She helped Susan wash the dishes and

I cleaned the sitting room and afterwards sat down

to our sewing  Have new bound my moreen skirt

Orinthia and self went into Edwins this evening

had a pretty lively call making fun of Orinthia’s spelling

Evelina may have “had a pretty lively call making fun of Orinthia’s spelling,” today, but her own orthography was far from perfect. Neither woman, evidently, could have won a spelling bee – and Orinthia was a school teacher!  To be fair, however, spelling in the 19th century was not as standardized as it became later. Spelling has long been a fluid practice, actually, however often periodic efforts were made by different groups and individuals – Teddy Roosevelt among them – to reform and standardize it. So the two women would have had plenty of company with their wayward pens. Just consider the various ways that Old Oliver Ames spelled (or spelt) slate: sleight, slaight and slayt.

Presumably unworried about her own grammatical shortcomings, Evelina pursued her usual agenda for a Monday. She cleaned part of the downstairs while daughter, Susie, washed the breakfast dishes and servant, Jane McHanna, started the weekly laundry and prepared midday dinner. After Evelina had finished dusting, sweeping and tidying, she and guest Orinthia Foss, the poor speller, sat down to “our sewing”.

Evelina was working on a skirt of moreen, a ribbed fabric of cotton or wool that today serves more often for upholstery or curtains. In the 19th century, however, its stiffness lent itself to the voluminous skirts that defined the era. It would have been a thick, tough fabric to work on by hand. But Evelina was nothing if not an excellent needlewoman.

*Image courtesy of


March 22, 1852




March 22  Monday  Have been sweeping dusting &

cleaning all day  Have put in order parlour

entries, parlour & sitting room chambers and back

& shed chamber, nearly dusk before I got through

Orinthia & Susan washed the dishes in the 

morning  Orinthia has written another two or three 

letters has not done much  beside  Ain’t she lazy?

It was Monday. Evelina spent her day “sweeping dusting & cleaning,” and Jane McHanna washed tubs of clothes and hung them out to dry, but “lazy” Orinthia only helped wash the breakfast dishes and wrote a couple of letters. In comparison to quiet, helpful Amelia Gilmore, whose visit Evelina had enjoyed, Orinthia Foss and her spirited but indolent company was a come-down.  We should remember that Orinthia was single and only in her early twenties (although in that era, some would have said she was already a spinster) while Amelia, a widow, was in her early thirties and Evelina, a matron, in her early forties. The age gap between Evelina and Orinthia was beginning to wear thin on Evelina’s part, and perhaps on Orinthia’s as well.

Spring had officially arrived two days earlier on March 20. No buds or blossoms were yet in evidence, however, and more snow had yet to fall. The industry that Evelina demonstrated today with her broom and dust rag suggests that she was rehearsing for spring cleaning, perhaps wanting to get it out of the way so that the moment anything came up in her flower beds, she’d be free to go outside and garden. Perhaps she looked at the still-frozen ground and imagined her flowers in full bloom. It was getting to be that time.



March 15, 1852





March 15th Monday  Gave the sitting room & entry

a thourough sweeping & dusting and then

went to sewing.  Susan washed the dishes

Amelia & self carried our work into Edwins but did 

not stop to tea, are invited there tomorrow.  We called

at Mrs Bucks  She has 41 schollars and 5 or 6 boarders


After “considerable rain” over night, Monday broke “cloudy in the morning but fair + warm in the afternoon and in the evening there was some rain + it grew colder [.] Mr Arnold came to day to sleight the hammer shop”* Thus wrote Old Oliver.

After Sunday’s respite, work on the rebuilding of the shovel shops picked right back up.  A slate roof was going up on the hammer shop, thanks to the expertise of John Arnold, a local man who had done roofing for the Ameses before.  Old Oliver seemed pleased.

At the Ames home, Amelia Gilmore continued her visit with Evelina. Once the morning chores were complete, with Susie washing dishes and trusted Jane McHanna doing the laundry, and midday dinner consumed, Evelina and Amelia walked across the way to visit Augusta Pool Gilmore, carrying their sewing with them. They must have spent several hours there, but didn’t stay for tea. Instead they headed home, stopping off to see another neighbor, Polly Buck.  Evidently, Mrs. Buck was running a private school with day students and boarders. One imagines that the ruckus there might have been equivalent to the bustle of workers at the building site.


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

February 23, 1852

Looking glass

Monday 23d Feb 1852  Worked about the house this forenoon

dusted the chambers and washed around the

windows &  doors.  Susan washed the dishes. Am

trying to have her learn to knit, improves some

but rather slowly  This afternoon have been mending

some and have put one new sleeve into my

blue & orange Delaine  The looking glass came

out from Boston to night

We might call it a mirror, but Evelina and most of her contemporaries called her new purchase a looking glass. (Think of “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There,” Lewis Carroll’s 1871 sequel to his 1865 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”) Like the framed prints Evelina had recently bought for her walls, the looking glass was a fashionable piece of decor. She must have been tickled to have one hanging in her parlor.

New “methods of mass-producing large, flat panes of glass had been perfected and, by combining them with heatless, chemical-coating technologies,”* mirrors had become easy to manufacture – and affordable.  At mid-century they became stylish and ubiquitous, symbolic of the new taste and purchasing power of the middle class. In a home like Evelina’s which, 50 years earlier, might have boasted no more than a small, courting-type mirror, a big, new looking glass, hung on braided silk roping from molding above it, had become de rigeur.

Other than this exciting upgrade in the parlor, today was a Monday like any other. Jane McHanna did the laundry, Susie Ames washed the breakfast dishes, and Evelina took to her needlework.  She was teaching her daughter to knit.


*Wikipedia, Mirrors, accessed February 19, 2015.

February 20, 1852

View of the College 1792

Brown University


Friday Feb 20th Oliver returned to Brown University this

morning  Have given the sitting room a thourough

sweeping & have made the front chamber bed

and put the room in order.  Also the entry.

After dinner called into Olivers to see her mother

Mrs Solomon & Willard Lothrop spent the afternoon 

Willard said he wanted to come to tea but the spirits

would not let him.  Orinthia came this evening

The house was quieter this morning than it had been for some time.  Evelina’s middle son, Oliver (3), had returned to college. She tidied up, putting away at least some of the sewing things that had been pulled out for mending Oliver’s clothes. She swept and put various rooms “in order.” She must have felt a sense of accomplishment and, perhaps, that contradictory combination of relief, satisfaction and sadness that follows the departure of a child for school.

After midday dinner, Evelina walked next door to greet Sally Williams Lothrop, mother of Sarah Lothrop Ames. A different Lothrop came to call (whether at Evelina’s or Sarah’s is unclear): Mrs. Solomon Lothrop and her son Willard. Willard was invited to stay for tea but declined. As a medium and a follower of Spiritualism, he felt that “the spirits would not let him.”

Willard Lothrop was not alone in his belief that the possibility of communication exists between the living and the dead.*  William Chaffin makes note of the existence of Spiritualism in Easton, where “interest in this subject first appeared on the Bay road. In 1850 Asahel Smith, Amos Hewett, Willard Lothrop, and others became much interested in the matter. Several Easton people soon displayed mediumistic powers.” Evelina was clearly intrigued by the premise.

See also June 13, 1851.

*William L. Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1866, p. 370.

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