November 26, 1852

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Ball gowns, ca. 1852

Friday Nov 26th  Have been stirring so much of 

late that to day sitting down makes me

feel very stupid  Oakes A & Oliver went to

E Bridgewater to a ball & Frank to Canton

yesterday  Frank came home about six

Oakes & Oliver just after dinner  Mr & Mrs

Dow Sarah Lothrop & Olivers family at tea

in the other part of the house  I have been in this Evening

The young men of Ames house celebrated Thanksgiving with more than just feasting. They danced! Oakes Angier and Oliver (3) headed to a ball in East Bridgewater, where Catherine Hobart just happened to live, while Frank Morton rode to Canton, where Catharine Copeland lived. Oakes Angier and Frank wanted to see their favorite young women. Oliver (3), on the other hand, was still unattached and amenable to dancing with various young ladies.

We don’t get to know who hosted the ball, or how many people attended. But we can imagine how the young people looked. The young women, especially, would have taken great care with their outfits and tried to be as comme il faut as possible. The Ames brothers also would have worn their best bib and tucker. And the dances they did? Richard Powers of Stanford suggests that during the years from 1840 to 1860, the steps were lively:

While the Waltz received a great deal of criticism, as “leading to the most licentious of consequences,” it slowly made some inroads into the ballroom, aided by the occasional performance by a notable society figure.  Waltzing jumped ahead in acceptability when its inherent sensuousness was tempered with a playful exuberance, first by the Galop and then by the Polka.  The Polka from Bohemia became an overnight sensation in society ballrooms in 1844, eclipsing the Waltz at the time.  The Polka’s good-natured quality of wholesome joy finally made closed-couple turning acceptable, introducing thousands of dancers to the pleasure of spinning in the arms of another.  Once they tasted this euphoria, dancers quickly developed an appetite for more.  The Polka mania led to a flowering of other couple dances, including the Schottische, Valse à Deux Temps, Redowa, Five-Step Waltz and Varsouvienne, plus new variations on the earlier Waltz, Mazurka and Galop.  Meanwhile, the increasing trend toward ease and naturalness in dancing had eliminated the intricate steps from the Quadrille and country dances, reducing their performance to simple walking. The overall spirit of this era’s dancing (1840s-1860s) was one of excitement, exuberance and gracious romance.  The dances were fresh, inventive, youthful and somewhat daring.  Society fashions were rich and elegant, but continued an emphasis on simplicity.  By the 1850s, the ballroom had reached its zenith.*

Evelina, weary to her bones after hours on her feet preparing the feast, could only sit and do little more than wonder how her sons were faring.

*Richard Powers, “19th Century Social Dance,”

February 4, 1852




Wednesday 4th Feb  Have been mending shirts and have

done up some collars & sleeves &c This evening

have been to Alsons with Mr Ames, met the 

Pools Mr & Mrs A Howard & Harvey  had a 

pretty lively time.  Edwin & Augustus with their

wives were also there  It is a beautiful moonshiny

night and have had a pleasant ride.  O A & Oliver

went to a ball to Canton.

Evelina sat with her sewing and mending for most of the day, catching up on some of the more ordinary aspects of keeping her family well-clothed. She was motivated in part by the need to prepare her son Oliver (3)’s clothes for his return to college.  Her diligence was rewarded; she got a lot of work done, and at the end of the day she and Oakes went out for the evening. Right next door, in the other part of the house, Oakes’s youngest brother William Leonard was visiting, yet Evelina doesn’t mention him.

She and Oakes rode south to her brother’s farm, where they met with family and friends for “a pretty lively time.” They saw some of the Pools, an extended family in the area, and Asa and Henrietta Howard, another farming family. (A year earlier, Evelina had sewn a shroud for one of the Howard’s children.) The Harveys, from whom Evelina bought butter, were present as well.

The beautiful moon, not quite full, shone down from a starry sky on other winter gatherings.  Oliver Ames (3) turned 21 years old today, after all; he celebrated the occasion with his older brother, Oakes Angier, by attending a dance in Canton. One imagines that they had a good time, too.






April 9, 1851



April 9th Wednesday  This day has been a busy one but I can

scarcely tell what I have done but have been about

many things.  Lavinia came this afternoon with her

father He was going to North Bridgewater and

came this way to bring her.  They were here […]

to tea They have all gone to the assembly to

night at Lothrops Hall I believe it is the last

dance for the present A[u]gustus gone to Boston. Pleasant

We all have days that zoom by unaccountably; we get to the end of them and wonder what we did.  Evelina had one of those days today; she could “scarcely tell” how she passed the time.  She probably dealt with various household chores: mending, sweeping, overseeing Jane McHanna, perhaps stirring something on the stove or straightening up a clutter of periodicals in the sitting room.  With three sons and a daughter under her roof, she certainly passed part of the day tending to their needs and conversing with them over small matters. She saw her husband out the door and perhaps urged him not to forget to come home for tea. She may have popped next door to check on Sarah Lothrop Ames, who remained ill in bed.

Her niece Lavinia Gilmore stopped over, having been carried from the Gilmore farm to the village by her father, Alson Gilmore. Did they travel in a farm wagon or a carriage? After tea, Lavinia and her male cousins went to the dance at Lothrop Hall, the last of the season.  Formal socializing for the young set would have to wait until next fall.



March 27, 1851



March 27 Thursday.  Spent the day with Mother at A[u]gustus,

got home just before six Oclock and went

in the evening to the dancing school with Mrs S. Ames

Cut out and commenced a bleached shirt for

Mr Ames but have not done so much as to finish 

the sleeves.  Mrs. S. Ames has been to Boston from 

Sharon.  A fine day and very good travelling

the roads are quite dry.  Mother stopt at Mr Torreys.

After Evelina and her mother spent the day with, respectively, nephew and grandson Augustus, Hannah Gilmore left to spend the night at her son-in-law, John Torrey’s, house in the village, leaving Evelina briefly unencumbered from looking after the elderly woman. Evelina seized the opportunity to go out with her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames, to help chaperone a dance for the young people.

No doubt the Ames sons, Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Frank Morton were at the dancing school, as they had been for most of the previous Thursday evening assemblies. So, probably, was Fred Ames, making a rare appearance while home from school.  While adults from their parents’ generation were always present at these occasions, one wonders how the young men felt having their mothers among the group standing guard.

These assemblies were important social occasions that provided innocent pleasure and animation. They fostered acquaintances among the young people of the town who had few other opportunities to mingle.  Dance steps were learned, exercise was taken, manners were polished, courtships were sparked, hearts were engaged or disappointed, and perpetuation of the species forwarded in this important small town gathering. Surely both Evelina and Sarah Ames watched the proceedings with interest.

March 7, 1851



March 7th  Have been giving my rooms a thorough sweeping

& dusting which took me all the forenoon

This afternoon worked on an old shirt of Franks

Am putting new wristbands & bosom into it.

This evening Oliver, Frank & Orinthia have gone to

Alsons to a party.  Orinthia would not go to the dancing

school last night on account of something Frank said & had to be urged

to go to Alsons to night  Augustus not here   Pleasant

Some entertainment today for the young people: a party at Alson and Henrietta Gilmore’s house out in the country.  What was the occasion?  Was it a casual get-together, a spur-of-the-moment gathering, perhaps extending from the assembly of the night before?  Had Lavinia Gilmore or her brother Francis asked for the party, or had it been planned by their parents?  Were they hoping to promote their daughter’s eligibility for marriage?  Was there method to the gathering, or was it just for fun?

Orinthia Foss, the young schoolteacher boarding with the Ameses, was included in the festivities, although she apparently went with some reluctance.  It seems that Frank Morton Ames had teased her in some fashion, hurting her feelings or insulting her the day before. Frank could be a handful, according to William Chaffin, who wrote that Frank “needed more discipline than Oakes [Angier] or Oliver [3].”   Frank was a seventeen year old youth, after all, with more energy than wisdom, probably competing with his older brothers for respect and attention, and letting his mouth do his thinking.

Another younger sibling came to North Easton today.  William Leonard Ames, fourth son of Old Oliver, “came this morning from New Jersey,” according to Old Oliver’s daily record.  In New Jersey, William Leonard ran an ironworks operation, a related family business that had recently failed. According to extensive research by industrial scholar Greg Galer, William Leonard and his eldest brother, Oakes Ames, were at odds over the handling of the demise of the business.  Oakes had “engineered the bankruptcies of these operations for his financial gain,”* while William had barely managed to walk away.  As a result, the two brothers were not on good terms.  Evelina doesn’t mention William’s arrival.  She sticks to her sewing, new wristbands for Frank.

* Greg Galer, Forging Ahead, p. 6.

February 20, 1851



Feb 20th  Thursday  This morning sat down to sewing quite

early with Lavinia.  worked for Susan and she

sewed some with us  Sent George after Mr & Mrs

Whitwell about one Oclock.  Mr Whitwell attended 

the funeral of James Wells child  Commenced 

raining quite hard & this evening is very dark

The boys & Lavinia & Susan have gone to the 

dancing school at Lothrop Hall

The Thursday evening assemblies, or dancing school, continued. On this occasion, Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Frank Morton took their cousin, Lavinia Gilmore, and little sister, Susie, with them.  How exciting for Susan to go along to watch the young men and women dance; probably exciting for Lavinia, too.  She was at the marriageable age of nineteen and, in the manner of the day, was probably hoping to marry soon.  Getting off the farm for a week to stay with her aunt Evelina in the village of North Easton was an opportunity to socialize and perhaps meet someone special.  Did anyone ask her to dance?  Did her male cousins watch out for her?  Did she like what she wore?

Elsewhere in Easton life was not so light-hearted.  Reverend Whitwell officiated at a funeral for the infant son of James and Celia Wells.  James and his brother John, for whom the little boy was named, worked at the shovel factory.  They were originally from Maine.

And, being February, the weather took a dive for the worse.  The young people’s ride home from Lothrop Hall must have been disagreeably wet.  Mr. and Mrs. Whitwell, who had evidently stayed for tea after the funeral, were unable to get home and had to spend the night at the Ames’s house. Young George Witherell was spared the challenge of carrying them back to the parsonage in the dark, windy downpour.

February 6, 1851



Feb 6th Thursday  This forenoon was working about house & did

a little mending  Prepared some mince pie meat for baking

Have been into school this afternoon  There were but

about 50 schollars.  Mr Jackson appears to lack energy

Miss Lothrop appeared the best of the two.

There is a ball at Lothrop Hall to night for the first

time.  Oakes Angier & Frank have gone & Helen

Sarah A & Sarah W spent the evening here.  Pleasant but cold.

Thursday night seemed to be the night for dancing in southeastern Massachusetts. The Ames sons had already attended at least two Thursday evening assemblies in Canton during January and now in February they’re attending a gathering at Lothrop Hall (the location of which is uncertain: Eastondale, perhaps?  Does any reader of this blog know?) Tonight Oakes Angier and Frank Morton went. (Where was Oliver [3]?)  Evelina’s diary is unclear on whether their cousin Helen went with them or, more likely, stayed home with her mother and aunts – the latter option being more typical for shy Helen.

Earlier in the day, Evelina was evidently still involved with looking into local schooling, getting the lay of the land, perhaps, for the incoming Orinthia Foss.  By mid-century in Easton, there were four school districts, or “ricks” as they were known, in four different geographic areas of town.  Paid for by the occasionally reluctant Easton taxpayers, the schools taught local girls and boys up to grade eight or so.  Massachusetts, and New England as a whole, led the nation in its emphasis on education and, in Evelina’s time, Massachusetts had boasted a 96% literacy rate.

Susie was the only Ames child still attending school.  Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Frank Morton as boys had each attended school locally before being sent away to nearby private schools such as Leicester Academy.  On this night, however, dancing, not schooling, was foremost on their minds.

January 16, 1851

Muff & Tippet B & W


Jan 16 Thursday  Went to Boston with S Ames.  Oakes A carried 

us over to the stage.  We found it very bad walking 

could scarcely cross the street without going over

shoe in snow & water but otherwise a delightful day

We bought some druggett & Sarah a muff & tippet

for herself & cuff & tippet for Helen.  We got us some

oysters at Vintons.  Called at Mr Orrs about four thirty

that we should have time to reach the cars but we were left.

Boys went to an assembly at Canton

Alson & Augustus dined here.

O, joy, a trip to Boston, an event that Evelina typically finds “delightful” no matter what the weather.  After two days of sadness about the death of Lewis Carr, Evelina and Sarah Lothrop Ames headed into the city via stage coach on a shopping excursion.  The railroad, which they called “the cars,” did not yet reach North Easton, but did stop in Stoughton.  The women intended to return by train at nightfall, and be carried home from Stoughton by one son or other, but missed the train and had to stay overnight.  They may not have been disappointed to have to stay in town.

Sloppy weather didn’t prevent the successful acquisition of goods.  Evelina bought some drugget, or carpeting, while Sarah found accessories for herself and her daughter.  Muffs and tippets, naturally, were very much in fashion for winter wear.  Dining on oysters was another highlight, as was a visit to an old family connection, Mr. Orr.

The homefront in Easton was busy, too.  Evelina’s brother, Alson, and his oldest son, Augustus, took midday dinner with Oakes and his children.  Little Susie would have been the only girl at the table.  In the evening, Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Frank Morton headed to Canton to a dance.  Everyone’s spirits seemed brighter today.

Photo of muff and tippet, ca. 1840,  from Minnesota Historical Society