December 29, 1852

Emma-Snodgrass1

Emma Snodgrass 

 

Wednesday Dec 29th  Julia here to day & cut the

waist to Susans raw silk & partly cut the

waist to my 12 1/2 cts Delaine  My family

& Fathers all dined to Olivers  Mr & Mrs

Whitwell called.  We were all invited to 

Mr Swains this afternoon  I did not go untill

past five Oclock  Mr Ames & Oliver Jr came

there to tea

 

In North Easton, Evelina and her dressmaker, Julia Mahoney, spent the day cutting up cloth for some new dresses – probably one of Evelina’s favorite tasks. Evelina also entertained a visit from Rev. Whitwell and his wife, Eliza. She ended up staying indoors for most of the day, only venturing out after dark for tea at the home of John and Ann Swain.

In Boston on this day, a very different woman on a very different path ended up getting herself arrested, and not for the first time. The petite young perpetrator was Emma Snodgrass, a native of New York City. According to newspaper accounts of the day, her crime was “donning the breeches.” She was dressed in pants and a frock coat, trying to pass herself off as a man.

Her alias was George Green, and she was earning her living, at least for a time, as a sales clerk at John Simmons & Co., a clothier in the city. Newspapers as far away as California seized on the novelty of this aberrant behavior, and published various accounts of Miss Snodgrass’s conduct. What sources they might have used for their stories goes uncited, but nonetheless they delighted in reciting such tidbits as: “Snodgrass used to circulate in all the drinking houses, made several violent attempts to talk ‘horse’ and do other things for which ‘fast boys’ are noted.”*

The shock that Emma Snodgrass’s behavior generated in 1852 demonstrates how times have changed. In 2015, we might see Snodgrass’s cross-dressing as suggestive of what we now call gender identity disorder. Then, it was more likely understood as willful rebellion against the strict division of the roles of the sexes. Snodgrass and others – and there were others – had an impossible time being taken seriously. Many people probably believed that Emma Snodgrass’s parents hadn’t raised her properly.

What did Evelina think?

 

*New York Daily Times, November 30, 1852

 

December 25, 1852

Godeys

Sat Dec 25th Christmas. Have had to do the

housework and have had a busy time of it

Henrietta called in for an hour or two

and then Miss Alger came and was here

to dinner  Alson & wife & Edwin & wife here

to tea.  The girls came in the stage

My feet trouble me so much that I can

scarcely go about house  Sent Mrs Whitwell a delaine dress

 

Christmas Day was pretty much a non-event at the Ames compound. Like last year, the household followed a fairly normal routine. Old Oliver grumped about the poor weather and “bad carting.”* At Evelina’s, the servants were in Canton, at church presumably, with family and friends. They returned via stagecoach late in the day. Before they came back, Eveline “had a busy time” with the meals and cleaning, balancing the latter with a social call from her sister-in-law Henrietta Williams Gilmore. She also must have facilitated another piano lesson – the 19th one – for her daughter Susan and niece Emily. The indefatigable Miss M. J. Alger arrived to teach and stayed for dinner.

Outside of puritanical New England, the celebration of Christmas was on the ascendant. Periodicals like Godey’s and Gleason’s referred to the holiday with poems, stories, and illustrations. Families and friends exchanged gifts, although with much less commercial goading than today. And the following Christmas, 1853, President-elect Franklin Pierce would put up the first-ever Christmas tree in the White House.**

For all their disinterest in what they saw as a Catholic holiday, members of the Ames family did show small signs of acknowledging the occasion. Here and there, they exchanged gifts; we saw it last year and see it again. Evelina made a gift to the minister’s wife, Eliza Whitwell, of a wool dress. As the years would go by and the generation of Fred, Oakes Angier and the others gained primacy, Christmas would come to resemble the holiday that we know, replete with gifts and church pageants and family dinners – but not while Old Oliver was alive.

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

**Credit for the first Christmas tree at the White House is disputed by historians. Some say Benjamin Harrison was the first president to put one up, in the late 1880s.

 

December 17, 1852

Waiter

Friday, Dec 17th  Had a north east storm and a very rough

night and I was quite sick got into Boston

about ten and went to the Marlboro Hotel

to breakfast sick and tired. Went out shopping

bought Delaine for a double gown & morning

dress  Home in the stage at the usual time

This evening attended a lecture by Dr Holmes

on lectures & lecturing  Mrs Ames here to tea

 

“[I]t snowd last [night] about 3 inches and there was some rain with it – and it raind most of the forenoon and in the after noon it was verry foggy + warm + the snow about all gone there was an inch of water in all – Oakes + his Wife got home + Mrs George Ames with them”*  This is the only place in his entire decades-long journal that Old Oliver mentions his daughter-in-law and, per the custom of the day, he doesn’t even mention Evelina by name. The weather, however, he describes in detail.

Evelina describes a “very rough” trip from New York to Boston, one that made her ill. Yet she managed to recover after breakfast at the Marlboro Hotel. This trip is the only time in Evelina’s diary that she mentions dining in restaurants, first in New York and again in Boston. Dining out was not something that was done by women like her; restaurants generally catered to men, who could go out in public unaccompanied. But as Evelina was traveling with her husband, she was an acceptable customer. This exposure to aspects of the men’s normal world was a true adventure for her.

Not one to miss an opportunity to shop, Evelina bought some fabric in Boston before catching the stagecoach home. Back in North Easton, she seemed to settle back in quickly, perhaps unpacking and visiting around the immediate family, members of whom would have wanted to know about Oakes Angier’s departure. Almira Ames came for tea, and Evelina still had energy enough to attend an evening lecture in the village. The woman had stamina.

The lecturer that night was none other than Oliver Wendell Holmes, famous Boston physician, professor and poet – “a confirmed generalist”  who “regarded his eclecticism as a mark of intellectual superiority.”** Besides lecturing on lectures, he also gave talks about medicine and poetry. They were generally interesting and well attended, as they must have been to pull a fatigued Evelina out to listen to him.***

 

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

**Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, New York, 2001, p.58

***Information of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809 – 1894) courtesy of Wikipedia; identity researched by reader Jessica Holland.

October 22, 1852

 

F201308231348352569927452

Tibetan Sheep, 21st century

Friday Oct 22d Julia Mahoney was here to work

this forenoon on Susans Maroon Thibot

making a new waist and put a new yoke

and making over the waist to her dark

striped wool deLaine  Carried home the

waist to finish to her Thibot dress  I spent

the afternoon at Olivers with Hannah + Augustus

Mr Whitwell called

 

Julia Mahoney, a local dressmaker, worked at Evelina’s sewing at least two dresses for Susan Ames. Susie, who was ten-going-on-eleven, was growing taller and more mature. The dresses she had worn the previous winter needed to be altered, the waists expanded, the tucks let out, a new yoke put in. One of her dresses was made of delaine, a wool that Evelina sewed often for herself and her daughter. It was a popular, open-weave, light-weight wool that came in many patterns and colors; it may or may not have been imported.

The “Thibot” cloth that Evelina describes was more unusual. It was of “[w]ool material, worsted with soft and smooth plain-finished face; made from mountain sheep of Thibet, Asia*.” This textile was imported and would have been more expensive, suggesting that Susie’s little maroon dress may have been meant for “Sunday best.” It was special enough that the dressmaker took it home to work on.

In Boston at this time, sources for wool were both domestic and foreign.  There were approximately 15 wool merchants in the city, most of whom were prospering. According to an early 20th century history:

“The quantity of domestic wool showed a steady decrease for several years subsequent to the enactment of the tariff of 1846. The effect of the gold discoveries upon general commerce in 1849, stimulating the manufacturing industry, is reflected in the rapidly increased imports of home grown wools. The imports of foreign wools show considerable yearly fluctuation, corresponding in the main to the varying quantities of domestic wools.”**

Some years later, Susie would marry a wool merchant named Henry French. She and Evelina would then – presumably – have access to whatever wool they needed or wanted, foreign or domestic.

*Betty J. Mills, Calico Chronicle: Texas Women and Their Fashions, 1830-1910, Texas Tech University Press, 1988, p. 183

**Joseph T. Shaw, The Wool Trade of the United States: History of a Great Industry:Its Rise and Progress in Boston, Now the Second Market in the World, 1909, p. 52

October 19, 1852

 

Gentiana-crinita-Fringed-Gentian-plant

Fringed gentian (Gentiana Crinita)

Oct 19th Tuesday  Have been sewing on Susans

fall de Laine that I bought last summer

and it appears to me that it will never

be finished  I get along so slowly on it

Ann has ironed the coloured clothes

Catharine sewing

“[P]ritty fair,”* today was. Evelina spent much of the day – more time than she wished, in fact – working on a dress for her daughter Susan. The material was delaine, a light wool that should have been easy to sew, but for some reason Evelina was going along “so slowly” that she just couldn’t see the end of it. Perhaps she wished she could be outdoors, instead. Her servant Catharine Murphy was also sewing, most likely on a project that Evelina would have assigned her to do. Evelina occasionally gave material to her girls to sew their own aprons or simple dresses with.

Another diarist, not far away, definitely preferred to be outdoors. In Concord, Henry David Thoreau went for a walk and found the very last flowers of the season:

“I see the dandelion blossoms in the path. The buds of the skunk-cabbage already show themselves in the meadow […] I found the fringed gentian now somewhat stale and touched by frost […] It may have been in bloom a month. It has been cut off by the mower, and apparently has put out in consequence a mass of short branches full of flowers. This may make it later. I doubt if I can find one naturally grown. At this hour the blossoms are tightly rolled and twisted, and I see that the bees have gnawed round holes in their sides to come at the nectar. They have found them, though I had not. “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen” by man. An hour ago I doubted if fringed gentians were in Concord now, but, having found these, they as it were surrender […] It is too remarkable a flower not to be sought out and admired each year, however rare. It is one of the errands of the walker, as well as of the bees, for it yields him a more celestial nectar still. It is a very singular and agreeable surprise to come upon this conspicuous and handsome and withal blue flower at this season, when flowers have passed out of our minds and memories; the latest of all to begin to bloom, unless it be the witch-hazel, when, excepting the latter, flowers are reduced to the small Spartan cohort, hardy, but the most part unobserved, which linger till the snow buries them, and those interesting reappearing flowers which, though fair and fresh and tender, hardly delude us with the prospect of a new spring, and which we pass by indifferent, as if they only bloomed to die. Vide Bryant’s verses on the Fringed Gentian. […] It is remarkable how tightly the gentians roll and twist up at night, as if that were their constant state. Probably those bees were working late that found it necessary to perforate the flower.”**

Much as Evelina enjoyed flowers, we might doubt that she would have been as eloquent about seeing the late-blooming gentian in the meadow as Thoreau.

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

*Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1852, courtesy of http://hdt.typepad.com/henrys_blog/2010/10/october-19-1852.html

October 11, 1852

factory-steam-engine

Early factory steam engine

Monday Oct 11th  Catharine Middleton & Murphy washed

and I sat down quite early to my sewing

with Mother & Louisa  Mended stockings

This afternoon we spent at Augustus

Mother & Louisa are going to spend the 

night  Mr Torrey & Abby were there

Mr Ames & Oakes A went to West B

I have been sewing on the skirt of Susans

fall Delaine

This was a typical Monday as far as domestic matters were concerned. In the morning, the women washed clothes and mended stockings. In the afternoon, they went calling on relatives in the village. But it was a red-letter day at the shovel shop, as men arrived to install the a steam engine – the first – at the factory.

Old Oliver seemed excited: “this was a fair good day for the season the man came here to sett up the enjoin four of them.” The company’s first steam engine was placed in the new Long Shop by the Corliss Nightingale Company of Providence. It was a technological change that Oliver had resisted in the past, but had since come to accept. His son, Horatio, in particular, had urged the change for several years in order “to counter water supply limitations”* In January, 1847 he had written his father and his brother, Oliver Jr., on the topic.

To Old Oliver:

I shall think a steam engine […] of sufficient power to carry 3 hammers and carry all your polishing works shearing and punching and Bisbees works […] would be cheaper and better […] It is too bad that you do not keep nearer supplying the market with shovels when a comparatively small expense would do it in addition to your other works.”*

To Oliver Jr.:

I enclose you with […the] price and terms for a steam engine. It will do you no hurt to compare cost of this and water power. it will take about one ton of coal a day to drive it and the repairs will be no more than a water power if as much[…] You never need fail for water either too much or too little […] I am altogether in favor of this plan over water power in your situation.”*

Horatio was right, as it turned out. The new engine was the beginning of modernization for O. Ames and Sons.

Gregory Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2002, p. 251.  Text of Horatio Ames correspondence from Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

October 8, 1852

bushel-and-peck

Friday Oct 8th  Have been making barberry sauce

to day only 1 peck but a great many more apples

Julia was here and altered the skirt of my 

Delaine dress.  She scarcely got the skirt

right  Augusta has gone to her fathers this

afternoon to pass a week or so her father came after

her  I have sewed but very little again to day

Why is it that I cannot find more time to sew?

 

Evelina was spending so much time in the kitchen lately that she had “but very little” time for sewing. So it went during harvest season. Fruits and vegetables came piling into the kitchen in all manner of measures, and Evelina and her servants had to cook and store them, or lose them. She writes today of using up a peck of barberries for sauce and even more apples, though it’s unclear if the apples went into the barberry sauce or were used in something else. A year ago at this time, Evelina was doing exactly the same thing, cooking barberries and other fruit in her kitchen, except that at the time, she was ill with nettle rash.

We get pints, quarts, pecks and bushels from our English heritage. No metric system for them, or us. A peck is a dry measure equivalent to eight quarts; four pecks make up a bushel. Modern grocery shoppers don’t often see food sold in a quantity of one peck in a regular supermarket. This time of year, one can find displays of five-pound paper bags of fresh apples in the produce department; one of those bags is equivalent to half a peck. With that in mind, think of how many pounds of apples, barberries and more Evelina had to process in the fall. She had no choice, either. Even a family as wealthy as the Ameses needed that food for the winter.

A half-bushel, by the way, was once called a kenning.