June 24, 1852


Modern image of Mount Hope Cemetery, Boston


1852 Thursday

June 24th  Carried Mrs Patterson to Bridgewater.

Helen & Susan went with me. Dined at Mr

Burrells, Orinthias boarding place  got there about

twelve left there about two & went to Dr Washburns

He filed my eyetooth to make it even with the 

others  Went into the cemetery and in Orinthias school

a short time & home by Alsons stoped with Lavinia a 

few moments.  Alsons wife had gone to Boston


With her niece, Helen, and daughter, Susie, Evelina drove Mrs. Patterson to her home in Bridgewater. This was the last appearance of Mrs. Patterson in the diary, so we may assume that she didn’t work at the Ames residence any more this year. Most likely, she had been hired for spring-cleaning only, yet her brief tenure with the Ameses had a lasting impact. She was efficient enough to make Evelina dissatisfied or otherwise unhappy with the work of her regular servant, Jane McHanna, the result of which was the latter’s dismissal.

While in Bridgewater, Evelina accomplished various errands, the most pleasant of which was probably dinner at Orinthia’s “boarding place.”  The least pleasant had to be the appointment with Dr. Washburn, where the dentist filed down one of her canine teeth “to make it even with the others.”

Evelina went into the local cemetery, too, perhaps to visit a specific grave. Interesting to note that on this exact same day in the Boston area, another cemetery was receiving attention. In Roslindale, Mount Hope Cemetery – a new, rural-type graveyard in the mold of Mount Auburn – was dedicated.

On the way home, Evelina stopped at the family farm and had a quick chat with her niece Lavinia.


January 13, 1852



Jan 13 Tuesday  Have not done much work to day

can scarcely tell what I have been doing  Have

been trying to fix Susan some work to learn her to sew

Have got out an apron and commenced a stocking

for her to knit.  This afternoon called on Mrs Richards

Holmes, Torrey Savage & Hannah  Spent the evening with

Augustus and wife at Olivers.  Mrs Witherell been to Dr Washburns

& had her teeth out.  Mrs S Ames George & Emily went with her.  Father

& Oliver dined here & the others when they came back from Bridgewater

This was not Sarah Witherell’s best week. Limping from a bad burn on her foot, she kept an appointment with a dentist, Dr. Nahum Washburn, to have her teeth pulled. Dr. Washburn had his office in Bridgewater, in an historic building known as “the Tory House.”  It was the same office that Evelina had been to several months earlier to have her own teeth worked on.

Modern historian Jack Larkin has noted that “[h]undreds of thousands of Americans had at least some of their teeth badly rotted, a source of chronic pain and foul breath to many, with extraction its only cure […] Dentistry, which most rural American physicians practiced, was by far the most effective form of surgery; extraction was a decisive and relatively safe procedure (although infection always posed some risk).”*

While Sarah Witherell suffered today, her family united to support her. Her children and sister-in-law accompanied her to the dentist’s office.  Evelina (with Jane McHanna in the kitchen, of course) fed the entire family, which made for twelve around the dining table. Old Oliver, whose midday meal was usually prepared by Sarah Witherell, came over from the other part of the house. The Ameses from next door were there, too. Everyone came together for Sarah Witherell.

Evelina managed to socialize today, too.  She called on various friends and relatives around town, perhaps sharing the news of poor Sarah’s painful dentistry.


*Jack Lardin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1988, pp. 92 – 93

August 7, 1851



Aug 7th Thursday  Have been to Bridgewater to day

to have my teeth fixed  Dr Washburn kept me there

untill past twelve and then said he should have to heat

up the teeth which take an hour and half.

Left them with him and went to Mr Harris’ and 

returned at night for them.  Oliver was with me

we called at Mr J Mitchells.  Mrs Mitchell & sister

Harriet had gone to Marshfield

It says a great deal about 19th century dentistry that the illustration above, made for a spelling book, used an image of dentures to depict the word “teeth.”  In 1851, false teeth were the norm for most adults. Dental hygiene was primitive and regular care by professionals unavailable. Although brushes for teeth were around, toothpaste didn’t come in until the 20th century.  Those who could afford to pay a dentist usually ended up with false teeth. So it was for Evelina, who had dentures, or at least several false teeth that she had to leave at the dentist’s today to be fixed. Her son, Oliver (3) accompanied her.

Nahum Washburn was the Ames family’s dentist.  A graduate of Dartmouth College, he was trained in homeopathy but preferred dentistry.  He had an office in Bridgewater from 1840 to 1883.

Washburn cared about the pain that his patients had to go through and developed a machine to reduce their discomfort when he worked on their mouths.  In 1859, he obtained a patent for a


a contraption that was “a combination of dental forceps…with [an] electro-magnetic mechanism…so that the electrical current or currents [could] be made to flow through the nerve or nerves of the tooth, or the jaw or flesh immediately contiguous…in order to benumb the same and render such more or less insensible to pain during the performance of the dental operations. ” *

Doesn’t sound all that painless.


*Journal of the Franklin Institute, Volume 69, Philadelphia, p.165




May 28, 1851



Wednesday May 28  Another busy day about house and what have

I done  I am sure I cannot tell how I do spend

my time  I have lengthened the valance for the 

new bedstead which took some time  Mrs Witherell

and Mrs S Ames have been to Dr Washburns to

have something done to their teeth.  Mrs Ames had

a new one put in  I have planted some Asters

Alousom & princes feathers &c.  Very pleasant

Either Evelina was getting absent-minded or her work load was so varied today that she just couldn’t keep track of all that she did. “What did I do all day?” she wondered when she sat down in the evening (or the next morning, perhaps) to record the day’s events in her diary.

For one thing, she worked on the textile that was to go with the new bedstead, a task that had to have been more pleasant than what her sisters-in-law, the two Sarahs, faced. They went to see a dentist, Dr. Nahum Washburn in Bridgewater. Dentistry in the nineteenth century was primitive compared to what it is today, and often involved extraction as a solution to toothache. A visit to the dentist was nothing to look forward to. Sarah Ames came home with a new tooth tucked somewhere in her mouth.

Working in her flower garden, of course, was another way Evelina spent her time. Today’s new plants included asters, alyssum, and prince’s feathers, a trio of choices that offered different texture and size.  Was she putting in seeds or seedlings?