December 27, 1852

Prisoner

Monday Dec 27  Catharine & Ann washed and I have

commenced my dresses early for Julia

Mr & Mrs Swain & his sister came unexpectedly

into the other part of the house this afternoon

and the evening I have been there  Mrs A L

& Mrs S Ames have been to Sharon this afternoon

Mrs Ames says all the reports about Mr Clarke

abusing his wife are true and he has broken her jaw

in three places  He is in the house of correction

 

Almira Ames and Sarah Lothrop Ames rode to neighboring Sharon and back today and returned with a tale of domestic violence. A Mr. Clarke had been put in jail for beating his wife. Evelina listened closely to the news, lingering over the specifics of the injuries he inflicted on poor Mrs. Clarke, whose jaw was broken in three places. That’s a serious injury in any period, but in 1852 the capacity for proper repair of such breakage was limited at best. Orthopedic surgery was in its infancy and wouldn’t improve until doctors learned more about bone breakage during the Civil War.

The “house of correction” which housed the abusive Mr. Clarke was, simply put, the local jail. In Massachusetts the terms “jail” and “house of correction” were and are used interchangeably. Elsewhere the term “house of correction” was more narrowly defined to mean a holding place for people who were awaiting trial, or for vagrants – not a residential prison, in other words. However it may be defined, it meant at least temporary detention behind bars for Mr. Clarke.

Historians differ on society’s treatment of domestic violence in the nineteenth century. Most people believed that the government – even the local government – had no role in domestic concerns. But people also believed strongly in the moral authority of women and were loathe to tolerate physical transgressions against the weaker sex. Thus was Mr. Clarke put behind bars.

Other than this news, life at the Ames compound was trotting along as usual. It was laundry day – the last one that we shall read of – and the Irish servants were busy at their wash tubs, hot water boiling on the stove. Evelina sewed, of course, and got some pieces ready for Julia Mahoney, the dressmaker. Old Oliver noted that “in the evening there was a little snow.”

 

December 4, 1852

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Silk Day Dress, ca. 1853 – 1855*

 

Sat Dec 4th  Have made velvet strings to my

bonnet swept the parlour and done some

sewing on one thing and another   Do not

feel very well  It has been a damp uncomfortable 

day and O A has been in the house reading.

Mr Ames brought me home a blue & brown 

raw silk dress

Feeling poorly, Evelina seemed to move through her day randomly doing “one thing and another.” She was so worried about her son Oakes Angier that she was making herself sick. Her thoughts must have been in an endless loop of Oakes Angier being ill and being ordered to Cuba for a cure. Why had this happened? Would he get better? Did the doctor know what he was doing? How could she cope?

This being Saturday, her husband Oakes went into town on shovel business, as usual. He, too, must have been feeling the shock and fright of their son being sent away for his health, but his thoughts today were on Evelina.  He was worried about her and, as he sometimes did, bought her a present. In the past he had purchased thread or magazines or some other small item. But on this day, he bought something on a scale we haven’t seen before: an expensive silk dress.

We might want details about this purchase: was it a bespoke dress that she could alter to fit, or was it simply the material that she and her dressmaker could create from scratch? Whatever shape that blue raw silk took, Oakes knew how much his Evelina loved dresses and dressmaking and was making a grand gesture of love and concern. We have no greater proof of his regard for his wife.

*Image courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum, Gift of Mark A. Clark in memory of Mrs. Lawrence Halloran.

November 17, 1852

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Girl’s dress, mid-19th century

Wedns Nov 17th  Miss Alger has been here to

day and has given her 12th lesson and 

dined here.  Mrs S Ames & self have been

to North Bridgewater  Emily & Susan

went with us  I got Susan a plaid

dress but do not feel satisfied with it

 

In the 19th century, girls often wore plaid; Susan Ames was no exception. Her mother got her a plaid dress in North Bridgewater (today’s Brockton) but ended up unhappy with the purchase. Did Evelina buy an actual dress or the material to make the dress? Probably the latter, as this is what she has done previously. Also, we must remember that “off-rack” clothing really was not yet on the market.

One thing we don’t read about today is the ongoing tussle between Evelina and her daughter over the piano. The teacher, Miss Alger, had been at the house for the 12th lesson for Emily and Susan, and there is no mention of lack of skill or failure to practice on Susie’s part. She must have been getting the hang of the new instrument and perhaps was even beginning to enjoy it.

After the lesson, Susan and Emily got to ride to North Bridgewater on the shopping excursion with Evelina and their aunt, Sarah Lothrop Ames. There must have been no school on this day, so the girls got to enjoy the sunshine.

 

 

November 4, 1852

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Thursday Nov 4th  I was very busy about house this

forenoon making cake & scalding barbaries

&c &c Miss Alger not very well

Mrs John Howard called here & at Olivers

dined with Mrs Witherell  She is having

Julia cut her a dress I have been mending

some this afternoon but do not sew much

The piano teacher, Miss Alger, was staying with the Ames family, and today she was unwell. Evelina had to cope with this, knowing as she did that her daughter Susan resented, in some degree, the presence of Miss Alger. Was Evelina beginning to resent her as well? Miss Alger had been staying with them for quite a while. But perhaps Evelina was too “busy about house” to allow herself any unkind thoughts. Ever domestic, she baked, cooked and mended for most of the day.

Caroline Howard, a fellow Unitarian and Sewing Circle member, made a social call at the Ames compound, visiting Evelina and Sarah Lothrop Ames, then having midday dinner with Sarah Ames Witherell. Mrs. Howard was planning to have a dress made by Julia Mahoney, the Ames women’s favorite dressmaker. Caroline was the wife of John Howard, a laborer (according to the 1850 census) and appeared to have no children. She would far outlive the ladies she was visiting, not dying until age 95 in 1897. Her life span basically covered the whole of the 19th century. What changes she saw!

October 26, 1852

 

1860s blue striped muslin dress from St. Albans Museums

Dress with undersleeves, mid-19th c.*

Tuesday Oct 26  We have had a large washing

done to day and not finished untill

after dinner  Miss Alger & self spent

the afternoon in Olivers  Mr Ames

& all the children there to tea  Mr & Mrs 

Whitwell was there an hour or two

I made Susan a pair of undersleeves

and she is delighted with them

 

Because of all the company that had visited over the weekend, the servant girls were unable to launder clothes on Monday. Today, extra sheets and towels were added to the usual load and the washing went on into the afternoon. Not that Evelina rolled up her sleeves; after the midday meal, she and her remaining houseguest, Miss M. J. Alger, went next door to visit with Sarah Lothrop Ames and stayed for tea. All the family partook.

At various points during the day, Evelina had her work box open as she completed a pair of undersleeves for her daughter. Susie was “delighted” with them. Were they a peace offering from mother to daughter, perhaps to make up for Evelina’s insistence on Susan learning to play piano?

We’ve seen Evelina sewing undersleeves before. In the 1850’s and into the Civil War, undersleeves were an essential component of any woman’s dress, fitting independently but securely under the looser outer sleeve of the dress proper. Like the collars of the day, a good pair of undersleeves could be worn with different dresses. Susie must have felt rather grown-up with her new pair.

On the industrial side of American life, meanwhile, today was the 27th anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal. The technological wonder of its day, it was already becoming obsolete. Railroads had arrived and, through their own capacity for moving freight, would soon obviate commercial use of the canal for many (though not all) industries. Shipping would change – was changing. The very word “shipping” derives from the fact that, initially, more goods moved by water than by land. This would no longer be true in this country or elsewhere in the developed world.

We should remember that Harriet Ames Mitchell, Old Oliver’s youngest daughter, was living in Erie at the time with her husband Asa and their three children.  Did they mark the day?

 

*Image of striped blue muslin dress with undersleeves courtesy of St. Albans Museum, England

 

 

 

October 22, 1852

 

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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

August 5, 1852

Rein

1852

Thursday Aug 5th  Have had a rainy day which was

very much needed.  Was intending to go to

Boston with Oakes A in a carriage  Am most

affraid to have him drive Caty as he has been

raising blood of late and has a hacking cough

Lavinia is at Edwins has had Julia

cut her a dress to day  I went there and 

carried my work awhile this afternoon 

Put a new breadth into Susans Borage Delaine

where she tore it

Caty (or Katy), one of the Ames’s horses, was famous in Easton for her willful – and fast-paced – ways. Evelina has complained about her in previous diary entries. Today, however, Evelina had another reason entirely to be “most affraid” to let her son, Oakes Angier, drive the horse. Oakes Angier Ames was coughing up blood.

In an age when consumption, which we know as tuberculosis, was rampant and usually fatal, any person “raising” bloody sputum was immediately suspected of having the disease. TB wasn’t restricted to the lungs, actually; it could attack other parts of the body, such as the spine, but its most common manifestation was pulmonary. Blood coughed into a handkerchief was bad news.

How frightening this development must have been for Oakes Angier, and indeed for the entire Ames family.  Oakes Angier was the eldest grandson, the heir, the star cousin and nephew in whom many expectations were placed. He was beloved, and suddenly he was evincing signs of a potentially fatal illness. Old Oliver makes no mention of this in his journal, however, and Evelina herself had taken a few days to record the news. She may not have wanted to see such words in writing. We may suspect that Oakes Ames knew about his son’s condition earlier, but we can’t know for certain, of course. We can only follow the family as it copes with this huge development.

On this day, Evelina seemed to cope as she always did, by sewing. She took her work across the way to visit Augusta Pool Gilmore, the young bride who was now in the family way. Dressmaker Julia Mahoney was there, as was Lavinia Gilmore, so the women were able to sit and sew and talk in their usual fashion. The touch of normalcy must have been somewhat soothing for Evelina.