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.

 

November 21, 1852

IMG_0404

Lady’s Cloak**

Sunday Nov 21st  have been to church and at

intermission went with Mother into Mrs John

Howards.  Have invited Mr & Mrs Whitwells

family to dine here Thanksgiving

After church read & heard Susan practice

her lesson a while  Edwin & wife came

in this evening and I went to Augustus with 

them

 

This Sunday before Thankgiving “was a fair sunny day wind northerly + cool.”* The Ames contingent headed to church as usual and at intermission spread out to different informal gatherings. We don’t know where the men of the family went, or what Susie did, but we do know that Evelina took her elderly mother to the home of John and Caroline Howard, where they would have been offered a cup of tea and a piece of pie or cake.

After church, Evelina heard her daughter practice the piano. Like yesterday, the friction and anxiety between the two over the piano lessons seemed to have dissipated. At least, Evelina doesn’t mention having to force Susan to practice.

Evelina also did a little reading. If she picked up her copy of the November issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, she would have noticed, among many essays, stories and poems, a short article on women’s cloaks:

Never was there a season in which there was so great a variety of graceful cloaks to choose from. Not the heavy, cumbrous garment that once enshrouded and hid all grace or outline in the female figure, but light, yet ample costumes, that answer every purpose of warmth for walking or driving...**

Cloaks were in. If Evelina needed proof that her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames had a nose for fashion, there it was. Only a week earlier, Sarah had been in Boston buying a cloak for her daughter Helen. There were many styles to be seen, including the one in the illustration, in the Alboni style. Will Evelina get one for herself or her daughter?

 

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

** Godey’s Lady’s Book, , Cloaks and Mantles, November 1852, pp. 476 – 477

October 24, 1852

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Sarah Josepha Hale 

(1788 – 1879)

Sunday Oct 24th  Mrs Davenport, Miss Alger & self

staid at home in the morning and I cooked

a dinner  Martin Carr came home with

them at noon and was here to dine  We all

went to meeting this afternoon  Mrs D & Miss

Alger played and sang and we have had a pleasant evening

Evelina played hostess on this Sabbath Day, staying home from the morning church service to be with her female guests and to cook a dinner. Between services, the men came home for the meal, bringing Martin Carr with them. Martin, who was Oakes Angier’s age, was the son of Caleb Carr, a long-time employee of the shovel shop. Martin was a jeweler by trade; perhaps he knew Edward Davenport, a jeweler in Attleboro, who was staying with the Ameses.

The socializing continued in the evening with tea and entertainment. Both Celestine Davenport and Miss Alger “played and sang.”  What fun to have music in the parlor. Perhaps Susie Ames was inspired by the pleasure that piano playing produced.

Evelina wouldn’t have known it, or acknowledged it particularly if she had, but today was the birthday of Sarah Josepha Hale. Mrs. Hale was the influential editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the most popular periodical of the day for women. Her first editing job, which she took on as a young widow with five children, was for The Ladies Magazine in Boston. After Ladies merged with Lady’s, in 1836 – 1837, Mrs. Hale moved to Philadelphia and became the “editress,” – a term she preferred – of Godey’s for the next forty years. While there, she published the work of Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lydia Sigourney, Caroline Lee Hentz, Washington Irving, Emma Willard and Catharine Beecher – among other authors whose writing has not held up as well through the decades.

Mrs. Hale did more than just read at a desk. While still living in Boston, she established the Seaman’s Aid Society to help the widows and orphans of men lost at sea. She raised a much-needed balance of funds for the completion of the erection of the Bunker Hill Monument, the funding of which had stalled. Though many members of the stymied Monument Association assured Mrs. Hale that she couldn’t succeed, she raised tens of thousands of dollars from individual donors and from a week-long women’s craft fair that she organized at Quincy Market. The latter event alone – the first of its kind – raised more than $30,000 from the sale of domestic goods like homemade preserves, knitted scarves, hand-sewn aprons and caps, and specially donated items. She built the template for that kind of event.

Mrs. Hale also raised money for the maintenance of George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon, which had fallen into disrepair. She championed the establishment of Vassar, the country’s first female liberal arts college. She promoted the advancement of education and employment for women, tirelessly. Most famous of all, she was able to persuade President Abraham Lincoln to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday, a pet project of hers that she had put forward to a line of presidents before him. Most disappointing of all, Sarah Hale never got on board the women’s suffrage movement. She believed that giving women the vote would lead them into politics, which was too disreputable and crafty a calling for the high moral stature of the true female mind.

There is much to be said about Sarah Josepha Hale. We must not forget that she was also an author. She wrote many of the articles in Godey’s, she penned novels, children’s books, household guides and poems. It was her pen that wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She was a phenomenal woman for her time.

October 16, 1852

darning-egg-designs

Darning Egg Designs, from Godey’s Lady’s Book

Sat Oct 16th Have made more barberry sauce to day

have three girls here now Ann came

Wednesday night but I am not to commence

paying her wages untill Monday and Catharine

Middleton is to leave to night  I have been

mending to day

 

Bad weather kept Evelina and her servants indoors. As Old Oliver recorded, “the ground froze some last night and it is verry cold to day for the season wind high from north west and some cloudy.” It was a good day for making barberry sauce, especially with three young women to help. The shelves in Evelina’s pantry – or buttery – and cellar must have been nearly full of jars of preserved fruit. There would be plenty to go around come winter. And winter was coming.

It was a good day, too, to catch up on mending. At least some of the mending consisted of darning the holes in the socks – or hose – worn by everyone in the family. Darning eggs, such as the ones in the illustration from Godey’s, were found in most homemakers’ sewing kits or work baskets. They were held on the inside of a sock to keep it firm while the stitching was done on the outside. Some intricate darning eggs also held needles, thimbles, and other tiny sewing utensils on the inside.

The prosaic simplicity of the day’s chores would not have raised any suspicion on Evelina’s part that seven years from this day, John Brown and a band of cohorts would lead a raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The incident would shock and alarm the nation as it realized that even in the civilized “Old Dominion” – as opposed to places on the wild frontier, like Kansas or Missouri – arms would be raised to eradicate slavery. None of the Ameses knew, of course – no one could – but a civil war between the states of the North and South was drawing near.

 

 

August 6, 1852

sarudy4-R14-E422

Friday Aug 6th

1852 Sewed but very little this forenoon picked

some peas currants &c  Lavinia came to 

dinner  Edwin & wife to tea  Lavinia & I

called to Augustus’ to see their babe who 

is quite sick with the disentary  He looked

quite bright  Mrs Witherell & A L Ames

called a few moments

There were fresh peas at the Ames dinner table today.  We readers might not have enjoyed them, however, as the recipes of the time called for cooking peas – and other vegetables – much longer than our modern preferences allow. Domestic doyenne and editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, Sarah Josepha Hale, declared that peas are “a most delicious vegetable,” but cautioned that “[i]t takes from half an hour to an hour to boil them.”* That seems overcooked to us, but, nevertheless, the Ames’s peas were fresh, untarnished by pesticides, and indisputably local.

With her niece Lavinia Gilmore, Evelina went to visit her nephew (and Lavinia’s half-brother) Alson Augustus Gilmore, who had lately been ill. He was now well, but his one-year old son, Willie, had become “quite sick” with dysentery. Had the child caught something from his father? Or was he suffering a condition not uncommon in children in the heat of the summer?  His bright red face suggests fever and dehydration. Augustus and his wife, Hannah, would have been worried about the little boy.

*Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, p. 75

 

January 19, 1852

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Fashion illustration from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1850

 

1852

Jan 19th Monday  Susan washed the dishes and after doing

my usual mornings work commenced sewing some pieces

of fur that was taken off my cloak for Susan a muff

to carry to school.  Finished it before dark and in

the evening made over her best muff and it looks

as well if not better than when new. feel very well

satisfied with my days work  Very cold.

 

The snow continued today. According to Old Oliver Ames, “it snowd all last night + more than half the day to day and it was a verry cold storm – it did not snow fast any part of the time and all that has come now will not measure more than 6 inches on a level. it drifted considerable and is dry + light.”*

Susan Ames probably would appreciate the muff that her mother was making for her to keep her hands warm.  She already had one for “best” to wear to church, but this one would be for everyday. Made from recycled pieces of fur off her mother’s cloak, Susie would be making quite a fashion statement for a nine-year-old school child, most of whose classmates would likely have worn mittens.  Even Meg and Jo March had to walk to their jobs without muffs, holding instead warm popovers fresh from the oven to keep their fingers from numbing up.

At day’s end, Evelina was “very well satisfied” with the muffs she had reworked.  The household today appears to have been running well which would have amplified Evelina’s happy mood. Jane McHanna must have worked some magic to get the laundry done despite the snow storm.

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

December 24, 1851

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Christmas illustration from Godey’s Lady’s Book, December 1851

Wednesday Dec 24th  This morning gave the sitting room stairs

bedroom &c a thorough sweeping and was about the 

house at work a greater part of the forenoon

knit on my hood when I seated myself at work

read some in Ladys Book which I have

commenced taking for another year.  Emily brung

me a linen collar that her mother made for a

Christmas present

 

Emily Witherell delivered a Christmas gift from her mother, Sarah Witherell, to her Aunt Evelina, a gesture that may have caught Evelina off guard.  In practice, the Ameses had not been in the habit of observing Christmas, finding this religious celebration too festive for their Puritan-derived tastes. Yet times were changing and, in future years, Evelina would become both a recipient and giver of Christmas presents.

Evelina’s transition from being suspicious of Christmas to celebrating it was stimulated by various factors, not the least of which was its promotion in her favorite magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, the same magazine whose subscription Evelina renewed today. The periodical recognized and encouraged the holiday’s appeal to its well-heeled readers, many of whom would have read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published less than a decade earlier. Unlike Unitarian (and one-time Congregationalist) Evelina, a growing number of Godey’s readers were less hide-bound to a doctrine devoid of celebration. The influx of Irish Catholics, who did honor the holiday, influenced some of this change, too.

While many in the nation made preparations for Christmas, a terrible fire at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C., resulted in the destruction of nearly two-thirds of their holdings. Included in the loss was most of Thomas Jefferson’s original library.**

**http://www.accessible-archives.com/2013.01/the-other-fire