October 12, 1851

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Sunday Oct 12th  Had a Catholic meeting at 8 Oclock  Jane went

Have not been to meeting to day on account of the

humour was affraid that I could not sit still.  Susan

went & all the rest of the family  Read in Goodeys

Ladys Book .  Quite stormy & could not go to

Augustus’ as I intended  Have had a very quiet 

day

For the third Sunday in a row, Evelina missed church.  Her nettlerash, or “humour,” still bothered her to such an extent that she had trouble sitting still. She stayed home and by her own admission, “had a very quiet day” while the rest of her family went to meeting. Even the servant, Jane McHanna, left the house to go to a service in the new Catholic Church on Pond Street.

Her father-in-law, Old Oliver Ames, who kept a daily record of the weather, reported that “this was a cloudy warm day and there was 2 or 3 small showers in all about one 4th or 3/8 of an inch southerly.” Evelina evidently studied the raindrops from her perch in the house and decided to postpone her intended visit to the village to see her nephew and his family. Instead she read from Godey’s Lady’s Book, the popular monthly periodical to which she subscribed.

Published in Philadelphia by Louis Godey and edited by Sarah Josepha Hale (a high-profile writer who, among many other accomplishments, wrote Mary Had a Little Lamb), Godey’s Lady’s Book was, as its title suggests, targeted at women. It featured domestic fiction and household hints, sentimental poetry and architectural plans.  It showcased contemporary writing by authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving, yet also published three editions in which women, and only women, wrote the articles.  A testy Hawthorne actually complained to his publisher about the influx of female authors, calling them “a damned mob of scribbling women.”

By 1855, the magazine even carried a feature entitled Employment for Women. Each monthly volume of Godey’s contained various illustrations and at least one fashion plate, imperative for home-seamstresses everywhere who wanted to stay abreast of the styles in dress. It was a magazine perfectly aimed at Evelina, and she followed it loyally.

October 6, 1851

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*

Monday Oct 6th  Went down to Dr Swans before 7 or 8 Oclock

so that I might find him at home and he has given

me some powders  When I came back found the

dishes washed and put away  Jane has been remarkable

smart  I have finished my striped french print

and have worn it this afternoon  Mr Brown

commenced school again to day  Passed the evening

at Mr Holmes with Susan

 

Evelina sought help today from Dr. Caleb Swan, who gave her “some powders” for her nettlerash. She would have mixed a dosage with water and swallowed it.  What was the actual medicine that she ingested? Did it contain the laudanum that was often dispensed to women in that era? Whatever it was, it seemed to make Evelina feel a bit better.

Jane McHanna, the Ames’s servant, washed the breakfast dishes for Evelina while she was at the doctor’s. Jane usually did the cooking and Evelina typically did the washing up, but in this case Jane must have recognized how sick Evelina was.  Evelina was grateful for the assistance and praised Jane for being “remarkable smart.”

The day progressed well afterwards. Little Susie returned to school where Eratus Brown was her teacher. Did she miss her old teacher, Orinthia Foss? Evelina sewed and finished making a “striped french print” dress. Stripes were in fashion that fall, as the illustration above from Godey’s Lady’s Book shows. The illustration also shows that distortion of the female figure for advertising purposes was every bit as popular in 1851 as it is in 2014. The length of the woman’s legs in the drawing is improbable, unless she is standing on stilts under that full skirt. Look at her tiny foot sticking out from the hem!

Evelina even felt well enough to go out in the evening with her daughter.  They went over to the Holmes’s where they probably visited with Harriet Holmes, the neighbor who had been so ill earlier in the summer. The Holmeses had a daughter, Mary, who was about Susie’s age.

 

Fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine, September 1851

September 22, 1851

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*

Mon Sept 22nd  This morning sat down to sewing and fixing some work

for Ellen cut the breadths for a bedquilt and was in 

hopes to have a quiet day & week to sew but it has 

not commenced very fair  About noon Susan was

complained of an itching & burning and on examination

I find her back was broken out in great blotches &

this evening she is completely covered & in great agony

A Mr Bronson is stopping here from Pennsylvania

Monday morning at the Ames’s meant that after breakfast, Jane McHanna turned to doing laundry and Evelina, after doing dishes and other chores, sat down to sew.  She had in mind to make a quilt – perhaps she had liked one of the quilt designs featured in this month’s Godey’s Lady’s Magazine. She cut out some “breadths” of fabric and imagined she’d have most of the day to work on the project.

At midday, however, just at the time when dinner was usually put on table and the men returned from the shovel shop for the big meal of the day, nine-year old Susie reported not feeling well. Something on her back itched and burned. It got worse as the hours passed and by bedtime she was suffering. What was going on?

To complicate matters, the Ameses had a houseguest staying for the night, a Mr. Bronson who was most likely in town on shovel business.  How difficult it must have been for Evelina to give him proper attention and tend to her daughter at the same time. So much for sewing.

Quilt designs from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1851

May 4, 1851

 

Vintage Ad for 1887 Brecks Seed Catalog (Original)

*

May 4th Sunday  Went to church this morning and at

intermission called with Mother at Mr Whitwells

Mrs Daniel Clark went with us Heard two good

sermons from Mr Whitwell. Orinthia went

in the afternoon, staid at home this morning

Have been reading since church in the book of

flowers & called in the other part of the house

to see Mrs Stetson who came Friday night

 

The Flower Garden or Breck’s Book of Flowers is probably the book to which Evelina gravitated on her return home from church.  Its subtitle was “In which are described all the various hardy herbaceous perennials, annuals, shrubby plants, and evergreen trees, desirable for ornamental purposes, with directions for their cultivation” and it probably took her mind away from Reverend Whitwell’s sermons. Written by Joseph Breck, head of an eponymous gardening firm, the “book of flowers” was published by J. P. Jewett of Boston and was immediately popular. It met a need among a burgeoning population of female gardeners like Evelina who were happily creating “parlor gardens” for their homes.

Naturally, women had gardened before the nineteenth century, but earlier gardens, at least of the kitchen variety, were generally planted for culinary or medicinal purposes. Flower gardens existed, certainly, but tended to be presented within a larger landscape that was most often designed by men. Female participation in gardening was a more recent phenomenon, promoted assiduously by landscape designers like Andrew Jackson Downing, authors such as Englishwoman Jane Loudon, taste-setters such as Sarah Josepha Hale, and commercial gardeners like Breck. All were guided by “the nineteenth century urge for the beautification of the American home and its surroundings.”**

The Church, too, latched on to the fashion for flower gardening. As Godey’s Lady’s Book counseled, women needed to “[s]tudy the flowers and behold the wisdom, the goodness and mercy of the Almighty.” *** According to a diary kept by Oliver Ames, Jr., Easton’s own Reverend William Chaffin, a few years later, drew an appreciative “analogy between the cultivation of the Garden and of the Spiritual nature.” Religion was to be found among the pinks and pansies.

 

* Catalogue for Joseph Breck & Sons, 1887

** Ann Leighton, American Gardens of the Nineteenth Century, 1987

*** Godey’s Lady’s Book, May 1851

 

 

April 17, 1851

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1851

April 17th Thursday.  Julia has been here to finish

my Foulard Silk it does very well now & looks

very well indeed after washing It has taken

her two days to cut & make the waist baste

the sleeves & sew on the skirt She is very

slow. Orinthia did not keep school yesterday

or to day on account of the storm It has been

a driving storm to day but not as bad as yesterday

The storm that took down Minot’s Light still raged today.  Safely indoors, Evelina and Orinthia tended to sewing, joined by dressmaker Julia Mahoney, who finally finished the alterations on a silk dress for Evelina. Foulard silk was a popular, lightweight fabric – good for the coming warm weather – that typically featured a small print pattern. Used today for scarves, it could and can be hard to sew because it’s so thin.

Julia took longer to complete the outfit than Evelina thought she should, yet as Julia was probably paid by the piece and not by the hour, Evelina’s annoyance wasn’t based on monetary concerns. Perhaps her exasperation at the dressmaker’s deliberate pace stemmed from her own seasoned agility with needle and thread; perhaps she thought she could do the work faster. But Julia may still have been more skilled in the finer needlework required for high-end ladies’ dresses.  Certainly the end result proved pleasing.

According to Godey’s Lady’s Magazine, “One might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion”.  While North Easton, Massachusetts would never be in the running as a fashion center, some of its citizens cared about style and appearance.  Evelina and her sisters-in-law did. They followed the fashions, via various periodicals and on trips into Boston, and dressed themselves as modishly as they could. As Evelina’s grandson Winthrop Ames later pointed out, “Every season there was a great remaking of old garments to bring them up to date.”

The remaking of garments didn’t preclude the production of entirely new dresses, either.  But older clothes were made and remade to last as long as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 16, 1851

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March 16th Sunday.  Went to meeting all day.  Oakes Angier

did not go. There were but a very few present

as it was very windy & cloudy commenced raining about

noon. Spent the intermission at Mr. Whitwells.

I liked both sermons, particularly in the afternoon.

Orinthia staid at home in the afternoon having

a bad cold This Evening wrote a letter to Louisa

J Mower & read the papers

Most of the Ames family attended church today. The crummy weather couldn’t keep them at at home, although it affected the travel of others in the congregation. Evelina continued to admire Reverend Whitwell and listened carefully to his sermons. She enjoyed the company of his wife Eliza, with whom she spent today’s intermission between services. Orinthia Foss, meanwhile, went back to the house at noon with a cold. Did she catch it yesterday when the ladies were out making calls?

After church on Sunday was usually a quiet time. The Ameses followed the old Puritan practice of not working on the Sabbath. Sewing was included in that stricture, meaning that Sunday was the one day Evelina gave her thimble a rest. She usually filled what we would call “down time” by writing letters or reading. On this afternoon, she wrote a letter to Louisa Mower in Maine, perhaps bringing Louisa up to date on Orinthia’s stay in Easton and her new teaching responsibilities.

As for reading, Evelina and Oakes either subscribed to or bought directly (in Boston) various periodicals and newspapers.  One of her favorites was Godey’s Ladys Magazine, a popular women’s monthly published in Philadelphia. If Evelina looked through the March issue today, in the section entitled “Editors Book Table,” she may have read notices for two books just published by George Putnam in New York. The first was The Wide, Wide World by Elizabeth Wetherell (pen name for Susan Warner), a Christian-themed novel that would be a big bestseller and a mainstay of 19th century fiction for decades. The short review described the book as “carefully and naturally written, manifesting in every page the anxiety of the author […] to inculcate profitable lessons in real life.” Both Evelina and her daughter would read it.

James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pathfinder was next in the list of new books and promised more adventure than The Wide, Wide World. Evelina never mentioned reading any of Cooper’s books but perhaps her sons, who also loved to read, enjoyed the Leather Stocking Tales.

January 9, 1851

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Jan 9th Thursday

This morning after cleaning my room & doing

my usual mornings work, finished my collars & the

book Mr Whitwell brought.  Cut Susan a sack out of

her plaid cloak.  Prepared some mince pie meat ready

for baking & this evening have been writing in this book.

Had to take the foregoing from memory.  Mr Ames, ague in his face

and come home from the office very early.  Has been

troubled with it several days.  Unpleasant this afternoon

Oakes Ames still had his head cold and came home early from work, something almost unheard of.  He was always on the go. Evelina, meanwhile, worked in the cook room preparing mince meat, a lengthy process that calls for a lot of chopping of meat and suet, not to mention the “stoning” of raisins.

Sarah Josepha Hale, intrepid editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, had nothing nice to say about mince meat pies. In her book, The Good Housekeeper (1841), she urged American housewives to serve mincemeat only on special occasions:

“The custom of eating mince pies at Christmas, like that of plumb puddings, was too firmly rooted for the ‘Pilgrim fathers’ to abolish; so it would be vain for me to attempt it.  At Thanksgiving, too, they are considered indispensable; but I may be allowed to hope that during the remainder of the year, this rich, expensive and exceedingly unhealthy diet will be used very sparingly by all who wish to enjoy sound sleep or pleasant dreams.”

Evelina was a regular reader of  Godey’s Lady’s Book, but she paid scant attention to Mrs. Hale’s admonishment against mince meat pies.  She served them often; they were a familiar presence at the Ames dinner table.  Considering  the large family to be fed, including three physically active sons between ages 17 and 21, and the ready availability of meat and suet from the oxen provided by her father-in-law, it’s small wonder that Evelina turned to a dish that was hearty and filling.   Mincemeat was a standard in many farming families.