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.