January 30, 1852


Jan 1852

Jan 30th  Friday  Have commenced making a flannel

skirt for self & finished Susans dark print apron.

Mother [and] self passed the afternoon at Edwins.  Mr

Ames came to tea. Mrs S Ames called there with Mrs

Holmes. Mrs Witherell and the others returned to 

night  She has not her teeth but is to send for them

Oliver & Fred went to James Mitchell and called at

several other places  had a fine time Oliver played

chess with Judge Mitchell

Oliver Ames (3), Evelina’s middle son and a future governor of Massachusetts, was still home from college, as was his first cousin, Frederick Lothrop Ames.  The two young men were having “a fine time” on their winter break.  Chess was just one of the games they might have played to while away the dark evenings, another being whist.

Chess had been around for centuries, having first developed in India and the Islamic world.  It had evolved over time; dark and light squares on a chessboard were first introduced in the 10th century, for instance, rules for a stalemate or draw in the 15th, and so on.

By the nineteenth century, chess was really coming into its own.  In 1802, one J. Humphreys published a book called Chess Made Easy.  In 1830, the first known female chess player was acknowledged (though probably not encouraged.)  The first international chess tournament was held in London in 1851, won by Adolf Anderssen, and in 1852, the year we find Oliver Ames (3) playing the game on a winter’s night in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, sandglasses were first used to time a game.

Before the decade was finished, an American prodigy name Paul Morphy came to fame, winning nearly every game he played and defeating most of the older expert players. In the United States, a chess “epidemic” was born.

December 9, 1851

21e3fa70a71cf1a247c917909a88dc2f Dec 9th Tuesday.  Have been painting all day.

Got some putty from Edwins house to stop

the cracks in the hearth and painted that 

and then went to work in the storeroom

chamber finished that and the porch 

and this evening Mr Scott has painted

the floor & stairs.  Have quite a bad

cold felt it first Sunday morning

Mrs Holmes called about her milk has stoped taking

Despite having a “bad cold,” Evelina was up and working.  She walked over to her nephew’s new house and borrowed some putty which she used to fill some cracks on her own hearth. She “went to work in the storeroom chamber,” painting there and on the porch as well. It was a chilly time of year to be working in those areas, and not at all conducive to getting the better of a new cold, but Evelina seemed to have a goal in mind that she was determined to meet.

Mr. Scott was painting in the house as well, going over the floor and stairs. What kind of paint were he and Evelina using? The ingredients would have included pigment and a binding agent, such as milk or animal glue; the paint was meant to last as long as possible. Whitewash had prevailed on the plaster walls of early American homes, but other colors had since become popular. We don’t know what color Evelina picked. Mr. Scott would have mixed the paint up himself; there was no going down to a hardware store to pick up a gallon – at least not yet. Commercial house paint wouldn’t become available until after the Civil War, when Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams began to manufacture and sell ready-mixed paint.

In addition to the painting she did, Evelina mentioned a visit from her neighbor, Harriet Holmes, who came over to discuss “her milk” which “has stopped taking.”  This last sentence doesn’t quite make sense, and may be incomplete; if so, there’s no telling how the thought was intended to conclude. If we only consider what’s written, however, it sounds as if Harriet’s breast milk had just dried up. Yet there’s no commentary anywhere about Harriet Holmes having had a baby recently.  It’s a mystery.

*19th century painter’s caddy, Courtesy of http://www.donalsonantiques.com

October 6, 1851



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

August 13, 1851


Wednesday 13th  Went to Mrs Holmes early this morning to

make her bed & tie her hair and was there most

of the forenoon.  Passed the afternoon at Major

Seba Howards with Mrs S Ames.  Met a Mr & Miss

Howard from Philadelphia two Miss Tolmans from

New Bedford & Henrietta & Mrs Lewis Keith.  Mr & Miss

Howard are very pleasant.  Had an introduction

to Mr Brett

First thing after breakfast, Evelina went to see Harriet Holmes, a neighbor who was seriously ill.  As she had done on other days, she made Harriet’s bed and tied up her hair. She spent the morning there, probably giving others in the household – specifically Harriet’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Holmes – some time off.  Presumably Mrs. Holmes or her son, Bradford, had kept watch the night before.

Everyone’s vigilance was rewarded, as Harriet Holmes began to improve. Whatever it was that had made her sick began to abate. This would be the last visit that Evelina made to the house or, at least, the last one she made note of. Harriet would recover.

Evelina must have been relieved. She was certainly optimistic enough to set aside her care-giving and dedicate the afternoon to socializing.  She and her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, called on Major Seba Howard and his wife, Eleutheria. There they were introduced to several guests, some of whom were “very pleasant.”  The afternoon was a much needed change of pace after the worry of the past several days.


August 12, 1851



Tues Aug 12th  Mrs Thompson & Mrs Holmes his mother are at Mrs Holmes

and I did not stop long this morning but about

three they sent for me to come as quick as I could

She was much worse but by the time I got there

she was better and I stoped untill night & left

her very comfortable.  came home & wrote a letter

to Abby Eaton for her to come there

Harriet Holmes had been bedridden for a week with an acute, unnamed illness.  She was sick enough to require regular care by friends and neighbors, including, most recently, her mother-in-law, Mrs. Holmes, who was brought over from Canton.  Mrs. Holmes, along with a Mrs. Thompson, became worried enough about Harriet’s condition to send for Evelina around three o’clock..

Evelina responded quickly, it would appear, but the crisis was over by the time she got to the Holmes’s. She stayed, however, to be certain that Harriet was, indeed, better.  She returned home after dark and wrote to someone – another relative, perhaps – named Abby Eaton to come and help.

Evelina, Bradford Holmes, and others – with the exception yesterday of an “unfeeling” aunt – had all acted as carefully and expeditiously as possible in tending to Harriet. Mr. Holmes drove a team of oxen to fetch help for his wife and Evelina wrote a letter to summon a relative, which was the best they could do. Their options were slow and terribly limited.

Today we see medical care, especially emergency care, in terms of how quickly a condition may be addressed, or how many minutes it takes for help to arrive. In 1851, it was a matter of hours,even days sometimes, before help could arrive.  How skilled the help was and how effective the treatment was another big question. In Harriet Holmes’s case, no one tending her was professionally trained. They were caring but powerless. Harriet Holmes would get better, or she wouldn’t; modern medicine and first responders would have nothing to do with the outcome.

August 11, 1851



Aug 11th Monday  Had a new girl come to day to assist some about

the house and help me sew.  Went to assist Mrs Holmes

found her sick abed and alone her aunt Clifford

left her as sick as she is. She must be an unfeeling

woman  Mr Holmes went to Canton with the team and

will try to get his mother for a few days. Julia Waters

did up the work this morning  This afternoon she has

been all alone with Willie  I made her bed for her at night

Harriet Holmes, Evelina’s neighbor, continued to be quite ill.  Evelina and others looked after her, including an aunt who departed her post before a new helper arrived, earning Evelina’s stern disapproval.  As Harriet had a toddler, Willie, to look after, the aunt leaving her alone was not only “unfeeling,” but negligent.

Help was on the way. Harriet’s husband, Bradford, drove a team – of oxen, most likely – to Canton to fetch his mother. Before they returned, Evelina made fresh the sickbed, as she had done on other nights. Harriet would be tended to.

And this morning, even as Jane McHanna wrestled with the weekly wash, a “new girl” entered the Ames household to help with the chores and the sewing. That must have brightened Evelina’s Monday.


* Louis Lang, The Invalid, 1870, oil on board, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Walter deForest Johnson.



August 8, 1851



Aug 8th Friday  My teeth are very sore to day and I feel about

sick and did not go into Mr Holmes very early

Went about ten Oclock and made her bed and

fixed her hair  Went in evening and found

Mrs Witherell making her bed  Mrs Witherell

has had her parlour painted a[nd] papered she

is very much dissatisfied with the way the paper

is put on and talks of having it scraped off

The aftereffects of the dental care that Evelina received yesterday from Dr. Washburn made for a slow and unpleasant start to her day.  By mid-morning, however, she was out and about. She went to the neighbor’s to check on the ailing Harriet Holmes.  She went back at night, too, and found her sister-in-law Sarah Witherell in attendance.  Both women took time to arrange Harriet’s bed linens, perhaps removing them for cleaning.

Sarah Witherell had done some painting and papering in her parlor with which she was unhappy.  She would have had to get permission and funding from her father, Old Oliver, for the project.  We see from this that Old Oliver was capable of spending money for decoration, perhaps especially if his daughter requested it. How he took the news that the decorating would have to be redone isn’t recorded, however!

Evelina was so preoccupied today that she may not have noticed that the haying was finally over.  Old Oliver announced yesterday that it had been“a midling good hay day. […] we got in the last of our hay to day – we have had bad weather for haying this year + have bin a long time about it”

August 6, 1851



Aug 6th Wednesday  Immediately after breakfast Mr Holmes

came in and said his wife was very sick and

wished me to go in there  I found her in a high

fever with frequent chills  staid all the forenoon

Was expecting to go to the sewing Circle this

afternoon at Mrs Roland Howards but could

not have a horse untill it was too late to go

Made Mrs Holmes bed in the evening

Harriet Holmes, a neighbor in the village, took ill and Evelina, summoned by the husband, Bradford Holmes, went to their house to help. In an era when trained nurses were not widely available, and physicians an expensive service, many families relied on caring friends and relatives to look after the sick.  Evelina and her sisters-in-law often helped nurse the ill in the village.

Harriet Holmes was the same woman who herself had looked after two invalids the previous winter: her own mother and a Miss Eaton, both of whom died. Harriet was in her mid-thirties and had three young children to look after. Her husband was a teamster, probably for the shovel company.  He would have looked after the oxen and, more than likely, was one of the men called into service to bring in the hay.

Evelina tried to juggle her nursing of Mrs. Holmes with the monthly meeting of the Sewing Circle, but couldn’t bring it off.  She couldn’t get a horse until it was too late, so she gave up. Horses, too, may have been pressed into service for the haying which was, according to Old Oliver today,  “a fair good hay day. wind south west most of the time.”