November 11, 1852

alcott_lou

Louisa May Alcott

(1832 – 1888)

Thursday Nov 11th

Ann & Catharine has cleaned the shed chamber

and sitting room chamber & I have been 

putting draws & closets in order.

Mr Ames & self at Olivers to tea  Mr &

Mrs Swain & Mrs Meader there

Commenced Susan an Angola yarn stocking

 

For Evelina, this was a productive day. Her servants, Ann Shinkwin and Catharine Murphy, cleaned the shed and the sitting room, while she herself reorganized “draws & closets”. She must have felt quite satisfied having put two key rooms in order. Come evening, she and her husband went next door to tea where they visited not only with the Oliver Ameses, but also with Ann and John Swain and Ann’s mother, Sarah Bliss Meader. Mrs. Meader was from Nantucket; she must have been visiting in the wake of the death of little John Swain.

For Louisa May Alcott, a 19th century author who should need no introduction, this was an important day. Some literary sources have it that Miss Alcott, using the name “Flora Fairfield,” published her first story, The Rival Painters: A Story of Rome, on this exact date, when the author was barely twenty years old. However, closer examination suggests that The Rival Painters first appeared back on May 8 in The Olive Branch, a periodical published in Boston from 1836 through 1857.  A second story, easily confused with the first, was The Rival Prima Donnas, which was published on this date in 1854 in The Saturday Evening Gazette, earning the author five dollars.

Regardless of the scholastic disagreement over the first appearance in print of Louisa May Alcott, we can imagine that Evelina was exposed to her writing at various times from this year onward. Surely Evelina read other short stories and novels by this increasingly famous author. If she developed an affection for the author’s work, Evelina would have read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys and been as familiar with the triumphs and travails of the March family as devoted readers still are 160 years later.

*A fine resource for readers wanting to know more about Louisa May Alcott is “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” by Harriet Reisen, New York, 2009.

 

 

April 16, 1852

 women sewing*

1852

April 16th Friday.  Julia here again to day and we have

been to work on my dresses  Mrs S Ames & Witherell

helped some time this afternoon and we have

got along nicely  Hannah & Augusta called

Augusta brought her work and Hannah finished

Susans stocking.  Susan has the other stocking about

half done.  The first pair that she ever attempted to knit.

Stormy again to day.

The day before had rained “pritty fast” all day long, and today opened in much the same vein, with “snow squals + rain + a high wind.”***  The women stayed indoors and focused on fashion.  Dressmaker Julia Mahoney came over to work on new outfits for Evelina. Sisters-in-law Sarah Ames and Sarah Witherell helped for a time, too, both of them as accomplished at sewing as Evelina. They all “got along nicely,” a phrase that suggests good progress was made on Evelina’s dresses, although the women’s sociability quotient was also probably pretty high.

Others joined the hum.  Nieces-in-law Hannah Gilmore and Augusta Gilmore, a younger set of eyes and hands, arrived with work in hand. Hannah helped her little cousin, Susie Ames, knit a pair of stockings.

The sewing of new dresses – as opposed, say, to the mending of men’s shirt fronts – was the favorite expression of the women’s collective talent with needle and thread. As Winthrop Ames noted, “An immense amount of sewing went on in every family.”** We’ve certainly learned that from Evelina’s diary.  In 1852, they still made their own dresses. “[T]he materials and trimmings, after much consultation about their style and quality, were made up in the house with the help of the town seamstress and pictures from the fashion magazines.”

Things would change. By the start of the Civil War, the Ames women began to have their dresses made up in Boston. But on this day in North Easton, needles flew.

 

*Image courtesy of nhdsewingmachine.weebly.com

** Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, p.126

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

 

February 23, 1852

Looking glass

Monday 23d Feb 1852  Worked about the house this forenoon

dusted the chambers and washed around the

windows &  doors.  Susan washed the dishes. Am

trying to have her learn to knit, improves some

but rather slowly  This afternoon have been mending

some and have put one new sleeve into my

blue & orange Delaine  The looking glass came

out from Boston to night

We might call it a mirror, but Evelina and most of her contemporaries called her new purchase a looking glass. (Think of “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There,” Lewis Carroll’s 1871 sequel to his 1865 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”) Like the framed prints Evelina had recently bought for her walls, the looking glass was a fashionable piece of decor. She must have been tickled to have one hanging in her parlor.

New “methods of mass-producing large, flat panes of glass had been perfected and, by combining them with heatless, chemical-coating technologies,”* mirrors had become easy to manufacture – and affordable.  At mid-century they became stylish and ubiquitous, symbolic of the new taste and purchasing power of the middle class. In a home like Evelina’s which, 50 years earlier, might have boasted no more than a small, courting-type mirror, a big, new looking glass, hung on braided silk roping from molding above it, had become de rigeur.

Other than this exciting upgrade in the parlor, today was a Monday like any other. Jane McHanna did the laundry, Susie Ames washed the breakfast dishes, and Evelina took to her needlework.  She was teaching her daughter to knit.

 

*Wikipedia, Mirrors, accessed February 19, 2015.

January 2, 1852

Tea

 

1852

Jan 2d Friday  Seated myself quite early this morning to work

on Susans hood & finished item about ten Oclock

then ripped my old blue hood and washed the

lining & turned the outside have got it nearly done

We all went into the other part of the house to tea

Mr & Mrs Oliver & Helen there  Frank has a sore

ankle as [sic] does not go to the shop  Dr Swan called there

to see Helen & left Jane some medicine

The family gathered for tea today in “the other part of the house,” meaning that Evelina, Oakes, and their children, Oakes Angier, Frank and Susan went into the southern half of the shared house where Old Oliver and his widowed daughter, Sarah Witherell, lived with her two children, George and Emily. Joining them was the family next door: Oliver Ames, Jr, his wife Sarah and their daughter, Helen Angier Ames, who made an appearance despite being home from school with a cold. Other than missing Oliver (3) and Frederick Lothrop, the sons who were off at college, the group was a normal configuration for a gathering at the homestead.

Evelina’s grandson, Winthrop Ames, would one day describe such a family gathering from less than a decade later, by which time daughters-in-law and grandchildren had arrived:

“Supper, always called Tea, at seven, was the sociable occasion. It usually consisted of cold meats, hot biscuits, preserves and cakes – an easy menu to expand for unexpected guests.  Every week at least, and usually oftener, one household would invite the others and their visitors to tea; and the whole Ames family might assemble, even infant children being brought along and tucked into bed upstairs.  Fifteen or twenty was not at all an unusual gathering.”*

The family was as tightly-knit as any of Evelina’s knitted worsted hoods.

One other note about today’s entry: Dr. Swan left some medicine off for Jane McHanna, the servant, who had been ailing for much of the fall and winter. What did she suffer from?

* Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, privately printed, 1937, p.128

 

December 30, 1851

SwedishRunnersC

*

Tuesday Dec 30th  This forenoon worked about the house

again. Have put the drugget down in the 

parlour and dusted the room thoroughly.

Made Susan the second pair of sleeves to her blue

cotton & wool Delaine  Finished the letter to Lucy Norris

Commenced knitting the border to the bottom of my hood

It is a beautiful warm sunny day like the spring of the year

 

Nor surprisingly, the carpet that Evelina used in the house was inexpensive. Drugget, as it was known, was “a sort of cheap stuff, very thin and narrow, usually made of wool.”**  Drugget is an English term for “a coarse fabric having a cotton warp and a wool filling,” ** the kind of quick carpeting one might have found in a first class railway carriage. It probably had a design or a border printed on it.

Evelina has written here and elsewhere of putting carpeting down, taking it up and outside to clean, and putting it down again. She has written of stitching the carpeting together, which suggests that she may have used drugget runners side by side to make an over-all covering for her parlor floor. She may have been more conventional, though, and placed the drugget as runners on top of an area rug, or on top of a bare floor. Whatever she did, the work was repetitive and dusty.

It’s a shame that Evelina spent so much time indoors today when the weather was “fair warm + pleasant,” as Old Oliver reported. She herself made note of its similarity to spring; she should have known it wasn’t going to last.

 

** Wikipedia, “Drugget”, as of December 26, 2014

 

 

Scandinavian Room with drugget runners “Bibliotekarien Segersteen i sitt hem,” 1886, by Johan Fredrik Krouthen, Courtesy of http://www.burrows.com

 

December 25, 1851

Turnstile

 

Dec 25th Thursday  The Irish are expecting to have a great

time to day Jane went to the meeting house about

eight but the priest did not come she stoped an

hour. Carried my knitting into Olivers awhile this

forenoon. This afternoon have been to mothers

with Mr Ames & Frank as they were going to West

Bridgewater.  Finished knitting the front & back of

my hood  Made a present to Lavinia of Turnpike Dividend $800

Christmas Day! But as Evelina points out, the Irish Catholics in town would be celebrating, but the Ames family wouldn’t. Jane McHanna left the house to attend a Christmas mass for which, unfortunately, the priest was either late or didn’t show up at all.  Jane returned home to prepare dinner. Evelina, meanwhile, visited Sarah Lothrop Ames next door, knitting in hand.

After dinner Evelina rode along with her husband and youngest son as they went on an errand to West Bridgewater.  They dropped her off to see her mother at the family farm. There may have been some recognition of the holiday in this gesture, although Evelina makes no mention of gift-giving, with one significant exception. Evelina gave an $800 dividend to her niece Lavinia Gilmore.

The dividend came, somehow, from proceeds from the Taunton and South Boston Turnpike, a road that had run through part of Easton since the early 1800s, between “‘Taunton Green, so called, to the Blue Hill Turnpike,'” according to town historian William Chaffin.* Its origin was controversial and involved a long-standing disagreement with the Town of Raynham, but its impact on the Gilmore family was generally positive, as various Gilmores, including Evelina’s father and brother, served as toll-gate keepers. As Chaffin points out, however, “[t]he toll-gate naturally became unpopular.” It was closed in October of 1851.

How Evelina came to possess $800 from the road is unclear. Was this a regular dividend that Evelina received, or was the family compensated for the road’s discontinuance? That Evelina passed this money on to her niece, however, is a clear demonstration that for all her economical instincts, Evelina was capable of great generosity.

 

*William L. Chaffin, History of Easton, Mass, 1866, pp. 454 – 458.

December 17, 1851

Sleigh

Dec 17th  Wednesday.  Mary went to ironing this

morning and Jane did the housework and I have been

knitting on Susans hood have got the front done and 

commenced the back  Abby spent the afternoon

& Malvina came in past eight  Jane ironed 7

shirts this afternoon  Very cold weather

Old Oliver Ames didn’t always agree with his senior daughter-in-law, but on this day he and she shared the same opinion about the temperature outside. “[T]he coldest day we have had this winter,” he wrote in his journal. Not surprising that Evelina and her servants stayed inside and focused on their indoor domestic responsibilities. All three women seemed to have recovered from their recent colds and illness and they probably wanted to keep it that way.

Some people went outside, though.  Evelina’s nieces, Abby and Malvina Torrey, spent part of their day with her.  They must have walked over from the village – a short walk, fortunately, in the windy, freezing sunshine.  Other Eastonians who were out and about would have moved around best in their sleighs, as a buildup of snow had hardened into a smooth, slick surface on the roadways.  Old Oliver himself may have gotten around that way.  He noted that “light slays run pritty well now.”