November 11, 1852


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.



March 30, 1852



March 30th  Tuesday  Spent the forenoon puttering about

the house doing nothing at all.  Have been to

carry Orinthia to Mrs John Howards.  Mrs S Ames

went with us and we called at Mrs Reed, Whitwell

J. Howard  Mrs Merrill and Mrs Hills  Mrs Ames

stoped here to tea and spent the evening.  Louisa

Swan was at home and Ann Johnson.  Augusta called

Hannah called for a moment this forenoon

Apparently, there was no sewing today; perhaps Evelina’s fingers were sore from working the heavy moreen fabric the day before. She hardly seemed to mind “doing nothing at all,” however, and gave the afternoon over entirely to calling, an occupation she enjoyed. She, her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames, and guest Orinthia Foss called on Caroline Howard, Abigail Reed, Eliza Whitwell, Mrs. Merrill and Mrs. Hills. They may have called on some younger fellow Unitarians, too: Louisa Swan (daughter of Dr. Caleb Swan) and Ann Johnson.

Calling was an essential component of social life in the 19th century, as we’ve noted before.  Some women thrived on it, others only tolerated it, but just about every woman exercised the obligation to call on their friends and neighbors, as due. In Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, “Little Women,” an entire chapter is devoted to two of the March sisters, Amy and Jo, making calls. Amy enjoyed them, but had to persuade Jo to join her:

“Now put on all your best things, and I’ll tell you how to behave at each place, so that you will make a good impression.  I want people to like you, and they would if you’d only try to be a little more agreeable. Do your hair the pretty way, and put the pink rose in your bonnet; its becoming, and you look too sober in your plain suit.  Take your light kids and the embroidered handkerchief. […]

“Jo […] sighed as she rustled into her new organdie, frowned darkly as she tied her bonnet strings in an irreproachable bow, wrestled viciously with pins as she put on her collar, wrinkled up her features generally as she shook the handkerchief, whose embroidery was as irritating to her nose as the present mission was to her feelings; and when she had squeezed her hands into tight gloves with two buttons and a tassel, as the last touch of elegance, she turned to Amy with an imbecile expression of countenance, saying meekly, –

“‘I’m perfectly miserable; but if you consider me presentable, I die happy.'”*

*Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

January 19, 1852


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



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

November 2, 1851



Sunday Nov 2d  This has been a stormy day, but this evening

has cleared off pleasant  I have been to meeting all

day & went to Mrs John Howards at noon with

Lavinia & Mother  Mr Ames came home at noon and it rained

so hard that he did not go back.  Mr Whitwell

gave us two fine sermons.  Mr Ames & self passed

the evening at Augustus.  Have made an agreement

which I hope we shall both be careful to keep.

At the end of this rainy, chilly Sunday at the start of November, “the most disagreeable month in the whole year,” according to the fictional Margaret March, eldest of Louisa May Alcott’s four sisters in “Little Women,” our non-fictional Evelina and her husband, Oakes, reached an important decision.  Unfortunately, we don’t know what that decision was.

Surely this entry is one of the most tantalizing in Evelina’s diary. She and Oakes “made an agreement” that she hoped they’d “both be careful to keep.”  What did they decide? What promises did they exchange? Oakes had been away from home a great deal lately; did their discussion stem from that? Was this the moment when Oakes determined to become involved in regional politics? Would he have needed Evelina’s approval?  If this was the case, what might he have asked of her, or offered her in exchange?

Or was the decision less historic and more pedestrian? Did their discussion have anything to do with domestic arrangements or the recent spending on the house? Were they going to exercise more prudent care of their “accounts,” as Evelina calls them? Did their agreement have something to do with their children? Did it stem from something Reverend Whitwell said in one of his “fine sermons”? What was this agreement?

And were they able to keep it?


April 20, 1851



April 20  Sunday  Another severe storm it snows some

but most of the day it has rained in torrents

Not one of the family have been to church.

The children have been pretty wide awake for 

the sabbath and made not a little noise.  Harriet

& Anna were here to supper  had Lobster.

Rec d a letter from Pauline this morning.

The weather this April just wouldn’t quit.  The prospect of all the Ameses trapped indoors yet again by “another severe storm,” is dreary.  Surely Evelina missed being able to get to church. Oakes could escape to his office, at least, but Evelina was in the house with many family members. The little children coped, however. After their train trip, Frank, John and Anna Mitchell seemed delighted with the relative freedom and novelty of visiting their relatives. They romped and played, making “not a little noise.”

Lobster was served for supper, a change of pace from more usual fare of beef, bread and pie. Until very recently, lobster had been considered a dish fit only for the lower classes, a sure sign of poverty. It was so cheap that it was often served in prisons. In the novel Little Women, Amy March was embarrassed when a handsome young man bumped into her on the omnibus while she was carrying one in her basket.  Only at mid-century did the crustacean’s “vulgar size and brilliancy”* begin to appeal to the more affluent. Whether Evelina served it because it was beginning to be fashionable to do so or because it was still a very economical meal is hard to say.  Certainly, it was easy enough to obtain. Oakes probably picked it up the day before while in Boston.

The indefatigable Sarah Josepha Hale offered a recipe for stewing lobster that included the direction: “If you have no gravy, use more butter.” She also suggested that lobster could be eaten cold, “with a dressing of vinegar, mustard, sweet oil, and a little salt and cayenne. The meat of the lobster must be minced very fine; and care must be taken to eat but a little of this dish.”**


*Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 1868-1869

** Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841



April 8, 1851



April 8th Tuesday  Have been looking over some of Susans

clothes for summer mended & let the tucks down

to her skirts & finished the shirt for Mr Ames

that was cut out a week ago Monday.  Ironed

some collars cuffs &c.  This afternoon have had

a powerful rain  Jane has starched her fine

clothes and got them ready for Ironing and has

ironed some of the coarse clothes

Tucks are pleats. They were sewn into little girls’s dresses by design so that the dresses could be let out as the girls grew taller. Tucking was preferable to lengthening the hems because pleats required less fabric, were easier to put in and take out, and less obvious when changed.  The object of the whole exercise was to make the dresses last as long as possible.

Anyone who has read Little Women or seen the 1933 film version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of the March family will probably recognize the image of Amy March (played here by Joan Bennett). In this scene Amy is being punished by her schoolteacher for bringing pickled limes to class. She is so mortified that she never returns to the school again. The only worse “deggerradation”  she can imagine would be having her clothes shortened by tucking: “Mother doesn’t take tucks in my dresses whenever I’m naughty, as Maria Parks’s mother does […] it’s really dreadful, for sometimes she is so bad her frock is up to her knees and she can’t come to school.”

Most young girls had tucks in their dresses, whether they were the fictional Amy March or the bona fide Susie Ames. And so today, as Evelina got Susie’s summer wardrobe in order, she “let the tucks down” to accommodate her daughter’s new height.  There’s no instance of her taking the tucks back up in order to punish Susie when she was naughty.

This image of Amy March also illustrates the aprons or shifts that little girls wore over their dresses to protect the outfits from soiling.