September 25, 1852

Music stool


Sat Sept 25th Louisa has a swelling on the back of

her hand which troubles her & she left this

morning and I have got Catharine Middleton

to stay untill next Wednesday when I expect

a new girl  Catharine made some squash

pies and finished the ironing. It has been about

most all the week  Helen & I have been to N Bridgewater

She had a tooth extracted  I got a Piano stool

Evelina was still spending money. In North Bridgewater (today’s Brockton) she bought a music stool to go with the new piano that was coming soon to her parlor. With her was niece Helen Angier Ames; the fifteen-year-old had a less enjoyable errand to accomplish: getting a tooth pulled. It’s interesting that Helen’s aunt, Evelina, and not her mother, Sarah Lothrop Ames, accompanied the girl to the dentist.

In the servant department, the new girl, Louisa McAvoy, departed today, having not even worked a full week. Evelina was really struggling to keep a household staff together. Catherine Middleton agreed to stay on and was helpful with the baking and ironing, the latter of which had taken “most all the week” to complete. We might wonder if Evelina ever missed Jane McHanna, the one servant who had been steady, if occasionally ill – the one whom Evelina had fired in June. Evelina had yet to really settle on a dependable replacement.


September 20, 1852



Monday Sept 20th  Staid at Edwins last night

and slept with Emeline as I did not like

to leave them alone  Augusta rested very

well and is much better to day.  Hannah

left this morning & Louisa McAvoy came

and she & Catherine have washed  I have

worked hard all day  Augustus’ wife called

here this afternoon


Worried about her neighbor, Evelina spent the night at the Edwin Gilmore house in case Augusta took a turn for the worse. Also staying there was fourteen-year old Emeline Pool, Augusta’s youngest sibling, who may have been sent up by the Pool family to sit with her ailing sister. Everyone was unnerved by Augusta’s continued illness, but in the morning Evelina was able to report that Augusta had improved.

At the Ames house, of course, and, indeed, all over town, it was washday. Servant Hannah Murphy departed, as anticipated, but the new servant, Louisa McAvoy and the remaining servant, Catharine Middleton, were on task. The washtubs were out. Evelina did her usual Monday choring and tidying, and the house stirred with activity.

Also on task were men who worked for Evelina’s father-in-law, Old Oliver Ames. They were mowing. Old Oliver reported that “this [was] a fair day part of time + cloudy a part wind southerly + midling warm  began to mow second crop to day.”*  The hay that had been sown in early August was being cut, each worker mindful of the importance of the crop. “[T]he most important matter connected with American agriculture,” declared one farming expert a decade later, “the hay crop is of more value than the cotton, the corn, or the wheat crop, or any single article of farm produce upon which the lives of three fourths of all the horses, cattle, and sheep depend from November to April.[…] Farmer! Have you thought how much depends upon the four weeks of haying time?”** Old Oliver could have answered that question with alacrity.

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

** Solon Robinson, Facts for Farmers, January 1865, pp. 772-773

September 18, 1852


Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, a/k/a “Nellie Bly”

(1864 – 1922)

Sat Sept 18  Mrs Stevens returned to Boston this

morning and I fear she has had a miserable visit

there has been no quiet since she has been here

I have engaged a new girl Louisa McAvoy

but do not believe she will stay long. Went

to see Mrs Southworth about her & to tell her not

to come back but she has gone after her clothes and I 

must try her

Evelina saw Mrs. Stevens off this morning with what were probably mixed feelings. She liked the woman, and worried that Mrs. Stevens’ visit had been “miserable,” because there had been so much housework and lack of rest for her guest. Yet she may also have been ready to see her go. At one point, Evelina had been a little jealous of her friend. She also probably felt the relief that most hostesses feel when guests depart; however likable the company has been, the return to familiar routine is nearly always welcome.

A new servant, Louisa McAvoy, was on the scene. Evelina evidently used the services of a Mrs. Southworth to find the new girl. Was Mrs. Southworth part of an employment agency for household help, or was she simply someone who knew where and how to find Irish servants? The latter option seems more likely. While commercial recruitment agencies did exist in urban areas, North Easton would have been too small to sustain one. But the question remains: who was Mrs. Southworth?

In another few decades, the intrepid Nellie Bly would report on the issue of employment difficulties for women. A reporter for The New York World, Bly was famous for her stories and exploits, including traveling around the world by herself in 72 days, and feigning madness in order to get inside an insane asylum to report on conditions.  In 1889, she explored the scheming of various employment outfits in New York City. The headline ran:

Nellie Bly Exposes a Snare for Swindling Poor Women; A Contemptible Scheme to Rob Needy Girls Who Seek Employment; Heartless Women Who Promise to Find Work for Scarf-Makers and Lure Them Into Their Clutches; Demanding Pay for Instruction They Never Give, and, After Taking the Last Penny, Turning Them Out with No Effort to Secure Employment; Sad Stories of the Wretched Swindle from the Lips of Helpless Girls and Bereaved Mothers.*

Let us hope that Mrs. Southworth was both reliable and honest with the women she placed, unlike the tricksters that Nellie Bly exposed.

*The New York World, February 3, 1889