December 8, 1852

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Wednesday Dec 8th  Have been doing to day probably

what I shall while Oakes A stays, to work

on his clothes  He went to Boston this

morning  It is so near the time he is to leave

that I do not like to have him away but 

how little is he sensible to what my feelings are

Miss Alger has given the 15th leson

 

Only one week earlier, Evelina had learned that Oakes Angier’s illness had returned. She had been shocked, rattled, anxious. Today, a week later, she was not much improved and had added a dose of self-pity. She was feeling sorry for herself. While Oakes Angier went off to Boston for the day, probably with his cousin Alson Augustus Gilmore, Evelina stayed at home to mend and sew the clothes he would need for the journey to Cuba. “[H]ow little is he sensible” to her maternal concern and regard, she bemoaned.

Oakes Angier may have been quite aware of his mother’s feelings, and may have wanted a break from them. Fresh air, sunshine and a jaunt into Boston must have appealed to him. He had his own mental adjustments to make to this threat to his young life, independent of everyone else’s personal regard. He had so much at stake.

So mother and son spent some time apart, he exploring some of the larger world he would soon be thrust into, she nursing a heavy heart at home, sewing, of course, perhaps with piano scales running in the background.

The only thing that Old Oliver noted was that it was a “fair good”* day.

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

 

 

November 27, 1852

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Example of cambric sleeve

Nov 27th Saturday  Have been sewing quite

steadily to day and so has Catharine  We

have made a pair of cambrick sleeves for

Susan & self and mended lots of clothes

Mrs Witherell has been in with her

work for about an hour and it is a

rarity  Susan has practiced very well

to day and is gaining quite fast in reading 

her notes

 

Susie Ames was finally getting the hang of playing piano. After the sturm und drang  of the earlier lessons, her mother had to be pleased to hear her practice “very well.” No doubt the piano teacher, Miss Alger, would be happy that her student could finally read the notes.

Inclement weather prevented them from going outside for any reason, at least in the morning. According to Old Oliver, “it raind all last night wind South east and there was 2 1/8 inches of water fell it cleard of to day before noon wind west + not cold”*.  As we might guess, Evelina used the time indoors to mend and sew.  For a time, she had the company of her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell. As she has suggested before, Evelina felt that both her sisters-in-law did not visit her as often as she would have liked.

Cambric is a light fabric with an open weave, often used for underclothes such as chemisettes. It served well as an undersleeve worn under an outer sleeve of more substantial fabric. It would have been a relatively easy garment for Evelina to sew, especially as her version would have been simpler than the one in the illustration, probably lacking in the eyelet detail.

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

 

November 23, 1852

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Tues Nov 23  Catharine & self have been mending

shirts &c all day  It being very stormy I

thought it a good time to mend

Frederick & Helen came home to night

Susan & self have been in to see them

Fred brought me a crumb brush cost 75 cts

Ann has done the housework and cut

squash & apple for tomorrow

 

“[T]he ground was white with snow this morning, but was a raining + took it all of[f] by noon there was a bout half an inch of water fell”* on this late November day; people in Easton had yet to see a serious snowfall.  Although the storm kept Evelina indoors, the lack of snow was actually a help to travelers like Fred and Helen Ames, who were making their way home for the holiday.

Fred Ames brought his Aunt Evelina a gift. What was better, that she received a crumb brush or that her nephew spent 75 cents on it? That amount would translate to about $17.50 in today’s (2015) market. Either way, she was pleased with the gift, which she would no doubt place with pride on her dining table.

Most of us modern readers probably don’t keep a crumb brush handy at our dinner tables, although we’ve seen modern versions in use in restaurants. But then, most of us probably no longer dine on pressed and laundered tablecloths at home, at least on a regular basis. Placemats are more common. (Readers weigh in here, please.) But in 1852, formal dining on snowy white tablecloths was aspired to as the middle class rose above their agrarian past of eating without linens. The dining room itself became more popular as families found the means to support more servants and rise to a style of living that involved a clear separation between cooking and dining. The notion of today’s open kitchen, where guests sip wine on stools and watch the hostess  – or host! – cook dinner would be absolutely foreign to Evelina. Our lack of damask would shock her and her contemporaries.

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

November 4, 1852

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Thursday Nov 4th  I was very busy about house this

forenoon making cake & scalding barbaries

&c &c Miss Alger not very well

Mrs John Howard called here & at Olivers

dined with Mrs Witherell  She is having

Julia cut her a dress I have been mending

some this afternoon but do not sew much

The piano teacher, Miss Alger, was staying with the Ames family, and today she was unwell. Evelina had to cope with this, knowing as she did that her daughter Susan resented, in some degree, the presence of Miss Alger. Was Evelina beginning to resent her as well? Miss Alger had been staying with them for quite a while. But perhaps Evelina was too “busy about house” to allow herself any unkind thoughts. Ever domestic, she baked, cooked and mended for most of the day.

Caroline Howard, a fellow Unitarian and Sewing Circle member, made a social call at the Ames compound, visiting Evelina and Sarah Lothrop Ames, then having midday dinner with Sarah Ames Witherell. Mrs. Howard was planning to have a dress made by Julia Mahoney, the Ames women’s favorite dressmaker. Caroline was the wife of John Howard, a laborer (according to the 1850 census) and appeared to have no children. She would far outlive the ladies she was visiting, not dying until age 95 in 1897. Her life span basically covered the whole of the 19th century. What changes she saw!

October 16, 1852

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Darning Egg Designs, from Godey’s Lady’s Book

Sat Oct 16th Have made more barberry sauce to day

have three girls here now Ann came

Wednesday night but I am not to commence

paying her wages untill Monday and Catharine

Middleton is to leave to night  I have been

mending to day

 

Bad weather kept Evelina and her servants indoors. As Old Oliver recorded, “the ground froze some last night and it is verry cold to day for the season wind high from north west and some cloudy.” It was a good day for making barberry sauce, especially with three young women to help. The shelves in Evelina’s pantry – or buttery – and cellar must have been nearly full of jars of preserved fruit. There would be plenty to go around come winter. And winter was coming.

It was a good day, too, to catch up on mending. At least some of the mending consisted of darning the holes in the socks – or hose – worn by everyone in the family. Darning eggs, such as the ones in the illustration from Godey’s, were found in most homemakers’ sewing kits or work baskets. They were held on the inside of a sock to keep it firm while the stitching was done on the outside. Some intricate darning eggs also held needles, thimbles, and other tiny sewing utensils on the inside.

The prosaic simplicity of the day’s chores would not have raised any suspicion on Evelina’s part that seven years from this day, John Brown and a band of cohorts would lead a raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The incident would shock and alarm the nation as it realized that even in the civilized “Old Dominion” – as opposed to places on the wild frontier, like Kansas or Missouri – arms would be raised to eradicate slavery. None of the Ameses knew, of course – no one could – but a civil war between the states of the North and South was drawing near.

 

 

October 11, 1852

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Early factory steam engine

Monday Oct 11th  Catharine Middleton & Murphy washed

and I sat down quite early to my sewing

with Mother & Louisa  Mended stockings

This afternoon we spent at Augustus

Mother & Louisa are going to spend the 

night  Mr Torrey & Abby were there

Mr Ames & Oakes A went to West B

I have been sewing on the skirt of Susans

fall Delaine

This was a typical Monday as far as domestic matters were concerned. In the morning, the women washed clothes and mended stockings. In the afternoon, they went calling on relatives in the village. But it was a red-letter day at the shovel shop, as men arrived to install the a steam engine – the first – at the factory.

Old Oliver seemed excited: “this was a fair good day for the season the man came here to sett up the enjoin four of them.” The company’s first steam engine was placed in the new Long Shop by the Corliss Nightingale Company of Providence. It was a technological change that Oliver had resisted in the past, but had since come to accept. His son, Horatio, in particular, had urged the change for several years in order “to counter water supply limitations”* In January, 1847 he had written his father and his brother, Oliver Jr., on the topic.

To Old Oliver:

I shall think a steam engine […] of sufficient power to carry 3 hammers and carry all your polishing works shearing and punching and Bisbees works […] would be cheaper and better […] It is too bad that you do not keep nearer supplying the market with shovels when a comparatively small expense would do it in addition to your other works.”*

To Oliver Jr.:

I enclose you with […the] price and terms for a steam engine. It will do you no hurt to compare cost of this and water power. it will take about one ton of coal a day to drive it and the repairs will be no more than a water power if as much[…] You never need fail for water either too much or too little […] I am altogether in favor of this plan over water power in your situation.”*

Horatio was right, as it turned out. The new engine was the beginning of modernization for O. Ames and Sons.

Gregory Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2002, p. 251.  Text of Horatio Ames correspondence from Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

July 31, 1852

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Women making potash soap, circa 1900*

1852 July 31st  Saturday  Have made two barrels

of potash soap and have had very good luck  This 

afternoon have been mending  Catharine Murphy came

this afternoon to sew for me and Im sure I hope she

will be worth something for it  Mary has been to work

on her own dress this afternoon   Susan &

self have been to Augustus this evening

and staid until ten  He is getting quite smart

This was a full Saturday for Evelina. She made a large batch of soap and was quite pleased with the result. Soap-making is an art, and Evelina was good at it. She knew enough about it, indeed, to be grateful for her own success. Of course, she could have purchased soap in the city or, perhaps, even in the Ames’s general store, but the farm girl in her resisted spending money on something she could make herself.

Lydia Maria Child, author of The American Frugal Housewife, devotes a whole page of her slim volume to making soap. “In the country,” she states unequivocally, “I am certain, it is good economy to make one’s own soap.” She offers various measures of ingredients: “To make a barrel of soap, it will require about five or six bushels of ashes, with at least four quarts of unslacked stone lime,” after which “[t]hree pounds of grease should be put into a pailful of lye.”** The trick to making soap depended on the sequence in which the ingredients were mixed, and at what temperature. It was a backyard chemistry experiment.

After the hard work of soap-making, in which Evelina was no doubt assisted by a servant, and an afternoon of mending, Evelina and her daughter Susan went to see her nephew. Augustus had fallen quite ill two weeks earlier with fever, but was now on the mend.

 

Image courtesy of http://www.wildernessarena.com

** Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife, 1841