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.

 

 

January 29, 1851

Carpetbag

Carpetbag

Jan 29th  Finished my carpet bag this morning and afterwards made

a long call on S Witherell and then she came here and sit awhile

with Mother.  This afternoon cut Susan 4 prs of pantletts

and finished a pr that was cut out a long time since.

S Witherell passed an hour with us this afternoon and 

then again this evening  The boys went to the shop awhile

Mr Ames came home at 1/2 past seven (wonderful to relate)

and has been reading in Mr Lovells paper  Very heavy rainfall

Pleasant tonight but very windy

Sewing the carpet bag was speedy work for Evelina, given her skill with a needle.   Carpetbags were fashionable travel bags from as early as the 1820s, in America and England.  They gained notoriety after the Civil War when they became symbolic of certain ruthless opportunists – “carpetbaggers” – from the North who flooded into the South to take advantage of the post-war confusion and economic disarray.  The negative symbolism of this small piece of luggage was unknowable in 1851, obviously, so we can imagine that Evelina carried her new carpetbag with pride.  Perhaps she used it on her next trip to Boston.

Oakes Ames didn’t linger in the office tonight as usual but came home for a quiet evening of reading the Olive Branch.  Evelina was pleased to have his company, which must have provided some variety for her elderly mother, too.  Sarah Witherell’s company would have added to the ease and sociability of the evening.  More often, Sarah stayed in her part of the house in the evening in order to be company to her father. And the boys – Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Frank Morton – went back to the shop, although the nine o’clock curfew was nigh.

The Ames house was divided into two living areas, with Old Oliver, Sarah Witherell and her two children on the southern side and  Oakes and Evelina’s family on the northern.  Old Oliver made this division back in 1827 when Oakes and Evelina first married, indicating then that Oakes, as his eldest son, would inherit the family  homestead.  The two families had lived side by side ever since, the house expanding and contracting as children grew up, occupants died or moved out, and grandchildren came into the world.

Some Ames family members of today who can remember the old homestead (it was torn down in 1951) shake their heads in wonder at this living arrangement, curious as to how everyone fit in.

January 20, 1851

olive-branch

Jan 20th Monday  This morning worked about the house as usual

on washing days & varnished Susans wooden doll.

Jane put her clothes out but soon had to take them

in again as it commenced raining.  This afternoon

I have been mending Oakes Angiers black pants

and finished cutting Susans plaid sack

This evening have been working on Susan’s plaid

apron and reading Mr Lovell’s paper

Keeping clothes clean is always a challenge, but it was especially so in the 19th century when doing laundry was an all-day, manual chore.  Small wonder, then, that little girls wore “sacks” or aprons over their dresses to keep their outfits from getting soiled.  Sacks had no buttons, so were easier to wash than dresses. They were rather shapeless, sleeveless tunics, often made from simple muslin; aprons were the same idea except fitted with a sash. There were no hard and fast rules about the design or material, however.  To imagine the approximate outline of what Evelina was making for Susie, think of the little girls in John Singer Sargent’s famous 1882 portrait, “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” at the MFA.  Three of the four daughters are wearing something over their dresses. Later in the century, sacks and aprons  would evolve into pinafores, an iteration that became as much decorative as protective.  Aprons never went away, however.

After sewing for most of the day, Evelina took up “Mr. Lovell’s paper” to read. Reverend Stephen Lovell lived in Easton and was, for a few years, minister of the short-lived Protestant Methodist church.  Although Rev. Lovell “gave general satisfaction,” attendance at his church was “feeble,” according to town historian William Chaffin, so the congregation disbanded about this time.  Still, Lovell remained visible in town through his involvement with Olive Branch.

Olive Branch was a popular weekly newspaper published in Boston by Reverend Thomas F. Norris .  Although Chaffin writes that Lovell was editor of this paper, all other sources assign that honor to Norris.  Olive Branch proclaimed itself to be “Devoted to Christianity, Mutual Rights, Polite Literature, Liberal Intelligence, Agriculture, and the Arts.” *  It advocated peace in the increasingly divisive period leading up to the Civil War.  Norris, Lovell and others who worked for the paper – women among them – must have been disheartened by the elusiveness of their goal.  The paper ran from January 1837 through December 1860.

* Joanna River, “Eliza Ann Woodruff Hopkins and The Olive Branch,” josfamilyhistory.com