December 19, 1852

disunion_goodheart_divorcepaper-blog427

Classified ad, New York Herald, March 30, 1861

1852

Sunday Dec 19th  Have not got over the effects of my

journey yet and did not feel like going

to meeting was intending to have a quiet 

time reading but Mrs. H Ames came in

soon after they left and staid untill after

the[y] got home. Talking over her trouble & by

her account Horatio is very much to blame

and no one could live with him

Still recovering from her recent trip to New York, Evelina was hoping for some “quiet time” at home while others went to church. She had just settled in with something to read when her sister-in-law, Sally Hewes Ames, came in. Sally needed to talk, and Evelina had no choice but to listen.

Sally stayed for hours “talking over her trouble” with her husband Horatio. As would be shown in the divorce documents, Horatio committed adultery “with divers women in New York.”** He was verbally cruel to her and their children. “No one could live with him” was the consensus of the women.  But divorce!

Divorce wasn’t easy in the nineteenth century. Like today, divorce laws varied from state to state and were typically quite strict. The process was intrusive, recriminative and not for the faint of heart. When the century began, in many places divorce could only be obtained through an act of the state legislature. By mid-century, however, the laws were loosening up, but still varied widely. Indiana, for instance, was the Reno of its day:

During the 1850s, Indiana was widely condemned as a Midwestern Sodom for its relatively lax statutes. Couples there obtained divorces on any grounds that a judge ruled “proper” – attracting a flood of applicants from out of state. The editor Horace Greeley lambasted the Hoosier State as “the paradise of free-lovers” whose example would soon lead to “a general profligacy and corruption such as this country has never known.” (In 1859, its legislature finally voted to require a year’s residency before allowing a divorce suit to be heard.)[…]

South Carolina stood at the other extreme. Since the Revolution, the Palmetto State had refused to permit divorce for any reason whatsoever. Although a court might, very rarely, grant an annulment, most disgruntled spouses had no recourse except to abandon each other. (In fact, South Carolina did not pass its first divorce statute until 1949.) In many states, including New York, divorce was often only granted on condition that neither spouse could remarry – which was supposed to safeguard public morality by ensuring that no one could trade in an old partner for a new one. In North Carolina, the “guilty party” was forbidden to remarry during the lifetime of the “innocent party.” *

Sally Hewes Ames would obtain her divorce in Connecticut, in August 1853. She was set free, but at great cost; the rift permanently altered the relationship of Horatio with his children. Horatio himself remarried in 1856.

What might Old Oliver have thought about this episode? He doesn’t say, only remarking that this Sunday “was a cloudy day most of the time wind south west + not col – Horatio s Wife + Horatio Jun r are here”***

*Adam Goodheart, Divorce, Antebellum Style, NYT, March 18, 2011, The Opinionator

**Gregory Galer, Robert Gordon, Frances Kemmish, Connecticut’s Ames Iron Works, New Haven, 1998, p. 157

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

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.

 

 

November 7, 1852

Anne_Marsh_Caldwell_Osgood

Anne Marsh-Caldwell

(1791 – 1874)

Sunday Nov 7th  It was unpleasant this morning

and I did not feel like going to church

All the rest of the family went  Oakes A

& Oliver came home at noon & did not return

I have been wicking most of the time

Evelina played truant today and skipped church. How quiet the house must have been with everyone away. She wrote that she was “wicking most of the time,” although we might imagine that she read a little as well.

Wicking is a term for placing a wick into a candle mold and pouring wax around it to make a candle. No doubt the Ameses used some candles around the house – we know, for instance, that Evelina had bought wax candles the previous month. It’s unlikely, however, that Evelina was actually making candles. The task would have been too big a production, especially on the Sabbath. She may have been using the term wicking in a different sense; perhaps she was placing fresh wicks into some of the oil lamps around the house. Although kerosene was not yet available, other sources of oil were. Knowing how up-to-date Evelina’s parlor was, we can imagine that she had furnished it with relatively modern oil lamps. She may have been trimming those wicks.

Given the “unpleasant” weather outside, Evelina spent the day indoors. Once the wicking was completed, she may have settled down to read, as she so often did on a Sunday after church. Last week she had mentioned reading a novel called Ravenscliffe, a novel published in 1851 and written by Anne Marsh-Caldwell, an Englishwoman.  Mrs. Marsh was known for her stories of the upper-middle class and second-tier aristocracy; her books were quite popular from the 1830’s through the 1850’s, occasionally rivaling books by authors with whom we are more familiar: Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, to name two. A contemporary described Mrs. Marsh’s novels as “thoroughly feminine,”* which suggests that they fell into the category that Old Oliver described as “love trash.” Evelina seemed to enjoy the book, regardless of her father-in-law’s contempt. It was probably good escapist fare from wicking and rain.

*Sara Coleridge, Memoirs and Letters of Sara Coleridge, 1873

 

October 31, 1852

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of John Gellatly

 

Sunday Oct 31st  Mr Swains child died at 20 minutes

past five this morning  Mrs Witherell

and self passed the night there & laid

him out  Mrs Witherell came home & I 

staid untill about four  Mrs S Ames

& Helen were here awhile this evening

and the rest of the time I read Ravenscliffe

John Howland Swain, Jr., aged one year and 14 days, died at dawn this morning. Cause of death was listed as Teething. What did that mean? He was dehydrated? He had a fever? An infection? Whatever it was, it was too much for the little boy – and for the medical treatments of the day.

In the 19th century, infant death was common, but its ubiquity made it no less easy for parents to bear. Sylvia D. Hoffert, a 20th century historian, has studied the subject. She writes:

“The number of children that couples were likely to bear was beginning to decline in the early nineteenth century. This factor combined with the cult of motherhood, which demanded that women invest considerable time, effort, and affection in their children and measured their contribution to society by their success in fulfilling their maternal obligations, made the death of an infant a particularly tragic occurrence. […] Although […parents] placed great value on their babies’ lives and did what they could to protect them, they were well aware that children commonly died in infancy and that there was little they could really do to ensure the survival of infants. They used the loss of infants as an occasion for demonstrating their willingness to submit to the will of God and found comfort in the belief that their children had gone to join him in heaven. For them, the death of an infant was a private, family matter.”*

The Ames women supported Ann and John Swain as they dealt with the loss of their firstborn son. Both Evelina and Sarah Witherell had themselves buried children of their own, and could comprehend the sorrow inflicted. While Evelina deals with the little boy’s death matter-of-factly, even escaping into her reading later in the day, she had to have been sad for the young Swain couple. She knew.

*Sylvia D. Hoffert, Private Matters, 1989, University of Illinois,  pp. 169-170

October 10, 1852

Daniel_Pierce_Thompson

Daniel Pierce Thompson

(1795 – 1868)

Sunday Oct 10th  It is quite unpleasant to day and

as mother & Mrs Mower was not going to meeting

I staid with them  Mrs Ames Oakes A & Frank

went this forenoon, and Mr Ames returned alone

this afternoon  I have been reading some in

the Rangers Torys Daughter and writing

Helen came in and played on the piano

this evening  Mrs Witherell & Ames came in a while

Evelina skipped church to stay home with her mother and houseguest, not minding too much because of poor weather, which Old Oliver described as  “cloud[y] damp + verry warm wind.”

The women did not sew, but they probably chatted a bit and read a lot. Evelina was reading The Rangers: Or, The Tory’s Daughter: A Tale Illustrative of the Revolutionary History of Vermont and the Northern Campaign of 1777, by Daniel Pierce Thompson. Mr. Thompson was a famous writer in the period before the Civil War, especially in New England. His novels were as well-known as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, but his turgid prose, popular in its day, has caused him to fall far out of fashion. He was also a political figure in Vermont and an active abolitionist, but his novels are not much remembered.

The first two sentences of the book that Evelina was reading illustrate his dated style:

Towards night, on the twelfth of March, 1775, a richly equipped double sleigh, filled with a goodly company of well dressed persons of the different sexes, was seen descending from the eastern side of the Green Mountains, along what may now be considered the principal thoroughfare leading from the upper navigable portions of the Hudson to those of the Connecticut River. The progress of the travellers was not only slow, but extremely toilsome, as was plainly evinced by the appearance of the reeking and jaded horses, as they laboured and floundered along the sloppy and slumping snow paths of the winter road, which was obviously now fast resolving itself into the element of which it was composed.

In the evening Evelina put down the book – which must have been slow going – and whatever letters she was writing, and the whole family listened as Helen Angier Ames played the new piano.

 

September 26, 1852

IMG_1175_ParkPhaeton

A Phaeton owned by a Boston family, ca. 1850

 

Sunday Sept 26th  Stormy to day and only one carriage

has been to church  I was not well and staid

at home  Susan Went  It has cleared off pleasant

Frank Susan & self have been to mothers and

called to see Miss Alger about giving lessons

Have written a letter this evening to

Mrs Mower  Have not read at all to day

 

Old Oliver reported that “there was a little sprinklin[g] of rain to day.”* Evelina said it was “stormy.” The weather was in the eye of the beholder, it would appear. But Evelina wasn’t feeling well, so perhaps her condition affected her view out the window as she watched the lone carriage head south to the meeting house. She was feeling so poorly that she didn’t even read.

Both the weather and her spirits seemed to improve in the afternoon. With son Frank and daughter Susan, Evelina rode south to see her mother, Hannah Lothrop Gilmore, at the family farm.  While in the vicinity, she “called to see Miss Alger about giving lessons.’ Piano lessons, she meant; Susie was going to play an instrument. The new piano had been bought primarily for Susan’s benefit, just as the one bought by Sarah Witherell – and Old Oliver, presumably – was primarily for the benefit of Emily Witherell. Under the paid guidance of Miss Alger (probably the M J Alger who had visited the house earlier in the month), the young cousins would learn to play.

Evelina and Sarah Witherell must have been delighted to see their daughters getting music lessons, something that neither of them had likely access to when they were growing up.

 

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

 

September 12, 1852

Peach

Sunday Sept 12th  A very stormy day and none of the 

family have been to church.  Frank  C Hobart

& Helen went to the meeting house but there

was no meeting  Mr Ames & self laid down

and read “Poor rich man and Rich poor man”

Mother is better  Hannah has been to

[illegible] in the rain but is not able to work.

Cate Hobart, William & Olivers family came in this evening to eat peaches

Bad weather kept most folks indoors on this Sabbath day. Old Oliver reported a more than adequate rainfall: “it raind last night and nearly all day to day wind sotherly and warm   in that has fell yesterday + to day there is one inch + nine tenths of an inch.”* Despite the rain, Frank Morton Ames carried his cousin Helen and her classmate Catherine Hobart to church, but the service was cancelled. They must have had a wet ride down and back, but perhaps enjoyed the journey anyway.

Inside the Ames homestead, things were pretty quiet. Old Hannah Gilmore was feeling better, but servant Hannah Murphy was not. Evelina and Oakes spent some time upstairs and together read a story, probably from one of Evelina’s periodicals. Son Oliver (3) was likely to be reading, too. Perhaps Oakes Angier was reading or resting, in the interest of maintaining the good health he appeared to have regained. Certainly all three sons appeared late in the day, when family from around the compound gathered for tea.  William Leonard Ames and his young son, Angier Ames, who were staying with Old Oliver, popped in from the other part of the house. Oliver Ames Jr., his wife Sarah Lothrop Ames, daughter Helen and friend Catherine, on the other hand, had to cross the wet yard to attend. The big draw appears to have been peaches, a fresh, local and strictly seasonal treat.

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