November 17, 1852

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Girl’s dress, mid-19th century

Wedns Nov 17th  Miss Alger has been here to

day and has given her 12th lesson and 

dined here.  Mrs S Ames & self have been

to North Bridgewater  Emily & Susan

went with us  I got Susan a plaid

dress but do not feel satisfied with it

 

In the 19th century, girls often wore plaid; Susan Ames was no exception. Her mother got her a plaid dress in North Bridgewater (today’s Brockton) but ended up unhappy with the purchase. Did Evelina buy an actual dress or the material to make the dress? Probably the latter, as this is what she has done previously. Also, we must remember that “off-rack” clothing really was not yet on the market.

One thing we don’t read about today is the ongoing tussle between Evelina and her daughter over the piano. The teacher, Miss Alger, had been at the house for the 12th lesson for Emily and Susan, and there is no mention of lack of skill or failure to practice on Susie’s part. She must have been getting the hang of the new instrument and perhaps was even beginning to enjoy it.

After the lesson, Susan and Emily got to ride to North Bridgewater on the shopping excursion with Evelina and their aunt, Sarah Lothrop Ames. There must have been no school on this day, so the girls got to enjoy the sunshine.

 

 

November 3, 1852

Thread

Wednesday Nov 3d  The girls took their eigth

lesson this forenoon and I sat with

Susan to see her take hers so that I 

could assist her some if required

We have been to the funeral and 

then Mrs S Ames and self went to the sewing

circle at Mr Clarkes,  Miss Alger took

tea with Witherell.  Lavina Wms called

Susie Ames and Emily Witherell took another piano lesson this morning. Evelina, still determined that her reluctant daughter was going to learn to play the new instrument, “sat with Susan” in the parlor as she had her lesson. Miss Alger, the teacher, had tea with Sarah Witherell later in the day. The two women might have discussed how the girls were faring with their lessons; with Evelina out of the house, it would have been easier to discuss the fact that Emily was the stronger student.

Evelina and Oakes, presumably, and other Ameses attended the funeral of the Swain baby. John H. Swain Jr. had died on Sunday from “Teething,” much to his parents’ sorrow. Today, the sun was out, though the wind blew, as folks gathered around the little grave.

Afterwards, Evelina and her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, rode to the monthly Sewing Circle at the home of “Mr Clarke.”  He may have been Daniel Clark, a carpenter, whose wife was Elvira Clark and whose daughter, Elizabeth, had played the piano at the meeting house the summer before last. The piano again! Evelina couldn’t get away from other mothers whose daughters did well at the piano. How frustrated she must have felt about her own daughter.

 

October 29, 1852

255px-Daniel_Webster_-_circa_1847

Daniel Webster

(1782 – 1852)

1852 Friday Oct 29th  Mr Dawes came from Boston

about ten Oclock  Miss Alger expected

him before and began to feel uneasy

They went to the shops after dinner

Helen Susan & Emily went to the shop

& then rode to call at Mr Roachs

They were all in here this evening to

hear Mr Dawes play on the guitar  Mrs S

Ames & self called Swains, to see their child

Mrs Lothrop & Brett called with her babe

 

Old Oliver must have been an admirer of Daniel Webster, else why would he mention the man in his daily weather journal? He wrote, “the 29th was a verry plesant warm day. it clouded up some toward night – Daniel Webster was buried to day”.

Daniel Webster, lawyer, diplomat, statesman, orator and Whig leader, was indeed buried on this day. He had died three days earlier after a fall from a horse and was buried with “impressive ceremonies”* at Marshfield, about 35 miles east of Easton. Considered by many to be one of the finest senators ever, Webster had also been a Secretary of State, U.S. representative, constitutional lawyer par excellence, and a devoted preservationist of the union. To the latter end, he co-authored and spoke eloquently on behalf of the Compromise of 1850, which included the controversial Fugitive Slave Act. As a result, he lost the support of many New Englanders; abolitionists washed their hands of him.

On this day in Boston, however, it would have been hard to find his enemies. According to a newspaper account the next day, a united citizenry mourned:

Boston never before presented – probably never will present – such a funeral aspect as was worn in her streets yesterday. Most of the stores and shops were closed, as well as the institutions, offices, and markets, and a large proportion of the city was dressed in the habiliments of wo. [sic] Though the work was only voluntarily the act of individuals, it was very general – Washington, Hanover, and many other streets being covered in black, interspersed with mottoes, flags, portraits, and other mementoes, as the taste of each led him to adopt and carry out.  It was one of the last acts which Boston can perform to express her sorrow for the loss of the great statesman, and it is praise enough to say that it was well and appropriately done. The streets were thronged nearly all the day, crowds of people being present from other places, – and our young men wore the insignia of mourning which had been adopted, and grieved countenances were observed at every turn of the street…*

 

*New York Times, October 28, 1852

 

October 21, 1852


Sarah Emily Witherell                                           Susan Eveline Ames French

Emily Witherell                                                                                   Susan Ames

 

1852

Thursday Oct 21st  Miss Alger came to day to give

her fifth lesson and Susan is now as far

as Emily but unless she takes more

interest it will be very hard for her

to keep up with her.  Mrs Witherell feels

to blame Miss Alger that she does not

give Emily longer lessons

 

Relationships among the females who lived under the roof of the Ames homestead were becoming strained. Susie Ames wasn’t much interested in learning to play the piano, while Emily Witherell was. Yet the cousins took their lessons together, yoked into learning side by side. Emily was facile and wanted more challenging fare, but was slowed down by Susie’s reluctant participation. The disparity in the girls’ interest and ability was no doubt challenging for poor Miss Alger. The situation wasn’t helped by the mothers hovering over the girls as they took their lessons.

The two mothers had their own set of expectations. Sarah Witherell, who had endured so much loss in her life, had nourished hope that her daughter would develop a taste and talent for music. Evelina probably felt the same way, hoping to see her daughter become “accomplished.” Sarah was unhappy that Miss Alger wasn’t giving Emily enough to do, and, also, was surely displeased with Susie holding Emily back. Evelina had to be disappointed by Susie’s disinterest, nervous, perhaps, that she had made an expensive mistake in buying a piano. Evelina was learning, probably not for the first time, that a parent can have aspirations for a child that the child doesn’t share or follow.

All was not lost, however. For all the initial struggle, both girls eventually learned to play piano with some credibility, yet neither grew up to be a great pianist. They never outshone their older cousin, Helen Angier Ames, who had started earlier and, evidently, concentrated harder on perfecting her skill. Family historian Winthrop Ames, who was a first cousin once-removed of the three pianists, noted that by 1861, at the “Unitarian meeting-house […] Helen, Emily and Susan took turns in playing the reed organ, though Helen was acknowledged to be the best performer.”*

 

Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, 1938, p. 130

 

October 15, 1852

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Friday Oct 15th  We had a very stormy forenoon and

I presume Mrs Mower did not start for home

Miss Alger came this afternoon to give her

fourth lesson and Mother returned home

with her Emily got ahead of Susan fast of 

a lesson but Susan now got up with her

 

North Easton and its environs had crummy weather for the middle of October. After a night of steady rain, along came “a little snow there was an inch.”* Everyone would have been wet and cold, and forced to reckon with the approach of winter.

Evelina was probably correct that her friend Louisa Mower was unable to depart for Maine, whether by rail or ship. Despite the weather, however, Miss Alger, the piano teacher, slogged up from her home in southeastern Easton to give Susie Ames and Emily Witherell their lesson. On her trip home, Miss Alger took old Mrs. Gilmore back to the family farm.

How did the girls do on the fourth lesson? Evelina wrote an observation, then crossed it out. Why? Despite that strike through the writing, we can still read that Emily was pulling ahead of Susan in her scales and overall skill. Did Evelina write that in a fit of pique, perhaps, and change her mind later? Was she disappointed in her daughter, or annoyed at her niece?

 

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

October 6, 1852

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Oct 6th  Wednesday  Miss Alger came to day to give Emily

& Susan their first lessons in music  Made

tomato ketchup and doing one thing and another

about house  Have sewed but very little

Mrs Swain called and invited me to visit her

tomorrow  I called on Mrs Milo Williams

to inquire about the girl that has been living with her

Ketchup, or catsup, was on the stove today. The tomatoes from the garden were ripe and ready to be preserved. The resulting ketchup would be bottled and put in the cellar or the buttery for use at the dinner table over the winter. Sarah Josepha Hale approved of the condiment:

This is a very good and healthy flavor for meats, sauces, &c.  Take two quarts of skinned tomatos, two table-spoonfulls of salt, two of black pepper, and two of ground mustard; also one spoonful of allspice, and four pods of red pepper.  Mix and rub these well together, and stew them slowly in a pint of vinegar for three hours.  Then strain the liquor through a sieve, and simmer down to one quart of catsup. Put this in bottles and cork tightly.*

While the aroma of tomatoes filled the house, Susie Ames and Emily Witherell sat down at their pianos today for their first music lesson. Aside from singing that must have happened from time to time, the sound from the new piano keys would have been the first music ever to be heard in the Ames parlor. As far as we know, no one else in the house played an instrument. We in the 21st century take for granted our ability to access and listen to a broad range of music in our homes via stereos or ITunes, on CDs or over the radio. In 1852, in a small parlor in a clapboard house on the main street of a country village, making music must have been almost magical. Only at church or at an occasional band concert would Susie or Emily have otherwise listened to live music, and now they were learning to make it themselves.

* Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, p. 71

October 5, 1852

Golden Piano Keys

Oct 5th  Tuesday  Called this forenoon upon Augusta

and then went into Olivers to dine & all my family

After dinner Mrs Norris & self called at Mr Torreys

and I then carried Mrs N to the cars.  Augusta

went with us.  When I returned Mrs Witherell &

Mrs S Ames called with me at Mr Whitwells on

Mrs Wordsworth & on Mrs Morse  Our pianos came

to night.

A momentous day at the Ames homestead: Two pianos arrived from Boston – drawn by oxen, one would think – and were set up in the respective parlors on each side of the house. One was for Evelina’s daughter, Susan, and the other was for Sarah Ames Witherell’s daughter, Emily. Everyone, even the men of the family who were unlikely to play the instruments, must have been intrigued by the new additions to the parlors.

Modern historian Jack Larkin describes the stylish impact of the addition of a piano to a parlor in the mid-nineteenth century:

“The pianoforte, the direct ancestor of today’s piano, became the most decisive piece of American parlor furniture. That small minority of families – less than one in a hundred – who were able ‘to beautify the room by so superb an ornament,’ as a cynical music teacher suggested in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, had acquired ‘the ultimate badge of gentility…the only thing that distinguishes ‘decent people’ from the lower and less distinguished’ whether it was ever played or not.”*

It was certainly Evelina’s intention that this instrument would be played by her daughter Susan who, she believed, would learn to play it, and play it well. It was presumably Sarah Witherell’s desire as well that Emily would do the same.  Did they imagine piano recitals and concerts taking place within their freshly-papered, newly decorated parlor walls?  Did they believe that their daughters would excel and play as well as Helen Ames next door? Did their daughters share this expectation? Did their daughters even want to learn piano?

*Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 143