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

October 3, 1852

Play

Oct 3d Sunday  We have all been to meeting to day

Mrs Norris Mr Ames & self came home at noon but did not

have a dinner cooked  After meeting Frank carried Miss Linscott

& Orinthia to Bridgewater & Melinda & self went to Mothers and

called on Miss M J Alger while Frank went to carry them home

Mrs A[l]ger had her piano & played Horatio Jr is here came last night

More comings and goings today. Everyone went to church, of course, but afterwards dispersed in different directions. Frank Morton Ames obliged the young, single ladies in the group by driving them home to Bridgewater. While he headed east, Evelina and her friend Melinda Norris rode south to the family farm to visit the elderly Mrs. Gilmore. They also stopped to visit Miss M J Alger, the woman who would be giving piano lessons to Susie Ames and Emily Witherell. She, or her mother, played a piano for them.

Old Oliver reported that “this was a fair pleasant day for season Oakes came home from N. York las[t] night.” Oakes Angier stayed behind, on business or pleasure we don’t know. Evelina reported, as her father-in-law did not, that Horatio Ames Jr. was back for a visit. He was the son of Horatio Ames, a brother of Oakes and Oliver Jr. It’s unclear if Horatio Jr. was living in Boston at this point or was still in Connecticut at the family home there.

 

 

September 26, 1852

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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 22, 1852

Piano

Wednesday Sept 22d Have been to Boston with Mrs

Witherell to get a Pianno  Have got to have

them made  Mrs Kinsley called to see them with

us  Met Mrs Wilson at Lintons to go to select

them. Dined at Mr Orrs while Mrs Witherelll

called on Mrs Dorr  Bought a Piano cloth

and gold thimble for Mrs Ames & C Hobart

and a ring for Helen  Oliver came from Providence

 

A piano! And not one piano, but two, one for each side of the house. Both Susan Ames and Emily Witherell would be learning to play the instrument. Each girl would have her own piano to practice on. What luxury. What gentility. What fun.

With advice from friends such as Louisa Kinsley, Evelina and Sarah Ames Witherell selected and ordered the instruments in a Boston store. Spending money liberally, Evelina went on to purchase gifts. For her other sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, she bought a cloth to go on top of the piano that those Ameses already owned. For Catharine Hobart, a young family friend who had caught the eye of her son Oakes Angier Ames, she bought a gold thimble. And for her niece Helen Angier Ames – Catharine’s classmate – she bought a ring.

Did her husband Oakes know that Evelina was spending so much money? Did her father-in-law? While her husband must have given his approval, it’s unlikely that Old Oliver would have approved of such a spree. Yet both those men were often generous within the family; in that respect, Evelina was just following suit.

We note today, too, that Oliver (3) returned from a few days at a fair in Providence, where he no doubt saw friends and former classmates from his two semesters at Brown University. We might imagine that he was missing school.

 

 

September 11, 1852

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Sat Sept 11th  Mother had a sick night and is very unwell

to day not able to sit up but very little.

Orinthia Miss E Burrell Alice Ames came

about ten and spent the day.  Abby Torrey

passed the afternoon and Emily & Mrs Shepherd

Hannah went to bed sick about two and

I had to get tea for them to go home early

 

Evelina invited several female friends to spend the day, but her plans were thrown into disarray by her mother’s indisposition during the night and her servant, Hannah Murphy, falling ill after the midday meal. Orinthia Foss and others had gathered and instead of sitting in the parlor with them while Hannah made and served the tea, Evelina had to be in the kitchen herself preparing the meal. Not what she had planned. She must have been reminded of times past when her previous servant, Jane McHanna, was often ill and unable to cook or serve.

According to Old Oliver, “the 11th was rainy part of the day and cloudy all day wind south east + warm there was half an inch of rain”* Perhaps the women were grateful to be in the parlor and not out in the weather, however welcome the rain might have been.  The Alice Ames who came to visit may have been married to a George Copeland in Plymouth, although her name would have been Copeland, not Ames. Are any readers out there versed in the wider reaches of the Ames (or Eames) name in Massachusetts?

 

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

September 9, 1852

Sarah Ames Witherell

Sarah Ames Witherell  (Mrs. Nathaniel Witherell, Jr.)

(1814 – 1886)

Thursday Sept 9th  This has been a very warm day indeed

and not much air stirring  We went in to see

Augusta awhile this forenoon and found her

rather more comfortable  This afternoon have

been sitting in the parlour chamber sewing it

being the coolest place  Mrs Witherell & Mrs

S Ames came in awhile  Mrs W watched with Mrs

Savage last night

Evelina and her father-in-law agreed that this day and the one before “were fair days + […] verry warm indeed.” Oppressively hot for September, we might think.  Evelina, her mother Hannah Lothrop Gilmore and her friend Mrs. Stevens went across the street early in the day to check on the ailing Augusta Pool Gilmore and must have been pleased to find her “rather more comfortable.” Back to the house it was, where the three ladies moved into the parlor to sew. Usually they would work in the less formal sitting room, but the parlor perhaps offered less direct sunlight. It was “the coolest place.”

Evelina’s sisters-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames and Sarah Ames Witherell, paid a call. It was Sarah Witherell’s 38th birthday. A widow for only four years, her most recent year hadn’t been a happy one: she had burned her foot badly, had all her teeth pulled, lost her elderly father-in-law and, most awful of all, lost her fourteen year old son, George, to rheumatic fever. Yet she was moving through the proscribed stages of real mourning in a seemingly graceful way. She was still taking care of her father, Old Oliver, and her one remaining child, Emily, and was ever helpful around the family compound. As we see from the diary entry, Sarah had spent the previous night watching over the dying Hannah Savage. “Dignified,” is how one family friend described her, and we readers might add “dutiful” and “kind” as well.

In another decade, after her father had passed on, Sarah and her daughter Emily would move into Boston and take up residence there at the Hotel Hamilton. Sarah would continue in a quiet way to participate in both family and city life, and would enjoy traveling with her sister Harriet. Her brother Oliver Jr would make it a point to look after her.

September 2, 1852

Bowl

1852

Thursday Sept 2d  I was intending to sit down early

this morning to sew but while we were at

breakfast Edwin came in & said his wife was

sick and wanted me to go in there  I found

her sick with the Cholera Morbus.  Came

home & made her some gruel washed her 

dishes & came home and made some pies

& sent Susan in there to stay with her

Just at night called at Augustus

Fred has gone back to Cambridge  Emily went to Boston

Despite its frightening name, Cholera morbus was not the cholera we might recognize as the dreaded disease of epidemic capability, the bacterial scourge that swept through whole cities, but rather a Victorian name for a gastrointestinal disorder that was “characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, [and] elevated temperature.”* It may also have been used to describe appendicitis. Poor Augusta Gilmore had been felled by this miserable sickness, which was alarming enough to send her husband Edwin to the neighbors for help. Augusta must have been a little frightened that her sickness might be related to her pregnancy; she was almost four months along at this date.

Thank goodness for Evelina, ever dependable in a crisis of this nature. Evelina visited Augusta right away, tidied up for her, made her a bowl of gruel – a thin porridge – and sent Susie Ames over to sit with her. No doubt Susie was instructed to report on any change for the worse.

Back in her own home, Evelina baked pies and kept watch on all the neighborhood goings-on. The younger generation was moving around: Emily Witherell went to Boston, and Fred Ames returned to Harvard for another year. His departure may have caused Oliver (3), who had so wanted to return to Brown, some anguish. Fred got to finish college, and Oliver didn’t.

* Sylvan Cazalet, “Old Disease Names,” http://www.homeoint.org