December 7, 1851

Locomotive

Dec 7th Sunday.  This has been an uncomfortable stormy

day but we have all been to meeting  Mother

was expecting to go home but none of Alsons

family were out and she came back with us

Edwin called this evening.  We passed the

noon very pleasantly though there were but 

few ladies out.  We are to meet Wednesday

at Mr Wm Reeds to quilt

 

A snow storm today did not keep Evelina or her children home from church. Her husband, Oakes, may have been away and thus not present to drive the carriage, but anyone of Evelina’s three grown sons would have driven it for her. Propriety and patriarchy aside, she herself could have driven it, former farm girl that she was.

Not many others ventured to the Unitarian church in the bad weather, including her brother Alson, who was to have taken elderly Mrs. Gilmore back home to the farm. There were “but few ladies,” but those who did attend got the word that the Sewing Circle would reconvene the following Wednesday. Evelina herself felt a cold coming on as she traveled through the falling snow, which Old Oliver reported eventually accumulated to “about an inch + a half of snow southerly but cold.

Exactly ninety years from this quiet day, on another ordinary Sunday, an American navy base on a Hawaiian island was bombed by Japanese planes. Evelina could never have imagined such an event. Although she was certainly familiar with the U. S. Navy and, too soon, would become familiar with war, she had probably never heard of Pearl Harbor.  Nor could she have fathomed the flying machines that attacked it.  A speedy carriage ride along an unpaved road behind Old Kate or a trip into Boston on a train car moving maybe 20 miles per mph was about as fast as she ever went. How things changed in the century ahead.

November 5, 1851

Thread

Wednesday Nov 5th  This forenoon I painted the water pails and 

several kegs or butter firkins  Looked over my sheets

and put them in order.  Afternoon went to the sewing 

circle at Mr Horace Pools our last meeting for the 

season  Mrs Elijah Howard had the bag and we

had no work  We were invited to Mr Sheldons Mrs

Hubbell Ames & Witherell went  Father has

changed Dominic for another horse of Nelson Howard

Evelina demonstrated her range of housekeeping skills today.  She put fresh paint on wooden pails, kegs and firkins for her pantry, cellar and shed, and organized her linen closet.  Her house was in order for the coming winter.

The last Sewing Circle of the year met this afternoon at Abby and Horace Pool’s house.  As always, the Unitarian ladies gathered in fellowship to sew and have tea, probably in the company of Rev. William Whitwell.  Today, however, they had no shared sewing to do, as Nancy Howard, whose turn it was to bring “the bag” of work, failed to deliver it.  No matter; the women seemed to cope.  Some went on to visit Luther Sheldon and, presumably, his wife Sarah.

The Reverend Luther Sheldon was the minister of the local Orthodox Congregational Church. A conservative and devout man in his mid-sixties, Sheldon had been involved two decades earlier in a controversial schism within Easton’s Congregational Church that resulted in the splitting off of a new congregation of Unitarians – including the Ameses.  Old Oliver and his sons had taken a leading role in encouraging Unitarianism, and made some enemies in the process.  Rev. William Chaffin, who came to town many years later, included an extensive examination of the controversy in his 1866 town history.

What did Old Oliver think of his daughter, Sarah Witherell, and their houseguests paying a call on the Sheldons? Or did he pay any attention at all to their socializing?  He may have been too busy horse-trading.

 

 

October 15, 1851

Thread

Wednesday Oct 15.  Julia has been here again to day and fitted

the waist to Susans dress and got my dress so

that I can finish it  Have been to the sewing

Circle to Mrs Elijah Howards.  Lavinia came

home with us and went back with Oakes A.

and Frank to spend the evening   Mrs J Willis

buried in the new cemetery funeral in the 

meeting house  I did not attend it

 

In Worcester today, some fifty miles north and west of Easton, the National Women’s Rights Convention opened in the same Brinley Hall that it had been held in the previous year. A roster of high profile figures, including Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott and Pauline Kellogg Wright Davis, oversaw the two-day event which covered such topics as suffrage, equal pay and marriage reform. Guest speakers included abolitionists Wendell Phillips and Lloyd Garrison, and feminist Ernestine Rose, who spoke passionately against the secondary legal and emotional status of married women:

“At marriage she loses her entire identity, and her being is said to have become merged in her husband. Has nature thus merged it? Has she ceased to exist and feel pleasure and pain? When she violates the laws of her being, does her husband pay the penalty? When she breaks the moral law does he suffer the punishment? When he satisfies his wants, is it enough to satisfy her nature?…What an inconsistency that from the moment she enters the compact in which she assumes the high responsibility of wife and mother, she ceases legally to exist and becomes a purely submissive being. Blind submission in women is considered a virtue, while submission to wrong is itself wrong, and resistance to wrong is virtue alike in women as in man.”*

Was Evelina aware of this potent gathering in Worcester? Did she have any interest in the issues being debated? Did she ever resent her secondary legal status, or wish to vote? At no point in her diary did she write about women’s rights; she made no mention of the convention. She was not a feminist and yet, by participating in the monthly Sewing Circle, which she did today, she and others inadvertently proved the point that women could meet independent of men and, on their own accord, do work that addressed existing social concerns. In her generation, she was doing something her mother never would have done. In a modest way, she helped strike a path for women to move outside their strict, domestic realm. As modern historian Carolyn Lawes has stated, “Through the sewing circle women laid claim to the right to participate in the political and social development of the community, the nation, and the world.” **

Meanwhile, far from the foment in Worcester, Old Oliver “finisht the dam to day at the great pond.”

 

Brandeis University. Women’s Studies Research Center.Ernestine Rose’s speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts in October 15, 1851. Retrieved on April 1, 2009. 

**Carolyn Lawes, Women and Reform in a New England Community 1815 – 1860, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 1999

September 10, 1851

Thread

Wednes Sept 10th  Cousin Harriet spent the forenoon with

us & dined here.  I cut some shirts this

forenoon for Mr Ames, carried two to be made

at the sewing circle.  Met at John R

Howards this afternoon quite a number

there.  Carried mother down and she went 

home with Henrietta.  Mrs Stevens went into

Olivers with H. Mitchell

 

The monthly Sewing Circle, a gathering of women from the Unitarian congregation, met at the home of Caroline Howard, wife of John R. Howard, a book agent who lived near the geographic center of Easton.  Half a year had gone by since Evelina had had her turn hosting the group, back on February 12, when bad weather – and bad feelings, perhaps – prevented anyone from attending. By this time, she seemed to have forgotten that embarrassment and forgiven the friends who had failed to show up.

There was plenty of attendance at today’s meeting, however, including Evelina’s mother, Hannah Gilmore and sister-in-law, Henrietta Gilmore. The Ames sisters-in-law, both named Sarah, probably were there as well. All the women, as the saying went, set great store by these regular gatherings. Did they dress up for the meetings? They might well have, knowing that their fellow females would recognize and appreciate good sewing and fine material better than the men at home were likely to.

The only other regular gathering where women might pay particular attention to their attire would be church, where one’s “Sunday best,” was expected. Surely the Ames women were susceptible to this practice, even if one of the Ames men – Oakes – was not. Yet Evelina, for all the sewing she did, rarely described what she wore on any given day. Did she save her best outfits for Sewing Circle, or church, or both?

August 6, 1851

Thread

1851

Aug 6th Wednesday  Immediately after breakfast Mr Holmes

came in and said his wife was very sick and

wished me to go in there  I found her in a high

fever with frequent chills  staid all the forenoon

Was expecting to go to the sewing Circle this

afternoon at Mrs Roland Howards but could

not have a horse untill it was too late to go

Made Mrs Holmes bed in the evening

Harriet Holmes, a neighbor in the village, took ill and Evelina, summoned by the husband, Bradford Holmes, went to their house to help. In an era when trained nurses were not widely available, and physicians an expensive service, many families relied on caring friends and relatives to look after the sick.  Evelina and her sisters-in-law often helped nurse the ill in the village.

Harriet Holmes was the same woman who herself had looked after two invalids the previous winter: her own mother and a Miss Eaton, both of whom died. Harriet was in her mid-thirties and had three young children to look after. Her husband was a teamster, probably for the shovel company.  He would have looked after the oxen and, more than likely, was one of the men called into service to bring in the hay.

Evelina tried to juggle her nursing of Mrs. Holmes with the monthly meeting of the Sewing Circle, but couldn’t bring it off.  She couldn’t get a horse until it was too late, so she gave up. Horses, too, may have been pressed into service for the haying which was, according to Old Oliver today,  “a fair good hay day. wind south west most of the time.”

 

 

July 2, 1851

Thread

 

Wednesday July 2d  Have had quite a busy day.  This forenoon

cut out three shirts for the sewing circle and worked

a long while in the garden transplanting

Oliver went to Bridgewater and carried Mrs Whitwell

Mrs Witherell and me to the sewing circle at Alsons.

After I got home went to work on boquets

for Oakes & Frank.  Harriet assisted

Mrs S Ames went [to] Exeter this morning

Today is one of those instances when we can’t be certain which Oliver is being referred to.  Did Evelina’s brother-in-law, Oliver Jr., or son, Oliver (3) carry Evelina, Sarah Witherell and Eliza Whitwell to the Sewing Circle at Henrietta Gilmore’s?

Besides attending the monthly gathering of the Unitarian women to sew, Evelina also spent time in her flower garden.  She transplanted a number of flowers and picked several to fashion into two bouquets. Her sons, Oakes Angier Ames and Frank Morton Ames, planned to attend a party in Middleboro the next day and needed what we might call corsages to take to their dates (a modern word they wouldn’t have used.) She and her sister-in-law, Harriett, arranged the flowers appropriately.

Sarah Lothrop Ames had business of her own to attend to.  She went up to Exeter, New Hampshire, where her son Fred Ames was in school. Was she picking him up to bring him home or just visiting?

June 14, 1851

Evelina Gilmore Ames

Evelina Gilmore Ames

June 14 Saturday

This is my birth day and it is very pleasant

weather.  Worked in the garden awhile in the

morning then baked in the brick oven.  Made

brown bread sponge & cup cake pies &c.

This afternoon have been to North Bridgewater

and paid Howard & Clark 16 dollars for bed

stead & lounge 50 cts for Castors.  Emily gave

me a box & Harriett a pr of Elastics

 

The diarist herself celebrated a birthday today, number 42.  She was born in 1809 on a farm in the southeastern quadrant of Easton, not far from the Raynham town line.  She was the seventh of eight children. Her parents, Joshua and Hannah Lothrop Gilmore, named her Evelina Orville after the heroine of Fanny Burney’s popular novel, Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World. In the book, pretty, fictional Evelina, after various comic travails, wins the heart of handsome, rich Lord Orville; did the real Evelina’s parents hope for similar material success for their youngest daughter?

In birth order, Evelina’s brothers and sisters were John, Arza, Daniel, Alson, Hannah, Rhoda, and Joshua Jr.  By the time Evelina reached 40, only John and Alson, and their mother, were still living. Evelina’s siblings carried mostly family names, meaning that Evelina’s name was a departure. Her grandson, Winthrop Ames, noted in 1937 that “Evelina, in its later form of Evelyn, has been a favorite female first name since Evelina Orville Ames first introduced it into the family when she married Oakes Ames in 1827.”*

As a eighteen-year old bride, Evelina moved to North Easton, right into the Ames homestead, a portion of which had been made over to accommodate the newlyweds. Still living at home at that point were most of her siblings-in-law: Oliver Jr., William Leonard, Sarah Angier Ames (aged 13 and, obviously, not yet married to Nathaniel Witherell), John Ames and Harriett Ames (who was only eight years old.) What a full dinner table they must have had!

The next quarter century flew by, as the years do, full of arrivals and departures.  Her children came into the world, even as family members on both sides departed it.  Only now, it seems, did Evelina lift her head from the home-making tasks that were always at her elbow to consider ways to fill the rare discretionary time that began to open up to her.  Flower gardening became one pleasant elective; writing in a diary was possibly another.

 

 

*Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family, 1937

May 7, 1851

Thread

Wednesday May 7th  Orinthia went to Boston this morning

with Abby Torrey after she left I went into Olivers

on an errand and stopt a long while as I am

sure to do when I ought not and then went into the

other part of the house to bid Mrs Stetson good

by (as Mrs S Ames and Frank went with her to Bridgewater)

and Mrs Lincoln Drake rode up and saw me by

the window and I was obliged to see her, thus the day passed

and I accomplished very little Went with Mrs Witherell

to the sewing circle at Daniel Clarkes

 

The Sewing Circle held its monthly meeting today, this time at the home of Daniel and Elvira Clark.  Roughly contemporary in age to Oakes and Evelina, the Clarks were members of the Unitarian Church.  Daniel was a carpenter who occasionally did work for the Ames family. Elvira, like Evelina, was a housewife with teenaged children.  She and Evelina visited together last Sunday during the intermission between sermons.

So much socializing went on today that Evelina had to chastise herself – “I am sure to do what I ought not” – when she spent too much time next door visiting her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames. Sarah must have been feeling better; although she didn’t go with Evelina and Sarah Witherell to the Sewing Circle, she had improved enough not only to have a good, long chat with Evelina, but also to have an outing to Bridgewater, which she was “carried to” by her nephew Frank Morton Ames.

Evelina stopped in at Sarah Witherell’s to say goodbye to Mrs. Stetson, a friend of the family who was departing for Bridgewater, too. She then was spotted by Caroline Torrey Drake, a friend who stopped in for a visit. Mrs. Drake, a woman in her early fifties, was the mother of eight children: five girls followed by three boys.  Her first child was born when she was 20, her last child when she was 45.  Now that’s childbearing!

 

 

 

April 25, 1851

Coat

1851

Friday April 25  Have done some mending and been putting

things in order about the house Made Mrs

S Ames bed and stoped with her awhile

This afternoon mended Oakes Angier two coats.

dirty things they were! Met Mis[s] Foss coming from

school and called with her at Mrs Holmes & Mrs 

Connors spent the evening with Mrs S Ames

Mr Harrison Pool & wife & Mrs Horace Pool called

Sarah Lothrop Ames was still sick and unable to get up and around. Once again, Evelina went next door to visit and helped out by making Sarah’s bed up fresh.  Later in the day, Sarah had a companion, Mrs. Connors, sit with her. Was she being “watched” or was she on the mend? Who made the decision to have someone sit with her?  Her husband or her female relatives?

Mending and housework otherwise took up Evelina’s time today. She and Jane McHanna were still carrying on with spring cleaning, but the effort was sporadic lately, with mending taking over much of Evelina’s time. In the transition from cold to warm weather, all the spring and summer wardrobes had to be brought up to snuff, “dirty things” that some of them were.

The Pools came to call this evening.  Harrison and Horace Pool were brothers, fifteen years apart in age, who lived in the south eastern section of Easton, near the Raynham line and the Gilmore farm.  They made mathematical instruments: surveyors’ tools, levels, compasses and thermometers, among other items. Harrison’s wife was Mary J Pool, a young wife close in age to Oakes Angier.  Horace’s wife was Abby A. Pool, identical in age (43) to Evelina.  Mary and Abby were members of Evelina’s Sewing Circle, two of the women who didn’t attend the meeting that Evelina held back in February. Evelina would have grown up knowing the Pool (also sometimes spelled Poole) family.

March 12, 1851

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

*

March 12th  Wednesday.  This morning commenced the new pattern shirt

but got but very little time to work on it.  Miss Eaton

died about eight Oclock  Mrs Witherell & Mrs S Ames laid

her out & this evening I went with Mrs Witherell to 

help her put on the robe which she made this afternoon

Mrs S Ames & myself went to the sewing circle at

Daniel Reeds  There were about twenty of us.

worked on striped shirts.  Very pleasant

A[u]gustus here to dine

This must have been an emotional day for Evelina.  Miss Eaton, a neighbor, died after a lingering illness. Sarah Ames and Sarah Witherell prepared Miss Eaton’s body, and Evelina helped put a shroud, or robe, on the corpse.  For months now, the three sisters-in-law and others had been looking after Miss Eaton. Everyone had anticipated her demise, but still, it must have been hard when she finally passed away.

After the Ames women had prepared Miss Eaton’s corpse for burial, two of them, Sarah Ames and Evelina, rode out to a meeting of the Sewing Circle.  This was the first meeting since Evelina’s own ill-attended meeting back in February.  The gathering was held at the home of Daniel and Mary Reed and about twenty women attended.  If Evelina felt awkward, she didn’t say so in her diary.  Perhaps there were women there she had been hurt by, perhaps not. Perhaps people apologized for not having shown up at Evelina’s, perhaps not. Whatever exchanges or pleasantries took place as the ladies worked on striped shirts, the mood of the afternoon must have been tinged with the sorrow of the morning and the loss of Miss Eaton. Death in the neighborhood put things in perspective.

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