May 19, 1852



Wednesday 19th May  Washed the windows in the 

parlour and cleaned it   all that is necessary this spring

Was about house until about four Oclock

when Mrs Swain came and spent the 

afternoon  Mr Swain came to tea  Worked

on the garden about an hour  Susan has

the nose bleed almost every day.  This afternoon

came home before the school was done


Spring cleaning was late this year, as the women’s attention had been given over to family illness. The kitchen had been repainted some weeks earlier, but other rooms hadn’t been dealt with. Evelina set out to rectify the delay and, probably with support from Jane McHanna, donned her apron to tackle the best room in the house, the parlor, much of which had been redecorated back in February, so needed little attention beyond its windows and a basic cleaning.

One imagines Evelina and Jane in working clothes as they went about with their brushes, rags and mops. But what did Evelina wear under her apron, or after she changed out of her choring dress? Was she wearing any mourning attire? Did her outfit signify at all the recent loss of her nephew George?

In the 19th century, “[m]ourning was particularly a woman’s affair,”* perhaps because of a societal norm that women were sentimental and emotional, and men were not. There were rules about attire to be followed after the loss of a loved one. At the beginning, black crepe dresses, black veils or headgear, and even black jewelry – onyx, usually, or pins netted with a lock of hair of the departed – were expected to be displayed in some manner. After a certain period, black was put away and lavender, grey or purple dresses were acceptable. The closer the relative was to the deceased, the more exacting the expectation.

In her fine book about death in the Civil War, This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust notes:

“By convention, a mother mourned for a child for a year, a child for a parent the same, a sister six months for a brother. A widow mourned for two and a half years, moving through proscribed stages and accoutrements of heavy, full, and half mourning, with gradually loosening requirements of dress and deportment. A widower, by contrast, was expected to mourn only for three months, simply by displaying black crape on his hat or armband.”**

By these calculations, Sarah Ames Witherell had been dressed in black or lavender too often before. Her husband had died in August, 1848, her young son Channing in May, 1849 and now her son George. Sad to say, she would have had a black dress or two, plus the appropriate accessories, in her cupboard. But what was Evelina obliged to wear? Perhaps not a black dress – although she had one – but an armband? Or a black ribbon in her bonnet? What was the expectation for an aunt?


Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 102

**Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering, New York, 2008, p. 147





May 29, 1851




May 29th Thursday  Worked in the garden upon weeds untill about

eleven Oclock & then put clean curtains up in the

sitting room & dining room.  have taken up the 

carpet & had the dining room cleaned

Early this afternoon changed my dress and sit down

to sewing which I have not done before for a long

while  worked on Susans dresses that Julia cut.

It has rained all the afternoon had fire in furnace


Today was an anniversary of sorts.  According to Old Oliver Ames, exactly one year earlier, Sarah Witherell and Sarah Ames had been injured in a carriage accident: “Sarah + Olivers wife went to Foxborough today and they got hove out of the carriage + hurt some.”  Fortunately, no lasting harm seems to have occurred to either woman.

What had happened?  Had their horse taken a fright and tried to run away? Carriage accidents were usually the result of horses bolting, spooking or crashing.*  Sudden noises – a dog barking, a wave crashing, a flock of birds lifting off, a train whistle – could startle a horse and make it run. Some statistics suggest that horse travel was more dangerous than today’s car travel. For a time, in cities like New York and Chicago, more people per capita were killed in horse-related accidents than are killed now in automobiles.  Travel, then as now, was risky.

Probably oblivious to any recollection of last year’s accident, Evelina managed to spend several hours weeding in her flower garden before rain arrived. In the afternoon she bent to some sewing and worked on dresses for Susan.  Given how fast children grow, Susie’s dresses needed to be completed sooner rather than later.  No doubt Evelina put tucks into these newest clothes for her daughter, intending to make them last.


May 27, 1851




Tues May 27th  My beadstead was brought this

forenoon  It is very pretty but much to large shall

have it made shorter.  Have had the center table

lowered & new castors put on it.  Put straw carpet in

Franks chamber and it is ready for him to come back

into.  Have not sewed any to day I seem to have been

busy but have not accomplished much for a long while

Pleasant weather  Mr Ames went to Canton this 


Redecorating continued.  Not only had things been cleaned and painted or papered, but new furniture was being brought in, and old furniture reconfigured.  Casters, beloved of Victorian housewives, were put in place so that furniture could be rolled for better cleaning.

What prompted Evelina’s burst of refurbishment? New wallpaper, new carpet, new furniture. Did she do some redecorating every spring or was this a departure from the norm? It may be that the new expenditures were relatively recent and stemmed from the increasing prosperity of the Ames shovel business as well as a contemporaneous, burgeoning access to material goods that had once been scarce. In other words, with American manufacturing on the rise,  Evelina and Oakes – and Sarah Lothrop and Oliver Jr. – could now afford and obtain desirable textiles, furnishings and decorative items for their homes.  They went to Bridgewater, Boston and New York, and bought.

One thing was certain. Evelina wouldn’t have proceeded with any of this without Oakes’s approval.  Implicit in her purchases was his consent, tacit or enthused.  For a man who spent nothing on his personal appearance, it’s interesting to understand that he would spend money on decorating his house. It’s also curious to wonder what Old Oliver might have thought about the upgrading at the old family homestead.


May 24, 1851



May 24th Saturday.  Have been about the house at work

most of day.  After dinner carried my old sitting

room carpet out on the grass to wash the spots

and worked awhile in the garden  About two

Oclock Orinthia came.  She walked to Mr Elijah

Howards before breakfast and he brought her up 

She stoped to dine with Abby.  We called at the

store and at Mr Holmes.  Cow calved.

Housework and gardening informed most of Evelina’s day until a visit from Orinthia in the afternoon, at which point Evelina put down the stained carpet pieces or sat up from weeding to welcome back her young friend. The two women went shopping in the village at the Ames company store, and called on Harriet Holmes.  They must have been glad to be back together, even though Orinthia had only left a week earlier. Perhaps Abby Torrey joined them on their errands and calls.

Evelina’s work on the old carpet took place out of doors, somewhere in the yard of the house on Main Street. It only made sense to wash a large piece of rug outside in good light with a place for the water to run off.  The job was messy by definition, but needed to be done and to Evelina, how the project might have looked to passersby was perhaps less important than how effectively the spots were removed. Front yards were becoming more formal, so perhaps Evelina worked on the carpet in the back of the house where the laundry, presumably, was hung, out of sight of the street. We might imagine that Sarah Lothrop Ames, next door, would certainly be discreet in her management of a similar task, a task, in fact, she would most likely delegate to others.

Old Oliver had to have been pleased today. One of his cows calved, adding to his herd. It’s curious that Evelina, who rarely mentions the agricultural side of their lives, made mention of what must have been a predictable springtime event. She wasn’t often engaged by the external activities of either the farm or the factory.  She stayed focused on her house and her yard, but today something about the new calf drew her attention.

May 20, 1851



Tuesday 20th  Washed the front entry windows

& front chamber and put the room in order, have

not been idle but cannot see much that I have done.

Have ripped the pieces of the carpet that formerly

belonged in the parlour and have it already for the 

sitting rooms  Susan runs wild with the other 

children.  I do hope after house cleaning is over that

I shall attend to her better and make her sew.

Rain this evening

Spring cleaning continued today with window washing and carpet rearrangement, the latter a seemingly endless task. Evelina, thrifty housewife that she was, reused old pieces of carpet in new places. The parlor got the newest and best carpet while the less formal sitting room got the recycled floor covering. By ripping, cutting, cleaning and placing, she did the recycling herself.

If Evelina was all about working, her daughter Susan was all about playing. Running “wild with the other children” probably felt pretty good to the nine-year old girl, who was enjoying a week of no school.  Her mother might have wished to make her sit and sew, but the fresh air and companionship of friends from the village was too much fun for Susie to resist.

In this diary entry, Evelina expressed something close to dismay. She didn’t feel she was accomplishing much, either in her housekeeping or in her management of her daughter.  Part of this feeling might have stemmed from memories of her own childhood on a farm where everyone, young or old, had chores and responsibilities. There was always work to be done, and playing instead of working was a rare option. Perhaps Evelina looked at her carefree daughter with puzzlement and guilt.  Susie should be working and it was probably Evelina’s fault that she was playing instead.


May 16, 1851



May Friday 16th  We have been working in the chambers again

to day  I have put a straw carpet down in the 

dark bedroom chamber and moved the bed from

the sitting room chamber into it.  Have taken

the carpet from the sitting room chamber and

cleaned the room.  Orinthia & I have been working

in the garden awhile this afternoon Susan past

the afternoon at Mr Torreys

The tail end of spring cleaning was going on as carpets were laid back down and furniture rearranged. Imagine the energy it took for Evelina, Jane McHanna and, maybe, Orinthia Foss to move furniture, take up carpet, beat carpet, clean floors, put carpet back down and move furniture back into place.  The men didn’t help them with this, as the men all had their own work.  The women did this housework themselves.

Many will recognize the household “appliance” pictured in the illustration.  It’s a rug beater, used to thwack the dust out of carpet as it hung out-of-doors being aired.  Until Bissell’s carpet sweeper appeared in the 1880’s, and the electric vacuum cleaner came around the turn of the century, this is how rugs were cleaned.

The garden probably looked pretty good to Evelina and Orinthia after the dust and dirt of the morning. A different kind of soil. The women must have planted some things that Evelina picked up yesterday on her trip to Mr. Manley and Mr. Clapp in Stoughton.  Her garden was taking shape.

May 1, 1851




May 1st Thursday  Have cleaned the shed chamber to

day and a long dirty job it is  there is so much in it.

I got through just in time to go to Mr Torreys

after some plants when Orinthia came out of

school.  She went with me and we brought home

three baskets full and have set them out in

the garden This morning it was quite unpleasant

and Susan was disappointed in her walk

May Day! In our modern world, the first day of May means many things to many people, among them International Workers’s Day, the Roman Catholic Celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary Day, even a day for the 21st century Occupy Movement. May Day has ancient iterations, too, most of them having to do with pagan rites of spring.

In 1851, the first of May meant “maying.” Young people like nine-year old Susie Ames filled small baskets with flowers, ribbons, or other little treats and left them, anonymously, on doorsteps around the town. The game was to leave a basket, ring the doorbell, and run away.  If the recipient caught you, he or she was allowed to chase you for a kiss; at least, that was one version. Another version was to leave the basket as a surprise at the home of an elderly person. On this particular May Day, the weather was too disagreeable for the traditional maying walk, so Susie and her friends were unable to deliver their baskets.

Evelina dealt with baskets, too. She and Orinthia Foss filled three of them with plants from John Torrey and put them in her garden. It was her reward for having spent most of the day cleaning out the “shed chamber.”  Spring cleaning was still underway.

April 15, 1851




April 15 Tuesday  Oakes A 22 years old. This morning

tore the paper off the dark bedroom & had it cleared

ready for the paper.  Have been working about 

the house most of the day.  Cut of[f] the breadths of

the carpet for the bedroom and have partly 

made it.  Moved the stove from my chamber

& cleaned the dark bedroom chamber.  It is 

quite stormy & windy.  Cut two coarse shirts.


Oakes Angier Ames, eldest son of Evelina and Oakes Ames, was born on this date in 1829, when Evelina was 19 and Oakes was 25. The couple had been married for about a year-and-a-half and were already settled into their own quarters within the Ames family homestead. On this, his 22nd birthday, and as yet unmarried, Oakes Angier was still living in the house in which he had been born.

Oldest of all 24 grandchildren of Old Oliver and Susannah Ames, Oakes Angier grew up amid multiple siblings and cousins, among whom he retained primogeniture in an uncontested patriarchal hierarchy. His mother called him Oakes Angier; everyone else seemed to call him just plain “Oakes.” He was marked from birth to run the family business.

Although Oakes Angier had attended school locally and away, at Fruithill and Leicester academies, he left behind no indication that he longed to further his studies. After graduation, he went straight to work at the shovel factory. There, one 19th century historian noted,  “with a view to making himself master of the process of manufacturing shovels, he spent from three to six months in each of the various departments of the factory.”*

Reverend William Chaffin, Unitarian minister and town historian, knew Oakes Angier and his family well. He described Oakes Angier as “shrewd, conservative [and] sound in judgment.”* Although in their later years Oakes Angier shared the responsibility for O. Ames & Sons with his brother Oliver (3) and cousin Fred Ames, Chaffin makes a point of noting that to the shovel shop employees, Oakes Angier was the man who embodied management.  It was Oakes Angier who was on the ground overseeing the daily operations during the company’s most ambitious years, Oakes Angier who was “one of the superintendents who superintends.” He ran the place.

The same historian who wrote of Oakes Angier mastering the process of shovel manufacturing also described him as someone who stayed focused on his immediate responsibilities and did not, like his brothers, cousin and father, diversify his pursuits.  As the 19th c. historian saw it, Oakes Angier gave “his whole time to the demands of his business, and yield[ed] to no temptation to embarrass himself […] by the complications and annoyances which beset the paths of the politician, and of the projector of enterprises outside of his legitimate occupation.”* In other words, Oakes Angier learned to avoid both politics and risky investments.

On this particular birthday, Oakes Angier was on the cusp of adulthood, preparing to leave the nest. He spent many free evenings squiring different young women to and from the dances and sings that were available in the neighborhood, seemingly ready to find a young woman to settle down with. He and his brothers were what some parents would have described as eligible young men.



William Thomas Davis, ed., The New England States, Vol. I, 1897.