August 3, 2015

History Comes to Life on a Quilt - Part 4

Part 4.  A Window on Life in 1897


(Part 1 tells the background of a quilt inscribed with many names, and how I started my search for the details of its history.  Part 2 details some of the interesting family stories.  Part 3 tells a long story about three intertwined families.)

In general, I'm noticing that many households included more than our typical nuclear families.  It becomes clear pretty quickly that most families took in extended family members when the need arose, single or widowed aunts and uncles and parents, for example.  Many households took in boarders, and many hired servants, often recently arrived from Ireland, especially during the early childbearing years.  Hardly anyone lived alone.

Most people didn't move around much.  Most people were born in Massachusetts or other New England states.  And they pretty much stayed put in Melrose or the nearby area.  Some people were immigrants from Europe, generally British, or from Canada.  The most far-flung I've found is Sarah Hart Hunt and her brother Sidney Hart.  One of their parents came from Nova Scotia and the other came from Cuba.

The Workaday World

It's fun also to note the professions of the time.  Some sound very familiar - physician, clergyman, carpenter, superintendent, accountant, mechanic, vocal teacher, professor at training school.  Some are probably careers that are still around today, just expressed somewhat differently - sea captain, real estate dealer, lumber camp laborer, clerk, proprietor of a grocery store, retail merchant of home furnishings, sewer inspector.  Salesmen are listed with the particular product - tea and coffee, beef, lace curtains.  Clerks and bookkeepers worked at an elevator company, railroad, bank, state prison, and manufacturing company.

But some professions are clearly from a different era:
typesetter
leather cutter
drawbridge operator
paper hanger
rubber shoe maker
clerk, patent medicine
blacksmith
brass finishing
comb manufacturer

And some will take some research to understand:
clerk, patterns
composites
moulder

These lists concern the men.  The most common listing for women is "keeping house".  Sometimes, when unmarried or widowed, they owned the houses in which they lived and took in boarders.  Women sometimes had careers outside the home, too.  The women of Melrose were:
teacher, public school
supervisor, public school
singer
nurse
servant
dressmaker
landlady
cashier, dry goods
music teacher
chambermaid
milliner, department store
owner, millinery shop

In 1880, Harriet Cobb was living in Cambridge, MA, age 41.  She was a widow and a physician.  She was living with her mother and two younger brothers, one a store clerk and one (if I'm reading it correctly) a manufacturer of straw goods.  In 1900, she was still living in Cambridge and still a physician.  She was living with two of her sisters, seven boarders, and two servants.  She is notable as the only woman I've found so far that has entered what was then so clearly a man's profession.  Both she and Jenny Howes who owned a millinery shop were widows.

Names

And then there are the names!  Such wonderful names, just right, not surprisingly, for a period novel!
My favorite: Charlotte Saltmarsh
Clara Fogg
Fannie Macomber
Sophronia A. Ford
Reginald Wooldridge
Belle M. Montgomery
Augustus L. Holmes
Sarah M. Lavender
Ella Laviolette

I intend to keep researching until I've found everyone I can.  I'm having such a good time!

(Part 5 sums up my research.  Part 6 shares the first information from librarians and historians in Melrose.  And a little aside about the fun of being able to look at original records online.)

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