Sunday, June 10, 2018

The More Things Change....Every Mother's (Small) Nightmare, c1835

Sunday, June 10, 2018
Susan reporting,

One of the best things about the internet is how many smaller historical societies, libraries, archives, and historic sites are now able to share their collections with the world - a world that might not otherwise know they exist. Today I'm encouraging you to check out the Tumblr account of the Litchfield (CT) Historical Society. Named Fresh and Fashionable Goods, the account features all kinds of fascinating excerpts from the Elijah Boardman Papers. The Tumblr is funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, National Archives, and for us Nerdy History Folk, this is taxpayer money absolutely well spent. The finding aid to the papers is here, and the digitized material is online here.

Some of the papers in the Society's collection represent familiar names like merchant, real estate investor, and politician Benjamin Tallmadge (1754-1835), better remembered as one of General George Washington's spymasters during the American Revolution.

Most, however, are the work of lesser-known men and women. To me, these papers are the most fascinating, because they offer such a clear glimpse into everyday life: what ordinary people ate, bought, grew, and used, what amused them and what didn't.

The hastily written note shown left (and here) is a wonderful example of how some aspects of that everyday life haven't changed one bit in the last 180 or so years. Caroline Maria Boardman Schroeder (1802-1853) was born into a prominent and prosperous Litchfield County family. In 1825, she married John Frederick Schroeder (1800-1857), a celebrated cleric, scholar, reformer, author, inventor, and educator. They had eight children, and their third daughter, Cornelia, is the one mentioned in this note. While the note is undated, it's a good guess that Cornelia (1831-1914) was quite young at the time, so Caroline's note probably dates from the mid-1830s. Here's the transcription:

My dear husband
We were all ready & waited some time & when the carriage came we all fixed ourselves & set out. We had not proceeded but a few steps, when little Cornelia was suddenly seized with violent vomiting, and I found my dress completely drenched. We of course returned, but she looks so pale that I dare not take her or leave her, so have concluded to send the carriage back empty. I think she has never had a similar attack before. Mary [Cornelia's older sister] is often taken sick in this way, but Cornelia never. I think her stomach was overloaded. I will stay with her, & wish you if possible to make apologies for me whenever it is necessary. Please get some of the best calcium magnesia as I have none. 
                                     Affectionately yours, 

While today this note would be sent as a harried text between parents, the scenario it describes is all too familiar to anyone with small children. Dad has gone ahead to some special event, Mom is running a little late, but has the kids dressed in their best clothes and finally loaded into the car, and then the youngest...explodes, leaving Dad to make excuses and stop by the drug store to pick up a fresh bottle of much-needed Pepto Bismal.

Still, Caroline's concerns for little Cornelia were sadly well-founded. Caroline and John had eight children. Their first two, Caroline and George, died as newborns, while scarlet fever later claimed their middle daughter Mary, 10, and son William, only three months. Caroline's mother, Mary Ann Whiting Boardman, wrote a concerned letter to her heartbroken daughter about the sorrowful loss of little Mary and the risk of grieving too much that you can read here.

I don't have a portrait of Caroline Boardman Schroeder, but I can't resist sharing the portraits of her parents, Mary Ann Whitman Boardman, right, (with her eldest son William Whiting Boardman) and Elijah Boardman, lower left, both by Ralph Earl. They're two of my favorite portraits from the era; I'm sure that many of the readers of this blog will fondly recognize merchant Elijah's portrait, because he's posed with bolts and bolts of fabric - a dream stash of 18thc textiles.

Many thanks to Linda Hocking, Archivist, Litchfield Historical Society for her assistance with this post.

Upper left: Note from Caroline Maria Boardman Schroeder to John Frederick Schroeder, n.d., Litchfield Historical Society.
Right: Mrs. Elijah Boardman and Her Son by Ralph Earl, c1796, The Huntington.
Lower left: Elijah Boardman by Ralph Earl, 1789, Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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