Thursday, September 4, 2014

Woman's Work - October, 1859 Diary of Indiana farm mother Sarah Young Bovard

About the writer: Sarah Waldsmith Young was born on February 21, 1828 in Hamilton County, Ohio. She was the daughter of Abner Young, born 1799 in Maine, and Jane Waldsmith, born 1806 in Hamilton County, Ohio. Her husband James W. Bovard had been born in Steubenville, Ohio in 1828. They married February 29, 1844 in the small crossroads town of Alpha in Scott County, Indiana, which was nestled in southern Indiana.

By the time she began her diary in 1859 at age 31, she had eight children: Oliver William, February 9, 1845
Marion McKinley, January 11, 1847
Maria Jane, February 4, 1849
Freeman Daily, January 9, 1851
Melville Young; December 6, 1852
Abner Sinclair, October 13, 1854
George Finley, August 8, 1856
James Carvossa, July 20, 1858.

One of her children had died before she began writing her diary. Oliver William Bovard died Nov. 11, 1857 at 12 years, 8 months and 6 days old. By 1866, Sarah would have four more children, two would go on to become college presidents.

Diary of October, 1859

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 2 , 1859: Lovely morning. Feel thankful that all is as well with us as what it is. Children better. I stay at home all day. James goes to Gilead (their church) to meeting. Catherine (sister, 27) comes awhile and I send for Pap (father, 60) to come out and eat dinner. Mother has gone to Margy Peacocks. Such a pretty clear cool pleasant day.

Margy Peacock was Sarah's sister Margaret who had been born in 1836. She married John Peacock, 21, on January 14, 1858, and had a new baby at home, Rosetta J. Peacock. By 1870, Margaret was raising 6 children. Rosetta had been joined by Agnes, age 9; Joseph, age 8; Alice, age 5; Margaret, age 2; and Marvin, 8 months old.

Sarah's sister Catherine Young (born 1832) married Scott County farmer Isaac Sampson (born 1827) in 1851. By 1859, Catherine had 4 children: Martha Jane, age 6; Edward Mathias, age 4: John Luther, age 2, and Sarah, age 1. Catherine would have a son, Abner, in 1864.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5, 1859: Clear and cool till noon then cloudy. I went to mothers in the forenoon. We have a notion to go to the fair to Vernon tomorrow. James commences cutting corn this morning. I spin, starch and iron and bake some pumpkin pies. Mother and George (George Washington Young, brother, 12) comes out to stay all night, ready for the fair. Melville (son, 7) is sick. James goes to Gilead at night.

Note: Vernon was about 25 miles from Sarah's, a fairly long carriage ride.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 1859: Cold--very cold. Melville better. Now we start for the fair before daylight. Leave the children in bed. We get very cold. Heavy frost. Arrived at the fair--safe. Saw a many nice things but thinking of the children at home I did not see much pleasure. My head ached and I felt sick and wanted home. The roads are good. The moon shone bright. We arrived home at half past eight at night, found the children in bed. All well, then I wished I had took my time easier. Mother and George went on home, tired and hungry.

SUNDAY OCTOBER 9, 1859: Some clouds then clears away. We have a good mess of beans and corn for dinner. I feel well but the rest are all sick with sore throats. Maria Jane goes to Mr. Foster's. Very cool.

Robert Foster, 61, was a widowed farmer with a large family living nearby. Robert Foster became Uncle Robert when he married Aunt Catherine Waldsmith, born 1811, sister of Jane Waldsmith Young. Aunt Catherine had just died in the spring of 1859. In 1860, Sarah's brother, John Wesley Young, born 1838, was living on the farm as a laborer.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 10, 1859: Pleasant morning. I commence spinning. My tooth aches. I finish spinning--spun my dozen. Oh how I suffer with tooth ache. The Roseberry girls are here. James cuts corn. Clear all day. Heavy frost.

The Roseberry girls are Sarah's cousins. Sarah's mother Jane Waldsmith's sister Julia Ann Waldsmith (b 1819) married Samuel Roseberry (b 1817) in 1841. They lived about 14 miles away in Jefferson County, Indiana. The girls who came to visit were Harriet Florence, age 15, and Electa Jane, age 13.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 1859: Cool--some clouds. Margaret B. (sister Peacock) comes to color. I colored to day and finished twisting stocking yarn. Mother and Tilda Foster (neice 13, Matilda dau of Uncle Robert Foster) is here. I scoured out some yarn to day.

Sarah's dyes seem to be mostly homemade. Indigo was used for blue; madder for red; butternut husks or sumach blossoms for brown; onion skins, waxwood or goldenrod for yellow; and beech tree bark for drab. Green was made by first steeping in yellow dye and then in blue. By experimenting with similar combinations, the home dyer could obtain a variety of shades, but she would find it very hard to duplicate them. To variegate or cloud her yarn light and dark, she might wind tight bands of cotton about her skeins at equal distance from each other, before dipping them into the dye tub. A pair of stockings knit from such yarn could serve as a bit of finery in a little farm girl's wardrobe.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13, 1859: I start to the pedlar but do not go all the way--he did not have no cotton yarn. Marget come to day and colored her yarn. Cloudy, looks like rain. I go with Margy to mother's. We fill some jugs with tomatoes. I still have the tooth ache. Abner Sinclairs birthday (son turns 5.)

SUNDAY OCTOBER 16, 1859: Nice pleasant morning. I went to mother's awhile--left the children with James. Maria J., Delilah B., Ann Stevens went by to mothers this morning. Very cloudy.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20, 1859: Sleeves rolled up. All in a hurry--now the coloring is to be done. Here goes Christian Young (brother, 34 who lives nearby) and Isaac S. I color red and green--dip the blue for Margy P. (sister) Mother and Catherine (sister) comes. I boil the cotton for the jeans. James cuts and hauls wood. Isaac goes by--he is going to town tomorrow. James is sick. Cloudy this morning.

Sarah's older brother Christian Young (born 1824) married Mariah Byfield (born 1828.) Mariah would have 11 children between 1847 and 1870, six would die before they were even 4 years old. At the time of this entry in Sarah's diary, Christian had only 2 children living, Lewis (born 1848) and Deborah (born 1858.)

Isaac S. is her brother-in-law. Sarah's sister Catherine Young (born 1832) married Scott County farmer Isaac Sampson (born 1827) in 1851.

It is not clear what Sarah was referring to as jeans. She might have been referring to the rough cotton canvas used for tents and wagon covers in the 19th century or to some sort of twilled cotton cloth originally made of wool and silk from France called "serge de Nimes." The 100% cotton form of that fabric later became known as denim and the pants were nicknamed blue jeans. In 1873, Levi Strauss & Company began using the pocket stitch design. Levi Strauss and Nevada tailor David Jacobs co-patented the process of putting rivets in pants for strength. On May 20, 1873, they received U.S. Patent No. 139,121. This date is now considered the official birthday of "blue jeans."

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21, 1859: I go to mother's to warp my blankets. Spooled them last night. The rest in bed. K. come for the kettle to make preserves. James digs potatoes and I color blue, work at my weaving, pick beans and a thousand other things. My hands are so chafed I cannot work with ease. Mother comes a minute or two. James writes notes for the meeting house. Babe cries.

K was Sarah's brother Abner Knight Young, born 1844, who still lived at home with his parents. Apparently Sarah and her mother shared the big kettle.

OCTOBER 23, 1859: Blessed Sabbath morning. Debby (sister, born 1834) and Ethe (sister, born 1842) goes by to the post office, taking a ride for their health. James and myself goes to Gilead to meeting to hear Mr. Potts (F. S. Potts, Methodist Episcopal preacher, 35 from Jennings) preach.

Like so many 19th century women, Sarah's sister Debby wrestled with heartbreak as she watched 6 of her children die before they reached age 5. Deborah Young (born in 1834) lived nearby in Scott County. She married a physician from New York Dexter McClure (born in 1819) in 1853. By October of 1859, Deborah had 4 children and was pregnant with a fifth. Her first baby Julian, born 1854, lived to have 6 children of his own. Son Victor, born in 1855, died in 1856. Her next baby Clement was born and died in 1857. Little Alice Jane, born 1858, would only live 5 years. The baby that Deborah was carrying when she visited Sarah, Lemira Orilla, would have 10 children. After Lemira was born, Deborah had 7 more children and 3 of those babies would die in the first year of their lives. In 1875, Deborah Young McClure passed away at 41 years, 5 months, and 15 days.

Sarah's sister Ethe married as a young teenager; and then, she unexpectedly became a widow within a few short years, suddenly alone with 2 young children. Ethelina Young (born 1842) was just 15 when she married Francis Peacock (born 1831) in 1857. Francis was the brother of sister Margaret's husband, John Peacock. Francis, like his brother, was a farmer. His widowed mother Nancy Agnes (born 1792) was living with them and their new daughter Emma J. in 1859. Apparently, Francis died sometime after 1863. Ethelina was a widow living with her two children, Emma, age 11, and William, age 7, in 1870. In 1876, Ethelina married Nicholas Belch. In 1880, Nicholas and Ethelina Belch still were living in Scott County with two of his children, Willie (born 1869) and Emma (born 1870) and her two children Emma, now 21, and William, now 17, plus a new daughter, Carrie, age 2. Ethelina would live until 1917.

Today, Sarah and her husband, stop all work and go to church. The Bovards were members of the Mount Gilead Methodist Church.

OCTOBER 27, 1859: I finished weaving my blankets to day, spool some at my carpet chain. Cold and cloudy--looks like rain. Moses (brother, 33) and family comes to paps to night. Mother has the tooth ache. I am not very well.

Notes: Sarah's older brother Moses Jackson Young, born in 1826, lived about 38 miles away from Sarah and her parents. Moses family included his wife Martha May Hoard and their 4 children in Columbus, Bartholomew County, Indiana. Martha was nearly 8 months pregnant with her 5th child. To make the 38 mile trip to his parents' house, Moses attached his horse to his buggy or wagon; packed enough food and blankets for a 4-6 hour journey; and then loaded it with his pregnant wife and his four young children: Orville, age 10; Ernest, age 7; Alice, age 5; and Mary, age 2.

A horse can travel about 8-10 miles per hour depending on the weight of the buggy or wagon and the condition of the horse, but it would need a long rest after about 25 miles depending on it's health and stamina. It would take a while to cart those children to grandma's house.

The carpet chain that Sarah probably refers to could be a ball of strips of rags and material that she is preparing to weave into sections of rag rug. Most cabins and farm houses in southern Indiana in 1859 were functional rather than decorative with lots of cracks and crevices where the cold air could seep into the home. To help keep her family as warm as possible, a housewife would often make rag rugs. Sarah had a loom which often occupied several hours of her day. Sarah apparently could weave rag carpet strips on her loom. They usually were woven approximately 36 inches wide which would require a loom which was 40-45 inches in width. These woven carpet strips could be sewn together to cover an entire floor surface. Home weavers wove table linens, coverlets, yardage for clothing, and bedding on their looms. Some four-harness looms were converted to two-harness for the purpose of weaving rag rugs. Women often helped each other with the warping and held "rag-sewing bees" outside in the summer. Pieces of fabric from old clothes, bedspreads, curtains, blankets, sheets, etc, were cut or torn, sewn together into strips and wound into balls. Most of these fabrics had served out their usefulness in other capacities long before they were woven into rugs.

OCTOBER 28, 1859: Now I hurry my flannel to see how it will look. I scald some too, boil bark to color jeans chain, but here comes brother Moses and wife and children and pap and mother and Catherine, and children comes. Not well.

Winter was coming. Sarah was bustling around trying to care for her 8 children; make warm flannel material on her loom; and boil a large kettle of dye (which she had made from the bark of nearby trees) to color jeans; when unexpected company arrived. Moses with his pregnant wife and 4 children; her sister Catherine plus her 4 children; and her mother and father exploded into Sarah's day. No phones to call ahead.

SATURDAY OCTOBER. 29, 1859: Cloudy and cold. Abby (son, 4) is sick. I commence weaving my flannel. Oh how beautiful it is. Mother goes by to Catherines. We bury our cabbage, beets, squashes and color jeans cotton and carpet rags, render tallow, make some candles, and sew on my blankets.

Notes: Sarah is taking care of her children, one of them sick; dyeing cotton; rendering tallow for candles; sewing blankets for the coming winter; storing vegetables; and creating beauty on her loom!!

No refriderators, of course. Country women often stored potatoes, turnips, carrots, cabbage, beets, and squash for the winter by burying them in a deep soil pit with a thin straw flooring, covering them with soil to just below the frost line, and then adding additional straw mulch on top. The earth provided a controlled atmosphere, because soil temperatures do not fluctuate. Of course, there were some problems associated storing vegetables underground, but most realized that pits needed to be well-drained and vigilantly protected from hungry rodent raiders.

Without electricity, candles and oil lamps were a necessity. Sarah rendered tallow, animal fat from cows or sheep, by cooking and straining it to remove impurities such as leftover meat or gristle. One steer could produce up to 100 pounds of fat to process. Some heated the tallow in a large kettle of boiling water instead of directly over a fire to protect against the tallow itself from catching fire. Since the candles would be burning indoors, they tried to make the tallow as pure as possible to minimize smoke and noxious odors. Women soaked cotton wicks in the tallow and hung them up to dry with a tallow coating. When dry, they might lay the coated wicks in a prepared mold and pour on additional tallow. When dried and solid, the candles could be used immediately. Others chose a more time-consuming process of hanging the wicks from a frame the size of the cauldren and dipping them into the melted tallow just enough to coat the wicks with a new coat of tallow being mindful not to melt the tallow already on the wicks. Once that coat was dry, the process would be repeated again and again to build up the candles to the desired size.

You might enjoy reading Sarah Bovard's Diary from its beginning in January of 1859. For all diary entries see:

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