Memories of Nineteenth-Century Cambridge
By Lois Lilley Howe
Read January 22, 1952
This article originally appeared in the Cambridge Historical Society Proceedings, Volume 34, pages 59-76
ONE of my earliest recollections — I cannot date it — is that I asked some older member of my family if it was probable that I should be alive when 1900, the new century, came in. I never imagined that I should live for more than fifty years in that century. My memories of my early years in the nineteenth seem to be as if I lived in a different world.
I was born in a college town where life was as simple as life in a village. The professors and instructors in the college were all friends. Very few people had horses and carriages; the horse cars were sufficiently convenient.
The house where I was born was old-fashioned, with very little essential so-called modern plumbing. There was no pantry sink in what we called the “china closet,” but there was a butler’s tray in which a dishpan could be put for the “second girl” to wash dishes. My mother washed the breakfast cups and the silver in a dishpan on the diningroom table after breakfast.
The kitchen sink was a large, low soapstone affair something like a glorified horse trough. There was a double-oven range, in front of which meat was roasted in a “tin kitchen” — much more delicious than a roast baked in an oven. This range also heated a large boiler, so that there was always plenty of hot water, for we had set basins and hot and cold water in many bedrooms.
The kitchen chimney must have been very old, for on the other side of it, in the so-called “wash room,” was a Dutch oven and beside it a huge built-in copper wash boiler to boil the clothes which were washed in old-fashioned wooden tubs. There was also a wonderful drying room opening out of this wash room, or back kitchen, which could be used in winter or in stormy weather. It was a marvelous place to play in, having frames of wooden bars which ran on rails and which could be pulled out when desired. It was heated by a little stove in the cellar.
Beyond this wash room a passage led to a long ell between house and barn. In this was the study, built for James Russell Lowell when he became Professor of Belles Lettres and lived with my father and mother before his second marriage. It proved very useful for several generations of students later. It had an outside door and a chimney and a soap-stone Franklin stove which did not wholly mitigate the winter climate. Beyond was a shed with slatted blind doors and then the stable, called a barn, making a courtyard, in the middle of which was a magnificent elm tree.
I can just remember when there were horses but they had been given up and all that remained of that glory was a fine old carriage in which I used to play — and, in the second story, the empty hayloft and a pigeon house which my brother and his friends converted into a club room. Later I had a studio in the summer here.
We kept a cow for many years. The first one I remember was a Kerry cow, something like a bovine Dachshund, long and low. She once got stuck in a ditch on the edge of the woods not far away. Her successor was a wanderer, always getting out of her pasture up the street. So she had on one horn a large wooden tag marked “E. Howe.”
Of course, the cow had to be milked and the man who milked her and took her out to pasture in the summer also took care of the furnace and blacked my father’s boots. These were tall high boots pulled on with considerable difficulty with boot hooks. The tops were concealed by his trousers. The process of pulling the boots on was usually done after breakfast in the dining room. There was also a boot jack to take them off which was kept in a closet in the back hall.
The milk was put into wide, shallow milk pans and kept in what was known as the “milk cellar,” a room in the cellar with a cupboard which opened into a well close to the north wall of the house. This “milk room” was paved with brick and had a sort of grave in the centre with a trap door, to keep extra ice.
There used to be a barrel of soft soap in the cellar, too, but I have no knowledge of the mystery of its being made. And there was always a large salt cod fish hanging up somewhere, ready for use for Saturday’s dinner of boiled salt cod and mashed potato — and, of course, anyone could pinch off flakes of salt cod and eat them.
When I became old enough to take responsibility I used to lock up at night. There were six or seven doors to be fastened, all with bolts. Of course, that did not count the bulkhead door from the cellar to the yard — just right to slide down!
It was a very inconvenient house in many ways, needing much domestic help. There was a long hall between the kitchen and dining room but there was a slide which opened into the china closet. In the corner of the house was the “inner china closet” in which jellies and preserves were kept. What visions this calls up of preserve and jelly making! My mother would have scorned canned fruit! Back of the inner china closet and opening from the back hall opposite the kitchen door was a large storeroom with shelves all around it. On the top shelf I remember a row of empty blue and white ginger jars.
There was a marble slab on which to make pastry, and during some period of financial flush I remember the building of a large refrigerator between the storeroom and the inner china closet. The ice man climbed up several steps in the storeroom and put the ice in. This refrigerated a large cupboard in the other closet with many shelves. It was the most modern thing in the house!
The furnace was quite inadequate but there were several handsome round registers on the first floor and one register in the second, and there were fireplaces in the bedrooms.
In the third story, the upper hall, lighted by a sky-light was very fascinating and there was a wonderful and unusually large rocking-horse there. One little room with its own sky-light bore upon the door a large sign “Oxford Museum,” but the collections were not very interesting — a few desiccated butterflies, some birds’ eggs, lucky stones and shells. I used the room for a work room for many purposes of my own.
The two parlors were very handsome and had windows in embrasures with shutters. The only thing I never liked was the staircase — straight and uncompromising, somewhat commonplace but not pretentious. Probably if I were altering the house now I should leave it alone. But I always longed for a handsome staircase like that in the Batchelders’ house next door and I worked out in my mind how it could have a turn near the bottom and how there would be headroom for the change. This idea had a curious effect on my life afterward.
There was about an acre of land which provided much entertainment. There were two more wells, relics of an old farm house. Neither could be investigated but one had a hole under the flagstone top through which a stone could be poked, affording the noise of a good subterranean plunk.
On the south side of the house there was a swing between two trees and a ladder like a fruit-picking ladder up which you carried the rope, then put your foot in the loop and swung off. There was great competition as to the highest rung to swing from.
This was near a lawn, called the croquet ground, which made a very small tennis court later. To the north of that was the clothes yard and a group of pine trees known as the playground. Beyond was the garden — a real garden, an old-fashioned box parterre with, on either side of it, vegetable gardens and currant bushes. (Financial helps — five cents a hundred for picking off currant worms!) There were also pear trees and grape vines. The Batchelders’ yard next door had more climbable trees, as I learned when they had a young cousin from Baltimore visiting them.
The house I was born in is still standing on the corner of Oxford and Kirkland Streets, for this town I speak of was Old Cambridge, Massachusetts, as I knew it in the ’70’s and ’80’s. The house has been modernized — we called it Number 1 Oxford Street — and the lovely garden vanished long ago.
The so-called playground was seldom used as such except on the triennial visits of my married sister who lived in Ohio. Her oldest daughter was a year older than I, so my nieces and nephews were contemporaries. Their visits were memorable. Sometimes we were taken for the day in an open carriage to Chelsea Beach, a big lonely beach of which I wish I could remember more. The world knows it now as Revere Beach.
But that playground was the place where my brother, four years older than I, celebrated the holidays — Fast Day, the first Thursday in April, Bunker Hill Day, the Seventeenth of June, and the Fourth of July. I had to be content with little packages of torpedoes but he not only had firecrackers but a little cannon (in stage language “a practical cannon”) and powder. What he did with this was to shoot the dentist in effigy, the effigy being made of old magazines and the ammunition of old dental instruments. I suppose he must have wearied of this and so he took down the empty ginger jars of which I have spoken and demolished them. My mother was much displeased. I have often wondered if any of them was like the one Frank Bigelow found which was worth $2,000.00.
I can just remember when there was a long low building on the Delta across Kirkland Street. This was the foundation of Memorial Hall and I was always absorbingly interested in its construction. After the hall was built there was at its east end a deep sandpit in which I sometimes played, looking up the high straight wall to the top of the tower. In this pit was built the cellar of Sanders Theatre. While the theatre was being built I clambered all over it and the workmen called me “the little superintendent.”
But the first thing that I remember of what happened in the outside world was that there was a great fire in Chicago. This was stamped on my mind by the fact that one of my cousins was “burned out.” He brought his family to my uncle’s in Cambridge and I was taken to meet the three little cousins I had never seen. This meeting was a great disappointment to me from which I never fully recovered, though I never told anyone about it. I peered anxiously under their chairs but their shoes and stockings were all whole. I had supposed, of course, they would have holes burnt in them.
It was a year later, on a Sunday morning in November, 1872, when I was eight years old, that my brother came into my nursery and pointed to a lurid glare in the sky. “That,” he said, “is the big fire in Boston that started last night and is still burning!” My father was ill at the time and his office was in a building in the path of the flames. It was proposed to blow up that building and the key of his safe could not be found. Even the small child of eight felt the anxiety of the family. Fortunately it was decided not to blow up the building.
There was at the time an epidemic known as the epizootic which had attacked all the horses. The Cambridge fire engine was dragged in by Harvard students, who, you may be sure, did many deeds of derring-do. There was a group of young cousins in college at that time and they had many stories to tell.
I was never taken to see the burned district, which stretched from Washington Street down to the harbor. Of course, my brother and his friends explored it and he brought home a large chunk of melted-up cups and saucers he had found in the ruins. This was one of the chief exhibits in the “Oxford Museum.”
I cannot remember how old I was when I saw for the first time a silver quarter of a dollar. I was used to paper ones like small one-dollar bills. This beautiful coin was shown me by the father of a little girl with whom I was playing. The encyclopedia says that, after the Civil War, specie payments were resumed in 1879, but I saw that silver quarter some years before that. I remember also the large copper two-cent pieces and the small three-cent pieces of silver.
My father’s sister, my Aunt Mary Howe, taught me to read. I cannot remember when this was, only I used to set my dolls in a row and teach them to spell from an old primer I had. Sometime when I was about five or six years old I began to go to school to Miss Mary Olmsted. Kindergartens had not been invented and I cannot remember what we studied or learned except that we worked mottoes on perforated cardboard. I may have learned the multiplication table and the difference between Roman and Arabic numerals. We certainly stood up in class to recite something.
This school was held in the dining room of the house of Professor Francis J. Child. We used the dining room chairs as desks and sat on footstools in front of them. We helped Miss Olmsted, whom we adored, to put away books (what books, I wonder?) under the serving table when school was over.
No servants or families escorted us to school. My cousin Agnes Devens, Mattie Sever, Winnie Howells, daughter of William Dean Howells, and I walked to school together and there met Helen Child, her two younger sisters, Susan and Henrietta, and Florence Farrar and Edith Cushman. It is something to remember, Mr. Francis J. Child working in his rose garden!
There were no new houses on Kirkland Street. We knew who lived in every one. On Kirkland Place where Miss Fowler’s garden now is was Peirce’s Pond where we learned to skate and where there were goldfish in the summer. I went to catch some once and Professor Peirce came out to catch me but I stood my ground (what I had to stand on), and when he found I was the daughter of a very old friend he forgave me.
Francis Avenue was a private drive up to the Munroes’ house somewhere near where Bryant Street now is. There was an open field from there to Kirkland Street. About opposite this when I first went to school were the blackened ruins of Parkman Shaw’s house which had burned down one summer night, all the neighbors coming to help.
Irving Street did not cross Kirkland Street. Between it and Trowbridge Street was a lovely bit of woodland where we could pick wild flowers in the spring. The driveway to the Nortons’ house came about where the northern part of Irving Street now comes.
The Norton girls did not come to school with us; in fact, they did not come home from Europe for a good while after I began to go to school. However, we soon became old friends. It was pleasant to walk up between the Childs’ house and the house of Miss Ashburner and over the fields to Shady Hill.
Somehow, my memories always seem to be of spring and summer. We always had a May Day festival. But when I speak of the Norton place I remember being allowed to go coasting down from the front of their house on a winter evening. A big boy named Will Winlock had a double-runner — a big board carried on two sleds. This preceded the toboggan and we thought it much fun.
Norton’s woods were real woods with a trail through them. I’m more apt to think of approaching them the other way, through Divinity Avenue. Back of Divinity Hall was an open field that led to Norton’s Pond, a dark pool with a brook running through it and a board fence on the Norton side of the brook. A plank walk crossed the brook on one side and led to a hole in the fence. This pond must have been somewhere near where Bryant, Irving, and Scott Streets now lie. This was easily reached from Oxford Street — or from the Severs’ house on Frisbie Place, the yard of which ran through to Divinity Avenue. This was one of my favorite playgrounds. I was so much younger than anyone else in my family that I was rather a lonely child. There were the three Sever children, Mattie, my sworn friend, and her brothers, George and Frank.
Then there was the Agassiz Museum to visit. We were always allowed to go there and nobody knew the rites we performed — quite gently — with tails and noses of those skeletons of prehistoric animals which are probably now discarded.
Also I had to superintend the building of the Peabody Museum.
My aunt, Mrs. Arthur Lithgow Devens, lived on the corner of Oxford and Everett Streets, close by Jarvis Field. We could watch baseball games on the field from her windows. Near Jarvis Field was a huge and terrifying old willow in a place always called “The Ditch.” I have no doubt it was one of the last remains of the original “Palisade.”
My aunt’s younger daughter, Agnes, was only a little younger than I and we naturally did many things together, but I was more interested in the Severs. I have been told that I once said, “Aggie and I are very different. We have different views.” Which was very true. But we went to Miss Olmsted’s School together and when Miss Olmsted married we both went to Miss Sarah Page’s School on Everett Street — next door to my aunt’s.
Here was a real school for girls and boys and real work — history, geography, drawing maps — how I loved that! — long sums of “Partial Payments” on my slate, French lessons from Madam Harney, learning to repeat poetry. I used to be furious with the pupils who could never get anything to repeat beyond “Old Ironsides at anchor lay” and Tennyson’s “Brook” (which they seemed to emulate, going on forever), both of which they found in the third reader. So I hunted up poems at home. I ought to have consulted my sister Clara, who would have given the best advice. But I only remember one piece of poetry that I learned and that I have never forgotten, though I still harbor a grudge against the young teacher who was amused at me. I imagine I ‘was funny at twelve years old declaiming “How well Horatius kept the bridge in the brave days of old.”
Our parents thought it wise for “Aggie” and “Lolo” to go on Sunday afternoons to see Cousin Mary Howard. Poor Cousin Mary, I have her sampler, made in 1792, but when I knew her she was blind and really poor. She was a cousin of my grandmother’s who had fallen upon evil days and was a beneficiary of some fund for aged women. She was nearly one hundred years old. She used to tell us how her father had held her up to see General George Washington when he came to Boston in 1790. I do not think there are many people now living who can remember anyone who saw George Washington. I used to say that that was my greatest event. My sister Clara had been held in William Makepeace Thackeray’s arms when Uncle James Lowell brought him to our house when she was a baby. But my sister Sally had the most wonderful thing to tell. She had been to a reception at the White House and had shaken hands with Abraham Lincoln.
Agnes and Mattie and I all went to Sunday School together, too, and we were in Miss Edith Longfellow’s class. Of course, we adored her and felt very sad to have her marry and leave us. She was married January 6, 1878. I take the date from a little New Testament with my initials on it in gold. She gave us each one, and more than that, all through that December when she was getting ready to be married she had our class come once a week in the afternoon and make scrapbooks for poor children. I seem to remember we worked in the southeast room on the second floor of Craigie House. The spring after she was married she had us come to Boston and spend the day with her and go to ride on the Public Garden swan boats.
Three years at Miss Page’s fitted me for the Cambridge High School. I had to take examinations for entrance. That was in June and must have been 1877. They were held in the old Harvard Grammar School, a wooden building long since demolished, on Harvard Street somewhere beyond Prospect Street. I walked down there by myself every morning for three days, and I never shall forget what a pretty street Harvard Street was then. Then I began to go down to the High School on the corner of Broadway and Fayette Street. Where the Rindge School, the Library, and the other schools are were open fields. I do not believe the modern high schools in this part of the world begin their first course with English History — a review for me, as was also reading “The Lady of the Lake.” But Latin was new and so was algebra — and the minus sign still has an unpleasant effect on me.
It must have been about this time that my oldest brother said at dinner one day, “I see that man Bell, who married Mabel Hubbard [the daughter of our neighbor, Gardiner Greene Hubbard] has patented that invention of his which he claims will make it possible for people to talk to each other at a distance.” “Yes,” said my father, “it may be very useful if it proves to be practical.” I have been told that Mr. Hubbard afterwards became bankrupt and his creditors allowed him to keep a lot of worthless stock he had taken in his son-in-law’s invention. Electricity was still in its youth. Very little was known about it, but scientists were working on it.
In my second year at the Cambridge High School I was in a class in what was called “Natural Philosophy,” a mild form of Physics. I seem to remember vaguely learning something about specific gravity and that water will rise to its highest level if confined, and something about frictional electricity. I don’t know why I have always remembered that we were told that if a wire with a strong electric current was cut or broken the current would for a few seconds continue to flow from one end of the break to the other. It would make a very brilliant light for a few instants and then its heat would burn off the ends of the wire. If any means could be found of preventing this destruction of the ends, this brilliant spark might be used to give light. On this theory the arc light was constructed, which was for a long time used for street lighting. Perhaps some of you remember collecting the broken scraps of carbon left by the linemen when they made repairs.
More wonderful, however, was something which had been lent to the teacher to show us — a little glass ball with a wire burning and shining in it — the first incandescent bulb, just invented by a man named Thomas Edison. (I often wonder how the teacher electrified the wire.) Now you are not to suppose that electric light and telephone began at once to be of use. Mr. Edison’s lamp was invented in 1879, the telephone several years earlier. In 1890, much scared, I made my first call on a telephone! And when we built our present house in 1887 we did not put in electric light — it was not cheap nor was it considered safe.
Agnes did not go to the High School, and Mattie Sever did not go either there or to Miss Page’s School. About this time her father inherited a house in Kingston and for several years I made a visit there every summer. This house is one of the finest old New England houses in existence and its beauty sank into my heart and mind at once — never to be forgotten. It was full of beautiful old furniture, too.
Very few people in Cambridge went away for the whole summer but the Devens family always did, and after the Severs began to go too my summers were rather lonely. But there was a place where I often made a visit, this time with my mother. This was Canton, Massachusetts. My grandmother’s sister, whom I can just remember, married the son of Paul Revere. He had developed the Revere Copper Company on the grounds of which was the place where Paul Revere cast his bells. Here my real hostess was my father’s cousin, Miss Maria Revere, just like a very dear aunt to me.
We went by train to Canton Junction and from there took “the little car” which was like a hack on low wheels. This was drawn by a horse on a spur track which led to the “Works.” From there we walked across the Neponset River on a bridge and up the drive to the house. This was built on a side hill and the dining room and kitchen were in the basement, but the dining room door opened out into a grove of real forest trees. Breakfast and dinner were eaten there but supper was brought upstairs to “the little parlor” where it was eaten by candlelight. There was neither gas nor electricity and to me it was marvelous and romantic.
Then up the hill was where Cousin Maria’s brother, Cousin John, lived with his family, which included Susie (now Mrs. Henry B. Chapin), about my own age, and her younger brother, Ned.
What fun it all was and how interesting was the Copper Yard with its furnaces and machinery and in the middle a great barn, very necessary, but interesting mostly because it sheltered a donkey named “Peggy” and a donkey cart for our use. We used to drive up to the village and buy chocolate drops of Miss Chloe Dunbar, and to the paper box factory where were sold nests of boxes with pretty pictures on the covers.
The little cousins who were burnt out in Chicago lived in Holyoke Place for a time and then in an apartment in Bulfinch Place in Boston — the first apartment I had ever seen with the first elevator I ever tried to run. Although only about twelve years old I was allowed to go into Boston by myself to spend Saturdays with them. The Broadway horse car took me to Bowdoin Square close to Bowdoin Street. There were other cars from Harvard Square up Main Street. A man came up to the car at Green Street with an extra horse which he hitched on to help pull the car up the hill! Shoppers generally disembarked at Temple Street and walked over the hill to Park Street past a frowning granite reservoir on the west side of the street. My father, who was one of the directors on the street railway, once told me that the long pile causeway and bridge, nearly a mile, where no fares changed, was a great liability. There was always the chance of the drawbridge being open to delay the passage, and there was that train crossing from the Boston and Albany which is still bothering surface cars.
If we were going to the mountains or the north shore we took a car which went on Cambridge Street. For the first part of the way this was quite interesting. Between Baldwin Street and Inman Square on the north side of the street was Hovey’s Nursery with a high board fence over the top of which were tantalizing glimpses of trees. Opposite were a number of very handsome and, to me, interesting houses. (Houses always attracted me.) They had flat roofs and there were low brick garden walls along the street. The rest of the street was commonplace with an occasional dwelling house, but in Boston the cars arrived at a very slummy place and there were three stations close together on Causeway Street where the North Station is now — the Lowell, the Eastern, and the Fitchburg Stations. The Boston and Maine was in Haymarket Square.
At the High School I was fitted for Harvard College and took the examinations for entrance. A group of ladies who were interested in the higher education of women had formed an organization which arranged that women could take the entrance examinations for Harvard and receive a certificate that they had done so. These ladies were the precursors of those who started Radcliffe. I think I was one of the very last girls who took the examinations under that organization and had my name in the College Catalogue.
My “preliminaries” were taken up in a big room at the Botanical Garden in June with dear Mrs. Asa Gray bringing in lemonade for us. My finals were taken with the rest of the girls in my class (who almost all went to “The Annex” afterward) in the Garrets’ house, now called “Founders House,” on Appian Way.
Those five years at the High School were filled with much pleasure, in which I was more interested than in the School. Though I pretended that I was sorry to leave school I realized that I was giving up something very precious in the friends I had made there. The old friends were never really forgotten, but new interests and broadening experience made new ones of greater importance.
There was in Cambridge, on the other side of the Common, a set of girls that I never went to school with but whom I gradually came to see socially, and among them were Marion and Alice Muzzey. I was between them in age and I became very intimate with them in their house on Coolidge Hill with its yard going down to Mount Auburn Street. Alice was my dearest friend. Their father died about a year before mine did and they went to Buffalo to live with their brother. I visited them there twice and stopped on the way home in Auburn, New York, to see Agnes who had married Thomas Mott Osborne. I wrote a weekly letter to Alice from the time she left Cambridge for more than thirty years.
The summer after I left school a cousin who was a chemist turned up. Our house was always open to all sorts of relations and my mother was almost like a grandmother to all her nieces and nephews. This young man, afterwards an expert on concrete, had with him a camera and a tripod and “these new dry plates,” and I have a photograph he took (very bad) of the whole family sitting on the lawn! Up to that time, and for many years afterward, it was tintypes that we had taken (when we could afford it). I have a funny collection — but how soft and pretty they are.
I had no desire to go to college, but I felt I must do something. After family consultation with Mrs. Susan Nichols Carter, an old friend of the family and the head of the Art School at the Cooper Union in New York, I went to the school of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in September, 1882, to study drawing and painting and design.
Here was a new life opened to me. In the first place, I had to go to Boston every day. A new route had been established; the cars did not all go to Bowdoin Square — some of them turned off and went through Charles Street to Park Square. Shoppers walked across the Common instead of over the hill. At Park Square was the Providence Station with its high clock tower where is now the Hotel Statler.
There was a special car at 8:15 that ran on Broadway and was patronized by a number of very interesting people who taught in schools in Boston. There were Mr. John Hopkinson, who kept a very fashionable school for boys, Mr. Walter Deane one of his assistants, also Mr. Volkmann who afterward founded the Volkmann School, Miss Elizabeth Simmons, one of the most brilliant and interesting women I ever met, sometimes Miss Catherine Ireland in whose school she taught, and Miss von Seckendorff who taught German in that same school — and afterwards gave me private lessons in German. French I had had at Miss Page’s and also rather casually in High School. For company near my own age was Fanny Ames, now Mrs. Mallinson Randall, younger than I but never to be forgotten, going in to Miss Ireland’s.
I left the car at Boylston Street, a street then composed almost entirely of houses in which “nice” people lived. There were the two hotels, Hotel Berkeley and Hotel Brunswick, but on the corner of Berkeley Street opposite Hotel Berkeley was the very handsome building of the Young Men’s Christian Association. Of course, on the other side of Boylston Street were the Natural History Museum, the Rogers Building of the Institute of Technology, and the Walker Building. I think the latter was not there in 1882. 1 think the Lowell Institute of Design had a small low wooden building there. My idea was to go to that later but I came to scorn it.
Trinity Church was just built, and where the Sheraton Plaza now stands was the Art Museum. In front of it was a dump. Where the Public Library now stands were two thin city houses with marble fronts.
Horse cars, blue and green ones, ran up Boylston Street and all around the square to Dartmouth Street and then through and out Marlborough Street.
The school was in the basement of the Museum and in the attic, where was the life class, and also in a lecture room up a winding staircase among the skylights. Beginners, after learning in the basement to draw very large hands and ears and eyes, were promoted to work in the galleries of the first floor, where most of the objects of interest were casts of famous statues.
There were two instructors, Mr. Otto Grundmann, imported from Europe, and Mr. Frederick Crowninshield, who had a brick studio in the back yard where he made stained glass windows. He was much more interested in the students than Mr. Grundmann and did a great deal for them. He had had a class in History of Decoration and this class had become so interested in Egyptian art that they had with their own hands decorated in the Egyptian manner a room in the basement which was used as a lunch room. Here a woman came every day and served hot cocoa for a small sum. Every day I brought in bread and butter and a raw potato. On the latter I cut my initials and she baked it for me.
Of course, we all had special seats at the long tables. I sat with my classmates, called by Mr. Crowninshield “Infants.” I made a group of friends and we had many merry times together — always dashing out to Trinity Church to weddings when we saw the awnings out.
It was probably Mr. Crowninshield who engineered having Mr. — afterward Sir — Hubert Herkimer come and speak to us. He was a distinguished English artist. I can’t remember anything he said except that a new process had been discovered by which drawings and photographs could be cheaply reproduced, and it was possible that we might at some time be able to have illustrations in our morning papers. He never imagined that they would be telegraphed around the world.
I found that Mr. Crowninshield had arranged for a summer school in Richmond, Massachusetts. It had had one or two sessions and it seemed to me it was very important for me to go. So it proved, though not in the way I expected. My family consented, and although my brother had died early in June after a long illness, I started off under the patronage of two elderly ladies — at least I considered them elderly. They must have been between forty and fifty! I thought them too old to paint.
Never shall I forget that journey through the valley of the Westfield River! A long drive over the hills from the Richmond railroad station to “Kenmore” brought us to the old house which Mr. Crowninshield had found. It was and is a remarkably fine eighteenth-century house with a wide hall and grand staircase.
Two of the four rooms on the first floor were furnished as parlors with straw cushions. All the other rooms were dormitories, in one of which at the back I was quartered with some of the older ladies and Alice Hinds, who was not only one of the important older students of the school but Mr. Crowninshield’s assistant in his studio. She it was who was keeping house, and another older student, William Stone (familiarly known as Billy Rocks) took care of the very necessary horse and wagon; for we were many, many miles from everything except a farm house directly across the road where were two dining rooms and a kitchen and some domestic help.
I was rather disappointed not to be put at the dining table with the younger members of the party but placed with the old ladies. However, with them were Dr. and Mrs. Edward Emerson of Concord and their children, and that certainly was a privilege. He was the son of Ralph Waldo Emerson and was desirous of giving up his chosen medical profession for that of artist.
There were only two “Infants” besides myself and those not well known to me. The other students besides the “old ladies” were from the very upper class at the school. Among others were Frank Benson of Salem and Joseph Lindon Smith, both headed for Paris, and some other young men. I began to realize that there were many respectable and socially agreeable young men to whom Harvard College was no attraction. The queens of the whole establishment were Helen Hinds (Alice’s sister), May Hallowell of West Medford, and Lizzie Schuster of Brattleboro. They had some secret plan of a play they were to give. There were murmurs of it but it never came off.
I was odd man out and belonged with nobody but did not seem to mind it, except that they were planning to have a dance on Fourth of July. They had a piano, though no other furniture except beds. My brother had died so recently that I felt as if I could not go to that dance, but I could not think how to get out of going.
On the Fourth of July someone put up a hammock and Helen Hinds got into it and began to swing. Out came a staple and down she fell and banged her head badly. Dr. Emerson said it was only a slight concussion but she must keep quiet for several days, and neither she nor the girls who shared her room could go to the dance. Of course, these two girls wanted to go, and so Helen’s sister was expected to give up her bed to one of the other girls and I offered to give up mine. It was such an opportunity for me! Not much to do, was it? The result was that I not only ceased to be a nonentity but, because I was considered so unselfish, I was taken up by the most desirable girls in the community and formed friendships for life. Two of those “girls,” now over ninety are still my intimate friends.
In my last two years at the Museum School I was in a new department, the Decoration Class. Here we had an architect, C. Howard Walker, for a teacher — one of the most interesting and inspiring. He had travelled extensively in Europe and he put at our disposal all his photographs and sketches. Another door opened wide. I began to feel that I wanted to be either an illustrator or an architect. I was told that if I learned to draw and paint I could easily become an illustrator, but as a woman I could not be an architect. Mr. Walker said I should have to learn to swear and that most of the time I should think my occupation tedious.
After four years at the Museum School I tried doing some work at home for a year. My father had been ill a long time and he died in January. He wished my mother to sell our house and the land and build a smaller house somewhere.
We were fortunate enough to sell the house at once to the Reverend Francis G. Peabody. (It is now known as the Peabody House.) Of course, his brother Robert, a very distinguished architect, superintended the remodeling of it. Mrs. Peabody felt as I did about the staircase and wanted to have it turned. He said it could not be done and she said Miss Lois Howe had said it could be. He found I was right — so he always was interested in me!
It was heartbreaking to leave the house and very difficult to find a location for a new one, but we suddenly heard that Mr. Charles Choate was giving up his place on the corner of Brattle and Appleton Streets and we were able to buy the asparagus bed. My aunt, Mrs. Devens, sold her house on Everett Street and bought the corner lot next to us.
Cabot and Chandler were the architects of our house and I spent every minute that I could in it while it was being built and then said, “This is what I want to do!” So I went to see President Walker of the Tech and asked him if I could come into Tech on a six years’ certificate of entrance to Harvard College, to which he agreed.
Lewis Carroll’s book “Sylvy and Bruno” came out about that time with its fascinating jingles which we were all imitating, and one of my friends wrote this:
I thought I saw an architect
Climb up the Tech’s high stairs.
I looked again and found it was
A lamb midst crowds of bears.
Poor thing! I said. Poor lonely thing,
I wonder how she dares!
And I was the only girl in a class of sixty-five men and one of two girls in a drafting room of ninety. The other girl, Sophia G. Hayden, was ahead of me in class. She never did anything for me, but Mr. Francis H. Chandler, the architect of our house, became the new head of the Department of Architecture and that was a help.
I had just begun to go to Tech when our neighbor, Miss Mary Blatchford, came to call. When she heard what I was doing she said her nephew, Gardiner Scudder, was going there, that he walked over to Allston and took the train in every morning. She was sure he would like to have me go, too. Gardiner was much younger than I, too young for Harvard, they thought, so he was having a year at Tech. So Miss Blatchford put it through, and every morning Gardiner and I walked to Allston and took a train under the big railroad bridge. We got out when the train stopped before crossing the Boston and Albany road near where the Trinity Place station now is. We got through a hole in the fence and were very near the Tech. This was the beginning of a very happy friendship lasting, alas, only a few years, for Gardiner died very young.
From St. James Avenue to Columbus Avenue was all railroad tracks — like the great space along Boylston Street now — only on the street grade.
Next year I used the horse cars to go to Boston. From our parlor window we could see the car coming down Brattle Street and run out to get it. If I was late for my usual car old Jerry, the driver, waited for me. The cars from Harvard Square to Boston had been electrified and we always had to change at the Square — in the open — in every kind of weather.
I took only what was called a “partial course” in architecture — two years — but I got a job in the office of Francis R. Allen of Allen and Kenway.
All eyes were turned on Chicago where was being built the great Columbian Exposition which had a marvelous architectural effect on the country. Mr. Robert Peabody, who was one of the Committee of Architects planning the exposition telegraphed me to enter a competition for the Women’s Building at this Fair. I told Miss Hayden about it. Mr. Allen gave me leave of absence and we both went to work. She got the first prize and built the building. I got the second prize, $500.00, and that meant I could go to Europe.