Fascinating rhythm

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The “fascinating but demoralizing” waltz was a comparatively recent addition to Boston social gatherings, and Regina Shober Gray’s daughter Mary[1] was one young débutante who worried that waltzing (or “dancing the German,” as it was also known) might lead her astray – which would be de-moralizing, in Mrs. Gray’s parlance.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 26 February 1864: …At Mrs. Hemenway’s,[2] we talked wholly about our young daughters, Amy H.[3] and my Mary and their friends. We think they are going to make a very nice sensible, high-toned set of girls; and it is a real comfort to feel so. Mary used to think she should be quite isolated in her set, from not dancing the round dances,[4] but as one and another of her young friends comes out with her protest against them, it quite pleases Mary to find that many of the nicest girls unite with her in the resolution to eschew the fascinating but demoralizing “German.”

I use the word advisedly. Our young people are so carried away by the excitement of this too popular dance, that they lose all sense of moderation and good taste. They keep it up till 4 and 5 o’c. a.m. – and then are so exhausted that they must have a hot supper to finish off with – game, whiskey punch &c, though a splendid table may have stood for hours at about midnight. With exhausted physique, blunted moral perceptions, and desecrated taste they fling themselves night after night into this whirl and saturnalia of excitement, becoming daily more dependant on the strong stimulants which keep up the diseased strength they waste so wildly.

It is a fearful preparation for the real work of life, and the real pleasure of life – blasé men and women, old before their time, [with] constitutions broken by excess. My sons and daughters shall be saved from this misery, if their parents have any influence, over their opinions.

Mrs. Turner Sargent[5] invited us to meet a few friends there last evg – but [as] Dr. [Gray] was engaged at “Morlands”[6] I did not care to go without him… Mary was at Lucy Bowditch’s,[7]  and I selected from my English “Danté” quotations corresponding to the French ones, in Doré’s large folio, to write under my cards at Sam [Gray]’s[8] request, as he cannot read the French ones with facility. It employed all my evg., and will take another too. I spent Wednesday morning at the Public Library, in the grand upper hall – from 10 o’c. till 3 p.m. numbering my cards and copying the quota.’n for each…

Regie [Gray][9] is delighted at receiving to-day a carte de visite of Mr. Everett,[10] with Mr. E’s autograph on the back – “For Master Reginald Gray from Edward Everett, in memory of his donation for the suffering East Tennesseans. Feb 25 1864.”[11] Sam and Rege each sent $5. They meant to take it themselves, and Regie was to ask for the autograph then; but Dr. G. not understanding this, sent it by mail, as the safest way, Regie having been stopped by a gang of boys at the corner of Park St. the day before and robbed of his portemonnaie. The little fellow was so disappointed, that his father wrote to Mr. Everett on the subject, and this card is his kind answer.

Continued here.


[1] Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923) was the only daughter of Dr. Francis Henry Gray (1813–1880) and Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885). Diary entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Mary Porter Tileston (1820–1894) was married to Edward Augustus Holyoke Hemenway 1840–76.

[3] Amy Hemenway (1848–1911), who married Louis Cabot in 1869.

[4] Another reference to waltzes.

[5] Harriet Lydia Boardman Parker (1820–1868), the first wife of John Welles Turner Sargent [later simply Turner Sargent]. Following his wife’s death, Turner Sargent married Amelia Jackson Holmes, daughter of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and sister of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

[6] Dr. Gray’s colleague Dr. William Wallace Morland (1818–1876).

[7] Mary Gray’s friend Lucy Bowditch (1850–1918), who married Richard Stone in 1875.

[8] The diarist’s second son, Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926).

[9] Mrs. Gray’s third son, Reginald Gray (1853–1904).

[10] Dr. Gray’s kinsman, the statesman Edward Everett (1794–1865), who was married to Charlotte Gray Brooks 1822–59.

[11] By June 1864, Everett’s fund had reached $100,000 (entry for 5 June 1864).

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

4 thoughts on “Fascinating rhythm

  1. Not so sure it was the waltz that was “demoralizing” or apt to lead a “high-toned” young lady astray…! Maybe the staying up to 5 a.m., the all-night dinner, whiskey punch, etc., had something to do with the “exhausted physique, blunted moral perceptions, and desecrated taste.” (Mary Gray was age 15 or 16– where were the parents??) Ahh, the good ol’ days when one had a ballroom in one’s home… certainly a lot tamer than the clubs frequented by our younger generation!

    1. Yes, the setting in which people waltzed was certainly part of the problem! While Mrs. Gray is quite attuned to the appearance of impropriety (an unrelated man and woman walking in Boston Common was notable), she also notes instances where she felt quite sure that her neighbors were having affairs — or worse. A heavily chaperoned dance — not in the Grays’ small town-house; likely in a friend’s ballroom or a public ballroom like Papanti’s — was mainly a danger in what it might lead to … like walks in Boston Common!

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