‘What can Charles St. do?’

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

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
While she was not as prosperous as her brother John Shober or her brothers-in-law William and Horace Gray, Regina Shober Gray[1] moved in a fashionable set of people, whether in Philadelphia, Boston, or New York. Her reference here to Mrs. Ronalds, a notably “fast” Bostonian who went on to international fame for the beauty of her voice, captures a mixture of worldly values (Fanny is “absolutely infuriating to men”) and more prosaic ones (she is “recklessly extravagant, but tasteful in dress”). When Mrs. Gray quotes her friend Amelia Jackson Holmes, she is practical about the likely outcome of a “Loyal Woman’s League,” noting the limitations of a boycott on luxury goods.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 1 May 1864: Tuesday we had our “sewing Circle” tea, at Mrs. Chadwick’s[2] – 24 of us there – a very pleasant gathering – sumptuous tea – a tiny bouquet laid on each plate, and splendid flowers in vases on the tables. Heard a deal about the New York fair from Mrs. C. – and also about Mrs. Fanny Carter Ronalds,[3] who has made such a great success in the New Y. world – whom all the men adore and all the women envy – very much as it used to be here in her girlish days. She is exquisitely beautiful, graceful, & accomplished – recklessly extravagant, but tasteful in dress – wholly given over to pomps and vanities – and absolutely infuriating to men. She has just achieved a great sensation by her singing & acting in “Linda”[4] for the Sanitary Fair in which she looked, acted, and sang à faire ravir. She gambles in stocks, it is said, wildly & Mr. Jerome[5] of N.Y., made over $70,000 for her in one morning, acting as her agent!!

…There is much talk upon getting up a “Loyal Women’s League” against the reckless extravagance that prevails in dress, furniture, equipages &c. But I have not much faith in the good effect of such a thing – after all such things must be left to each individual’s moral sense. Beside what is extravagant for one is not so for another. Nor does it seem to me, that by engaging to wear only domestic goods – the fundamental idea of this loyal league – that we shall effect much reduction in the export of gold, so long as segars [cigars], wines, broadcloths &c &c are not given up also. After all it would be a little clique here in Boston, who join in the effort – and as Mrs. O.W. Holmes[6] said the other day, laughing, “What can Charles St. do either for or against foreign silks &c &c?”

Friday, 20 May 1864: Sam, Reginald & Edward [Gray][7] went to Manchester to day, for a week or more. F. C. G.[8] will join them there on Tuesday next. There is promise of pleasant weather at last.

Isabella Furfey[9] goes off to Nth. Adams tomorrow for a fortnight. She is very poorly and thinks this will do her more good than any thing. But it is very inconvenient to let her go – the work is sadly behind hand owing to my giving so much time writing letters[10] for the Philad. & St. Louis Sanitary Fair. P.O’s. I have sent about 70 – Mrs. Richards,[11] 100, & others have sent each 2 or 3 – so I made up quite a goodly number.

Have been closet cleaning the last two days, always weary work – but worse this time because I had to break off in the midst each day at 11 o’clock to dress & walk to Arlington St. Church – yesterday for Dr. [Buckminster] Brown’s wedding[12] – to day poor [Waldo] Merriam’s funeral.[13] No one can help me much in righting up these upper closets and chests, because I must know & label each bundle myself and be able to lay my hand on anything wanted.

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Louisa Read (1821–1913) was married to Christopher Champlin Chadwick 1843–71.

[3] Mary Frances Carter (1839–1916) married Pierre Lorillard Ronalds in 1859; in later years, without divorcing her husband, she entered into a relationship with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan.

[4] Linda di Chamounix (1842) by Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (1797–1848).

[5] Sir Winston Churchill’s grandfather Leonard Walter Jerome (1817–1891).

[6] Amelia Lee Jackson (1818–1888) married Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1840.

[7] The diarist’s sons Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1924) and Reginald Gray (1853–1904), and their first cousin Edward Gray (1851–1907).

[8] Mrs. Gray’s eldest son, Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904).

[9] The Grays’ maid and seamstress.

[10] This form of entertainment is mentioned here in the diary.

[11] Cornelia Wells Walter (1813–1898) married William Bordman Richards in 1847.

[12] Dr. Gray’s friend Dr. Buckminster Brown (1819–1891) married Sarah Alvord Newcomb on 19 May.

[13] Lieut. Colonel Waldo Merriam (b. 1839) was killed on 13 May.

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.

6 thoughts on “‘What can Charles St. do?’

  1. My husband and I just rewatched the movie “Topsy Turvy” this past week, which features Mary Frances (Carter) Ronalds’s relationship with Sir Arthur Sullivan. What a coincidence!

    1. The Holmeses lived on Charles Street, still an important thoroughfare that once marked the base of Beacon Hill. (The Grays lived up the hill, just east of the State House, in a house at the corner of Bowdoin Street and Beacon Hill Place; the latter is today’s Mount Vernon Street.) Mrs. Gray is using Charles St. as a short-hand for the neighborhood, too, as today we might refer to Rodeo Drive as a short-hand for Beverly Hills or Los Angeles.

  2. The last sentence could apply to anyone anywhere…but especially now, when we have computers to organize!

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