‘Every thing the world can offer’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Early in the new year of 1865, Regina Shober Gray[1] had news to report on her son in Philadelphia and on sad situations closer to home:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 8 January 1865: A bitter cold day – thermom. at 6 this a.m. A warm profuse rain all Friday night turned into a storm of hail, snow, & sleet yesterday – and a clear, cold winter moon was shining out when we retired for the night last evg. Sam [Gray][2] and I have been housed for some days with severe colds – and I have been busy sewing with the dressmaker &c. all the week.

We hear good accounts from dear Regie [Gray].[3] His cough scarcely troubles him at all – and he is very happy. They are doing tout leur possible to make him contented. A gymnasium and workroom are fitted up in the attic for him, the yard is flooded nightly for his slides. His boy friends are allowed to come in and romp with him – often I fear to the distress of aching heads, and the detriment of the usually quiet & orderly household &c – altogether he seems to be in clover, and will we hope to be content to stay, long enough to be much benefitted. And with all the turmoil he makes in the house, yet his aunties[4] are delighted to have him, and his visit will cheer them a little & do good to them as to himself. We miss him so much here. The children[5] say it seems months since he went…

We live as economically as I know how to, in matters of table and dress.

Horace Gray[6] sent Dr. G. a splendid New Year’s present – $1,500! and [for] F.C. $100. How liberal he is always! To his unstinted generosity we are so largely indebted for the comforts of our home. But for him we could not have continued in this house or given our children the advantages they enjoy. I know no way in which we can ever hope to repay him. We live as economically as I know how to, in matters of table and dress. But we cannot get the work of so large a house as this done with less than 3 servants – for I have not the strength to do hard work – and it is vain to attempt it…

Sunday, 15 January 1865:  Mrs. John Lodge’s[7] daughter is lying very ill – her life was despaired two days ago, but they have hopes now. She married about a year since a young Mr. James of Cincinti[8] (I think) a handsome fellow – but poor – that however mattered little as Lilla was heir to a half-million. She was confined a few days ago – child stillborn – and mother in a very critical situation. Poor young thing, with every thing the world can offer to live for!

William Bartlett,[9] son of our old friend the late Dr. B., died on Friday last; sickened some 4 weeks since of what seemed to be slow fever, a very natural result of all the anxiety and care during his father’s painful sickness all summer – and of the worry & mortification of family quarrels since. But the malady proved to be some organic and malignant disease of the liver – probably cancer, as several of his father’s family have died of that, and he sank under with amazing rapidity.

[She] has always it seems made a most unjust & unwise difference between her two children…

An only son, he has been his mother’s[10] idol – she has always it seems made a most unjust & unwise difference between her two children, lavishing all indulgence upon Will and showing only harsh indifference to her only daughter Alice,[11] 10 years nearly Will’s junior. As a natural consequence the brother & sister have no love for each other, bickerings and jealousies, mutual snubbings making up their intercourse.

Of course Alice felt when her father died that her only friend was gone – and about 4 weeks since, having borne all she could, she says, she left her mother’s house, and took refuge with Mrs. James Blake,[12] advertis[ing] for a situation as teacher or companion. But she was induced a few days [ago] to return home, and try once more if she could be any comfort to her mother, in this bitter trial. It is to be hoped the loss of her darling will make Mrs. B. a little more just to the child still left her – perhaps may be the means of uniting the mother & daughter in kindlier feeling.

Alice is a high-strung girl – not I should think amiable or attractive or conciliatory, and has I dare say often been seriously in fault – but who can say what she might have been had her faults of character, instead of being stiffened by opposition and embittered by injustice, been pruned with a mother’s loving hand, and her better nature fostered and encouraged by home kindness & appreciating love?

Poor girl, I pity her – she has a hard path to walk; for the world will more generally blame her for pride, insubordination, and unfilial conduct, than the mother for her unnatural harshness and injustice. Some say Alice is crazy – some say the mother is so, or worse – I know little about the matter – but must hope for our old friend’s sake, whose heart would break, even in Heaven at all this, were it possible, that they will get along better in future. They have means enough to live very comfortably, but plainly – if only Love went therewith!

Poor William will buried tomorrow.

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

[3] Mrs. Gray’s third son, Reginald Gray (1853–1904), visiting his mother’s sisters in Philadelphia.

[4] The diarist’s unmarried sisters Mary Morris Shober (1816–1873), Elizabeth Kearney Shober (1821–1865), Susanna Budd Shober (1823–1898?), and Sarah Morris Shober (1825–1917).

[5] Including the diarist’s other children Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904), Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923), and Morris Gray (1856–1931).

[6] Dr. Gray’s brother Horace (1821–1901), of New York.

[7] Anna Sophia Cabot (1821–1900) was married to John Ellerton Lodge 1842–62.

[8] Elizabeth Cabot Lodge (1843–1908) married George Abbot James in 1864; her younger brother was future U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (1850–1924).

[9] William Pitt Greenwood Bartlett (1837–1865) died on 13 January.

[10] Catherine Amelia Greenwood (1810–1867) was married to Dr. George Bartlett 1834–64.

[11] Alice Amelia Bartlett (1844–1912), with whom Louisa May Alcott traveled in Europe 1870–71; she married her cousin Henry Warren in 1878.

[12] Perhaps Mrs. James H. Blake of 14 West Cedar Street.

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.

5 thoughts on “‘Every thing the world can offer’

  1. These excerpts are endlessly interesting–thank you for sharing them. Mrs. Gray’s diaries show that human nature does not seem to change, no matter the time or ethnic group. It is fascinating that the troubled Alice was the demanding woman Louisa May Alcott portrays in Little Women. I have never forgotten that episode. It was intriguing to learn the ‘story behind the story’. Would love to know more about Alice.

    1. i know I come late to this discussion, but Alice Bartlett was an amiable companion to Louisa and May Alcott on a romp through Europe in 1870. Louisa said of Alice in a letter of April 14 1870 “Alice(is) kind and pleasant….So far we go well together…A. is a true lady.” The Alcott’s were a bit rambunctious themselves, and seem to have found a true companion in Alice, who smoothed their way with Europe (with her money and her language skills). She travelled several other times to Europe and three years later, she was a riding companion to Henry James on the Roman Campagna.

  2. We take conveniences such as electric or gas stoves, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, and vacuums for granted– Mrs. Gray puts things in a different light when stating she needs three (3) servants to get all the domestic work done in a Boston town house. Nevertheless, she may still have been “keeping up appearances” by having 3 servants; I can’t imagine Mrs. G doing the cooking over a coal stove, or washing the family’s clothing. Dusting or polishing silver, maybe.

    1. No, I’d say appearances are not the issue: she needed a cook (and Mrs. Gray helped with things like preparations for turning the quince harvest into jam) and one or two maids (to manage the household chores). She also had help from daily seamstresses, but she was usually sitting with them as they all worked. Mrs. Gray was often wracked with guilt about the costs of their large house (for a married couple, their five children, and a revolving servant population) — but that was what a town house on Beacon Hill required, and of course most of their neighbors were richer and better-staffed. (The other Gray households were grander, thanks to infusions of cash from earlier generations or, in the William Grays’ case, William Gray’s business success and Sallie Gray’s Loring inheritance.)

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