‘Out of reach’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
It must have seemed to Regina Shober Gray[1] that the Civil War would never end, although there were signs, as here, of a looming resolution. In the second paragraph of this entry Mrs. Gray refers to all of her sons: the first and third were in Philadelphia, while the second and fourth were at home in Boston.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 19 February 1865: It is reported to-day that Sherman[2] has taken Columbia, S.C., and that the rebels are evacuating Charleston. It would really seem that the days of armed rebellion are nearly numbered – that this long war, big with fate as it is, to millions yet unborn of both races, white and black, must be at last drawing to a close. God grant it, in the fullness of His own time, which will not be till His work accomplished – till this great nation is redeemed from the sin and curse of slavery.

Frank[3] is still in Philad. and having a good time – and Regie[4] is well & happy there. Morris[5] has been ailing this week – the rest of us are well – but I had one of my worst nervous headaches early in the week, and have hardly got over its effects yet. I worried myself into it, very foolishly I suppose, because we could not afford to let Sam[6] join a dancing-class [Lorenzo] Papanti[7] has got up for boys and girls of his age. It seemed to me just what Sam needed – a shy, reserved little fellow – too isolated for his own good; he was quite willing to go – but his father thought it was an expense that we ought not to incur.

[With] him the only question was, if he cared to go – no need to care for or calculate the expense.

Of course I could not in that case let him know how earnestly I wanted Sam to go, and so I just quietly acquiesced, but I was dreadfully disappointed – and wept myself sick over it. I would gladly have engaged to eat no butter myself for six months & so meet the expense – but that would only have distressed the Dr. But I know it was just the thing to have done Sam good; and he would have enjoyed it too. Ed [Gray][8] went of course; with him the only question was, if he cared to go – no need to care for or calculate the expense.

I don’t mind the sacrifices of many pleasant things for Dr. and myself – but it does cut me to the heart, when the children must give up educational advantages, because we cannot afford the expenses. They all have fine talents for music, which we have never been able to cultivate in them, and for drawing &c &c. The mere pleasures & luxuries many of their young friends can command with their ample means, I do not crave for my children. The denial of such things may strengthen character, and a habit of quiet self-restraint in such things is the precious fruit of such a training, in self-denials which they know to be enforced by stress of limited means, not by caprice or penuriousness.

These things I do not grieve over, though I would be glad to grant them wider indulgence often. But to let good educational opportunities slip by unavailed of, which can never return to them because their own years slip by so fast, and their childhood is fast gliding out of reach, breaks my heart. It is a comparatively unimportant matter, a dancing class – but it was just the social influence I wanted for Sam – ah well! let it pass. [He] is a darling boy, but too shrinking & sensitive for his own happiness.

Continued here.


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

[2] Major General General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891).

[3] Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904).

[4] Reginald Gray (1853–1904), who married Rose Lee in 1892.

[5] Morris Gray (1856–1931), who married Flora Grant in 1883.

[6] Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926), who was married to Caroline Balch Weld 1879–1912.

[7] Lorenzo Papanti (1799–1872) kept a fashionable dancing school on Tremont Row.

[8] Dr. Gray’s nephew Edward Gray (1851–1907).

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.

8 thoughts on “‘Out of reach’

  1. How the times have changed! I would have found it hard to “just quietly acquiesced” in a matter that would have been good for my child. I agree with Regina…I would have personally sacrificed whatever in order to make that opportunity happen.

    1. Dr. and Mrs. Gray were surprisingly united in their views about most things, their children included. This is a rare moment of discord, at least at this point in the diary — during Dr. Gray’s last illness the diary is full of his pain, where during the 1860s he rarely appears, so often are the two in agreement!

  2. I’m glad you put in the life dates for Sam (1849–1926) and his wife, Caroline Balch Weld (1879–1912). Mrs Gray may have been right about Sam’s shyness and the positive social rewards of dancing lessons in 1865!

    1. Caroline was actually somewhat older than Sam — the dates associated with her cover their married life. (I think Caroline might have been a dancing partner of Sam’s older brother, Frank!)

          1. So for Caroline, aged 33 in 1879, retiring Sam, aged 30 in 1879, may have been the Last Available Boy Of Their Social Set Left Standing? Mrs. Shober must have a few comments on that!! How about a sequence on the romances of her children & her approach to having daughters-in-law?

  3. Robert, that would be fun. In general, both Sam and Morris conducted their romances out of their mother’s view. While she had a strong sense of her sons’ partialities, in the case of Sam and Carrie they became engaged by letter, while Sam and his parents were traveling abroad, so the news came to Dr. and Mrs. Gray over breakfast one morning! She liked both of her daughters-in-law, and knew their parents (and antecedents), but the Grays, Welds, and Grants were not especially close before their children married. As for Regie and Rose Lee, Mrs. Gray mentions Rose’s sister Alice’s engagement to Theodore Roosevelt, but the Gray-Lee marriage actually occurred long after the diarist’s death.

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