‘A source of pleasure and profit’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In this entry, Regina Shober Gray[1] touches on some of the constraints she felt as a poor relation in a family with richer members. Her economies with seamstresses had repercussions for her health and relationship with her children; both of these worries weave like durable threads through many of her diary entries over the years. In the first paragraph of the following entry Mrs. Gray refers to her four sons: Frank, Sam, Regie, and Morris Gray.[2]

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 12 November 1865: Frank & Sam are both ailing and both studying too hard. We try to hold them back and they declare they are not hurting themselves – both look poorly though. Regie keeps pretty well – and is improving in Latin & French wonderfully but is behind hand in Arithmetic. Morris too improves in every way – especially in Writing. They are all bright enough, if only their health hold out.

We have had a busy unsatisfactory week of tailoring. Isabella [Furfey][3] has no facility at cutting to fit; her work is neatly put together – but the garments hang on like mealbags, with no shape or comeliness – and days of time are lost in ripping out at once & making over what ought to have been right at first. I really am at a loss what to do, and sigh for the blessed days when poor Miss Choate fretted me so unintentionally into fiddle-strings! I do not know whom to get in Bella’s place – beside I ought to bear with her inexperience and mistakes, if any one; she may do better by and by, but assuredly if she don’t she will get but little custom enough, and it won’t do for me to give her up yet awhile. But it is very discouraging.

Tuesday, 14 November 1865: A raw, drizzling afternoon, premonitory of an easterly storm… Lizzie Shober[4] is pronounced free from disease and out of danger – but she is so prostrated in body that she cannot arouse herself to get well; she has to be coaxed and almost goaded into the necessary effort to try & sit up – or walk across the room; but as her appetite is better, we hope she will soon grow strong enough to have faith in the possibility of getting well.

Time, health, and temper all worn upon & wearing – and all for what? some hurried stitchery now…

I have been ailing since Thursday – the two dancing classes on that day are very exhausting to me, and put the climax to my accumulated fatigues. My back has been so weak & suffering since, that time has been a waste. And wasted time is a fearful loss to one so driven up all the time as I am. And after all, busy as I am, there is nothing to show for the work and worry! that’s the problem! Time, health, and temper all worn upon & wearing – and all for what? some hurried stitchery now – some weary righting up of this, that & the other, then; some fussy winding up of house-hold clock-work; now & then, when my throat & chest are easy enough, some of the old pleasant reading aloud to the children – but rarely now – and that is one of the things I most deplore in giving up Isabella as seamstress.

It helped form the children’s taste – and was always a mutual bond of sympathy in taste between my children and myself – a never ending source of pleasure and profit. Now the constant pressure of unfinished sewing for so large a family leaves no time when I can feel at liberty. If we commence a new book it is so long before I can finish it aloud that the boys finish it to themselves, sooner than wait so tediously, as was the case with the Conquest of Grenada.[5]

Beside the constant demands in other ways than mere sewing, which Isabella formerly answered, all fall upon me now, and tire me so, I have no strength left for reading or anything but rest. Worse than all this, is the feeling of steadily deteriorating health – and that I am wearily conscious of all the time. I try not to think of it, & don’t let it depress or weigh upon me – but there is the plain fact, that I have lost flesh & strength – that throat & lungs are in a constant state of irritation and my back more suffering and weak than ever. And sometimes the feeling comes that if it were right, I would pray not to be left to become a burden, by long wearying invalidism, upon all whom I love. But that must be left – let me pray rather for submission to God’s will, whatever visitation it may send.

Heard a good deal of Southern news, items connected with Sherman’s march &c.

Mary[6] & Frank [Gray] went to a pleasant little “German” at Annie Dixwell’s[7] on Friday – where M. stayed all night but F.C. rode out & in (after dark) on [his cousin] Ed Gray’s pony! We all dined at Mother Gray’s[8] on Thursday, to meet Mr. & Mrs. Richard Arnold.[9] Heard a good deal of Southern news, items connected with Sherman’s march &c. Aunt Eliza [Clay][10] has deferred her visit to us until spring – wants to be quiet now, and collect herself, and get used to the idea of having no home of her own; a sad change for her this wicked war waged by her Southern friends has made…

Sallie Gray[11] has consented to be one of the lady patronesses of the Assembly Balls this winter. They are to be rather more exclusive this year, and less crowded than last. The new people there last year thronged the hall very uncomfortably and made a mob of the place. These are to be got up on a limited list of 5 or 600 instead of 1500, with 12 lady patronesses, who make up the list. I have asked Sallie G. to put Frank down on hers, as he could not have a better entrance into Boston society than under her auspices at these Balls.

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] Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904), Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926), Reginald Gray (1853–1904), and Morris Gray (1856–1931).

[3] A family seamstress, like Miss Choate.

[4] The diarist’s sister Elizabeth Kearney Shober (1821–1865).

[5] Presumably Washington Irving’s Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (1829).

[6] Mrs. Gray’s daughter Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923).

[7] Mary’s friend Anna Parker Dixwell (1847–1885).

[8] The diarist’s mother-in-law, Mary Clay (1790–1847), who was married to William Rufus Gray 1809–31.

[9] Richard James Arnold of Providence (1796–1873) married Louisa Caroline Gindrat, a neighbor of the Clay family in Georgia, in 1823.

[10] Mrs. W. R. Gray’s much younger sister, Eliza Caroline Clay (1809–1895).

[11] The diarist’s sister-in-law, Sarah Frances Loring (1811–1892), who married William Gray in 1834.

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 “‘A source of pleasure and profit’

  1. “And after all, busy as I am, there is nothing to show for the work and worry! that’s the problem! Time, health, and temper all worn upon & wearing – and all for what? some hurried stitchery now – some weary righting up of this, that & the other, then; some fussy winding up of house-hold clock-work;” Sounds like modern complaints some 150 years later. Too much to do , not enough time.

  2. It is hard for people today to imagine the role that sewing played in women’s lives for so many centuries. The labor and time involved were endless. I have seen this mentioned in many diaries from the 19c. One woman, Lucy Larcom, decided not to marry in part to avoid the never-ending sewing. Mrs. Gray’s diaries, always so vivid and informative, make this dreaded task come alive. Thank you for sharing another interesting excerpt.

  3. And imagine doing all that work by hand, yards and yards of fabric for one skirt, cutting, pinning, ironing, all those hand-stitched buttonholes…I have an old notebook from my great-grandfather Frederick Whitmore Sherwood who made custom shirts in Boston @1890s, a written formula for all the pieces, no patterns.

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