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Window into the Past

A few weeks ago I took a chance – I bought an 1830s Friendship Album, basing my decision on the fact that it had a Vermont connection, and on a few half-page photographs of individual signatures. No indication in the description of the album’s size, nor even how many pages were written up.

It turned out to have twenty-four separate inscribers; a fair number of blank pages; and a set of etchings that actually turn out to be the same scenes as a friendship album tied to western New York, purchased earlier this year. Vermont scenes would have been NICE.

But I knew – thanks to work the seller had done – that the Friendship Album had belonged to ELIZA PHELPS of West Townshend, Vermont. And I knew, thanks to my own researches, that the Phelps family had left a document trail behind. Little did I realize, though, how MUCH of a trail had been left by the girls – three sisters, of whom Eliza was the eldest – nor where the items had ended up being deposited.

I wish I could say that the Phelps of Townshend and the Albees of Rockingham and Springfield came across each other. Dora’s diary seems not to mention anyone of the name PHELPS.

The interesting “thing” is that the Phelps sisters write a LOT about their schooling, and hint at those known to them – male and female – who, after finishing their education, took to the classroom as teachers. This, predominantly, occurs in the 1840s, so a good twenty years prior to the schooling and teacher preparation that Isadore Albee made record of in her diaries. However, the Friendship Album gives abundant evidence for the mindset of parents – and female students – a generation before, and that window into the past is important for a greater understanding of the life-sketch Dora left behind of her experiences in Springfield, Vermont (during and after the Civil War) and farther afield. Because of this slight affiliation, you’ll be hearing more about Eliza Phelps and her family. If only a batch of Albee letters would turn up! Letters help make sense of items like albums and diaries.

It’s been a while…

I’ve been working this past week on transcription – I finished 1867 and began 1868. During these years, Isadore is becoming more involved with what she called the Good Templers (sic); or, I.O.G.T. => the Independent Order of Good Templars [yes, I’m pretty sure Dora “misspells” their name; she offers challenging spelling, from time to time].

What begins as notice of a few meetings, becomes a torrential several-times-a-week meeting-up.

I don’t yet know if Springfield was late in joining the wave – or if Isadore was merely ripe for becoming an enthusiastic member. It cannot have been easy for a young lady of swayable opinions to meet and stay captivated by local friends. She so seems to blow hot and cold. I must admit, though, I can understand why she takes to people. and then feels let down by them. A “body” of like-minded individuals, such as must have attended any of the Good Templars’ meetings, surely gave Isadore people outside herself to be with and, more importantly, to converse with and exchange ideas with.

As you might guess, (being the middle of the 19th century), I.O.G.T.’s roots were in the temperance movement. I.O.G.T.’s blog makes a good case for it also offering to women a voice. It may be that very ability – to join, to prosper, to have the potential for female leaders – that attracted Isadore Albee to the Good Templars. In her diary, she does not put a rationale into words. She acted upon her desire, and carried out that desire by showing up. She gave her approbation by continually attending. She never says (or not yet, anyway) what happened at meetings, or how she felt about what passed. She sometimes seems to intimate a guest speaker, though rarely follows through with what he (inevitably…) spoke on. I hope to find out more from the local newspaper.

I’ve also been reading what I’ve already transcribed – going back, for instance, to 1865. There was a time when I grew disappointed in what I read as I transcribed. But, re-reading it (and seeing notes I scribbled between entries), there is more of a story that begins emerging, although that initial excitement of young love and the Civil War patriotism was passing.

And I have been READING. The support material this past week mainly has been Lynn A. Bonfield’s New England to Gold Rush California: The Journal of Alfred and Chastina W. Rix, 1849-1854. This has been MOST beneficial, in that both Chastina Rix and Isadore Albee worked as teachers. The line between being a “still-learning” student and a certified teacher seems, (to someone in the 21st century), to have been quite blurred. The see-sawing, back and forth, between seeking schooling as pupil and attending school as teacher at the head of a class, makes more sense after reading how Chastina Rix, as a new bride, slipped into a teaching position. Even better was the introduction to chapter two (prior to the diary for these months), in which Bonfield explains more about the local schools in Vermont a decade-plus before Isadore Albee was boarding out for her various teaching positions.

How I wish I could locate one article – it appeared in Vermont History (the journal of the Vermont Historical Society), but back in the 1980s. That article is Margaret K. Nelson, “Vermont Female Schoolteachers in the Nineteenth Century,” Vermont History 49 (winter 1981). Bonfield cites it, as do several other works. I may have to contact VHS, since my last visit to a library – on the campus of the University of Vermont – was greeted by a firmly locked door (ie, students only), thanks to covid restrictions.

But other readings from the journal have been informative:

Book to Add to the Bibliography

I rather stopped adding book when the “block” (blockhead?) editor for WordPress gave me “ginormous” pictures (using of its own templates). I will add a quick note about this book, and it link in my blog Georgian Gems, Regency Reads, Victorian Voices (yes, it’s rather England-centric – but with periodic notice of books from other countries, and later wars).

The book in question is War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865, by Eliza Frances Andrews, published in 1908, and edited by the writer.

Derby, VT: an 1862 Photographer

During the family trip north, from Springfield to Derby, Vermont, in the summer of 1862, several in the Albee family POSED for an artist. When Isadore Albee first mentioned this, my immediate thought was: WHO was the Photographer??

Then I spotted what HAD to be the man’s name, up the side of the entry. And – unfortunately – still I was asking, Who’s the photographer??!!

I can’t read Dora’s handwriting!

It looks like Mr. Parlin; it could be Mr. Parlier.

Neither name has turned up much information. How I wish it were someone like Mr. Eastman… And that is part of the problem: Was the artist a Derby man? Not necessarily. But, given the amount of equipment required – for I believe “took our pictures” denotes a photographer – how “itinerant” an artist could he have been, in 1862? It’s not like a painter or silhouettist.

The man, also, could be from CANADA, dipping down through the Lake Memphremagog area. I could see a Mr. Poulin plying his trade near the Canada-United States Border.

Did the man hand out business cards? Or, was he introduced via word-of-mouth? Dora may have misheard his name.

A great pity no photographs were included with the diaries!

It is the 8th of July (1862); here is Dora’s journal entry (the spelling is hers):

8 T       To Charlotts again to night. spent the afternoon to Lucies  all [hands?] had an introduction to Dr. Nucom [sic]  himself Geo. Robinson & Brooks Clark spent the evening here. Artist took our pictures to day for his museum   it is nealy [sic: nearly] one o’clock.
[up side:] Artist  Mr. Parlin [Parlier? doubt: Poulin]

It is the word museum that makes me think photography. Would anyone care to nose around a few dusty silhouettes? Perhaps, if the artist were the renowned Auguste Edouart (he had died the previous year). A sketch artist – depending how many sitters he had to recreate – might have been quickish, but the word “museum” surely denotes something beyond “boardwalk” sketches done for the tourists.

Should any readers have a hint that helps solve the mystery, please contact me