by Ann Haddad
Valentines for an Eligible Lady
Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for centuries, but only became entrenched in American culture in the early 1840s, with the rise in popularity of commercially produced paper valentine cards. Made of delicately embossed and perforated lace papers, valentines became the fashionable way to convey romantic interest and to freely express the desire for romantic love.
The lovely Elizabeth Tredwell, eldest daughter of Seabury and Eliza, no doubt received her share of valentines from young men of her class. She was pretty and accomplished, and would certainly have been considered an eligible young lady. The Tredwell Archives contain several charming valentines; however, the senders and recipients are unknown.
On April 7, 1845, Elizabeth married Effingham Nichols (see our April 2017 blog post, “Days of Sorrow, Days of Rejoicing: The Marriage of Elizabeth Tredwell and Effingham Nichols”). We do not know when and how Elizabeth and Effingham met, nor are we aware of the length of their courtship. Based on the many strict codes of etiquette that governed courtship, however, we can assume theirs followed a dictated course.
In the mid-19th century, romantic love was viewed as the solid rock upon which a healthy marriage was built; it was only within the sacred state of marriage that one’s ideal self could be revealed. Courtship, therefore, was respected as a special time in the lives of a young couple. This period, after introductions and before a formal engagement, served to intensify the feelings of romantic love; to insure that the bond formed between a couple was true; to guide one in learning the real character of the other; and to ensure that their attraction was based on mutual respect and admiration. In Theocritus’ The Dictionary of Love (1858), it is defined as the period that is “all romance, excitement, hope, desire, expectation, and sweet dreams.”
Before Courtship: Under Mama’s Watchful Eyes
The time for a young woman to enter society and assume her role as a marriageable woman was determined by her parents; it depended not on her age, but on her level of maturity. A woman was also expected to have completed her education, or “finishing,” typically between the ages of 16 and 18, before entering society. Elizabeth most likely went “into company” (or “came out,” as it was later called) sometime around the age of 20.
Courting before this age was highly frowned upon. After completing her schooling, a daughter remained at home (which was viewed as a woman’s empire), under the watchful eyes of her mother. Here she learned domestic arts; assisted with rearing her younger siblings; and was instructed in the rules of manners and civility, which were highly valued in society. A young lady was chaperoned at public entertainments, such as theatre or dances, by her parents, brothers, or an intimate family friend. (Once she became formally engaged, her lover became her “legitimate protector and companion.”) She was expected to rebuff any male attention, and maintain a polite disinterest in courtship. Mrs. John Farrar, in A Young Lady’s Friend (1837), writes,
“The less your mind dwells upon lovers and matrimony, the more agreeable and profitable will be your intercourse with gentlemen. Regard men as intellectual beings who have access to certain sources of knowledge to which you are denied.”
Elizabeth also received guidance from her mother (likely culled from popular advice books such as Lydia Maria Child’s The Frugal Housewife (1829); Godey’s Lady’s Book; and etiquette and conduct manuals) about acceptable behaviors that reflect what Mrs. John Farrar called “delicacy and refinement” when in the company of young men. Never let a man hold your hand; decline his offer of assistance with getting in and out of carriages; never squeeze into a tight space with a gentleman; never speak of your private affairs or feelings; always have a friend present for carriage rides; never borrow money from a man; avoid gossip. Mrs. Farrer stressed:
“Your whole deportment should give the idea that your person, your voice, and your mind are entirely under your own control. Self-possession is the first requisite to good manners.”
Above all, a young lady was never to make obvious public plays for the attention of a young man, or insinuate that she wanted an invitation from him. According to T.S. Arthur, author of Advice to Young Ladies (1847), such inappropriateness indicated “an outrageous want of all decent respect for herself.”
Money and Religion
Aside from the usual parental concerns associated with finding a suitable partner for their daughter, Seabury and Eliza Tredwell had another reason to be extremely careful when vetting young men who were interested in courting Elizabeth: the family’s enormous wealth. Guarding against any unprincipled suitor who viewed a fortune as indispensable when choosing a wife was no doubt of utmost importance. They therefore sought to find a husband for Elizabeth whose own wealth was equal to or greater than her own. Similarity of religion was also considered to be a requisite; whoever sought and won Elizabeth’s hand had to be of the Episcopal faith (see our February 2017 blog post, “The Man That Got Away,” for a discussion of the aborted romance of Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Gertrude, and Luis Walton).
A Formal Introduction
A gentleman did not consider courting a woman unless he had been formally introduced to her. (Men were not without their etiquette manuals: Lord Chesterfield’s Advice to His Son on Men and Manners, first published in 1774, was the popular source.) Effingham may have been introduced to Elizabeth through her father or one of her uncles, or through a respected friend of the family. For those without known connections, it was the gentleman’s task to respectfully make her acquaintance. Upon noticing a woman at a dance, for example, he first learned her name by making discreet inquiries, and then, through his societal connections, asked for an introduction. As the couple became acquainted through conversation, the gentleman ascertained the woman’s level of interest, and whether any further attentions were welcome.
Dear Mr. Tredwell
If he perceived that she was not averse, and he was confident that his position in life and circumstances were sufficient to allow him to proceed, a gentleman took the next step — writing to the woman’s father to ask permission to pay a visit to their home. In this important communication, he stated his position and prospects, and mentioned his family. The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony (1852) cautioned the suitor against any smugness or over-confidence at this stage:
“Never think you are doing the family a favor. A man must convey delicate respect towards the parents, to prove himself worthy of the treasure of which he is about to deprive them.”
The following portion of a sample letter from The Art of Good Behavior (1845) may be similar to one sent to Seabury Tredwell from Effingham Nichols, when he desired to begin courting Elizabeth:
“The subject upon which I presume to address you is one so near to my heart, and so connected with my prospects of happiness in this life, that I find it difficult to summon resolution for the task; but sir, I have dared to entertain so high an opinion of your goodness, that I am emboldened to write to you with candor, to solicit the greatest favor it is in your power to bestow.”
Emily Thornwell, in The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility (1856), defined the proper look of a letter from a potential suitor to a young woman’s father:
“Observe that letters of introduction are never sealed by well-bred people. Every letter to a superior ought to be folded in an envelope. It shows a want of respect to seal with a wafer; we must use sealing wax; men usually select red.”
Once permission was obtained from the father, the young lady in question then extended a letter to the gentleman, inviting him to pay a call. She avoided displaying any excessive interest in him, however. Thornwell emphasized the importance of restraint:
“You should not remark to a gentleman, ‘I am very happy to make your acquaintance;’ because it should be considered a favor for him to be presented to you, therefore the remark should come rather from him.”
The Trial Period
As soon as the father established that a young gentlemen was suitable company for his daughter (accomplished through inquiries among his set as to the family and status of the suitor), courtship commenced. In the young lady’s front parlor, with a chaperone present, a courting couple engaged in allowed activities including singing, talking, piano playing, and parlor games with other guests. Supervised carriage rides and outdoor excursions to dances, picnics, dinners, and concerts were also permitted. During this time, the couple observed one another’s habits and conduct for evidence of good moral character and virtuous principles, and hence suitability.
A woman considered positive traits, such as a man’s ability to speak with ease, respect, and courtesy to all; a neat appearance; excellent manners and deference to all women; and his readiness to honor and defend the opposite sex. Among the negative qualities that put a woman on her guard, as noted in The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony, were:
“Keeps irregular hours
His studies do not form the subject of his conversation, as bearing on his future prospects
Shows disrespect for any age
Laughs at things sacred
Absents himself from regular attendance at church
Shows an inclination to expensive pleasures, or to low and vulgar amusements
Betrays a desire for enjoyments beyond his means or reach
Makes his dress a study
Betrays a continuous frivolity of mind.”
Etiquette manuals were replete with warnings to young ladies to beware being dazzled by “morally depraved” men or, as stated in Advice to Young Ladies:
“A young lady should be careful that brilliant qualities of mind, a cultivated taste, and superior conversational powers, do not overcome her virtuous repugnance to base principles and a depraved life.”
The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony also provided guidelines for gentlemen as they waded into the murky waters of courtship. A woman who was kind, patient, benevolent, peaceful, and charitable; and who enjoyed home-centered pleasures, was worth pursuing. But a gentleman should “retire speedily but politely” from a woman with any of the following traits:
“Has the heartless buzzing of a flirt
Gives smiles to all and a heart to none
An uneven temper
Is fond of dress, and eager for admiration
Is ecstatic in trifles and nonsense, and frivolity
Is weak in her duties
Is petulant, saucy, or insolent
If the holiness of religion does not hover like a sanctifying dove ever over her head
Is prideful, boasting, vane, sharp rather than quiet
When choosing to cast his eye upon a young lady with views toward matrimony, a gentleman needed to be mindful of the following:
“You do not catch us by mere beauteous look,
Tis but the bait, floating without the hook.”
Despite all these dire warnings, the author ended on an uplifting note:
“In nine out of ten cases it will be found that some demonstration of gentleness, benevolence, devotion, or self-sacrifice will invariably have been the foundation and first cause of serious thoughts of matrimony.”
No Gifts, Please
Another rule of courtship prohibited a young lady from accepting presents from a gentleman, prior to his having made a distinct proposal of marriage. It was considered improper and unbecoming, and implied an obligation on her part. Should the gentleman insist on her accepting a gift, she was to acknowledge its receipt in the presence of her parents, thereby removing any trace of impropriety. Any gifts received anonymously were put away and never mentioned. According to T.S. Arthur’s Advice to Young Ladies, flowers, fruit, and candy were the only acceptable presents from a young man to a young lady prior to their engagement, because:
“their perishable nature exempts them from the ban put upon more enduring memorials.”
Love Letters: “The Sweetest Things”
With all the restrictions placed upon young lovers during their courtship, letter writing became the allowed means by which they could express their feelings, continue the process of getting to know one another, and hopefully, fall in love. In the mid-19th century, suitors had at their disposal numerous letter-writing manuals that offered sample letters for every occasion, including expressions of romantic love and marriage proposals. In The Dictionary of Love (1858), love letters were referred to as, “among the sweetest things which the whole career of love allows.” The author of The Art of Good Behavior wrote: “The delicate and interesting preliminaries of marriage are oftener settled by the pen, than in any other manner.”
Love letters were considered sacred and sincere testaments to a couple’s love; such intimate correspondence was regarded with respect and a deep sense of privacy. A family member would never open a daughter’s or sister’s love letter; upon receiving it she retired to her room to read its contents in private.
It comes as no surprise to learn that rules governed the writing implements, paper, and even stamps, for love letters. The Art of Good Behavior insists:
“For a love letter good paper is indispensable. When it can be procured, that of a costly quality, gold-edged, perfumed, or ornamented in the French style, may be properly used. The letter should be carefully enveloped, and nicely sealed with a fancy wafer – or what is better, plain or fancy sealing wax. The whole affair should be as neat and elegant as possible.”
We have no surviving love letters between Effingham and Elizabeth. Perhaps one might have been similar to the following, from the Butler-Laing Family Papers (NYHS), written in 1861 by Frank Butler to his cousin Mary:
“My dear Cousin if you could only realize how deep an attachment I have found for you, and how sincerely and fondly I have learned to love you, even from the very first hour of our meeting, you might then imagine the thought of being so wholly separated from you, for how long a time God only knows, can be attended with painful feelings only.
Goodbye Mary, and may God bless you and the other members of the happy family with which you are connected. And may you sometimes, in your nightly visions think of one who holds you in highest admiration and unlimited affection.
Devotedly your cousin,
Another, unsigned and undated, from the Emily Hosack Rodgers Collection (NYHS), indicated the freedom a gentleman felt in writing to his love interest:
“If you love me, I will seek only to enfold your whole existence within the arms of a true and devoted love. With the true wisdom of an affectionate heart I will only seek, will only desire to find my own happiness in yours.”
A Valentine’s Day Poem
The Obituary Record of Yale University (1902) mentioned that Effingham Nichols wrote poetry and prose. Perhaps he sent a valentine poem to Elizabeth during their courtship. It may have been similar to this one, “Friendship Offering” (NYHS), written in 1832 to Anna Brooks:
“If though thinkest, Anna
That I shall complement thee now,
And say how well you play on the piano,
And praise the brightness of thy brow;
Or tell thee that thy voice is sweet,
Or that thou hast a lovely face,
Or snowy hands, or pretty feet,
Or complement one single grace,
That throws its glory o’er thy manner,
Or even praise those eyes of thine!
Thou art indeed mistaken, Anna;
Although in every Valentine,
I know thou hast a right to think
Such praise would be given to thee;
But thou! oh, thou couldst never drink,
Deep of the cup of flattery:
For in the depths of thy young mind,
Life’s holiest treasures are enshrined.
Learning and wit, and beauty bright,
And virtue – charms that alone delight
The soul – Yes! All these blessed gifts are thine.”
Our next blog post will address the rituals surrounding marriage proposals and engagement. Happy Valentine’s Day!
- Anonymous. The Art of Good Behavior, and Letter Writer, on Love, Courtship, and Marriage: A Complete Guide. New York: Huestis & Cozans, 1845. Main Collection, New-York Historical Society.
- Anonymous. The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony. London: David Bogue, 1852. books.google.com. Accessed 1/18/18.
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- Brooks, Anna. Valentine’s Day Poem, 1832. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
- Butler-Laing Family Papers, 1818-1892. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
- Emily Hosack Rodgers Collection, 1848-1888. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
- Farrar, Mrs. John. A Young Lady’s Friend. Boston: American Stationers’ Company, 1838. internetarchive.org. Accessed 1/23/18.
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- Knapp, Mary L. An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City 1835-65. New York: Girandole Books, 2012.
- Lystra, Karen. Searching the Heart: Women, Men, and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
- Rothman, Ellen K. Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1984.
- Theocritus, Junior [pseud.]. Dictionary of Love. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1858. internetarchive.org. Accessed 1/22/18.
- Thornwell, Emily. The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility: In Manners, Dress, and Conversation. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1856. internetarchive.org. Accessed 1/17/18.
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- Yale University. Obituary Records of the Graduates of Yale University Deceased from June,1890 – June, 1900. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1902, p. 672.
by Ann Haddad
From the early 18th century, pleasure gardens – outdoor complexes that offered landscaped vistas, various entertainments, and refreshments – were popular escapes for New Yorkers starved for open space in the rapidly expanding city. Central Park was not established until 1857.
In 1835, when the Tredwell family moved to fashionable Fourth Street (well within the boundaries of the elite “Bond Street area”), the neighborhood was in the midst of significant development. One enormous change was the transformation of the pleasure garden know as Vauxhall Garden into residential and commercial properties. The Garden, which abutted the Tredwells’ rear garden wall, originally occupied a three acre area bounded on the south by Fourth Street, on the north by Art Street (now Astor Place), west by Broadway, and east by the Bowery Road (now 4th Avenue). It was the third and final iteration of Vauxhall Garden. But the land that became Vauxhall Garden had been well known, in the mid-to-late 18th century, as the site of Sperry’s botanical garden.
A Botanical Garden
Jacob Sperry was a young man of 20 when he arrived in New York City from Zurich, Switzerland, in 1748. Although trained as a physician, his passion was horticulture; in 1771 he turned a plot of pastureland into a garden that, despite its two-mile distance from the city proper, became the go-to florist shop of its day. So famous had the spot become, wrote the New York Daily Herald in 1855, that:
“Thousands, who now live, remember the time when Sperry’s garden was the great resort of belles and beaux for the purchase of their bouquets.”
Imagine Seabury Tredwell as a young single gentleman, riding up to Sperry’s to purchase a posey for a young lady!
Sperry cultivated the land until 1803, when he sold the property to John Jacob Astor for $45,000. Astor, who had turned his attention from the fur trade that brought him great wealth to the acquisition of real estate, undoubtedly realized that the property’s value would only increase as the city’s population migrated further and further uptown.
The Three Vauxhall Gardens
Once it became a British colony in 1674, New York adopted the customs and manners of the mother country; tea-drinking became extremely popular. To quench the public’s thirst for this beverage, Samuel Fraunces (popularly known as the owner of the tavern that still bears his name), opened the first Vauxhall Garden, named after London’s famous Vauxhall, in 1767. Along with tea, it served other beverages, hot rolls, and the new “ice cream” dessert. Situated on a hill near Greenwich Street between what is now Warren and Chambers Streets, it afforded sweeping views of the North (Hudson) River. In addition to admiring the flowering shrubs and trees, guests strolled through the wax museum, and were awed by the fireworks displays. After the Revolutionary War, Fraunces sold the property and the site became a pottery.
The second Vauxhall Garden, located near present-day Grand and Mulberry Streets, was established in 1798 by Joseph Delacroix, a Frenchman who had previous careers as a distiller and confectioner. He operated the garden until 1803; upon learning that Sperry’s former garden was for rent, he immediately obtained a 21-year lease from its owner, John Jacob Astor. It was here that Delacroix achieved fame and fortune, for the third and final Vauxhall Garden became one of the most popular and fashionable attractions in the city.
A Place for Romance
In laying out his new garden, Delacroix wisely retained Sperry’s lovely flowers, trees, and shrubs; he added meandering gravel paths; fountains; strings of hanging lamps configured as stars, serpents, and moons; and statuary, including a central equestrian figure of George Washington. The orchestra was situated amidst the trees, which, according to The Picture of New York (1807):
“… gives to the band of music and singing voices, a charming effect on summer evenings.”
The garden was surrounded by a high board fence, with entrances on Broadway and Bowery Road. Alcoves for seating were discreetly arranged along the inner perimeter of the garden fence; they provided areas of elegant seclusion, and afforded many a young gentleman the privacy required for courtship. According to the New York Daily Herald in 1855:
“How many couples that still live remember Vauxhall Garden as the place where their first vows were made!”
Drinks and Theatre
Sperry’s former greenhouse was converted into a saloon, offering desserts such as “Delacroix cream” (ice cream), as well as alcoholic beverages. Delacroix was known for the cordials and brandy made in his distillery, in flavors such as anisette, cinnamon, cherry, and one with the intriguing name “Matrimony.” He later bottled and sold a “Vauxhall Beverage,” a concoction of herbs and milk, which was guaranteed made fresh every morning, and which caused one teetotaler to write in 1820:
“Our drinkers would be much more benefited by your fresh and mild beverage, than by the strong liquors unfortunately much in fashion.”
A small theatre in the Garden offered dramatic tableaux; these proved to be exceedingly popular, due in part to the fact that the downtown Park Theatre (on Park Row near City Hall), was closed during the summer months. Martha Lamb, in A Neglected Corner of the Metropolis (1886), claims that in the summer of 1809, David Poe, Jr., and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, the parents of Edgar Allan Poe, made their first appearances in a New York theatre at Vauxhall in Fortune’s Frolic:
“‘She was young and pretty,’ the critics said, ‘and evinced talent both as a singer and an actress; but Poe was literally nothing.’”
Vauxhall Garden’s season ran from May through September. To keep out those who were “not genteel in character,” and to avoid use of the Garden simply as a place to promenade, Delacroix charged an admission fee of 2 shillings per person, which entitled the visitor to “one glass of any refreshment.” For his patrons’ convenience, and for a small fee, he engaged a special coach to make round trips from the City Hotel, located on Broadway and Cedar Street, to the Garden.
“As Gay a Place”
As early as 1806, huge crowds were drawn to Vauxhall Garden to see the popular balloon ascensions, and numbered nearly 20,000 for special events, especially for the elaborate Fourth of July fireworks spectacular. Delacroix’s advertisement in the Evening Post, June 24, 1805, gave a preview of the grand display that was to come.
Delacroix enjoyed 16 years of unparalleled success as owner of Vauxhall Garden. No doubt he would not be surprised to read the following, written nearly 100 years after his retirement in 1819:
“All the town flocked to it. It was to the New York of that day something like what Coney island is to the New York of today. The people of New York considered it to be about as gay a place of recreation as could be found anywhere.”
Cut through the Heart: Lafayette Place Opens
The slow decline of Vauxhall Garden began after 1820; Delacroix’s son, Clement, who succeeded as owner, simply did not have the name cachet to attract the public.The greatest blow came in 1826, however, when John Jacob Astor opened broad Lafayette Place, which extended from Great Jones Street to Astor Place, and cut right through the heart of the establishment. The new street ran parallel to Broadway and the Bowery Road, thus reducing the Garden to half its original size. Joining coveted properties on Bleecker, Bond, and Great Jones Streets, Lafayette Place became a fashionable residential street, especially after fancy LaGrange Terrace was built in 1833.
Vauxhall Becomes Second-Class
After 1830, Vauxhall Gardens went through a series of managers, each of whom struggled unsuccessfully to restore its former glory. The entertainment was reduced to minstrel shows, low-budget concerts, and so-called “calico balls” (no society woman would be caught dead in calico). At various times it was the site of livestock fairs, a riding academy, a dancing school, and a place to test fire safes. The elite were drawn to more elegant and upscale destinations, such as Niblo’s Garden, which opened in 1828 on Broadway and Prince Street. By that time the patrons of Vauxhall were largely members of the working class, and rowdiness, drunkenness, and brawls between rival street gangs were regular occurrences. Complaints of disturbances of the peace became commonplace, especially on Sundays, when the din emanating from within the Garden’s walls interfered with neighboring church services. On July 11, 1843, a passerby complained of the loud music emanating from the Garden, as well as:
“… the loud hammering of the visitors upon the tables to attract the notices of the servants, the loud calls for ice cream, &c. So loud were the strains from the band that all four congregations must have been seriously disturbed, not to speak of the neighbors who might wish to enjoy a quiet Sabbath at home.”
Barnum Has a Go
Even the showman and impresario Phineas (P.T.) Barnum tried his hand at resuscitating Vauxhall Garden. He leased the establishment from 1840 through 1841. His offerings included variety shows that featured low-budget, plebeian entertainment; in one instance he presented:
“Feats of Legerdemain and Necromancy [magic tricks and communicating with the deceased] by the wonderful young Sybil and Enchantress, Miss Wyman, only 14 years of age.”
But the meager profits earned after two seasons of managing Vauxhall Garden were not enough for the ambitious Barnum, who went on to more lucrative ventures.
The Last Nail in the Coffin
The event that no doubt doomed the Vauxhall Garden to its eventual demise was the Astor Place Riot on May 10, 1849, which took place outside the Astor Opera House, just steps away from Vauxhall. A violent encounter sparked by the rivalry between two actors, one British and one American, but reflective of the growing class tensions in New York, the melée left 22 dead and more that 150 injured. At least one of the wounded allegedly died on a billiard table in Vauxhall Garden.
When the Astor Library (now the site of the Public Theatre) was built in 1853, Vauxhall Garden was whittled down to one eighth of its original size. The Bowery, lined with taverns, became the destination for those seeking risqué entertainment; the Garden ultimately was reduced to a shabby vaudeville and burlesque house and saloon, and became a popular site for political meetings. It closed in 1859, a victim of commercial ventures and the urbanization of New York City.
It is doubtful that the Tredwell family would have frequented Vauxhall Garden; its attractions were losing popularity among the elite by the time the family arrived at Fourth Street in 1835. They need only step into their back yard to hear the music, see the fireworks — and in the Garden’s waning years, be disturbed by the rowdiness of its clientele.
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by Ann Haddad
The holidays often elicit memories of Christmases and New Year’s gone by, and of the family and friends who shared those joyful days. Let us venture beyond our own past for a moment and imagine a New Year’s Day at the Tredwell home on Fourth Street in the mid-19th century; for no doubt this New York family was celebrating what was considered to be the most important and festive day of the entire year.
A Day of Calling as Social Atonement
“New York without New Year’s would be like Rome without Christmas.” So wrote Matthew Hale Smith in his Sunshine and Shadow in New York (1879) of the unique custom of paying social calls on New Year’s Day. Dating to the arrival of the Dutch in New Amsterdam, this “day of social atonement,” served to redeem social sinners who had neglected family ties and friendships; visiting all the households within one’s circle was a way of renewing and strengthening old bonds. While the ladies remained at home to receive guests (indeed, no genteel woman would be seen on the streets on New Year’s Day), gentlemen ventured to the homes of esteemed women of their acquaintance, to pay their respects and offer good wishes for the New Year.
1789: His Excellency Approves
George Washington was introduced to this New Year’s Day custom in 1789, when, as newly elected President, he received calls from the elite gentlemen of New York society at his residence on Cherry Street. Upon being told that it was a tradition handed down by the Dutch forefathers, Washington remarked,
“The highly favored situation of your city will, in process of time, attract numerous emigrants, who will gradually change its ancient manners and customs, but never give up the cheerful, friendly observance of New Year’s Day.”
Drawing on the Family Purse
To provide a dose of the generous hospitality for which New Yorkers were known, and to be ready for the onslaught of guests that would arrive on New Year’s Day, the entire Tredwell household was thrown into a frenzy of costly and elaborate preparations for several weeks in advance. The four servants were charged with cleaning the house from top to bottom; families sometimes went so far as to purchase new furniture, carpets, and curtains for the occasion.
As the matron of the house, Mrs. Tredwell oversaw the preparations of her New Year’s Day buffet; it must be elegant and luxurious, set with her finest china and silver, and ample enough to feed at least 100 callers. No doubt all the Tredwell women, as well as their four servants, rolled up their sleeves for the marathon baking, roasting, and brewing that was required. The lavish menu might include boned turkey; chicken salad; sandwiches; jellied tongue; pickled oysters; iced plum cakes and pound cakes; and macaroons, Dutch crullers, and other sweetmeats. The spread invariably included alcohol: wine, Madeira, or a festive whiskey punch. One popular brew, “Perfect Love,” was a whiskey, honey, and water concoction the origins of which can be traced back to early 17th century New England.
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As the New Year’s Day calling ritual grew in popularity, New York City merchants were quick to seize the opportunity for profit by offering extravagant options for the buffet. Many city bakers sold special oversized “New Year’s Cakes,” and often made them available for viewing prior to the holiday, for a price. The following advertisement was noted in The Evening Post on December 22, 1838:
“The largest plum cake ever exhibited in America can be seen at Amelie’s Saloon, no. 395 Broadway. It is an immense mass of the richest materials, weighing over three thousands pounds, and is 18 inches larger in diameter than the cake of last year. It is deservedly called the “Ne Plus Ultra.” An elegant Grecian Temple, ornamented with exquisite taste, contains this luscious Monster. Admission to the cake 12 1/2 cents. The above cake will be cut on Monday next for New Year’s Day.”
As coffee was considered a necessary beverage at the buffet (perhaps as an antidote to all the alcohol consumed), newspaper advertisements for coffee urns were plentiful in December. One creative merchant, Boardman and Hart, on Burling Slip, offered the following ditty as an enticement to shoppers in 1837:
“And while the bubbling loud and hissing Urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cup
That cheers, but not inebriated, waits on each
So let us welcome cheerful New Year in.”
Bedecked and Bejeweled
Equally as important as the buffet to the fashionable New York women of means was their attire. Magnificent new dresses were commissioned from the dressmaker, and new or cherished jewels proudly worn. Hairdressers were in high demand, and often arrived at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to work their magic:
“From twelve o’clock midnight till twelve o’clock noon, New Year’s, the lady with the ornamented head-top maintains her upright position, like a sleepy traveler in a railroad car, because lying down under such circumstances is out of the question.”
One can only imagine the scene of mayhem in the Tredwell household on New Year’s Day morning, with the cooks toiling in the kitchen, the two other servants assisting the six daughters with their toilettes, and
Mrs. Tredwell running up and down stairs supervising it all!
Calling as a Military Campaign
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Gentlemen (with the exception of the newly-married, who would remain behind with their wives to receive), made their calls between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. They carried their list of addresses, and a full supply of calling cards, which conformed to a certain standard:
“A gentleman’s visiting card should be small, plain, ungilt, and unglazed. Have your name engraved distinctly in neat characters. Never have your card printed.”
Seabury Tredwell, who perhaps made calls with his sons Horace and Samuel Lenox, no doubt considered a pair of comfortable shoes to be a necessity if he was to travel on foot to all the homes on his list. In 1866, John Ward, who lived near the Tredwells, related his New Year’s Day travels in his diary:
“Called at 107 houses, leaving cards at 36 of them, and finding 71 at home. Started at Washington Square, thence to Bond St, up 2nd to 17th, to Union Square, down the east side to 10th St, up the West Side to 21st, then back and forth, east and west of Fifth Avenue until we reached 47th Street.”
In a satirical piece published in the Long Island Star in January 1845, one energetic young man related to a friend how he managed to make 184 calls between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.:
“Twelve hours multiplied by 60, shew (sic) 720 minutes — 720 minutes divided by 4, shew 180 visits, four minutes to a visit; and so I went by calculation.”
Another young New Yorker, Richard Stoddard, likened his New Year’s Day calling adventure to a military campaign:
“So the campaign opened, and so the engagement went on … Recruits of eighteen and twenty may have blundered somewhat in their drill before the Day was over, but old soldiers of twenty-four pressed on unflinchingly until nightfall. We were brave, we were young, we were light-hearted, and if we had a little headache in the morning we didn’t mind it much.”
On New Year’s Day, 1844, diarist Philip Hone (1780-1851), former New York City Mayor, merchant, and philanthropist, set out from his home on Broadway and Great Jones Street (one block from the Tredwells):
“I was out more than five hours, and my girls tell me they received one hundred and sixty-nine visits. This fine old custom, almost peculiar to New York, does not lose favor in the eyes of our citizens.”
In the event of bad weather, and as the city boundaries extended, gentlemen might opt to hire a pair of horses from a livery stable to make their rounds, or hire a carriage driver, who would of course raise his prices, charging up to $50 for the day’s service. The city presented a general spectacle, as Matthew Hale Smith noted in 1879:
“With its sidewalks crowded with finely-dressed men, its streets thronged with the gayest and most sumptuous equipages the city can boast, the whole looks like a carnival.”
The Ladies Were “Monstrously Dignified”
Upon arrival at the Tredwell house, a gentleman presented his card to a servant bearing a silver tray; he was then escorted into the formal Greek Revival double parlor. (He would not be invited to remove his coat.) There he was greeted with a curtsy by the ladies of the house, and he bowed in return. Mrs. Tredwell, as hostess, invited him to partake of the buffet, and he politely nibbled on an oyster or a piece of cake, and enjoyed a cup of punch. Then conversation would ensue; approved topics included the weather, compliments on the finery of the women, and the elaborateness of the buffet. After about five minutes, the gentleman was off to his next call. Social etiquette prohibited any variation from this protocol. In 1842, young Theodore Cuyler wrote to his aunt of the Misses Chauncey he had met:
“Oh! what Paragons! worth about $150,000 apiece – tall – handsome – intellectual – good tempered – and so monstrously dignified that the slightest faux pas in etiquette would throw them into convulsions.”
No doubt a certain amount of flirting (out of earshot of the ladies’ mother) took place between the young single ladies and gentlemen. In 1861, John Ward wrote:
“I complimented Miss Julia [Carville] on her personal appearance and she replied that I was at my old ways again and wished she could hear what I said to the next lady if she could be behind a door!”
Too Much of a Good Thing
As the population surged and social circles widened, the number of calls made by elite gentlemen increased, and the effects of over-consumption of alcohol became more apparent. (The pro-Temperance set had warned against serving “the deadly poison” on New Year’s Day for years.) Etiquette was ignored, artifice replaced honest sentiment, and women were shocked and embarrassed by the men’s behavior. In her novel, Rose in Bloom (1876), Louisa May Alcott depicts the heartbreaking disappointment endured by her heroine, Rose, when her beloved cousin Charlie breaks his promise and returns to her inebriated after a day of New Year’s calls:
“O Charlie! How could you do it! How could you when you promised?”
. . .
Another practice that horrified society women on New Year’s Day as the century wore on was the increasingly prevalent calling on the part of utter strangers. Young men who worked together amassed in large groups to descend on the homes of their unsuspecting employers. In 1867, the New York Daily Herald reported that the wild parties:
“… swept through he streets, clearing the tables of everything edible, evaporating all the liquors, smoking all the cigars. One of these parties, numbering a full forty men – called the “Dead Beat Club,” called at several aristocratic mansions, and to the horror of the ladies who did the honors, fairly cleared the table before the day was half spent.”
By the 1880s, many women chose to retreat behind closed doors and instead placed baskets on their door knobs for the gentlemen’s cards.
An “Antiquated” Knickerbocker Custom
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As New York City extended its boundaries further north and the population boomed, it became impossible to maintain the intimacy of the New Year’s Day custom. By 1891, the New York Times called the tradition “antiquated,” ultimately giving way to the celebration of New Year’s Eve. Dinner parties, either at home or in restaurants, became de rigueur for New Year’s Day celebrations. The wealthy members of the upper class often escaped to their country homes for the holiday, only to return after the first of the year for the “winter season.” Edith Wharton references the demise of the custom among the social elite in her novella, New Year’s Day:
“… Mrs. Henry van der Leyden had clung to it … long after her friends had closed their doors on the first of January, and the date had been chosen for those out-of-town parties which are so often used as a pretext for absence when the unfashionable are celebrating their rites.”
In 1894, New Yorker Edgar Fawcett wrote:
“Christmas yet reigns, but her sister holiday is annulled and forgotten. And among the few mourners that survive her I confess myself one of the sincerest.”
Perhaps we should recall the words of New York poet James Nack (1809-1879), who in 1852 wrote a poem for his daughter Evelina, A New Year’s Greeting to My Daughter, which begins:
“So it is gone! another year!
A drop of time lost in the sea
Of dark and deep eternity,
In which we all must disappear!
Well, since so transient our career,
The blessings that attend our way
May precious grow with every day!”
At the Merchant’s House Museum, we continue the 19th century tradition of renewing, reviving, and reaffirming friendships on New Year’s Day. Please join us on Monday, January 1, from 2 to 5 p.m. for tours of the house, 19th century readings about New Year’s Day celebrations, and punch and confectionery.
Happy New Year!
- Alcott, Louisa May. Rose in Bloom. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1876.
- An American Gentleman. True Politeness. A Handbook of Etiquette for Gentlemen. New York: Leavitt and Allen, 1848. NYHS BJ 1855. T9.
- Fawcett, Edgar. “New Year’s Day in Old New York.” Lippincott Monthly Magazine, Volume 55, 1894, p. 138. babel.hathitrust.org. accessed 12/5/17.
- Knapp, Mary. An Old Merchant’s House. Life at Home in New York City, 1835-65. New York: Girandole Books, 2012.
- Lyman, Susan E.. “New Year’s Day in 1861.” New York Historical Society Quarterly, January, 1944, p. 21-28:
- Morrell Family Papers, Box 1. Manuscripts Division. New-York Historical Society.
- Nack, Evelina. BV Autograph Album. Manuscripts Division. New-York Historical Society 1852-53.
- Nevins, Allan and Milton Halsey Thomas, eds. The Diary Of George Templeton Strong. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1988.
- The Evening Post, 27 Dec 1815, Wed, Page 2. newspapers.com, accessed 11/29/17.
- The Evening Post, 22 Dec 1838, Sat, Page 2. newspapers.com, accessed 11/29/17.
- The Long Island Star, 08 Jan 1835, Thu, Page 2. newspapers.com, accessed 11/29/17.
- New York Daily Herald, 2 Jan 1867, Wed, Page 6. newspapers.com. accessed 12/5/17.
- New York Tribune, 26 Dec, 1843, Tues, Page 1. newspapers.com. accessed 11/29/17.
- Pintard Papers, Box 7, Folder 8. Manuscripts Division. New-York Historical Society.
- Smith, Matthew Hale. Sunshine and Shadow in New York. Hartford, CT: J.B. Burr and Co., 1879. internetarchive.org. accessed 12/5/17.
- Stoddard, Richard Henry. New Year’s Day Half a Century Ago. New York: Bacheller, Johnson & Bacheller.  New-York Historical Society. Pamph GT 4905.S76 1896.
- Tuckermam, Bayard. The Diary Of Philip Hone, 1828-1851, Volume 1and 2. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1889.
- Wharton, Edith. “New Year’s Day,” in Old New York. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1924.
- Yates, Donald. “Beginning Tavern History,” Bottles and Extras, May-June, 2007, p. 38. www.fohbc.org. accessed 12/4/17.
by Ann Haddad
Escaping the Summer Heat
As city dwellers do today, many 19th century New Yorkers desired to escape the wretched summer heat and humidity by retreating to the seaside or country for the fresh air and cooler temperatures. For the Tredwells, that usually meant traveling to Rumson, New Jersey, where they relaxed at their 850-acre farm near the ocean. But the summer of 1865 must have been a difficult time for the family. Their grief over the loss of Seabury Tredwell in March surely was still fresh, and they were only four months into their one-year mourning period.
A Change of Scenery
Perhaps that is why, in July 1865, 24-year-old Gertrude, no doubt along with other family members, chose a new destination. Instead of, or in addition to, summering in Rumson, they ventured to both the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and Northampton, Massachusetts. Popular tourist attractions in the mid-to-late 19th century, the White Mountains in particular drew many celebrated visitors, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, painter Thomas Cole, and Mary Todd Lincoln who, along with her son Robert, journeyed there in 1863. Northampton was called the “loveliest village of America” by The New York Times in 1865.
A Long Journey
Gertrude and her entourage could have taken two routes to reach the White Mountains. One was to hire a carriage to bring them to Peck Slip on the East River in lower Manhattan. There they would board the 3:15 p.m. steamer and travel to New Haven, Connecticut, then switch to the New Haven Railroad and later, a stagecoach, which would bring them to the White Mountains. Or, the carriage driver may have been directed to the New Haven Railroad depot at Fourth Avenue and 27th Street, where the group would board the 12:15 p.m. train and travel exclusively by rail. Either way, the day-long journey necessitated an overnight lodging, usually in Springfield, Massachusetts.
After spending a week or two enjoying the beauty of nature in the White Mountains, Gertrude and her fellow travelers made the return trip by rail, stopping for a time in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her party ascended Mt. Holyoke. Here she enjoyed another idyllic mountain scene, and the quiet beauty of the Connecticut River Valley, before returning home.
A Bounty in the Archives
How do we know for certain that Gertrude visited the White Mountains and Northampton in July 1865? The Tredwell Archives at the Merchant’s House Museum contain a large collection of pressed flowers and seaweed, both mounted in scrapbooks and on loose leaves, dating from 1858 to 1876. The scrapbooks bear Gertrude’s name and she made notations on several of the pages indicating where the specimens were obtained, such as “Mt. Holyoke,” “Northampton,” and “White Mountains.” They were dated either July 1865, or July 20, 1865.
We are not certain if all of the pressings in the extraordinary collection were made by Gertrude. Her sisters may also have enjoyed the hobby. But we do know that both scrapbooks of pressed flowers, ferns, and seaweed bear her name; and many individual pages bear the initials “E.T,” and “E.E.T.” This can only be Gertrude’s mother, Eliza Earle Tredwell. Perhaps Gertrude developed her obvious passion for the craft from her mother; it may have been an activity they pursued and delighted in together.
A Victorian Pastime
In the mid-19th century, flower pressing emerged as one of the most popular pastimes for Victorian middle and upper class women. With plenty of time on their hands, and no dearth of resources, they sought to explore their artistic side in unique ways. Wishing to be part of the skyrocketing craze for natural history at that time, yet restricted by virtue of their sex, many women found the art of identifying and collecting plant specimens to be a respectable way of examining the natural world, improving their scientific knowledge, and preserving the beauty around them. It became an acceptable way for women to merge the natural world with the domestic one; respect for nature was also viewed as a Christian road to God. A woman given to this pastime would pride herself on her “herbarium,” or collection of flora.
Women also pressed flowers for sentimental and romantic reasons. The flora pressed into a book or album served as a remembrance of a particular person or event; for Gertrude, her scrapbook also served in part as a travel log.
A Kindred Spirit
One well-known herbarium maker was the poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), who as a young girl pressed many specimens into a bound album, much like the ones created by Gertrude. In an 1845 letter to a friend, Emily wrote, “Have you made an herbarium yet? I hope you will if you have not, it would be such a treasure to you; most all the girls are making one.”
It is pleasant to imagine Gertrude and Emily (who lived only 10 miles away in Amherst) meeting on Mt. Holyoke as they pursued their shared passion!
How It Was Done
In order to maintain the freshness and vibrant color of the florals, Gertrude or Eliza purchased a wooden field press. Many stationers quickly caught on to the popularity of the hobby and rushed to stock presses and other needed supplies, such as paper and glue. For those who desired to learn the craft, popular magazines often published instructions, especially in the fall when the brilliant colors of the autumn foliage would inspire collecting.
Picking the flowers late in the afternoon ensured that all the dew had dried. They were then placed between sheets of blotting paper and pressed with a crank or straps to tighten and flatten the specimen. Once dried, the flowers were glued, sewn, or attached onto paper (which was plentiful and inexpensive during the Industrial Revolution), silk, velvet, or other fabric. Gertrude kept hers in a scrapbook; framing under glass was also a popular way to exhibit one’s work. Or the flowers could be pressed between the pages of a beloved book or family Bible.
Many of the specimens in the Merchant’s House Museum collection are of delicate, intricately-patterned seaweed, probably gathered at the shore in New Jersey. Readily available, especially for women who spent summers at the seaside, seaweed emits a sticky, gelatinous substance when pressed, thereby eliminating the need for glue when mounting. The pungent smell subsided once the specimen was pressed. Seaweed presented an artistic and technical challenge (even for devotees such as Queen Victoria), for one had to work very carefully to avoid disrupting its complex structure. Added to that was the difficulty of wading into the water wearing heavy Victorian garb. The noted seaweed collector Margaret Gatty (1809-1873) recommended that “seaweeders” wear heavy men’s boots when wading: “Feel all the luxury of not having to be afraid of your boots.”
The collection also includes ferns gathered along the banks of the Shrewsbury River near to the family farm, as well as several specimens marked “Harlem,” reflecting the rural nature of that part of New York City in the mid-19th century.
One has to only glance at the Tredwells’ collection of pressed flora to realize the extraordinary precision, patience, and technical skill that was required to arrange the delicate specimens, especially the seaweed. Indeed, in a New York Times article from 1874, the reader is cautioned that seaweed pressing requires:
“… the greatest delicacy of touch and the most absolute attention. It would not be a bad idea to serve a preliminary apprenticeship at lace-making.”
Although they did not label their specimens, both Gertrude and Eliza created unique arrangements that are works of art. It must have taken hours to do such painstaking work; clearly both women loved exercising their artistic talents in this manner. Many of the flowers still retain their bright colors because they have had little exposure to light.
It is uncertain if the trip to the White Mountains in July 1865 was the family’s first; they did make subsequent trips to the area, but none of the other pressings are marked as having been collected there. The latest specimen that bears Eliza’s name is dated August 24, 1876, and was collected from Seabright (another name for Rumson), when she was 79 years old! Eliza would die 6 years later, in 1882. We do not know how long Gertrude continued to enjoy the craft of flower pressing, or whether she derived joy from looking through the albums in later years. We like to think that they evoked sweet memories of happy days, and of her mother.
- Farr, Judith. “Victorian Treasure: Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium.” February 19, 2014. Academy of American Poets. www.poets.org. (accessed 8/8/17).
- Giaimo, Cara. “The Forgotten Victorian Craze for Collecting Seaweed.” November 14, 2016. Atlas Obscura. www.atlasobscura.com. (accessed 8/8/17).
- “From Northampton. Beauties of the Scenery.” The New York Times, 01 Sep 1865, Pg. 1.
www.newspapers.com. (accessed 8/4/17).
- Oatman-Stanford, Hunter. “When Housewives were Seduced by Seaweed.” Collector’s Weekly. November 7, 2013. www.collectorsweekly.com. (accessed 8/8/17).
- “Passing Through: The Allure of the White Mountains.” Museum of the White Mountains Online Exhibition. Plymouth State University. www.plymouth.edu. (accessed8/4/17).
- Richards, T. Addison. Appletons’ Companion Hand-Book of Travel. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1862.
- “Seaweed Pressing.” The New York Times, 29 May, 1874, p. 2. www.newspapers.com. (accessed 8/4/17).
- Wallace, R. Stewart. “Turnpikes, Stage Coaches and the White Mountain Express: Transportation in the White Mountains.” wwwwhitemountainhistory.org/uploads/Turnpikes_enh.pdf. (accessed 8/4/17).
- Witemeyer, Karen. “Victorian Flower Pressing,” Petticoats and Pistols. April 30th, 2011. www.petticoatsandpistols.com. (accessed 8/8/17).
by Ann Haddad
Bells Are Ringing!
The magnificent row house on Fourth Street was surely buzzing with excitement on the morning of Wednesday, April 9, 1845, for it marked a Tredwell milestone: the first family wedding! Seabury and Eliza’s eldest child, 23-year-old Elizabeth Seabury, was about to tie the knot.
Born on July 23, 1821, in the Tredwells’ first home at 34 Cedar Street, Elizabeth was baptized on August 18 at St. George’s Chapel, then located at Beekman Street. She, like four of her sisters, attended the fashionably elite Mrs. Okill’s Academy, located at 8-10 Clinton Street (now 8th Street). In addition to the usual academic subjects, Elizabeth was instructed in the French language and in music, two skills considered essential to a young woman’s education. The Tredwell Books Collection contains one of Elizabeth’s music books, Instructions for the Attainment of the Art of Playing the Piano Forte, which was most likely also used by her sisters.
The Nichols Family: An Excellent Lineage
Elizabeth’s “finishing school” education was the preparation for the roles she was predestined to assume within the elite society in which she was raised, that of wife and mother. Meanwhile, the young man to whom she would one day be wed was being educated by a private tutor so that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and attend Yale University.
Effingham Howard Nichols, born on November 17, 1821, was surely considered a suitable match for Elizabeth; he came from a prominent New York family, counting among his ancestors Sir Richard Nichols, the first English Governor of New York. His father, Reverend Samuel Nichols, was an Episcopal clergyman and rector of St. Matthew’s Church in Bedford, New York, where Effingham was born. Effingham Howard Warner, his uncle and namesake, was one of the founders of St. Bartholomew’s Church. His mother, Susan Nexen Warner, was the daughter of millionaire George James Warner, who lived on Fourth Street and the Bowery, and owned a substantial amount of property in the neighborhood, including at one time the land on which the Tredwell home was built.
After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1841, Effingham commenced the study of law, working as a clerk until 1843, when his opened his own law practice at 7 Nassau Street.
A Fashionable Wedding
We do not know when or how Elizabeth was introduced to Effingham. Most likely they met through their parents’ friends or through Seabury’s business associates. Alas, no written record exists of the couple’s courtship and wedding. (For a thorough and revealing discussion of the strict rituals of mid-19th century courtship, see Chapter 9, “A Fine Romance,” in Mary L. Knapp’s An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City,1835-65.)
The couple were wed by the groom’s father on April 9, 1845, at St. Bartholomew’s Church, then located at Great Jones and Lafayette Place. It is likely that after the church ceremony, the Tredwell family hosted a wedding reception for family and friends in their Greek Revival double parlor.
Elizabeth, undoubtedly aware of the new trend begun five years earlier by Queen Victoria upon her wedding to Prince Albert, may have worn a white or cream colored wedding dress. Godey’s Lady’s Book, a popular women’s magazine that was the arbiter of fashion and taste, wrote of the color in 1849:
“It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.”
Custom also dictated the bridal dress be made of satin and the veil be of Brussels lace “… well enough for city drawing-rooms;” the wreath and bouquet be composed of white flowers (although orange blossoms were popular); and white silk stockings and satin slippers finish the bride’s ensemble. Only a wealthy man like Seabury Tredwell would have been able to afford such finery for his daughter.
The Heiress Is Born!
In keeping with the tradition of the time, wherein newlyweds lived with the bride’s family while the groom established his career, the couple resided with Elizabeth’s parents on Fourth Street. Nine years later, on October 30, 1854, their first and only child, Elizabeth Howard “Lillie” Nichols, was born. Elizabeth was 33 years old. Phebe, one of Elizabeth’s sisters, recounted the birth in a surviving letter to her younger sisters, who were at the Tredwell family farm in Rumson, New Jersey:
“The Doctor came at 8 oc in the morning and did not leave until about 8 in the evening. I suppose you are very anxious to see the little stranger, she looks just like the Nichols light hair fair complexion and long fingers just like her daddy. She is the best little thing, and handsomest little creature you ever saw.”
In the early to mid-19th century it would have been highly unusual that nine years would pass before the birth of a couple’s first child. According to historian Judith Walzer Leavitt, in this period an American woman gave birth to an average of seven live children. As motherhood largely defined a woman’s identity, childlessness was usually explained by the high rate of miscarriage and stillbirth during the Antebellum period.
Real Estate Speculator
In addition to his law practice, Effingham became caught up in the mid-19th century Brooklyn real estate boom, in the area now known as the Fort Greene Historic District. Easily accessible to Manhattan by steamboat, the neighborhood attracted the burgeoning middle-class population who took up residence in the new three and four-story brownstone row houses. Between 1851 and 1859, Effingham bought and sold at least seven properties in the area; in 1859, after living for 14 years under Seabury’s roof, Effingham, Elizabeth, and five-year-old Lillie moved to the Brooklyn neighborhood.
Neighbors of the Astors
Between his real estate investments and his law practice, Effingham must have achieved considerable wealth, for in 1864 he followed other members of the fashionable upper class and relocated his family and four Irish servants to a brownstone at 339 Fifth Avenue, at 33rd Street. Several members of the Astor family, including Mr. And Mrs. William Backhouse Astor II, were neighbors at nearby 350 Fifth Avenue (now the site of the Empire State Building), an address that would become the epicenter of New York society, with Caroline Astor as its Queen.
The Nichols’ Fifth Avenue home was known to many Yale graduates for its warm and generous hospitality, for Effingham, described by his colleagues as “a delightful host and companion,” was devoted to his Alma Mater and served actively on the Fairfield County Alumni Association of Yale University. Sadly, the Nichol’s home was one of three brownstones torn down in 1890, nine years after Effingham sold it.
Beginning in 1865, Effingham switched his career path from personal law to corporate counsel for the Pacific Railroad and other large railroad enterprises. His involvement, from 1867 to the spring of 1873, necessitated him spending a large portion of his time in Washington, D.C. He had become a wealthy financier with an outstanding reputation among his peers as “a man of force, who strongly influenced his business associates.”
In his later years, Effingham sold his railroad interests to devote more time to real estate law, and to the management of family interests, notably, the settlement of Seabury’s estate.
Country and City Pastimes
The Nichols family, in addition to spending summers at Greenfield Hill, Connecticut, where Effingham’s extended family resided, vacationed at Leland House, a grand hotel on Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. They clearly left their mark on the town. Effingham was instrumental in the building of St. Andrew’s Chapel, serving as a warden from its founding in 1880 through at least 1885. He also financed the building, in 1870, of the “Effingham,” the first steam-driven commercial freight and passenger boat on Schroon Lake. In the Adirondacks, Effingham cultivated a deep love of the natural world. He also possessed an artistic nature, and was an occasional writer of prose and poetry. In New York City, he was a member of the Union League Club and the London Society of Science and Art, and a Fellow of the National Academy of Design.
Elizabeth’s Health Fails
The frequent trips to Schroon Lake were most likely attempts to restore Elizabeth’s health. We do not know when she developed the chronic bronchitis that would eventually take her life. A letter from Effingham to his father, dated July 27, 1873, from the Adirondack Mountains indicates that at age 52 she was already ill:
“Elizabeth I think is improving a little. Her fever has left her. But her cough still continues.”
In another undated letter, Effingham expresses growing concern about Elizabeth:
“Early in the evening the Doctor (Horne of NY) thought she might not live through the night. But she has rallied some and now he thinks we may be able to move her to NY if she continues to rally for three or four days. Poor Lillie has ten times the nerve that I have. It is very sad indeed.”
“A World of Sorrow”
In 1878, writing to Elizabeth’s sister Julia from Schroon Lake, Effingham’s tone is despairing and melancholy:
“Elizabeth is very, very weak. It is very doubtful about being able to move her. This is indeed a world of sorrow.”
Elizabeth was 58 years old when she died on January 7, 1880, at her home at 339 Fifth Avenue. She was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Lillie was 25 years old at the time of her mother’s death.
In October 1881, Effingham wed Caroline Robins of Metuchen, New Jersey. He and his new wife moved to 620 Fifth Avenue, at 50th Street, and then in 1895 to Park Avenue and 75th Street, where he lived until his death. He died at the age of 77 on November 4, 1899, at his summer home in Greenfield Hill, Connecticut.
Lillie never married; she died in 1944 at the age of 90. It was she who inherited the Tredwell home on Fourth Street after her aunt Gertrude’s death; she then sold it to George Chapman in 1934. Thus the Merchant’s House Museum was born.
Reflecting on his life in an essay published in University Magazine in 1892, Effingham wrote:
“Providence has thus far dealt gently with me. I have met with fortune and misfortune, with days of sorrow and days of rejoicing; but my blessings have been greater than I deserved.”
A Lasting Union
Although we have no written testimony that sheds light on the marriage of Elizabeth and Effingham, it is apparent from his letters and work on their behalf that Effingham bore deep affection and concern for his wife and her family. The marriage, ended only by death, lasted 35 years.
In 1868, Effingham Howard Nichols had had the distinction of having a town, Effingham, Kansas, named in his honor. As a promoter of the Central Branch Union Pacific Railroad, he was instrumental in the growth of the town. Effingham no doubt was privileged to name at least three of the streets, for they bear the names Seabury, Howard, and most endearingly, Elizabeth.
- ancestry.com. U.S. Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930. New York Evening Post, 11 April, 1845. Accessed online 3/30/17.
- ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Accessed online 3/30/17.
- Godey’s Lady’s Book. “Etiquette of Trousseau,” August, 1849. www.godeysladysbook.com. Accessed online 4/3/17.
- King, Greg. A Season of Splendor: The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009.
- Knapp, Mary. An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City, 1835-65. New York: Girandole Books, 2012.
- Levitt, Judith Walzer. Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750-1950. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
- New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Fort Greene Historic District Designation Report. September 26, 1978. www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/FortGreene_DR.pdf. Accessed online 3/31/17.
- Nichols Family Papers, 1810-1833. Manuscript Collection, New-York Historical Society.
- Post-Standard, 28 September 1972, p. 30. www.newspapers.com. Accessed online 4/4/17.
- Proceedings of the New York State Bar Association. Albany, New York, January 15-16, 1901, p. 364. Accessed online 4/4/17.
- Town & Country, Vol 79, p.14., September 1, 1922. Accessed online 3/29/17.
- Yale University. Obituary Records of the Graduates of Yale University Deceased from June,1890 – June, 1900. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1902, p. 672. Accessed online 3/29/17.
- Yale University. University Magazine, Vol. 4, 1892, p. 49-51. Effingham Nichols File, Merchant’s House Museum Archives.
- Yale University Class of 1841. Semi-centennial Historical and Biographical Record. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1892, p.152-156. Accessed online 3/29/17.
by Ann Haddad
An Abundance of Daughters
By anyone’s measure in antebellum New York City, the Tredwell daughters would have been viewed as highly desirable marriage prospects. As the children of Seabury Tredwell, a wealthy merchant with a fine home in the elite Bond Street neighborhood, they stood to inherit a portion of their father’s estimable worth. They counted among their social circle other members of the New York City upper class, and would have mingled with many eligible young men at the frequent soirées held at one another’s homes, or at other socially acceptable venues.
The Museum archives contain several items, including dance cards and playbills, that provide a glimpse of the Tredwell daughters’ social whirl. One is a silver Valentine’s Day dance card from the “Junior Bachelor’s Third and Last Soirée,” dated February 14, 1849. The lovely dresses in the Museum’s collection that belonged to the sisters indicate that they had the means and the sophisticated taste to keep up with fashion trends.
A Gentleman Caller
Gertrude Ellsworth Tredwell, born in 1840, was the youngest child of Seabury and Eliza. Family lore has it that when she was a young woman, Gertrude had a suitor whose name was Luis Walton. We don’t know if Luis ever had the opportunity to enter the Tredwells’ formal Greek Revival parlor to meet Gertrude’s father, and perhaps ask for her hand in marriage; however, we can be fairly certain the young man had three strikes against him. First, Luis’ father was a physician, from England. Physicians, especially those trained in England, were held in much lower esteem than they are today. Moreover, Seabury, a believer in homeopathy (see my blog post of October 18, 2016), might well have cringed at the idea of an allopath like Luis’s father becoming a member of his family. Second, Luis and his family were Roman Catholic. The Tredwell family came from a long line of staunch Episcopalians, and anti-Catholic prejudice ran deep in antebellum New York.
Finally, his mother was Irish; well, the Tredwell servants were Irish! The Irish were on the lowest rung of the social ladder; the contempt towards members of this large immigrant group was strenuous and prevalent. Surely, Luis could not expect to meet Seabury’s high standards of eligibility for Gertrude’s hand in marriage. And so, after his brief appearance on the Tredwell stage, Luis Walton vanished forever. Or did he?
A Liverpool Lad
Luis Puertas Richard Walton was born in Liverpool, England on November 18, 1840. The England census record of 1841 indicates that at the time of Luis’s birth, the family had a boarder named Luis Puertas, who was listed as a “cigar dealer from foreign parts.” This must have been Luis Walton’s namesake!
Luis’s father, Henry Christmas Walton, was a licensed physician and apothecary. His mother, Elizabeth, was from Ireland. In 1849, Luis was baptized Roman Catholic at the Church of St. Peter in Liverpool.
A Neighborhood Boy
Life must have been difficult for the Walton family, for in 1844 Dr. Henry Walton declared bankruptcy in London. This may be what compelled him to immigrate to New York City in 1850 with his wife and four children, when Luis was 10 years old. The family’s first identified residence was on 590 Houston Street, on the corner of Mercer Street, a short walk from the Tredwell home on East Fourth Street. From there they moved to West 10th Street. By 1860, the family was comfortably ensconced in their own home on 37 West 16th Street, with five servants in their employ, indicating that the family’s financial situation must have vastly improved. We don’t know if Seabury was aware of their good fortune, but the young man’s religious and cultural disadvantages most likely prevailed in Seabury’s consideration of him as a potential son-in-law.
On to Medical School
We can only guess that Gertrude and Luis, living in such close proximity to one another, met somewhere in the neighborhood through mutual friends. We don’t know if they saw each other once Seabury expressed his disapproval. Luis may have been discouraged, but he clearly wanted to make something of his life. He pursued an education at Columbia College (then at Madison Avenue and 49th Street), earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1861, and three years later a Masters of Arts degree from the same institution. In 1870, after a two year course of study, he received his M.D. from the prestigious Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (then located at 4th Avenue and 23rd Street). His father was one of his preceptors during his medical training.
A Successful Medical Career
Luis became a successful physician in New York City. After medical school, he resided and practiced for several years on West 17th Street; he then lived at various residences in the West 30s, until his final move to 73 West 50th Street, where he lived and maintained a lucrative general practice until his death. No doubt he followed his well-off private patients as they moved further uptown. He was a member of the Medical Society of the County of New York (1888-1903), as well as the New York Clinical Society.
Friendship with Edward Livingston Trudeau
In addition to his private practice, Luis served as an Attending Physician at both the Northern Dispensary (at Christopher Street and Waverly Place), and the Demilt Dispensary (at Second Avenue and East 23rd Street), charitable institutions that provided care to the poor and destitute of New York City. One of his colleagues at Demilt, who co-taught a class on diseases of the chest, was public health pioneer Edward Livingston Trudeau (1848-1915). Trudeau, himself a victim of tuberculosis, would in 1885 establish a famous sanatorium for victims of the disease in Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains and, several years later, the first laboratory in the United States dedicated to the study of tuberculosis. In his autobiography, Trudeau makes frequent mention of Luis Walton, and credits his friend with drawing his attention to the work of the German physician Dr. Hermann Brehmer in establishing the practice of open-air treatment for tuberculosis. On a more personal level, Trudeau reveals Walton’s frequent calls and assistance during his bouts of illness:
“Dr. Walton was the greatest comfort at that time, and assured me he would look after my wife and ‘those dreadful little Trudeau brats,’ and he certainly kept his word. Walton all through the summer made regular pilgrimages to Little Neck [where Trudeau’s family stayed while he was recuperating in the Adirondacks], and reported to me of their welfare, while assuring me what a nuisance it was to have to look after another man’s family.”
Oh, to Be in England
Luis clearly loved the country of his birth. An avid Anglophile, he was a member of the prestigious St. George’s Society of New York, a charitable organization that offered assistance to those born under the British flag. He also made frequent excursions to London, where he was a member of the elite Bath Club in Piccadilly. On September 8, 1903, after a swim at the Club, Luis died suddenly. He was 62 years old. His death was attributed to longstanding heart disease. He was buried at Kendal Green Cemetery in London. He left his estate to his surviving sister, Lucy Walton Mooney. The obituaries in professional journals that appeared at his death indicate that he was a highly esteemed physician, with a kindly manner and a deep compassion for his patients.
We do not know the extent to which Gertrude and Luis maintained any relationship through the years. They must have corresponded with one another, for Gertrude referred to him in a letter to her nephew John T. Richards, dated November 18, 1924:
“You know Dr. Walton had “Angina Pectoris” but he lived for years with it – Strained himself climbing the Alps.”
Gertrude also kept in touch with at least one member of Luis’s family. The law firm hired by Gertrude and Julia to manage the estate of Sarah and Phebe Tredwell upon their deaths in 1906 and 1907 was Blandy, Mooney, and Shipman. The Mooney is Edmund Luis Mooney, a nephew of Luis Walton, who was with him in London at the time of his death. Coincidence? What do you think?
Assuming that Seabury’s disapproval of Luis is what precipitated the young man’s disappearance from Gertrude’s life, what kept the couple apart after Seabury’s death in 1865? Why did Gertrude never marry? Tradition has it that she vowed that if she couldn’t wed Luis, she would never marry. Perhaps her mother and older siblings were as much against the marriage as her father had been. Gertrude may have been reluctant to go against his wishes and the predominant Protestant culture of affluence and gentility in which she was raised. Or maybe the answer is simply that she never fell in love with any man after Luis. Whatever their reasons, there is one certainty: neither Gertrude, nor Luis, ever married.
While researching Luis Walton, his 1861 graduate photograph was located in the Class Photograph Albums Collection at Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Museum staff recognized him from a previously unidentified photo in the collection (pictured above). We don’t know how the carte-de-visite of Luis came to be in the Tredwell home, but it remained there for the rest of Gertrude’s life. Valentine’s Day is the perfect occasion to celebrate the star-crossed love story of Gertrude and Luis!
- ancestry.com England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. Accessed 7/29/14.
- ancestry.com England Census, 1841. Accessed 7/31/14.
- ancestry.com New York, State Census, 1855. Accessed 7/29/14.
- ancestry.com United States Federal Census, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900. Accessed 7/31/14.
- ancestry.com U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989: 1902, 1903. Accessed 7/27/14.
- ancestry.com Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929, JAMA Citation: 1903:41:736. Accessed 7/27/14.
- ancestry.com U.S. School Catalogues, 1765-1935: 1857-1861. Accessed 7/21/14.
- “Apothecaries Hall.” Lancet. Volume 1, p. 167. Accessed 7/21/14.
- “Bankrupts.” archive.thetablet.uk, pg. 8, 17 August, 1844. Accessed 7/21/14.
- College of Physicians and Surgeons. Catalogue of the Alumni, Officers, and Fellows 1807-1880, p. 122. Archives & Special Collections, A.C. Long Health Sciences Library, Columbia University Medical Center.
- College of Physicians and Surgeons. Student Registers 1863-64 – 1878-79. Archives & Special Collections, A.C. Long Health Sciences Library, Columbia University Medical Center.
- College of Physicians and Surgeons. Graduates of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Annual Catalog, 1870, p. 16. Archives & Special Collections, A.C. Long Health Sciences Library, Columbia University Medical Center.
- Columbia University. Class Photograph Albums Collection 1856-1902, UA#0131, Bib. ID 10278078, Box 79, 1861. Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Butler Library, Columbia University.
- Medical Directory of the City of New York. New York: Medical Society of the City of New York, 1887-1900.
- Medical Register of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, 1872, p.158, 159.
- New England Journal of Medicine. Volume 149, September 17th, 1903, p. 332.
- newspaperarchive.com. London Standard, Friday, September 11th, 1903, p.7.
- newspaperarchive.com. London Monitor and New Era. Friday, September 18th, 1903, p. 11.
- Records of the Northern Dispensary, 1827-1955. Series 1, Box 3. New York University Archives, Bobst Library, New York University.
- St. George’s Society. A History of St. George’s Society of New York from 1770 to 1913. New York, [St. George’s Society], 1913.
- Trudeau, Edward Livingston. An Autobiography. New York: Doubleday, Doran, and Company, 1915.
by Esther Crain
Our thanks to guest blogger Esther Crain.
Esther Crain, a native New Yorker, is the author of 2016’s The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910 (Hachette) and the New-York Historical Society’s New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age (Black Dog & Leventhal) published in 2014. She is the founder and editor behind Ephemeral New York, a website that chronicles the city’s past, which was been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times, New York Daily News, and New York Post.
Introducing the New Woman
They began appearing in the 1890s: young women, their hair pinned back or piled in loose waves under elaborate hats, striding confidently down Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Dispensing with the petticoats and heavy corsets that weighed their mothers down a generation earlier, these middle- and upper-class women dressed in crisp, high-collared shirtwaists and long tailored skirts—garments which scandalously rose several inches off the ground when they pedaled a bicycle on Riverside Drive or strolled along gusty 23rd Street.
This army of “new women,” as they were called, embraced the progressive thinking of the later Gilded Age. Not content to be confined to the sphere of the home, they took part in the social world of theaters and restaurants. Some attended new women’s colleges like Hunter and Barnard. Many pursued something of a career: in settlement houses, as typists, or in the arts. Perhaps they lived independently. “Bachelor girl” apartments were the latest fad reported by the press, which was endlessly fascinated by the New Woman’s comings and goings.
A City Captivated
“There had been much said in the newspapers concerning the New Woman and what kind of creature she was,” stated the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in March 1895. “The pictorial papers had ridiculed her, showing her standing at bars drinking on street corners smoking cigars. This ridicule, however, would not prevent the coming of the New Woman. She would occupy any and every place, which an intelligent human being could fill: the bar, the pulpit, the legislative hall, and will be found in every trade and profession.”
Older generations were shocked by her self-reliance and sense of purpose in the wider city. Her male counterparts took her autonomy in stride and enjoyed her propensity to play tennis and ride a bike. Cultural critics worried about her morals. Pioneering women’s rights activists largely cheered her on. “The finest achievement of the new woman has been personal liberty,” wrote writer and champion of women’s freedom Winnifred Harper Cooley in 1904.
What Did Gertrude Tredwell Think?
The New Woman must have been an alien creature to Gertrude Tredwell. Born in 1840, Gertrude was a product of a much smaller New York that barely extended past Union Square. At the time of her birth, the city’s population hovered at approximately 300,000; by 1860, about half a million more people inhabited New York, including immigrants largely from Ireland and Germany whose lives were vastly different than that of the Tredwell family.
In the pre-Civil War city, men of means like Gertrude’s merchant father, Seabury Tredwell, occupied the outside worlds of business and politics and could freely enjoy restaurants, saloons, and sports. Women like herself, her mother, and her sisters were supposed to be “the angel of the home,” raising children, managing her household, and influencing the moral development of her family.
Like the typical New Woman, Gertrude was born into comfortable financial circumstances. But the comparison ends there. The New Woman was determined to develop independence and live freely, her movement and safety enhanced by electric streetlights and the new whirring cable cars. Gertrude, on the other hand, didn’t leave the Tredwell home. She came into the world at 29 East Fourth Street, grew up in an enclave of wealth and refinement, and died in the same house, amid a much shabbier neighborhood, 93 years later.
The Fight for Equal Rights
Within the span of Gertrude Tredwell’s life, the equal rights era that led to the New Woman was ushered in. After the Civil War, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony relaunched their fight for women’s rights, including the right to the vote. Working from an office on Newspaper Row, Stanton and Anthony published their weekly paper, Revolution. (“Men their rights, and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less” was the motto.) They spoke out at lecture halls like Cooper Union at Cooper Square and Steinway Hall, on East 14th Street, both not far from the Tredwell home.
As the Gilded Age continued, individual women made strides. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the nation’s first female doctor, opened a medical school for women. Despite the fact that she was legally barred from voting, Victoria Woodhull announced her quest to be the first woman president and ran on the new Equal Rights party ticket. Josephine Shaw Lowell founded the city’s Charity Organization Society. Nelly Bly and Alice Austen pioneered a type of journalism that called for social changes. Lillian Wald and Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch founded settlement houses and sparked a wider movement to boost opportunities for women and children.
The Working Girl Makes Her Entrance
Rising at the same time as the Equal Rights movement and this new professional class of women was another Gilded Age female archetype: the working girl. With men off on the battlefields during the Civil War, women took their place. These young, often immigrant women toiled in factories, clerked in offices, cooked and cleaned in private homes, and acted as shop girls in the dry goods emporiums of Ladies Mile. After the end of the war, they continued to work. In 1869, one-fourth of all women in New York did paid labor, according to the New York Herald.
Upper class women tended to be indifferent to them. (“While yet your breakfast is progressing, and your toilet is unmade, comes forth through Chatham Street and the Bowery, a long procession of them by twos and threes to their daily labor,” wrote Fannie Fern in an 1868 essay aimed at the middle class.) Even so, the mass of working women changed the look of the city, joining men in streetcars on the way to work in the morning and back to their family home or boardinghouse when the day was done. They were the subject of plays and popular songs. No labor laws mandated that women and men in the same job get equal paychecks, so they were paid less. Harassment on the job was a problem, as was unscrupulous male bosses who wouldn’t pay up. To help, the Working Women’s Protective Union formed in 1863. Located on Bleecker Street, it was a few blocks—but worlds away—from the Tredwell home.
The Suffragist Hits the Streets
As women’s presence and power increased in New York, many coalesced behind one main goal: the right to vote. In the 1900s and 1910s, suffrage supporters rallied in Union Square and held many parades on Fifth Avenue that were catnip to the media, always obsessed with the New Woman and her sisters in arms. In 1912, about 10,000 parade marchers demanded the vote. In 1915, the number of marchers swelled to 40,000. In 1917, New York voters gave women the right to cast their ballots—three years before the 19th amendment was ratified.
Did Gertrude register to vote along with more than 414,760 women from New York State following the 1917 decision? No. But it’s hardly surprising. She would have been 77 years old by then, a member of the 19th century wealthy merchant class now living in the progressive 20th century, when the city’s population was closing in on 5 million. Her last surviving sister died in 1909, leaving Gertrude impoverished and alone.
Surely she was aware of the enormous changes in the status of women in her lifetime. She must have read newspaper accounts of Stanton and Anthony; certainly she came across the New Woman, striding along Broadway or socializing with friends. Gertrude likely watched shop girls head to factories and store counters from her window on East Fourth Street, now a rougher-edged neighborhood that was less residential and bent toward light manufacturing. What did she think of them and the new world women inhabited? If only the Merchant’s House walls could talk.
Tredwell family research contributed by William Herrlich.
by Ann Haddad
An Elite Education for the Tredwell Children
Like other affluent New Yorkers, Seabury and Eliza Tredwell chose to send their children to private day and boarding schools. Although little is known about their elder son Horace’s education, we do know that Samuel Lenox was sent to the prestigious St. Paul’s College in College Point, New York (see my blog post of September 2016). The six Tredwell daughters attended private neighborhood schools, including Mrs. Okill’s Academy on nearby Clinton Street (now 8th Street), and Miss Gibson’s School on Union Square.
The Calamity of Ignorance
Most New York City children who were fortunate enough to receive an education, however, did so at one of the many church-based charity schools, or by the nondenominational New York Free School Society (FSS), which was founded in 1805 to provide a free education to the city’s poor children whose families were not connected with any religious organization. DeWitt Clinton, then Mayor of New York City, who spearheaded the Free School Movement, said of the importance of educating the poor:
“The necessity was so pressing, the calamity of ignorance so appalling, that the problem of removing the crying shame could not be set aside or postponed.”
By 1825, aided by public funding, the FSS had educated nearly 20,000 children.
Falling Through the Cracks
Despite these successful efforts by the churches and by private philanthropy to provide children with free education, roughly 43,000 other youth, largely from indigent households, fell through the cracks. Neglected and living in poverty, they did not attend school; instead, these “loafers” and “ragamuffins” roamed the streets, often taking up lives of petty theft and vagrancy. If arrested and imprisoned, even for minor infractions, these young offenders were indiscriminately incarcerated with adults in overcrowded and rundown prisons; this disastrous combination resulted in many juveniles returning to society as hardened criminals. The conditions of the City Prison, commonly known as Bridewell, was described as follows:
“In rooms about 18 feet square, there are often thirty or forty persons, confined together, without any discrimination except that of sex and color – boys of nine years of age and upwards, sharing the same dismal fare, and mingling in conversation with aged villainy, – and girls of ten or twelve exposed to the company and example of of the most abandoned of the sex.”
The House of Refuge
In 1824, a group of wealthy and philanthropic New Yorkers, including Cadwallader D. Colden (1769-1834), a former Mayor of New York City, recognized the need to establish a facility where young petty offenders could be segregated from adults criminals, to avoid “the contamination of youth by vicious associations.” On January 1, 1825, after raising $20,000 through private donations, the House of Refuge for Juvenile Delinquents opened its doors on Broadway (then Bloomingdale Road) and 23rd Street, in a former Federal arsenal. The first institution of its kind in America, the House of Refuge sought to rescue poor and destitute children from lives of delinquency. The outgrowth of the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, the House of Refuge was privately managed, but supported in part by New York State and City funds.
Under the supervision of Joseph Curtis, the institution opened with an enrollment of three boys and six girls. By 1832, it had outgrown its accommodations and moved to 23rd Street and the East River. It’s next and final move occurred in 1854, when it relocated to a facility on Randall’s Island that could accommodate 1,200 children.
Habits of Industry
The institution accepted children under the age of 16, referred by the judicial system or their own families, who were rehabilitated through a strict daily program of school, work, and prayer. Their education, managed by five teachers, included instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, with occasional music lessons. Religious instruction on the Sabbath was provided by the Chaplain and the Head Teacher. Undoubtedly many of the students had received little or no prior religious instruction, for one teacher of boys, T.C. McKennee, wrote in 1845:
“I had not expected to find, in the nineteenth century, and in the city of New-York, so many children so entirely ignorant of the fundamental doctrines of the christian religion.”
By all accounts, the food at the House of Refuge was nourishing and adequate. The children were fed meat once daily. In 1860, one New York Times reporter commented,
“We are inclined to believe that the food, both in quality and quantity, is better than that of the laboring classes generally.”
All children admitted to the House of Refuge were “trained in habits of industry.” Boys were instructed in such useful trades as shoemaking, tailoring, and chair caning. Girls learned cooking, sewing, and clothing and bedding manufacturing. Any child who rebelled against the strict rules of the institution (and records indicate there were a good number), or tried to escape was subjected to corporeal punishment: whipping; placement in solitary confinement; and the use of leg irons were commonly employed. Black children were not accepted at the institution until 1833.
Charles Dickens Approves
Visitors to the House of Refuge, including Charles Dickens and Frances Trollope, were greatly impressed with the work of the institution. Dickens, in his American Notes (1842), called it a “noble charity,” and a “meritorious and admirable establishment,” which is “always under the vigilant examination of a body of gentlemen of great intelligence and experience.” Deemed a great success, the institution admitted over 1,678 boys and girls between 1825 and 1835. In 1860 alone, 560 children were in attendance.
Out into the World
Once deemed “reformed,” a resident was then either apprenticed to a trade or returned to his parents (the latter group being those who were most frequently returned for another round of reform). When discharged to their apprenticeships, residents were given a letter that included the following words of advice:
“If you make yourself master of your business, are diligent in your calling, establish a character for truth, honesty, industry and sobriety, you cannot fail to obtain a comfortable living, and to be beloved and respected.”
The House of Refuge boasted in their Annual Reports that within 3 to 5 years after discharge, 75 percent of those “reformed” were practicing a trade.
Seabury Supports the House of Refuge
With his donation of $25 in 1824, Seabury Tredwell became one of the inaugural donors to the House of Refuge. For the following three years he, along with his brothers Adam and George, donated $20; thereafter his donation amounted to $5 annually, earning him inclusion on the list of “Life Subscribers and Donors.”
The House of Refuge closed in 1935. As a pioneer in the concept of juvenile reformatories, it made a lasting impact on the juvenile justice system, and in its early years served as a model for the establishment of reformatories in many other American cities.
On February 21, 1852, Miss Susan N., a former resident of the House of Refuge then apprenticed as a domestic servant, wrote the following to her former matron at the House:
“Mr. and Mrs. S use me as their own daughter, and I feel happy. Tell the girls I hope they will listen to all the good advice I know they receive from day to day. As my time is out in about 8 months, I expect to spend Thanksgiving with you in the Refuge, if nothing happens.”
No doubt Miss Susan N. hoped that at the end of her apprenticeship, she would be asked to remain permanently at the home of her employers. I wonder what her options would be if they did not. We have no way of knowing how things turned out for this young girl, but we may imagine that Susan rang in the New Year of 1853 with some measure of happiness in the fact that she had found a situation with a good family who treated her with respect, support, and perhaps even love. May 2017 bring us all as much!
- Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Dickens, Charles. American Notes. New York: John W. Lovell Company, 1842. www.archive.org. Accessed 01/05/17.
- Hart, Nathaniel C. Documents Relative to the House of Refuge. New York: Mahlon Day, 1832. https://archives.org/details/documentsrelativ00soci_0. Accessed 11/14/16.
- Knapp, Mary. An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City, 1835-65. New York: Girandole Books, 2012.
- “Our City Charities: the New-York House of Refuge for Juvenile Delinquents.” The New York Times Archive. January 23, 1860. www.nytimes.com. Accessed 11/14/16.
- Palmer, A. Emerson. The New York Public School. New York: Macmillan Company, 1905. www.archive.org. Accessed 1/3/17.
- Pierce, B.K. A Half Century with Juvenile Delinquents; The New York House of Refuge and Its Times. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1869. www.archive.org. Accessed 11/14/16.
- Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, N.Y.C. Account Book 1841-1846. New York Historical Society Manuscript Collection.
by Ann Haddad
The Tredwells’ Good Genes
Between 1821 and 1840, Seabury Tredwell’s wife, Eliza, gave birth to eight children. Considering the primitive medical care available in the antebellum period, and the resulting high rate of infant and childhood mortality, it is remarkable all of the Tredwell children lived to adulthood. Gratitude for their good fortune in light of the risks associated with childbirth may have been the impetus behind the Tredwells’ decision to support the New York Asylum for Lying-In Women (NYALIW).
Poor, Widowed, Abandoned Women
By the turn of the 19th century, many women found themselves struggling alone to support themselves and their children. Two major yellow fever epidemics, in 1795 and 1798, left many of them widowed. The influx of immigrants to New York City led to a population boom, but jobs were scarce for this group.
Husbands frequently needed to travel far from the city in search of employment. Some never returned. The incidence of alcoholism among the poor increased. As a result, many pregnant women lacked traditional family support, especially when assistance was needed as the time of their confinement approached.
It is ironic that, although America began to take on a sentimental attitude toward motherhood in the late 18th century, moralistic and religious convictions found many pregnant women, especially unwed ones, with no other recourse for medical care except the almshouse at Bellevue Hospital. “Respectable” women sought to avoid this institution, however, as it had a reputation for being a haven for prostitutes and other “degraded” women.
Wealthy Women to the Rescue
In the early 1820s, wealthy women began to focus their reform efforts on women’s causes, such as education and improved health care. In 1823, a group of benevolent women led by Mrs. Arthur Tappan, wife of the abolitionist Arthur Tappan, established the New York Asylum for Lying-In Women. Its aim was to provide temporary accommodations and skilled medical assistance to poor but “reputable” women during their confinement. “Reputable” in this case meant married; in fact, all applicants were screened by a committee, and were required to furnish a marriage certificate and character references to be considered for admission.
Once admitted, a woman was supplied with a bible and a list of rules, which stipulated that she could not leave the building, could not receive visitors, and could not remain longer than four weeks after delivery. Alcohol was forbidden; that which was used for medicinal purposes was kept in a locked cabinet. Emphasis was placed on order, morals, and obedience. To emphasize their noble mission, the board of the NYALIW included the following passage from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in their first Annual Report:
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven
Upon the place beneath: It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
By Women, for Women
Although it employed a resident male physician, the NYALIW was unique in that it was managed and run by women: it had an all-female board, and barred male medical students from entering the institution. Births were attended by either a midwife or the matron. Postpartum care and vaccination of all newborns against smallpox were provided before discharge.
The charity’s first home was the Square Ward of New York Hospital, then located on Broadway between Anthony Street (now Duane Street) and Catherine Street (now Worth Street), which opened for admissions on November 1, 1823. The first patient was Catherine Martin, the wife of a weaver, John G. Martin, who had left his wife three months previous to look for work. Mrs. Martin was admitted on the 21st of November, and gave birth to a healthy child. She was discharged on January 1, 1824.
The Tredwells Support NYALIW
Within a few years the NYALIW outgrew its ward at New York Hospital, and sought donations for the purchase of larger quarters. In 1825, Seabury Tredwell was among the first group of donors, giving $24; the amount collected enabled the charity to move to larger facilities on Greene Street. In 1830, the charity had garnered sufficient funds to relocate to a three story building on 83 Marion Street (now Lafayette Street), where it remained until its move in 1885 to 139 Second Avenue, between 8th and 9th Streets, in the heart of the 14th Ward.
In 1832, Seabury once again donated to the NYALIW. His $25 subscription made him an “Honorable Member for Life,” along with other prominent citizens such as Joseph Brewster, Philip Hone, Duncan Phyfe, and Benjamin and George W. Strong. No doubt the Tredwells felt strongly about this cause, because from 1828 to 1861 Eliza Tredwell, an Annual Subscriber, donated $3-$5/year.
As a Subscriber, Seabury was permitted to recommend two women per year to the institution. One supporter who wrote a letter of recommendation for a woman in need was John J. Connor, who wrote the following:
“The bearer Ann Brennen whose husband is a poor laborer and unable to provide now for her is an honest and reputable person and I therefore recommend her to the humanity of the Managers of the N.Y. Asylum for Lying in women.
Mulberry 263. John J. Connor
Saturday March 8th 1834″
One story in the NYALIW’s minutes, which is typical of the circumstances that befell many poor women, is that of Mrs. Anne Croaker, who applied for admission on September 13, 1828. Her husband, who had worked as a locksmith for seven years for a Mr. Pye, had recently died. His death was hastened by a dose of arsenic, which was sold in error by the druggist. Mrs. Croaker, left completely destitute, lived with her five young children in a room on Canal Street, which had been loaned by a friend. The Admissions Committee visited Mr. Pye, who vouched for Mrs. Croaker’s character; he stated that she was forced to “sell her most valuable things to procure comforts for him [Mr. Croaker] during his illness.” Mr. Pye generously offered to provide for the children during their mother’s confinement.
Women seeking relief came from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and outlying parts of New York State. Mrs. Collin Reed, a wealthy New Yorker who served on the Admissions Committee for NYALIW in 1824 and 1825, noted the following in her ledger book:
“Received in the lying-in Ward Eliza Robinson of Connecticut, Litchfield. In case of her death, her infant is to be sent to her friend. [Eliza is] clean and tidy, but very destitute. She supports herself by taking work from the slop shops. Received on the 18th of May, left June 6th.”
In 1831, due to the insufficient numbers of married women who were seeking assistance at the doors of NYALIW, the institution broadened its admission requirements to include unmarried women. It also began making home visits to extend its outreach. For several years previous, however, some committee members had begun to overlook the questionable tales of woe and the dubious marriage certificates furnished by some applicants; thus a number of unmarried women were permitted to enter.
NYALIW’s Employment Agency
Upon their discharge, the administration sought to place unmarried women as wet nurses in respectable families for one-year periods. After careful screening at the time of admission, observation throughout their confinement, and physical examination by a physician at the time of delivery, the charity was able to offer a guarantee of the health and character of the wet nurses hired by prospective upper class families. In 1828, NYALIW proudly announced that “Of fifty who have been discharged from the house…23 have obtained places as wet nurses in respectable families.” No mention was made of the fact, however, that these women most likely would have had to find a wet nurse for their own infants.
At its 48th annual meeting, held on April 19, 1871, NYALIW reported that since opening its doors, it had gratuitously assisted 16,329 women. It noted that in 1870, 86 patients had been treated at the Asylum, and 188 more at their homes.
In 1894, NYASIW changed its name to the Old Marion Street Maternity Hospital; in 1899, it merged with the New York Infant Asylum. The charity ultimately became the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department of New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.
A Christmas Recipe from 1825
Like many 19th century women, Mrs. Reed, NYALIW’s Admission Committee Member, used her manuscript ledger as a recipe book as well as a diary and account book. Here is her recipe for a festive “Rich Plum Cake”:
Of flour, butter and sugar 3 pounds each, 2 doz eggs, 4 lb and a half of currents 6 lb of raisins, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg each ounce 1/4 oz of cloves, 2 tablespoon full of ginger 2 gills of wine, 1/2 pound of citron.
Wishing you a joyous holiday season! Merry Christmas!
- “Anniversary of the New-York Asylum for Lying-In Women.” New York Times. April 20th, 1871, p. 2. timesmachine.nytimes.com. Accessed 12/6/16.
- Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Golden, Janet. A Social History of Wet Nursing in America: From Breast to Bottle. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
- Managers of the New York Asylum for Lying-In Women. Annual Reports, 1824-1855. www.archive.org Accessed 11/15/16.
- Minutes, 1823 Nov. 1-1831 Feb. 28. New York Asylum for Lying In Women. BV 89584. New York Historical Society Manuscript Collection.
- New York Asylum for Lying-In Women Materials. Delaplaine Family Papers. 89638. Box 4, Folder 9. New York Historical Society Manuscript Collection.
- Quiroga, Virginia A. Metaxas. Poor Mothers and Babies: A Social History of Childbirth and Child Care in Nineteenth Century New York City. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989.
- Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1.
by Ann Haddad
In one of the memorable scenes in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (published in 1843), Ebenezer Scrooge is visited in his counting-house on Christmas Eve by two gentlemen, who are soliciting funds to “furnish Christian cheer” for the poor and destitute. It is essential to do so at Christmas, when “Want is most keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”
The men consult a list, which probably contains the names of the wealthy merchants in the area, who might be encouraged to demonstrate their “liberality,” and dig into their pockets. As we all know, the solicitors are sent out of Scrooge’s office empty handed, for the old skinflint insists that the poor turn to the government run workhouses and prisons, institutions his tax money supports, for assistance.
(Don’t take my word for it: see the Summoners Ensemble Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol in our own Greek Revival parlor, decorated for the holidays, from December 6-24).
Growth of Reform
The period of economic growth, industrialization, and massive immigration in New York City following the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 led to a great disparity between the wealthy and the working classes, who struggled to survive amidst rising poverty, crime, and disease. Out of moral obligation, philanthropic reformers, including private, evangelical, and mainstream Christian, sought to provide relief and heal society’s ills by establishing countless charities that supported a variety of social causes, some as a direct response to devastating events. For example, the Panic of 1837, a financial crisis in which many lost their jobs or even their entire fortunes overnight, left over 10,000 unemployed city residents with no recourse but to turn to the Central Committee for the Relief of the Suffering Poor, a newly formed government charity. The efforts proved unsustainable, however, due to the huge numbers of the needy, coupled with the influx of poor immigrants.
During the Christmas season, it was customary for the affluent to lavish gifts not only on family members, but also on the impoverished and overlooked poor. Benevolent societies seized upon the sentiments of gratitude and generosity evoked by the season to promote their causes among the wealthy.
Seabury Was No Scrooge
Had A Christmas Carol been set in New York City rather than London, the two gentlemen in search of donations would surely have visited Seabury Tredwell in his hardware store on Pearl Street. As a prosperous merchant, Seabury would have been included on the potential donor lists of the many charitable organizations that existed in the city. In all likelihood, Seabury would have sent the kindly gentlemen away happy, for research has revealed that he supported several charitable institutions throughout most of his adult life. In light of the the holiday season and its consideration as a time of charitable giving, this three-part blog post will focus on those charities that the Tredwell family supported. The first is the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.
New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP)
As a reaction to the failures of what they perceived to be defective charitable endeavors, a group of prominent New York businessmen examined the European models of poverty relief. They concluded that due to the lack in oversight of the distribution of charity many imposters were benefitting from the relief intended only for the needy and deserving. In addition, they believed the charitable needed to be educated in ways of giving that would be more beneficial to the recipients.
In 1843, led by Robert Milham Hartley (1796-1881), the group established the New York Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor (AICP). Hartley believed that the failure of other charitable institutions could be attributed to their lack of discrimination when giving relief; their failure to communicate with one another; and their lack of personal intercourse with the recipients of alms at their homes.
According to its constitution and by-laws, the aim of the AICP was “the elevation of the moral and physical condition of the indigent; and so far as compatible with these objects, the relief of their necessities.” The directors emphasized that charity without moral reform was useless; poverty was the result, not of a failed economic system, but of moral lassitude, which could be rectified by the introduction of values such as self-reliance and pride in one’s efforts; and the promotion of worthy habits such as temperance, industry, and frugality. The AICP devised an elaborate system for the equitable distribution of relief to the “worthy poor.” In this way, they would be able to weed out the fraudulent, or, to separate the “precious from the vile.”
Divide and Conquer
Under the AICP’s organization, the city’s existing 17 wards, or “Districts,” which extended from the Battery to 40th Street, were divided into several hundred sections. Each section had a volunteer “visitor,” who, armed with a “Manual of Rules and Instructions,” was charged with identifying the poor families in need of relief. After ascertaining that the families were truly needy and of good moral character, the visitor was to extend services, provide counsel, and investigate other religious and charitable societies that might be able to assist. Giving money was forbidden, especially to the intemperate. When no other help was available, they were then to draw from the resources of the AICP, but only to purchase food, fuel, or clothing.
Those who failed to pass through the “vast sieve” of necessary criteria to receive assistance were dispatched to the appropriate city agencies. Many of the ill and insane were sent to Bellevue; those who were reconciled to lives of pauperism were sent to the almshouse.
To prevent abuse of the system, the AICP established a central registry of poor families who had received assistance. Visitors were encouraged to engage in “friendly intercourse” with families under their care, and to be an example of the morality they wished the poor to espouse. The AICP described itself as:
“the hand-maid of Christianity, in its endeavors to meliorate the condition of the indigent.”
From 1842-45, the AICP spent nearly $28,000 to aid 8,013 applicants. In addition to the visitor program, it initiated other efforts to improve the conditions in the poor neighborhoods, including the opening of a dispensary, a bathhouse, and a bank. Later reforms focused on children’s health, truancy, the provision of pure milk, and sanitation. In addition, owing to the efforts of member Robert Bowne Minturn, the AICP was one of the early advocates of the development of Central Park.
Seabury Supports the AICP
According to the available annual reports, Seabury Tredwell was a member of the AICP, supporting it through monetary donations from 1848 through 1859. His brothers Adam and George Tredwell, who like Seabury were wealthy merchants, were also among the 4,000 contributing members. Membership lists, which read like a Who’s Who of contemporary New York Society, do not include the monetary amount of their donations.
By 1850, the AICP was the most influential charity in New York, and its national renown led to its use as a model for successful charitable reform in many other cities. In 1855-1856, it provided relief to 10,879 families through a total of 43,244 visits. The organization extended its reach to the area of housing reform, opening the Workingmen’s Home on Elizabeth Street in 1855. Described as the earliest “model tenement,” the rental apartments were solely occupied by African Americans, as this group was frequently deprived of adequate housing.
In 1939, the AICP merged with the Charity Organization Society to become the Community Service Society of New York City, which continues its work to this day.
In the AICP Annual Report for 1859-60, a visitor related the story of a destitute woman who, down to “only one dime in the world,” fed herself and her four children. Here are the details in her words:
“Two cents for coke (cheaper than coal)
Three cents for a scraggy piece of salt pork (about 1/2 pound)
Four cents for white beans
One cent for cornmeal
Small as it is, if rightly managed, there is a great deal of eating in one dime.”
Thanks in part to the generosity and benevolence of the Tredwell family, many destitute New Yorkers were provided with relief through the AICP.
Enjoy the holidays! Or, as Tiny Tim exclaimed, “God bless us, everyone!”
- Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Community Service Society. www.cssny.org. Accessed 11/18/16.
- Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843.
- Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
- New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, Annual Report, 1845-1860. catalog.hathitrust.org. Accessed 11/14/16.
- Spann, Edward K. The New Metropolis: New York City, 1840-1857. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.