Across the Generations: Exploring U.S. History Through Family Papers
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Arts and Leisure

American families have changed dramatically over the generations. As Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg have pointed out in their social history of American family life: "Over the past 300 years, American families have undergone a series of far-reaching 'domestic revolutions' that profoundly altered their familial life, repeatedly transforming their demographic characteristics, organizational structure, functions, conceptions, and emotional dynamics." 1

Families like the Hales, Dunhams, Bodmans, and Garrisons were experiencing the gradual transition from an earlier model of the family as an economic, social, and political unit that largely defined an individual's identity, to the conception of family as a "haven in a heartless world" of commerce. The family had become a "shelter for higher redeeming values" where parents devoted themselves to each other and the development of their children's characters. 2 These four families, having benefited from the nation's economic expansion, were comfortable enough to indulge and nurture their children by encouraging them in leisure activities, often involving artistic pursuits. Would a family such as the Hales have produced such accomplished artists and writers if their childhoods had been spent working on the family farm instead of writing and illustrating family newspapers?

Homegrown amusements

Before radio, television, and mass-produced toys, families created their own amusements from simple materials at hand. Common activities included making paper dolls and "publishing" newspapers filled with family news, literary essays, and short fiction.

Paper doll and clothing by Benjamin T. Stephenson Paper doll and clothing created by Benjamin T. Stephenson, brother of Edith Stephenson Garrison (Mrs. William Lloyd Garrison, 3rd), undated

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Our Home, family newspaper by Amelia and Harriet Kellogg, 1848

"Housekeeper's Journal--
   ...Two innocent inhabitants of the poultry coop after residing there for about a week were submitted to Biddy's destructive mercies. All mention of eggs is carefully avoided by the Colony. It being a subject particularly exciting to the feelings of the Master as well as of all engaged in the mysteries of cooking."

Our Home, a family newspaper written by sisters Harriet Kellogg (Dunham) and Amelia Kellogg containing news of the family farm, 1848


In his memoir, Edward Everett Hale described his childhood as "devoted to play pure and simple." Encouraged by their parents, the Hale children manufactured all sorts of entertainments. Many of these were recorded in a family book kept between 1858 and 1878. Included in the book are annual pictorial graphs recording the exchange of holiday presents:

Hale family gift chart, 1869Hale family gift chart, 1869

Increased opportunities for the middle class and the proliferation of vacation homes allowed for moments such as the one depicted here:

Garrison children and friends at 'New Pier', Wianno, early 1880s

Garrison children and friends on 'New Pier', Wianno
(Osterville, Mass.), early 1880s
(left to right): Charles Garrison, Harral (?) Mulliken, Florence Halliday, Frank Garrison, Malcolm Chace (sitting on step: Dora Keen and her sisters (on ladder), Addie Halliday, A.B. Chace, Jr.(?)  (photographer unknown)

Visual Arts

Art "virtually obsessed Gilded Age Americans" according to Kirsten Swinth. 3 The final third of the nineteenth century was an era of "extensive popularization" of art. With such widespread interest came unprecedented opportunities for women interested in becoming professional artists. After study in Boston and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Ellen Day Hale, like many of her contemporaries, traveled to Paris to study in its rigorous and well-organized ateliers. Unmarried, and the only daughter of an extremely busy father and perpetually ailing mother, Ellen's first obligation was to help out at home. Balancing this daughterly role with her professional ambitions is clearly in mind in this letter to her mother in which she describes her life in Paris and broaches the subject of continued studies there:

Ellen Day Hale to her mother, Emily Hale, 1883

"I should like to count as a good painter at Paris, as well as at home."

Ellen ("Nelly") Day Hale to her mother, Emily (Perkins) Hale, 11 March 1883

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Ellen Day Hale, 1884 Ellen Day Hale, circa 1884 (photographer unknown)

Ellen Day Hale's sister-in-law, Lilian Westcott Hale, was an important ally in the tricky business of "steady pursuit of market and professional recognition while negotiating lives as daughters, comrades, wives, and mothers." 4

Lilian Westcott Hale sketching, 1902 Lilian Westcott Hale sketching, 1902 (photographer unknown)

Lilian's works appeared in a wide variety of venues from formal gallery shows to the covers of popular magazines to holiday cards such as this one sold to support the efforts of the Red Cross during World War I:

'Gardenia Rose' (1912) by Lilian Westcott Hale Lilian Westcott Hale's charcoal drawing, "Gardenia Rose" (1912) on Red Cross Christmas card

One of the ways Lilian Westcott Hale juggled the competing interests of her art and motherhood was to use her daughter, Nancy, as a subject for her work:

Drawing of Nancy Hale by Lilian Westcott Hale, circa 1914 Drawing by Lilian Westcott Hale of her daughter Nancy, circa 1914
(photographic reproduction)

Literary Arts

Writing and editing was essentially the Hale family business. For them it was, as Van Wyck Brooks put it, "as natural as to breathe…[they] were all authors by instinct and almost by habit." 5 Beyond the total family involvement in Nathan Hale's Boston Daily Advertiser, Hales contributed to many nineteenth century magazines as well as starting several of their own (with little success).

Though Hale works often had a didactic purpose, spurring others to social action, as writers they also knew how to entertain. And their resulting popularity attested to their considerable abilities to "spin a good yarn." Edward Everett Hale and Susan Hale made a sort of specialty of putting together literary publications to benefit aid organizations:

Announcement of new monthly journal of the Lend-a-Hand Society Announcement of a new monthly journal to be published by the Lend-a-Hand Society, and edited by Edward Everett Hale and his sister Susan Hale, undated

The Lend-a-Hand Society calendar features inspirational quotations by Edward Everett Hale and is illustrated with images of him and his family, attesting to his celebrity status:

Lend-a-Hand Society calendar, 1899

Calendar published by the Lend-a-Hand Society, 1899

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1 Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg, Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life (New York: The Free Press, 1988), p. xiv

2 Mintz and Kellogg, p. xv

3 Kirsten Swinth, Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern American Art, 1870-1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 2

4 Swinth, p. 88

5 Van Wyck Brooks, The Flowering of New England (New York: Dutton, 1937), pp. 485-86

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