Across the Generations: Exploring U.S. History Through Family Papers
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The Rise of the Middle Class

Like so many men in his generation, Nathan Hale, Sr., left rural New England for the city--in his case, Boston. There, he initially prospered as the owner of Boston-s first daily newspaper and as a major investor in New England's nascent railroad system. While Hale would suffer severe financial losses in the Panic of 1837, when writing to his father in 1828 the future seemed quite bright.

Nathan Hale, Sr., to his father Enoch Hale, 1828

"I have lately got my steam engine into operation, & work two presses by it…."

Nathan Hale, Sr., to his father Enoch Hale in Westhampton, Mass., 1828


A generation later his daughter, Lucretia Peabody Hale, living in Keene, New Hampshire, made her living as a writer. In this letter, circa 1870, to her brother Nathan, Jr., she asks about the "payment schedule" for writings she submitted to the Old and New, a periodical edited by Nathan and Edward Everett Hale.

Lucretia Peabody Hale to her brother Nathan Hale, Jr., circa 1870

"Another business thing I want to ask you in private, not wanting to trouble Edward with it. What is the schedule of prices? or is not there any? I am highly pleased with my payments, but as Charlie says, want to know on which account to put them--whether $37.50 is for my story unpublished? or for Grimm published? I concluded from the $10 I received for the first that there was a schedule for say $5.00 a page perhaps $6.00? --Perhaps you can answer all this from your inner consciousness, as I would not care to bother Edward."

Lucretia Peabody Hale to her brother, Nathan Hale, Jr., circa 1870


Lucretia Peabody Hale, circa 1850s

Lucretia Peabody Hale, circa 1850s
(daguerreotype; probably taken by Edward Everett Hale)

One Family's Financial History

The following account books of the Bodman family, and the accompanying letter from George Bodman, are indicative of American economic development, showing the family's progression from hauling hay for rum in the eighteenth century to managing the family trust's stock portfolio in the twentieth century.

In the 1790s Joseph Bodman made his living as a farmer in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. But like many in that time and place, Bodman supplemented his family's income in a variety of ways: he rented out his cart and pasture and hauled goods for others, receiving cash or goods, such as foodstuffs or rum, in trade:

Joseph Bodman account book, 1783-95

Joseph Bodman's account book, 1783-95
Account book of Joseph Bodman, 1783-95

During the nineteenth century some of the Bodmans invested in land in Illinois and developed a wholesale grain business, at the same time encouraging railroad development. The account book of Lewis and Luther Bodman Company document this economic activity:

Lewis & Luther Bodman account book, 1868-71

Lewis & Luther Bodman account book, 1868-71

"The following is an agreement for the division of lands
owned in Co- by Lewis and Luther Bodman in Bement, Ill...."
Account book of Lewis and Luther Bodman
(L. & L. Bodman Co.), Williamsburg, Massachusetts, 1868-71


By the twentieth century, the Bodman family had prospered along with the nation. In this letter George Milmine Bodman, managing the family trust, writes to his brother Herbert of his efforts to make the most of falling stock prices:

George Bodman to his brother Herbert Bodman, circa 1907

"We have been very busy especially in grain and stocks, and the brunt of it has fallen on me. The Market has been crashing steadily since last Friday, until the majority of people consider it bottomless, --a pit engulfing the unsuspecting widows and orphans. After a consultation with many internationally prominent financier[s], on Saturday I lept [sic] into the market about noon, and electrified the brokerage world by my wild purchases...."

George Milmine Bodman to his brother Herbert
Bodman, Sr., circa 1907



In 1913 Congress enacted legislation creating a federal income tax. In the account book shown below Edward C. Bodman notes his first payment:

Edward C. Bodman account book, 1915-19

Edward C. Bodman account book, 1915-19
Account book of Edward Cushman Bodman, 1915-19

Finally, the account book of the George and Herbert Bodman Trust reveals the effect of the Great Depression as stock prices fell to record lows in the 1930s:

George and Herbert Bodman account book

George and Herbert Bodman account book
Account book of the Herbert Luther and
George M. Bodman Trust, 1932-36


Women working

During the nineteenth century Americans' relationship to their work changed dramatically in the face of the worldwide industrial revolution. Increasing numbers of women worked outside the home, but most often at jobs that mimicked those which had been their gender-specific tasks within the home. They worked as domestics, teachers, and in textile production and garment making. Even those who considered themselves supporters of the antebellum women-s rights movement had problems conceiving of women working side-by-side with men on an equal basis. Such is the basis of the following exchange that occurred when two women applied for work at a Philadelphia warehouse.

In 1849 one of the signers of the "Declaration of Sentiments," Elizabeth McClintock, applied, along with her friend, Anna Southwick, for a position in the Philadelphia wholesale business of Edward M. Davis, the son-in-law of abolitionist and women's rights advocate Lucretia Mott (sister of Martha Coffin Wright; aunt of Ellen Wright Garrison). The exchange of correspondence and caricatures that ensued illustrates the status of women in the workplace as perceived by those on the forward edge of reformist thought one year after the Seneca Falls convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote a letter in support of the women's application:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Lucretia Mott, 1849

"The spirit of enterprize [sic] has seized Elizabeth McCintock & Anna Southwick, & they have decided to be famous silk merchants, in Philadelphia making their annual visits to Paris & other great cities of the old world. Preparitory [sic] to the realization of these bright hopes they would fain get a clerkship in the establishment of thy noble son Edward Davis…. ah! me those woman's rights conventions, have spoiled our lovely maidens now instead of remaining satisfied with the needle & the school room they would substitute the compass & the exchange."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Lucretia Mott, 26 September 1849


Davis brought the matter before the clerks who debated the matter, recorded on paper their view of what the workplace might look like should women be present, and Davis decided against hiring the women. Lucretia Mott sent the clerks' drawings to McClintock, who replied to Mott, enclosing her own caricatures. Shown here are two of the drawings and a few excerpts from the correspondence, all selected from the Garrison Family Papers. Most of the sketches are unsigned, but it is assumed that those which portray the women clerks in a more positive light were drawn by McClintock, or possibly Anna Southwick.

Drawing depicting women in the workplace, by male employee, 1849


Drawing depicting women in the workplace, by male employee of Edward Davis, 1849


Drawing done in response, 1849 (probably by Elizabeth McClintock)


Drawing done in response, 1849
(probably by Elizabeth McClintock)


"I was very much pained by the contents of the package which thee kindly sent Elizabeth Stanton. I am sorry to have caused thee and Edward M. Davis so much trouble-- Feeling a strong desire to tread a broader road to fortune than is generally allowed to woman, we applied to Edward, because we thought with his large heart & clear brain there would be more chance for success.... But I find I have not yet lived long enough to understand the world-- It was not in any light or trifling mood, but after much thought and at the expense of some feelings which a false state of society must necessarily create, that the proposition was made--and we had no thought that we would so publicly become subjects for caricature & ridicule…. We send you drama for drama, caricature for caricature. --not that we should have chosen this mode of combat but in all equal warfare you are compelled to use such weapons as your adversary chooses...."

Elizabeth W. McClintock to Lucretia Mott, 13 November 1849

"Having heard through our Philadelphia despatches all the circumstances, we were quite impatient to see [the caricatures and drama]. You certainly gave as good as you received.... I am sorry you had not the opportunity of proving to those wise gentlemen, that women, with that 'quick perception' that they are so ready to give them credit for, do not require the years of 'training' that men do, from their account, to enable them to perform the arduous duties they speak of; and even admitting that they do, it is absurd to talk about 'spending years of womanhood to acquire what their girlhood might have learned,' as if every woman had not already served an apprenticeship in her own home, and was not perfect in the abstruse science of 'sweeping,' 'running', etc., etc., and even in the severe labor of opening a box.... I hope you will persevere and not be discouraged by a little harmless ridicule. You attached more importance to that than it merited, considering it was merely the playful illustration of the ideas of some of the junior clerks not intended to be seen by others, and was no doubt 'sport to them': still it need not necessarily be 'death' to you....
In the stagnation that occurs periodically in those wholesale establishments it is not surprising that your application should have raided a 'tempest in a teapot' and set Market Street in a ferment.... Men are so desperately idle, when business flags a little, having no resources of knitting and sewing to fill up odd moments, that they become inveterate gossips sometimes, to a degree quite painful for women to witness.
I love Mrs. Stanton for the ardor and energy she shows in advocating our cause, and envy her the ability to clothe her thoughts in words that burn!"

Martha Coffin Wright to Elizabeth McClintock, 8 January 1850

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