The Historical Society does a lot with the life and times of Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet (1830-1903) of Rockville. This is natural enough, seeing as how Dr. Stonestreet’s office is one of our museums. But what of his family? They usually end up a side note in our discussions, exhibits and presentations – not an unimportant one, but a side note all the same. Today, let’s pull one of those people off the sidelines and into the spotlight.

Shown here is one of a pair of fancy whitework sleeves, cotton, made with techniques including cutwork, embroidery, and some drawn-thread and darning. These circa 1860 sleeves belonged to Martha Rebecca Barry Stonestreet (1831-1902), who was born in Pennsylvania to the Rev. Basil Barry and Martha Willson Magruder Barry. The family moved to Rockville in the 1830s. Mrs. Barry came from an old Montgomery County family; her father, Dr. Zadock Magruder, was a son of Col. Zadock Magruder of Revolutionary War (and local-high-school-name) fame. Young Martha Barry attended the Jarboe School (which I have not yet tracked down), and at the age of 21 she married Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet, a fellow Rockville resident. The marriage was performed by her father, Rev. Barry, who served at the Rockville Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Stonestreets lived in a three story house in Rockville, which Edward bought from his parents in 1855. They had eight children, seven girls and one boy. Six of their daughters lived to adulthood; the youngest, Elsie, died in 1879 at only one year old. (The eight children were pretty spread out – the oldest, Mary Adelaide, was born in 1853.) Their son, Edward Jr., died in 1876 of typhoid; he was 21. The six surviving daughters all married before their parents’ deaths, and Martha and Edward had several grandchildren, most of them local.  Adelaide was widowed in 1886 and she and her two children lived with Martha and Edward for several years, as did Martha’s elderly father.  The 1870, 1880 and 1900 censuses indicate that a few servants lived in the household; Mrs. Stonestreet’s occupation – and I don’t mean to belittle it, since taking care of a dozen people in a 3 story house is no sinecure – is given as Keeping House. 

Various obituaries (for her) and a biographical note (for her husband) provide a few other details. The Washington Post gave Martha a small paragraph, under the headline Death of Mrs. Stonestreet, saying she “died last evening of valvular affection of the heart.” A death notice in the Nashville Christian Advocate, March 6 1902, said she “was a Methodist through and through,” however you choose to interpret that. A biography of Dr. Stonestreet, published in the 1925 Tercentenary History of Maryland, described her as a “charming, congenial and devoted helpmate.”

So much, then, for the written record (as currently known). What else? We have two photos of Mrs. Stonestreet, both taken relatively late in her life, and this pair of fancy sleeves. The donor, Martha’s great-granddaughter, said that the sleeves came off a brown and white silk dress. The style and shape of the sleeves date to the late 1850s or early 1860s. Perhaps the silk dress was modified over the years to follow the changing modes, or maybe it simply wore out, but the wide lace sleeves – no longer fashionable, but too costly or otherwise valued to discard – were saved after their removal. It’s entirely possible that she made the sleeves herself; a Mrs. Stonestreet won second premium at the 1894 Rockville Fair for “darning in cotton,” and while that may mean best sock-mending, I think it refers to fancywork. At any rate, she seems to have had some skill with the needle.

Dr. and Mrs. Stonestreet (center) with their daughters, ca. 1885. MCHS collections.

Poor Mrs. Stonestreet. I hope she doesn’t know that many people who visit her husband’s museum are, well, kind of mean about her photo. We don’t know what she looked like around 1860 – and, hey, try giving birth to eight children over a span of 25 years and see how chipper and youthful you look! – but we do know that she had at least one fashionable dress. Did she care about clothes? Did she love to read? Was she interested in her husband’s career, or did she prefer not to hear about it? We don’t know. Much as I love artifacts, even I admit that there’s only so much a pair of white lace sleeves can tell us.

Wide lace sleeves? These ladies show off the look in "Godey's Lady's Book," June 1855.

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