April is National Poetry Month, so in honor of this occasion, here are two books of poetry from our collections.


At left is a collection of William Wordsworth‘s poems: The Poetical Works of Wordsworth. With Memoir, Explanatory Notes, Etc., published by Belford, Clarke & Co, circa* 1885. The cover and spine are embossed with red, black, and gold accents, and the pages are edged in gold; it’s a nice volume, designed as much for display/presentation as for reading. On the endpaper, a nice floral pattern, we find this ink inscription: “Jennie Rice from her friend James M. Nourse”.


Jennie Longstreet Rice (1871-1941) was the daughter of George and Elberta Rice of Darnestown. The Reverend James M. Nourse (1840-1922), a cousin  to the local Nourse family, was the minister of Darnestown Presbyterian Church from November 1883 through May 1885, at which point he was called to the First Presbyterian in Alexandria, Virginia. In November 1885,  Miss Rice, age 15, was “received by examination” as a member of the Darnestown Presbyterian Church. Those facts come from church records; our book here adds another, more personal element to the story. The Darnestown Presbyterian Church, founded in 1855, was an important part of the religious and social life of the community; in the 1870s-90s, the minister was also the principal of the nearby Andrew Small Academy (which Miss Rice probably attended). Thus, Miss Rice likely encountered Rev. Nourse and his family in and around the neighborhood, and it seems probable that he also helped her prepare for her church membership examination. This handsome edition of Wordsworth – his favorite poet? Hers? (Or simply the nicest book available at the shop?) – may have been a parting gift, as Rev. Nourse left the community and moved on to his next assignment.

Next, continuing our Poetry Month theme and throwing in National Library Week for good measure, is the book on the right: a small, somewhat tattered volume of William Cullen Bryant’s works, “collected and arranged by the author,” and printed in 1857. Bryant was an American poet and journalist (and, fun fact, the namesake for NYC’s Bryant Park).  The book appears well-read, or at least frequently handled, and indeed it was a library book. Pasted inside the front cover is a printed label reading, “Dawsonville Library Association. No. 66. No Book shall be kept from the Library more than Two Weeks. Without renewals of the same, the holder failing to return, shall pay Four Cents a day for extra use.”


I’ve not yet found any reference to a 19th century Library Association in Dawsonville (and perhaps this book originated in, say, Dawsonville, Georgia, rather than Montgomery County’s town), but it’s possible that this Association was an offshoot of the delightfully-named Dawsonville Literary Sociable. The activities of this lively group were recorded in the late 1870s-early 1880s by pseudonymous correspondents** in the local Montgomery Advocate. The Literary Society (as it was later known, though I can’t help but prefer “Sociable”) held officer elections and operated as a formal club, but in essence these meetings were well-organized house parties, designed to enliven the winter months with food, music, dancing, out-of-town guests, and – the ostensible point of the whole thing – readings and orations.

Not to be outdone – and conveniently helping to tie today’s books together – nearby Darnestown also had a Literary Society. In January 1883, Dawsonville correspondent “Johnny Reb” had “the pleasure . . . , accompanied by a fair damsel, to be present at the meeting of the Darnestown Literary Society last Friday evening.” After the “regular programme” of readings and songs, “chatting was renewed with increased vigor” and, essentially, a lot of young people spent a lot of time flirting until it was time to make their way home through the snow. In February 1883, the Dawsonville Literary Society received an invitation from their Darnestown counterparts “to attend, en masse, an entertainment . . . which was accepted by unanimous vote.”

Here's your geographical orientation: Dawsonville and Darnestown both lie along modern-day Route 28, which follows much the same path now as it did in the 19th century.  The Darnestown Presbyterian Church is at the intersection of 28 and Turkey Foot Rd, with the village itself closer to the Seneca Rd intersection; Dawsonville was at the intersection of 28 and 121. From the 1879 Hopkins Atlas of Montgomery County.

Here’s your geographical orientation, using the 1879 Atlas and the modern-day names for the old roads that appear here: Dawsonville and Darnestown both lie along modern-day Route 28. Darnestown is near the intersections of Turkey Foot Rd. and Seneca Rd.; Dawsonville was at the intersection of Rts. 28 and 121. From the 1879 Hopkins Atlas of Montgomery County.

The full text of the extant “society columns” – which also include wedding and death announcements, business updates, and weather news – can be found in our Library, in Jane Sween’s History of Dawsonville and Seneca, Montgomery County, Maryland (1967/1993); some excerpts also appear in the article of the same title and author in The Montgomery County Story, Vol. XI, No. 2, available in our Museum Shop. To whet your appetite for polite 19th century youthful antics (in case your copy of Jo’s Boys is not easily at hand), here’s the description of the December, 1879 meeting, as composed by “Toney”:

Eight months or more have passed since your humble servant occupied a position in your columns, as reporter of the doings of Dawsonville Literary Sociable; so hope you will give space to a brief description of the meeting which occurred Saturday week at the “Hermitage”, the residence of Mr. F. A. Dawson, one of its most prominent members. The wind though cold and boisterous during the day lulled when “Sol” donned the veil of night, leaving, however, Mrs. “Luna” and her dear little bright cherubs to twinkle in his absence to the merry throng that lined the different roads leading to the mansion. The entire building was ablaze with lights, all the rooms on the lower floor having been transformed into a spacious hall with cheerful fires to greet the chilled guests, who were received by the modest and pleasant Miss A.L. Dawson whose cordial welcome dismantled (if any) the slightest feeling of restraint worn by anyone. The agreeable Messrs. Hickerson and Balch aided in dispatching guests to the second floor where dressing rooms had been tastefully filled up with everything necessary to the comfort and vanity of women, or make an old bachelor ashamed of his lot. As early as 7 P.M. guests began to assemble in the South Parlor and up to 7:40 P.M. were continually arriving, filling the entire hall to repletion. Taking a survey of the room I concluded that I had never seen a brighter, handsomer and more tastefully dressed bevy of ladies in my life. The gentlemen also looked remarkably well.

The President, Mr. Cass F. Eastham, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called roll, which showed the society composed of twelve honorary and thirty-one active members all in the enjoyment of good health and liberty. . . . The business before the meeting was soon dispatched, Miss Gertrude Dade was added to the active list as a member and Miss Vallie W. Allnutt’s invitation was gladly accepted unanimously by everyone with thanks to meet at her pleasant home on Saturday January 3rd 1880. The secretary then called Miss M. C. Darby to open the evening’s programme, who read XIX Psalm; Miss Lille Dyson entertained by reading “Pondering”; Mr. B.F. White, declaimed “Charge of the Light Brigade”; Miss Nellie Allnutt read “Quality Hill”; Miss Susie Darby read “Antique Beau”; Mr. W.M. Hickerson read “The Deacon’s Story”; Miss Annie L. Dade recited “Buttercups and Daisies”; Miss Marian Cross read [not transcribed]. Miss Vallie Allnutt by request closed the programme by reading “The Rose.” The entire programme was creditably rendered and pleased the audience judging from the applause each participant received.

The Messrs. Heck, Mullican, Darby, Poole and Galeen of Darnestown then entertained to the great pleasure of all, with choice vocal music. Among the bright faces I noticed Miss Maud Hepburn of Washington; Miss Bessie Dawson of Arlington Heights; Miss Annie White of Loudoun, Va.; Misses Veirs, Scott and Hall of Poolesville; Miss Maggie Beall of Darnestown; Mr. Upton Darby of Seneca; Mr. Smoot of Washington; Milton White of Baltimore; Samuel Veirs of Rockville; and Mr. [?]. Wade of Barnesville. All vying with each other in general parlance when the announcement of supper caused a temporary stop. The pleasant hostess, Miss Gue, assisted by her bright sister Mary soon had served from waiters a luncheon tempting to the most delicate, winding up with a confectionary collation. After many congratulations and expressions of pleasure experienced the company left for their respective homes with hearts both light and gay.

*This edition has no copyright date, but several other collections by Belford, Clarke & Co., with similar covers, were published in 1884-85.

**These columns were collected in a scrapbook by an unknown individual; many are undated now. They are variously signed “Toney,” “Uteuty,” “Wild Bill,” “Johnny Reb,” “Delgrada,” and “Ivanhoe,” who may all be the same person; the authors frequently identify themselves as “an old bachelor,” and there are other literary similarities.


Today we have a fur coat, owned and worn by Rebecca Darby Nourse Chinn (1904-1982) of Dawsonville and Rockville.


The coat was donated by Mrs. Chinn’s daughter, who described it as “Mother’s raccoon coat,” worn while attending Swarthmore College in the 1920s.  Rebecca Nourse (pronounced “nurse”) grew up in Dawsonville; she attended the Dawsonville School, the Andrew Small Academy in Darnestown, the Fort Loudoun Seminary in Winchester, Virginia, and then Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, where she graduated in 1927 with a degree in biology.  After college, she taught at Gaithersburg High School until her 1929 marriage to Raleigh Chinn; later in life she worked as a librarian at the Twinbrook Library.

Her entry in her senior yearbook at Swarthmore.

Her entry in her senior yearbook at Swarthmore.

The raccoon coat – a large, enveloping affair – was a fashion fad of the 1920s, particularly among college students. Along with ukeleles, galoshes, jalopies, and Rudy Vallee’s megaphone, such coats became a symbol of 1920s youth, both at the time (see: Rudy Vallee singing “Do the Raccoon” (1928), or the contract-signing scene in “Horse Feathers” (1932)) and in later decades.  Raccoon coats are often thought of today as a strictly male style, but women also adopted the look, and why not?  A nice big fur coat was fashionable, looked expensive, and kept you warm in that open-topped car.

1924 photo of a Mary LaFollette of D.C., from the Library of Congress collections.

1924 photo of a Mary LaFollette of D.C., from the Library of Congress collections.

Mrs. Chinn’s coat is in good condition, though slightly bald in spots (it was worn by the donor’s daughter and grandchildren as a costume for many years) and missing a few of the large brown leather buttons.  It has a high shawl collar, deep cuffs, and two slash pockets edged with raccoon tails; the lining is brown satin on the top, and tan plaid wool on the bottom.  There is no store label.

Buttons (and tail-edged pocket)

Buttons (and tail-edged pocket)

The lining

The lining

The basic design of this coat, from collar to pockets to lining to buttons, seems to have been something of a standard style; a little poking around on the internet revealed examples of very similar coats for men and women, some without labels and some from a variety of shops and furriers. Here’s a man’s raccoon coat – same buttons, though without the tails on the pockets – by Saks Fifth Avenue, in the collections of the Met, and here’s one worn by Peter Lawford in “Easter Parade.”  A ladies’ version of the coat can be found in the 1927 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog as the “Swagger ‘Tomboy’ Model” (“collegiate style”). The only difference between this one and ours is that the Sears model is made of “natural gray opossum fur,” while our coat appears to indeed be raccoon.  Here’s the Sears description:

1927 Opossum Fur Coat SearsFor misses and small women, we offer here a fur coat of luxurious warmth and appealing smartness.  Made of genuine, Natural Gray Opossum Fur – only large pelts used and those of a selected grade – dense, long haired and very sturdy; of a pleasing silvery gray color with rich darker gray markings.  The pockets show attractive trimming of Striped Raccoon Tails.

The coat is called the “Tomboy” model, having been especially made for hard, strenuous service and cut on loose, comfortable lines in mannish double breasted style.  Fastens with large, novelty leather buttons.  The sleeves and yoke are lined with guaranteed, genuine Skinner’s Satin and for additional warmth and practical wear the lower part has All Wool Plaid lining.  Priced far below what you would have to pay elsewhere for a coat of this quality, and a value typical of those offered by our Fur Department.  Average length, about 44 inches. . . . Shipping weight 9 lbs.  $129.00.  (Nice cheap coat, right?  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calendar, $129 in 1927 would be $1,731 in 2013.)

Even better is this photo of Rebecca Nourse’s class at Swarthmore; several girls are sporting fur coats and collars, and the young lady holding up the left side of the banner, R. Esther Howard (Class Secretary), is wearing this coat.  (Well, presumably not the exact same coat.)  It’s a smallish photo; for a better version, check the 1928 Halcyon yearbook here.

1928 Swarthmore yearbook class photo
I don’t know if this coat was a college girl’s birthday present, something she purchased for herself, or what; regardless, Rebecca Nourse, like so many of us, wanted to keep in style (and keep warm) while she was at school.  But she wasn’t so faddish that she ditched the coat later; a good coat should last a long time.  To finish off today’s post, here’s a 1932 photo of Rebecca Nourse Chinn, in the front yard of her Rockville home; she’s wearing the coat.

RDNC in coat 1932

This little red cotton dress was worn by Ann Maria Jones, who was born in 1840 and died in 1846.

The handmade dress is simple, but not plain. The six buttons up the front are decorative (the dress fastens in the back with five plainer buttons), and piping was added at the neck, waist and arms. The skirt is full, and would have fitted over a petticoat and, most likely, a pair of bloomers. (Click here to see the overall effect, albeit with a fancier gown.)

In the mid 19th century, both boys and girls under the age of 6 wore dresses like this one. Children’s clothing followed fashions just as adult wear did, but relatively simple dresses like this one were made for several decades. How, then, do we know that it was worn by a little girl in the 1840s? A previous owner took the time to write us a note – and not just any old note on paper, but a message written on the lining of the bodice: “Little Ann Maria’s dress. She was Grandma Jones’s oldest child. Died with typhoid and effects too much calomel. Age 6 years.”

The clues given here point us to Ann Maria Jones (1840-1846), daughter of David Trundle and Mary Ann Dawson Jones. Mary Ann (daughter of James Mackall and Ann Nancy Allnutt Dawson) grew up in “Mother’s Delight,” in the Boyds/Dawsonville area, and married David in January1840. Ann Maria was the oldest of their seven children; she, her mother, and three of her siblings are buried in Monocacy Cemetery, along with earlier family members who were moved from the graveyard at “Mother’s Delight.” Since the donor, Lawrence Elgin, is also descended from the Allnutt/Dawson family, Ann Maria Jones is almost certainly the original owner of this little dress.

Why was this dress saved? We don’t know. I know that typhoid (and other) patients were quarantined, but did you get rid of all their clothes and belongings while you were at it? (Or do I only think that because of The Velveteen Rabbit?) This dress seems a little small for a six year old; maybe it was an earlier gown, untainted by association with the disease. . . but in that case, why didn’t Ann Maria’s younger siblings wear it? Or maybe they did, but the lasting association was with Ann Maria. The message in the dress provides some good clues, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

As for the mortal “effects of too much calomel” – calomel was a common remedy in the mid 19th century, a heroic medicine used for many diseases (especially bowel illnesses like typhoid fever). Unfortunately, calomel contained mercury, and too much of it caused mercury poisoning; you might survive the illness but die of the treatment. Poor Ann Maria, not quite six years old, probably didn’t have much of a chance.

Dawson platterThis is a transferware platter, in an unknown pattern, that belonged to James MacKall Dawson (1775-1867) and his wife Annie Allnutt Dawson(1779-1854).  They lived in a home called “Mother’s Delight” in Dawsonville.  (James was the uncle of “our” John Dawson, who lived with his wife Amelia at the Beall-Dawson House, now our historic house museum.)  It was donated by Ellen Allnutt Elgin.

In 1781, English potter Josiah Spode introduced underglaze transfer printing to a public always hungry for new styles and fashions. Transfer printing, as opposed to hand painting each piece, was an economical way to create highly decorated ceramics. Designs were engraved onto copper plates, and a print was made onto treated tissue paper, which was then pressed onto the ceramic body. The piece was fired, sealing in the ink, and then glazed. By 1833, hundreds of different designs in this style were created by English potters, mainly in the Staffordshire area. Many designs featured Oriental scenes of pagodas and the like, but images reminiscent of Turkey, India, Italy and other ‘exotic’ locales were also popular (the Dawson platter shows a Mediterranean-looking house). This was part of the Romantic Movement (late 18th through mid 19th century), which emphasized emotion over thought and idealized the natural landscape. 

This platter is an example of how irritating it can be when there’s no maker’s mark.   Our volunteer curator for the glass and ceramics collection was unable to identify the pattern or maker (if anyone reading this blog has a thought, let me know).  One of these days I’ll check for inventories from “Mother’s Delight,” although the likelihood of the inventory taker conveniently noting “Transferware platter made by [X] in the pattern of [Y]” is pretty slim (darn those inventory takers!) – I’ll be lucky to find any kind of platter at all.  On the other hand, it’s a lovely piece (I’m personally quite fond of green transferware) and we have a great provenance for it, so who am I to complain about inexpensive potteries neglecting to mark their work?