Here we have a set of Textile Classification study cards, created in 1924 by Margaret Ravenolt, a student at Frederick’s Hood College. There are 51 cards, bound with a metal ring, each card providing details on the manufacture and usage of the chosen swatch of fabric.

M. Ravenolt study cards

Cotton cretonne

The 5” x 8” cards have been pre-printed with the desired information, as well as the name of the school; this was clearly a course-wide requirement, not a project created individually for fun. The fabrics are all noted as having been purchased in Frederick in 1924 (alas, the stores are not named), and they are a comprehensive lot. Ever read an historical novel and wondered, ‘what is foulard, or nainsook, or challis?’ Miss Ravenolt had the answer, in both written and physical form.


Cotton percale

Silk taffeta

Silk taffeta

Wool challis, detail

Wool challis

As much fun as it is to see examples of 1924 calico and cheviot, this is essentially someone’s homework – and from another county, at that. Why is it in our artifact collections? Thankfully, it was part of a donation of archival material, which helps us put our little pre-digital fabric database in context.

Margaret Ravenolt (1906-1990) grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Hood College in the early 1920s, and taught in the Maryland State public school system (probably Frederick County) from 1927-29. In 1928 she married Irvin C. Thomas of Adamstown, Frederick County, Maryland. During the 1930s, the Thomases moved to a home on Brooks Avenue, Gaithersburg, where Irvin worked as a manager at the Thomas & Co. warehouse. Irvin died in March of 1937; later that year Margaret returned to teaching, beginning her thirty year career with the Montgomery County Public School system. She taught at several schools around the county, and by 1963 she was teaching Home Arts at Edwin W. Broome Junior High, in the Twinbrook neighborhood of Rockville. She retired at the end of the 1967-68 school year.

Just a few of the pamphlets and brochures in Mrs. Thomas's collection.

Just a few of the pamphlets and brochures in Mrs. Thomas’s collection.

Most of the materials in this small collection (donated by Mrs. Thomas’s daughter, Barbara Thomas Lima) relate to these years at Broome Jr High, including recipes, knitting patterns, home furnishing books, and other resources for teaching home economics, as well as correspondence related to her pension. Along with these pieces there are also fun tidbits like notes on upcoming quizzes; a hall pass, written on the back of a recipe for ginger snaps; a letter thanking her for mentoring a student teacher from her alma mater, Hood College; and a 1963 report by Mrs. Thomas and her fellow Home Arts teacher Laura Burruss on how they dealt with classroom overcrowding.

Left: notes on "Cookies, Grade 9." Right: "Four Classes, Three Rooms, Four Teachers," a 1963 report on dealing with overcrowding.

Left: notes on “Cookies, Grade 9.” Right: “Four Classes, Three Rooms, Four Teachers,” a 1963 report on dealing with overcrowding.

(A side note on Broome Junior High: Named for Dr. Edwin W. Broome (1885-1956), a long-time County Superintendent, the school opened in 1957 in the rapidly growing suburbs of Rockville. It was a busy, full school for many years – as Mrs. Thomas’s 1963 “Four Classes, Three Rooms, Four Teachers” report attests – but by the late 1970s, the surrounding neighborhoods had aged; Broome closed in 1981, and its remaining students were moved to nearby Wood Junior High. The building, on Twinbrook Parkway, is still standing, used now as offices and storage space for county agencies.)

Saved along with these contemporary resources were three earlier items, dating from Mrs. Thomas’s college courses: A report titled “Textile Notes,” another report on house styles (with lots of red pencil; she seems to have done better with textiles), and our Textile Classification study card set. Perhaps she used these items in her teaching . . . or perhaps she simply kept them on hand to remind herself what it’s like to be student, studying home economics and trying to remember fifty different types of fabric.

A page from Margaret Ravenolt's architectural styles report, circa 1920s.

A page from Margaret Ravenolt’s architectural styles report, circa 1920s.


I was already planning to feature Mrs. Thomas’s small collection this week when I learned that, coincidentally, yesterday was Teacher Appreciation Day. So take today’s post as a reminder to appreciate your favorite teachers, past and present, no matter what subject! And please, if any of my readers remember Mrs. Thomas – or anyone else at Broome – or any Home Arts teachers around the county, share those memories with us!


… I know you wanted to see the hall pass, and I’ll oblige:

Hall pass


Today’s post was going to be on one item, but then it turned into two.  Here’s the later one first: A Silver Badge from the Playground Athletic League of Maryland, awarded circa 1940 to Miss Barbara Walker of Gaithersburg.

3/4 inch diameter

3/4 inch diameter

Barbara Walker (later Barbara Kettler Mills, 1924-2007) attended the local public schools, graduating from Gaithersburg High School in 1942. Sadly (for me) we don’t have any yearbooks from her time at GHS, but her daughter noted, “in high school, [my mother] was athletic, especially enjoying basketball.  She played basketball, field hockey, softball and tennis while [in college] at Penn Hall.”

The pin above (donated by Mrs. Kettler Mills’ estate) is undated, but was most likely awarded to Miss Walker sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s. The Playground Athletic League of Maryland, though focused primarily on the Baltimore area, sponsored “state-wide activities” such as annual soccer, track and field, basketball, and dodgeball championships.  In addition to recreation, the P.A.L. was also concerned with tracking and improving the health of Maryland’s youth; they held state-wide, school-level “badge contests” to evaluate students’ basic physical fitness.  The 1922-23 Report of the P.A.L. can be read online; here are the standards for the Girls’ Badge Contest, likely very similar to what Miss Walker achieved to earn her silver badge:

The Athletic Badge Test for Girls.
The Playground Athletic League of Baltimore has adopted the following standards which girls out to be able to attain:
First Test for Bronze Badge-
Balancing [on a balance beam] – once in 2 trials.
Leg raising – 10 times.
Far-thrown basket ball – 25 feet.
Second Test for Silver Badge-
Balancing – once in 2 trials.
Leg abduction – 2 times.
Far-thrown basket ball – 35 feet.
Third Test for Gold Badge –
Trunk raising – 12 times.
Volley ball service – 8 times in 10 trials.
Round-arm basket ball throw – 55 feet.

As for the badge itself, it is marked “sterling,” has a sturdy pin-back, and measures .75″ in diameter. The design, by sculptor Hans Schuler, is described in the 1922-23 P.A.L. Report: “The spirit of the League is symbolized in Schuler’s beautiful design for the League’s medal.  Here we have David in the act of slinging the stone at Goliath.  David was the prototype of the Man of Galilee and typified all that rugged honesty, virile character and physical beauty and strength which we all desire for our boys to-day.”  And yes, though a large part of the Report is dedicated to girls’ sports and activities, and a large number of women (including physicians) are included as Board members, staff, and volunteers, the description of the “spirit of the League” only mentions boys.

…That was going to be today’s object. But as I was looking through the 1922-23 report, I noticed a posed photograph similar to the postcard below from our collections, an image which has always puzzled me: A young woman about to throw a large ball, between two lines of spectators, captioned simply “Rockville Md., Badge Contest, May 15 ’17.”


Aha! The young woman in question is doing the “far-throw basket ball” test for an Athletic League badge!  Indeed, the 1917 Report for the Public Athletic League – a direct forerunner to the Playground Athletic League, with many of the same contests, and the same medal design – notes that Montgomery County’s Third Annual Track and Field Championship was “held at Rockville on May 14, 1917.”  Unfortunately the report does not name badge contestants for that year, but it does give the following rules for the “far-throw basket ball” challenge:

-The ball shall be from 14 to 17 ounces in weight. It is thrown from a stand with feet apart, with the toes at the line. The throw is from both hands over the head. Swinging the arms with bending of the trunk is an advantage. The toes or heels may be raised, but a jump is not permitted.  Touching the ground in front of the line or stepping over the line before the throw is measured constitutes a foul. (A foul counts as one trial.) Three trials are given each contestant, of which the best one counts.  Spalding “O” soccer will be the official ball.
-The ball must land within a lane 10 feet wide and must strike the ground at least 25 feet from the throwing line for bronze pin, 35 feet for silver pin.
-This test will be made the day of the county athletic meet.

If you’d like to while away some time, I encourage you to peruse the 1922-23 Playground Athletic League report, and the 1916 and 1917 Public Athletic League reports.  Each one contains lots of information on the history of the two Leagues, the health of Maryland’s children, and the various championship winners, as well as insight on attitudes toward public health issues, African American schools and neighborhoods (by 1922, the P.A.L. included a “colored section”), and the relative strengths and abilities of girls vs. boys.  If that’s not enough, you can also learn how to play End Ball.


Today we have one of those artifacts that seem totally odd until you know what they are – and then you see them everywhere. (Well, in my experience, anyway.)  This is a coin purse in the style known as a miser’s bag or miser’s purse.  Made of crocheted silk, in shades of green, orange, cream, and rose (now faded to rusty brown), and decorated with cut steel beading, fringe, and tassel, it measures 16 inches long.

With both rings moved to one side, to access one end of the purse.

With both rings moved to one side, to access one end of the purse.

Coins or other small necessities could be tucked into each end of the purse through the slit in the middle section; then one of the metal rings is moved toward that end to secure your goods.  (This video explains it better.)  Like the proverbial needle-pointed slippers, they were popular handmade* gifts, especially from women to their fathers, husbands, or sweethearts.  An eagle-eyed viewer can spot them in Victorian paintings, prints, lady’s magazines, and the like; for example, a miser’s bag is the focus of this circa 1857 print by James Collinson. Some sources note that they could be carried draped over your belt, though others think they were likely just carried around in the hand. The name “miser’s bag” refers, essentially, to the fact that you couldn’t carry much money (and it was a little tricky to get the money out again).


The purse was donated to MCHS by Alice Diamond French, a local descendant of William Craig Diamond (1828-1873) who settled in Gaithersburg in the 1850s.  Family stories said that it originally belonged to her great great grandfather John Diamond (1781-1842) of Philadelphia; it was handed down through the generations and given to Alice in 1926, when she was 16.  It was evidently worn enough, through use or age, to require “repair,” and perhaps was used by more than one Diamond gentleman throughout the 19th century.  The family story does not, alas, indicate why this particular piece was saved so carefully. Alice’s grandfather, John Bernard Diamond, Sr., was a founder of the First National Bank of Gaithersburg, and served as its President from 1900 until 1926; I can’t help but see a potential sentimental connection between the banker and his family-heirloom coin purse, but who knows?

Miser’s bags were owned by both men and women, with the longer bags – of which our 16″ example is one – being appropriate for manly use.  So that part of the story is all right.  This style is often associated with the Victorian era – mid-late 19th century, somewhat after John Diamond’s 1842 death – so at first I was inclined to move its ownership down a generation or two, but a perusal of various museum collections has shown me several not-dissimilar examples dated “early 19th century,” so I will hedge my bets and allow the story to stand, barring further investigation.


And there is investigation to be done! Thanks in part to the recent work of Laura Camerlengo at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, miser’s purses are not only numerous (they were very trendy for a while, resulting in lots of extant examples) but also well documented.  There’s a current exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (scroll down to “From Money to Marriage”); an e-book, summarized (for free) here; and the video, linked earlier, that shows how the purses worked. If you want to see more examples (of course you do! They’re colorful, sparkly, weird little purses!) there are plenty to be seen in the online collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Fine Art, the Victoria & Albert (as “stocking purses”), and the Cooper-Hewitt. You’re welcome!

*For example, a pattern for a “knitted purse” can be found in Treasures in Needlework, 1870, by Mrs. Warren and Mrs. Pullan – not available digitally, but the 1970s reprint is fairly easy to find, if you want to indulge in some 19th century handwork and make your own miser’s bag.

Our Library collection includes photographs of the various efforts of the Montgomery County Community Chest and Council.  “Community Chest” was a name adopted by civic-minded charitable organizations around the country in the early-mid 20th century (many of which were eventually combined under the United Way umbrella); our county’s group was founded in 1943.  Agencies such as local Scout and youth groups, the Public Health Lay Council, and the county Social Service League (founded in 1908, later renamed Family Services Agency) joined the Community Chest and helped organize, fund and run programs like the Christmas Bureau, which provided food, clothing and gifts for families in need.  Here’s a photo of a Toys for Tots delivery to the Volunteer Christmas Bureau Store, circa 1950:


Toys for Tots was started in 1947, and adopted as an official program of the US Marine Corps Reserve in 1948. This photo from our collections is accompanied by an undated press release, identifying Technical Sergeant Robert E. McPhee “shoulder[ing] one of the cartons of 300 toys delivered this week” to the county Christmas Bureau, along with volunteer clerks Mrs. Sol Goldman, Mrs. Charles Gordon, and Mrs. Seymour Leopold.

In the late 1950s, the Community Chest and Council joined the newly formed Montgomery Health and Welfare Council, “a regional unit of the Health and Welfare Council of the National Capital Area” (according to their 1959 annual report).  The Christmas Bureau was still an important part of the organization’s work, with 391 county families receiving gifts from the Bureau in 1959.  I’ve not figured out where the storefront in the photo above was located, but by the late 1950s the Christmas Bureau store was held at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in Gaithersburg.  Here’s a photo of two Silver Spring Rotarians preparing a delivery of what looks like ham (?) to the Christmas Bureau store, as helpfully noted by the sign propped next to the loaded station wagon: “We are on our way with Christmas Gifts to the Christmas Store located at Gaithersburg Fair Grounds, Sponsored by the Montgomery County Christmas Bureau.”


Our collection also includes a few photos of “Santa’s Hideaway,” a temporary mini-store set up in Silver Spring, probably to let children choose their gifts from amongst donated toys and games.  Though the Hideaway has so far proven rather elusive, research-wise, the photos themselves tell us that it was funded in part by Red Feather campaign donations (the Red Feather was a symbol used by the United Givers Fund, later part of the United Way), and supported over several years by local radio station WGAY.  The two images below, from different years, show first a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, attended by various officials (including Howard Bain, president of the county United Givers Fund in 1955); and second a group of children, each holding a different toy – though it’s not clear whether they’ve just received them as presents, or they’re preparing to donate them – being interviewed by a very serious-looking WGAY reporter.

051060L(Howard Bain, president of the county United Givers Fund in 1955, is second from right; an Ellsworth Drive (Silver Spring) street sign is on the telephone pole.  In addition to the large “WGAY – dial 1050 – The Suburban Maryland Station” banner, a smaller sign advertises radio broadcasts held from the Hideaway: “North Pole Calling” by Chuck Dulane, and “Melody Circus” by Val Thomas.  If you’d care to while away some time with memories and photos of WGAY, here’s a fun website for you.)

051060J(Notice the Red Feather / Community Chest sign, as well as another WGAY sign, and what might be an ad for the Maryland News paper.)

Do you recognize any of the people or locations in the photos posted here?  Do you remember the Montgomery County Christmas Bureau or Santa’s Hideaway campaigns? Let us know!  A little extra knowledge would be a great holiday-of-your-choice gift to myself and our Librarians.  And here’s a gift for those of you who live (or have lived) in the county, and who enjoy surveys: A survey!  We’re planning an exhibit on Montgomery County’s long tradition of civic activism, including but not limited to activities like the ones featured in today’s post.  This survey, put together for us by a graduate student at the University of Maryland History and Library Science program, will help us gather stories and artifacts for the exhibit.

Photos donated to the MCHS Library by the Health and Welfare Council.



For many years, MCHS held a yearly used booksale; our booksorting volunteers found all kinds of interesting things between the pages of donated books, from greeting cards to photographs to money.  I’ve been a little disappointed in the ‘finds’ from the books in our permanent museum collections, though I’ll note that the 1909 Reference Bible from Miss Claggett’s trunk contains a 1973 Safeway receipt, and there are a few homework assignments stuck inside various textbooks (which I’ll save for a future post).  I’ve had better luck – because, yes, finding something inside another artifact is totally Curator’s Luck – with our textile collections.

T2407bHere, for example, is a handkerchief found tucked away in the pocket of a late 19th century cotton print dress.  It was discovered during an inventory by one of our interns; she was appropriately excited.  (I mean that sincerely.)  The dress was donated by a Poolesville family who wished to remain anonymous; as such, I won’t speculate too much on the name behind the embroidered “W.”

T1570On the other hand, this embroidered handkerchief – forgotten in the front pocket of a pair of tuxedo trousers – is quite helpful. The R stands for Riggs, as in George, husband of the donor Eugenie LeMerle Riggs.  Mrs. Riggs gave us several tuxedos and formal suits, but with the exception of her father’s Prince Albert coat (“Daddy’s morning suit”), she didn’t specify the original owners.  Thanks to the handkerchief, we can assign the 1950s-60s “Formals by Haricon” tuxedo to George H. Riggs, Jr. (1904-1983) of Ashton.

T2340Purses and handbags are another frequent spot for forgotten personal objects. This 1920s leather bag was donated by Barbara Mullinix Grigg, who wasn’t sure if it had belonged to her grandmother Clara May Benson Mullinix (1871-1964) or aunt Connie Mullinix (1905-1993), both of Damascus.  Inside the bag are a small leather change purse, empty, and three calling cards: Miss Constance C. Mullinix, J. Collins English, and Lillian E. Whitehead.

T2340 calling cardsLillian Estelle Whitehead (b. 1907) of Wicomico County, Md. was one of Connie Mullinix’s classmates at the Maryland State Normal School (now Towson University); Connie graduated in 1924, and Lillian in 1923.  Mr. English is not as positively identified, but he may be James Collins English (b. 1907) who lived in Gaithersburg in the 1920s.  Since Miss Whitehead and Mr. English were likely Miss Mullinix’s friends, I’d hazard a guess that this well-used purse belonged to the daughter, not the mother.

T2344-45Ruth Ramsdell Stout (1918-2013) donated these two beaded handbags, from her young adulthood in Gaithersburg; both bags still contained her calling cards: Miss Ruth Marie Ramsdell.  True, in this case we didn’t need the cards to identify the original owner, but it was still great to discover them tucked inside.  These left-behind cards help us make a tangible connection between the 1930s (in this case) and today.  Calling cards may be scarce in 2013, but think how many of us have business cards – our own or our friends’ – stashed away in unused handbags and briefcases?

Hat tip to the Forgotten Bookmarks blog for inspiring today’s post.

askacuratorIt’s time again for Ask a Curator day, MCHS Style, this year with the added bonus of Twitter!  Tweet us today @mchist (with the tag #askacurator) with your questions, and we’ll see how well my crash course in Twitterdom goes.  (If nothing else, I’m happy to answer questions on future blogs, too.)

In the meantime, here’s a more thorough answer to one of last year’s questions: Is Upton Beall, first owner of our Beall-Dawson House, related to author Upton Sinclair (full name Upton Beall Sinclair)?  Author Jim Johnston, in his 2012 book From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family, provides this info: our Upton had a nephew, also named Upton Beall, who was a pastor in Georgetown in the mid 19th century.  According to Johnston (pg. 245), “[Rev. Beall] went on to become so well known that the Sinclair family named their son for him.  This is how the writer Upton Beall Sinclair got his name.”

And of course, I can’t leave my blog readers without an artifact.  September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, so here from our collections is a Montgomery County Public Library card, used in Rockville and Gaithersburg in the 1990s.  It’s the first design featured in the array of recent cards on the MPCL Library Card Sign-Up Month page.  Personally, I’m still rocking the second design; what kind do you have, fellow county residents? (And if you don’t have one, now’s the time!)  Don’t forget, many of the research books in our own library here at MCHS are cataloged in the MCPL system (though it’s worth noting that you don’t need a library card to use our library).


The Historical Society has a large collection of local-business-related ephemera in the Library collections, the contents of which – though seemingly mundane – provide a detailed glance into the everyday lives of County residents.  Let’s take one of those glances today, shall we?

There’s something pleasantly formal about late 19th-early 20th century business correspondence.  Even bills for butter have a certain air about them; for example, here’s the heading on a 1904 bill from the Carson Ward Store, Gaithersburg:

MCM37 header
“Gaithersburg, Md., July 7, 1904. Mrs. M.A. Hutton, Bought of Carson Ward, Dealer in General Merchandise.  Boots, Shoes, Paints, Oils. Country Produce at Market Prices.  Specialty, Dynamite.”  (Mrs. Hutton owed $2.95 for butter, a whitewashing brush, 8 pounds of Plaster of Paris, and a 10 gallon jar.)

In contrast, here’s a bill produced by the Rockville company of Clagett & Gandy, painters and paperhangers.  Though it’s a less expensive version – on which the proprietors must fill in their business name – than Mr. Ward’s, the pre-printed generic form nevertheless has style.

“July 15th, 1927.  Mrs. Poole, Autrey Park Md. To Clagett & Gandy, Rockville, Md.  To papering two rooms and hall: 66.00. Taking of[f] old paper – Pointing up and sizeing [sic] walls: 25.00.  [total] $91.00  Received Payment in full Edw Gandy.”  Edward Gandy (1871-1955) and Joseph Clagett (1871-?) were neighbors in east Rockville.  Census records identify them as “painters,” and Mr. Gandy’s obituary describes him as “the surviving partner of a 50-year-old painting and paperhanging firm Clagett & Gandy Co.”

The customer, “Mrs. Poole, Autrey Park, Md.”, was Annie Evelyn Jones Poole (1858-1936), widow of John Sprigg Poole (1846-1914).  Both were Montgomery County natives, who lived in DC as adults.  Although the 1920 and 1930 censuses list Mrs. Poole and her daughters as DC residents, by the late 1910s the ladies had acquired a summer home, just south of Rockville in a neighborhood known as Autrey Park.

1890 map - click to view. To orient you: Rockville is off the detail view to the left; the "fairgrounds" at left is the general site of Richard Montgomery High School; "Halpine" at right is near Congressional Shopping Center.

Detail of 1890 map – click to view. To orient you: Rockville is off to the left; the “Georgetown and…” road is Rockville Pike; the “fairgrounds” at left is the approximate site of Richard Montgomery High School; “Halpine” at right is near Congressional Shopping Center and Halpine Road.

Autrey Park, and the slightly later Autrey Heights, were two small, late 19th century developments, conveniently located along the Washington-to-Frederick Road (Rockville Pike/Route 355) and the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad.  The detail, above, from the 1890 Real Estate Map of the Metropolitan Branch (by Fava Neff & Co.) shows multiple streets in both Park and Heights, but this may have represented a hopeful (and non-forthcoming) future rather than reality.  However, the neighborhood had enough of a presence – probably assisted by the Autrey Park railroad stop on the Metropolitan Line – to maintain name recognition from the 1890s through the 1920s. The name itself comes from Caleb Litton’s 1722 land patent, variously written as Oatry, Oatre or Autra.

Mrs. Poole’s Autrey Park summer home was right on Rockville Pike, on the east side, in the general vicinity of present-day Woodmont Country Club.  (Woodmont’s then-owner, Joseph Bradley, insured his home “in Autre [sic] Park” in 1912.)  Rockville society columns in the Washington Post note Mrs. Poole’s removal to her summer home as early as 1917.  In 1927, the year of our paperhanging bill, the Post informs us on June 19 that “Mrs. J. Sprigg Poole and her daughters, Miss Martha Poole and Miss Katherine Poole, have reopened their home on the Rockville Pike after occupying an apartment in Washington since fall.”  On October 16 of that year, “Mrs. J. Sprigg Poole has closed her summer home at Autrey Park and is occupying an apartment in Washington until spring.”

Annie E. Poole, circa 1915.  Donated by Martha and Kitty Poole.

Annie E. Poole, circa 1915. Donated by Martha and Kitty Poole.

Other than these bare facts, I haven’t yet discovered much more about the family’s home (which is no longer standing; for those of you not familiar with Rockville Pike, picture a car dealership there instead).  When was the house built?  What did it look like?  And, relevant to this 1927 bill, how was it decorated?

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, carefully chosen wallpaper was an important element of an elegant, wealthy home. By 1900, improved production and lower costs put wallpaper within reach of  even more homeowners, who papered their walls, closets, attics, bathrooms, and even ceilings.  Wallpaper sample books, called things like “Correct Wallpapers for Year 1918,” encouraged the purchase and installation of up-to-date designs.

If only Mr. Gandy had been more specific on his bill!  Where was Mrs. Poole’s wallpaper purchased – who designed it – what did it look like?  (And what kind of paper did it replace?) Alas for this wallpaper fan, our 1927 Sears catalog reprint notes only that aspiring decorators should send away for a sample book, promising “timely stylish designs . . . stripes, two-tone emboss, Tiffany tints, floral patterns, ornamental panels, brocades, Lincrustas, sanitas and tile papers” – but no actual images of the papers themselves.  Thankfully, the online collections of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum can furnish our imaginations with some options (click on the links to view).  Did Mrs. Poole choose stripes, a floral pattern, something thematic, or perhaps a scene or a decorative friezeBold colors, or subtleClassically inspired – perhaps a reproduction of an older pattern – or something a little less formal?  Was she a William Morris fan, or did her taste skew more modern? Seriously, I’d love to know – if anyone remembers the house, fill me in.

(…Sorry, I can’t resist one more wallpaper option: this pastoral pattern is dated 1927, and seems appropriate for a summer home in what was then the gently-rural suburbs. Perfect!)

How did you get to work today?  Montgomery County residents have a variety of options: car, bus, Metro, MARC Train, bicycle, foot power, the internet.  What you choose depends on many variables, including where you are, where you’re going, what you need to bring with you, and how much each option costs per day. If you travel the same way most days, you’ve probably invested in a few things to make your commute a little easier and/or cheaper – car and office keys on the same ring, a bag for your bike helmet, an EZ Pass on your windshield, a Metro Smartcard or MARC monthly pass in the front of your wallet.

20130501120121_00001Here’s the 1915 version: a Quarterly Commutation Ticket for the B&O Railroad, valid for 180 rides between Gaithersburg and Washington, DC, from May through July.  It is a handy little pocket-sized cardboard folder, 4.5″ x 2.5″ (when folded), covered in green canvas.  Inside is a page where the conductor punched out the rides by number.  The text on the inside reads:

top portionBaltimore & Ohio Railroad
Quarterly Commutation Ticket.
This ticket will entitle JB Ely
to 180 rides between Washington, D.C. and Gaithersburg, Md.
During the three months ending July 31, 1915
upon the conditions named on back hereof, which must be signed by purchaser before ticket is valid for passage.
88997                    O.P. McCandy, Passenger Traffic Manager

bottom portionCONTRACT.
In consideration of the reduced fare at which this ticket was sold, I agree that its use shall be subject to the following conditions:
1. If presented by other than myself, or if any condition of this contract is violated, it becomes void, may be taken up by the conductor and fare collected.
2. It must be presented each trip to the conductor for cancellation, and is valid for the passage only on trains designated and advertised to stop regularly at stations named hereon.
3. It conveys no stop-over privilege and does not permit checking of baggage thereon.
4. The right of the company is conceded to change the time of arrival or departure of its trains, or to diminish their number at its option.
I, the original purchaser, hereby agree to above contract, and will sign my name and otherwise identify myself as such whenever called upon to do so by any conductor or agent of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and on my failure or refusal this ticket shall thereafter become void.  [stamped] B&O RR Co May 1 1915 Agent Gaithersburg Md.

John Ball Ely (1875-1964) of Gaithersburg was an insurance agent.  On his 1918 draft card, he named his employer as the Equitable Life Insurance Co., on 14th Street, Washington, DC; he most likely worked for that firm, or for another downtown company, for most of his career.  Mr. Ely, originally from Harford County, married Essie M. L. Crawford (1882-1959) of Gaithersburg in 1906, and the couple stayed in that town the rest of their lives, living in various homes near the center of town on Park, Brooks, Russell, and Diamond Avenues.  Gaithersburg is conveniently located on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s Metropolitan Line, which runs from Point of Rocks to DC by way of central Montgomery County.  What better way for Mr. Ely to reach his downtown job every day than by rail?

The text in the “CONTRACT” makes it clear that this was a deal specifically designed by the B&O Railroad for commuters: reduced fare, no baggage checking, no stop-overs.  You couldn’t use this Gaithersburg-to-DC pass for excursion trips to Point of Rocks, or to visit Aunt Millie in Dickerson. The Metropolitan Line was completed in 1873, and by improving transportation to and from Washington it greatly facilitated the practicality of living in the suburbs while working in the city.  It wasn’t used solely for commuting, by any means, but that was a large part of the line’s business (and still is; today, the line is owned by CSX and used by CSX, Amtrak and MARC trains for freight, long-distance, and commuter travel).

This May-July 1915 pass doesn’t appear to have quite all its 180 rides used up (though it’s hard to tell because the punching, what’s left of it, is pretty haphazard), but it clearly got a lot of use.  I also notice that Mr. Ely did not, as instructed, sign the contract on the dotted line.  Likely, this pass was one in a long series, and the various train conductors knew him by sight if not name; why bother to sign it? Everyone knew who he was.  We have no photos of the Elys in our collections; nor do we have additional stories thanks to donors, as we purchased this ticket from a local antique store (props to Jennie, our Office Manager, for spotting it!).  But, more so than some of our artifacts, this little commuter’s pass stands on its own in many ways, telling a quick little story of a suburban resident’s daily activities.

The Gaithersburg station (looking north up the tracks), 1911.  Picture our Mr. Ely here every morning and evening; he probably walked the few blocks home.  Photo by Lewis Reed, donated by the Reed family.

The Gaithersburg station (looking north up the tracks), 1911. Picture our Mr. Ely here every morning and evening; he probably walked the few blocks home. Photo by Lewis Reed, donated by the Reed family.

Bonus! In honor of May Day, and because the “occupation” part of the census is the best bit if you ask me, here are the jobs noted on the Elys’ census page in 1910.  In that year, John and Essie Ely were living with Essie’s aunt and uncle, the Hogans, at the corner of Park and Diamond Avenues in Gaithersburg.  Mr. Hogan was “installing telephones” (he was also a baker) and Mrs. Hogan was the town telephone operator; their nephew Charles Crawford, also living with them, was a telephone lineman.  (For many years, the town’s telephone switchboard was in fact installed in the Hogans’ house.)  Their neighbors – many of whom were probably living above their shops, as Diamond is one of the town’s main streets – included: two tinners, a gardener, a dressmaker, laborers in a store and a livery stable, a blacksmith with his “own shop,” “plumber, own shop,” “laundry, own shop” (that would be Charlie Foo, a Chinese immigrant and a story all to himself… for another time), the postmaster (plus the postal clerk, an unrelated young man, was boarding with this family), a bank clerk, and the railroad baggage master.

Sometimes, you need a little break from reality. Where better to turn than a ripping adventure novel? Here are a few from our collections.

Robinson CrusoeA large (8×12) illustrated edition of The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner, as Related by Himself, by Daniel Defoe, published by McLoughlin Brothers, 1897.  The flyleaf is inscribed “Mary Elinor England, from Aunt Mattie.” Mary England (later Ward) was born near Shady Grove in 1901, and moved with her family to Rockville around 1917. The book was donated by her son, who may have (probably?) read it himself as a child.

x20120310-4A nice little undated edition of Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb, published by W.B. Conkey around 1910.  The inside cover is inscribed “Eugenia Warfield, Gaithersburg, Md.” It belonged either to Eugenia H. Warfield (1873-1963) or her daughter Eugenia Elizabeth Warfield (born 1907); the Warfields lived in Laytonsville, but the younger Eugenia probably attended high school in Gaithersburg, and the donor (Eugenia Elizabeth’s nephew) believed that all the books in this donation related to schoolwork.

x20080706And last but not least, a personal favorite: The Prisoner of Zenda, Being the History of Three Months in the Life of an English Gentleman, by Anthony Hope, published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1898. This edition features “four full-page illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson,” including the frontspiece.  (If you don’t know anything about this book, it’s worth clicking on the title link to check out the plot summary – you’ll either want to run out and read it, or will be glad to know to avoid it.)  The flyleaf is inscribed “Maria Waters. 1912.” Miss Waters (1895-1970) of Germantown also owned the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, From the Memoirs of Fritz von Tarlenheim, in a 1923 movie tie-in edition. I always wonder: did she wait ten years to read the sequel? (Both books were first published in the 1890s.) Or was the 1923 book a replacement for an earlier volume that she loaned out, or lost?  Both books were donated by Maria’s great-niece.

Part 1 of “What are you reading?” included the readers’ notes and reflections on various works; in these cases, we have their novels, but not their opinions.  Yet all three books (and Rupert of Hentzau, not shown here) are far from pristine; they have loose pages, rubbed corners, broken spines, and other hallmarks of a well-used book. In addition, all were saved through at least two generations.  I think it’s safe to assume that they were read many times (or at least, read once, but hard) and were enjoyed enough that they were kept, to savor again.

In honor of today’s date, 12/12/12, here’s an assortment of ‘twelves’ – some deliberate, some accidental – from our collections. (And no, there aren’t twelve of them; that seemed excessive.)


First up: two twelve-candle molds, tin, late 18th or 19th century. The one on the left, in original (if well-used) condition, was donated by Mary Kingdon, and probably used by her family in Rockville. The one on the right – the handle has broken off, and it was painted black sometime in the late 20th century – came from the Tschiffely family of Gaithersburg, donated by Jean Seeback. Both of these make 10½” tapers, twelve at a time (we also have molds for 4 at a time and 6 at a time, but of course, today is 12 day).  In the interest of saving space, I refer you to either your favorite life-in-olden-times novel or YouTube to learn how to make candles with one of these.


These miniature metal soldiers were made by the Barclay Manufacturing Company of New Jersey; they’re “podfoots,” a style created in 1951 by Barclay to conserve metal (instead of standing on a flat base, they simply have flattened “pod” feet). They saw action in Bethesda, and only these twelve comrades survived. Owned, and donated, by Bill Allman.


A box of H.B. Marking & Embroidery Cotton, still containing its original twelve spools, circa 1890. Until the 1880s, red was a notoriously unstable dye; the introduction of “turkey red” floss (developed in Turkey), colorfast and cheaper than silk, started a fad for redwork embroidery on everyday household linens.  These embroidered pictures were generally outline-stitch pictures of flowers, fruit, children, animals, humorous sayings, etc.; designs were published in magazines, pre-printed fabric squares were available for a penny, or you could of course draw your own.  Redwork stayed popular through the 1920s and ‘30s – examples can be found in antique stores everywhere – and is experiencing something of a resurgence in today’s retro-crafty communities. Purchased by MCHS.

x20031201alTwelve hand-wrought iron nails removed from “Pleasant Hills,” a house in Darnestown, during gutter work in 2003. The center block of the house was built in the 1760s for Charles Gassaway; the wings were constructed in the 1870s and 1910s. Someone could probably tell us more precisely when these nails were made and used, but we haven’t yet made that attempt. Donated by Mary Wolfe.


And last but not least, a tin suppository mold, mid 19th century, with twelve holes.  The box is 5.5″ long and 3.5″ deep, with the ‘thimbles’ making suppositories a little less than 2″ long.  Yes, it makes exactly what you think it does; 19th century doctors and pharmacists made their own recipes using  these handy tools.  According to “The Art of Dispensing,” 1915, by Peter MacEwan, “an American style [of suppository mold] consists of a circular metal box pierced with holes into which thimbles fit. The box can be filled with iced water or a freezing-mixture. The thimbles are filled with the suppository-mixture, dropped into the box, and owing to the chill the contents of the mold contract, and are easily tapped out when solid.” This piece was donated to MCHS by John Bentley of Sandy Spring. Mr. Bentley served as the MCHS curator in the late 1940s-early 1950s, and many of the items credited to Bentley were in fact collected by him from other county residents; thus, unfortunately, the specific history of this item is unknown.

I hope you all enjoy your Last Consecutive Date Day (especially if today is your birthday) until 01/01/2101. Go forth, and do something twelve times!