For many people, the first day of a new year is a time for resolutions and fresh starts.  January first has been an official U.S. holiday since 1870, when it was included in a list of holidays for federal workers in the District of Columbia.  But not everyone has the day off, of course, and New Year’s Day celebrations – if any – can be muted, quiet, and personal, whether you’re recovering from a midnight party, enjoying time off with family or friends, getting started on those resolutions, or simply taking care of business as usual.  Interested in some New Year’s activities of Montgomery County’s past? Of course you are!  Let’s take a look.  (Note: spelling and punctuation are all as written by the original authors.)

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January 1, 1891
I have often wanted to keep a diary and as Mother has not written in hers for so long she has given it to me to begin in.
Was at Dr. Brookes, Rainy, so we staid in the house and played Tiddledy Winks.

Carrie Miller Farquhar (1842-1904) of Norbeck kept a diary or journal for much of her life, but rather sporadically.  She took a break between October 22, 1890 and January 7, 1891, and one of her young daughters seized the opportunity (with permission, apparently) to make a start on a diary of her own to start the new year.

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Carrie’s husband Roger Brooke Farquhar, Sr. (1837-1929) likewise kept a faithful record of his daily work.  He was a farmer, and most of his new year’s entries are little different from any other day; for example, here are the first three entries in the first journal volume, begun on January 1st, 1856 (click photo to enlarge; transcription below):
Farquhar 1-1-1856
January 1856
1st  Took Jinny to shop and she kicked so that they could not shoe her. Mended the dam &c.
2nd Went to Lea’s mill with buckwheat shod colt at Perry’s, hauled wood in the evening. very sleety.
3rd  Shelled corn for cow feed, and took to mill.

In 1861, Roger indulged in a bit of timely festivity, noting on January 1st:

Set up last night at Brooke Grove, saw the old year out for the first time I remember, took Mother to Brooke Grove in the sleigh.  Bill cutting wood     had a political meeting at Rockville.

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A new year can be a time for reflection on the year that’s concluded, as well as for looking ahead.  Okay, that’s a little trite, but it’s important to remember that it was as true for our predecessors as it is for us today.  As 1924 turned to 1925, recently widowed Henrietta Clagett (1848-1925) of Potomac noted sorrowfully in her diary,

Dec 31st, 1924.  Last day of old year which brought so much sorrow and loss of loved ones &c.  . . .
January 1st 1925.  New Years day dark and dreary snow on the ground from last night’s fall.  Looks like we would have more.

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The Stang family of Clopper were devout Catholics, who attended nearby St. Rose of Lima Church.  On January 1st, 1912, 18 year old Marie Stang (1894-1970) wrote in her diary,
Stang 1-1-1912
We stayed up until 12:00 to see the old year out and new year in.  We had two masses – 9:00 and 10:00.  Papa went to Holy Communion and so did I.  Mamma & I went to Gaithersburg to get Bess shod, came home and played cards, Papa & I beat Miss Mary and Mamma.

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Davey 1929In 1929, 23 year old W. Cecil Davey was living at home with his parents in Takoma Park, and working with his father in the plastering business.  New Year’s Day was a chance to relax.  In his red-covered “National Diary” for 1929, he noted on January 1st:

The New Year has come in decidedly damp.  It rained all day but was not cold.  fooled around the house all morning doing nothing in particular. Cleared up my room & books some so that it looks a bit tidier. Some time after dinner I went over to Dodge’s and helped Harry on his railway for a while. Stopped there playing with him & Doris till about six.  After tea Doris & Fred came over & we played cards for a while.  I took some photos of Doris over to Mrs. Johnston & she liked them.  Donald came in about 8 o’clock & we played cards with Frank & Dad till past ten.

(In the 1930 census, the Dodge family – including ten year old Harry, Jr. – are the Daveys’ next-door neighbors on Maple Avenue.  1950s records indicate that W. Cecil Davey was a professional photographer in Silver Spring; perhaps Doris’s photos were some early efforts.)

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From 1801 through 1932, there was a public reception held at the White House every New Year’s Day.  In 1892, Roger Brooke Farquhar attended with his daughter Anna and friend Katherine Hall; but, as noted in both Roger’s and wife Carrie’s diaries, it was not everything they’d expected (and, yes, Roger still included some of the day’s farm work):

Carrie:
Roger, Anna & Katherine Hall went to Wash. to Presidents Reception – had not a very successful day.

Roger:
Anna, Catherine Hall & I went to town to see the Presidents reception, shook hands with Mr. Harrison but were disappointed at not seeing foreign ministers
Carrie came home
The men plowing & spreading manure

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And one last entry!  Thirteen year old Catherine Dawson (1910-1974) of Rockville spent January 1st, 1924 visiting family, doing homework and chores, and generally having a nice day.  She ends with a cheerfully misspelled good wish for the coming year – a wish that your blogger also extends to you, dear readers!

Tuesday Jan 1
Had breakfast at Willard with Uncle Wade. There were great times last night. . . . Cleaned up a while & then wrote my synopsis of “David Copperfield.” Fooled around until dinner time. Virginia was here for dinner. Afterwards we read, talked & played with the boys. She left & I read until supper. Had a light supper. Read & fooled around all evening & then went to bed. Hears hopes for a Happy New Year for all my family & friends.

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Farquhar family diaries donated to MCHS by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.; Marie Stang’s diaries donated by Marie Stang; W. Cecil Davey’s diaries donated anonymously; Henrietta Clagett’s diary donated by Molly T. Keith; copy of Catherine Dawson Hill’s diary provided by Beth Dawson Rodgers.

Here’s more on the diaries, and lives, of Marie Stang and Mrs. Clagett, as well as some notes from the diaries of Carrie Miller Farquhar and Catherine Dawson.

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If you’ve visited the Beall-Dawson House, you may have noticed that our special exhibits are given a relatively small space in which to exist.  You may also have noticed – though we try to disguise this fact – that our exhibit cases, panels, and other physical structures are limited, and somewhat restricting.  For our new exhibit (opening today!), we have far more gadgets, gizmos and clothing examples related to laundry than even I, queen of cram-as-much-in-there-as-possible, could fit. That’s where the blog comes in!  The first Wednesday of each month while the exhibit is up, I’ll highlight something laundry-related that could use a little extra storytelling, or that didn’t make it into the display at all.

DSC04115First up is this wooden washing machine, “The Complete Washer,” from the 1870s through the late 19th century. It measures ten inches high and two feet wide (at the bottom edge), and consists of one large upper and two small lower rollers, operated with a metal hand crank.  There are metal coils in the sides, to allow the top roller some play when clothes are passed through, and grooves cut into the bottom edge to help it fit securely into the washtub.  Each end is stenciled, “”The Complete Washer. Price $6.00.  Made by F.F. Adams, Erie, Pa.  Patented May 28, 1872.” (The paint has rubbed off somewhat, but here’s a clearer example in the Memorial Hall Museum collection.) That would be U.S. patent #127,204, granted on that date to George S. Walker and Frank F. Adams, inventors of an “improvement in washing-machines.” (Click the patent link to see a nice little cross-section of the machine in a washtub.)

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Though to modern eyes it looks more like (and is often cataloged as) a clothes wringer, details from contemporary descriptions show that it was indeed a washing machine, in the sense that the roller action was designed to clean fabric.  Rather than rubbing soapy fabric over a washboard by hand, you could run it through the ridged rollers a few (or many) times.  The patent description notes that the new system of grooved rollers “adds to the cleansing power of the machine,” and an 1890 advertisement claims, “It will fit any kind of tub and will do all kinds of washing with a savings of more than half the time and labor over the old rubbing process.”

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The Complete Washer was donated in the 1960s by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr., and although he did not supply us with a specific history, based on his donation track record we can presume that this handy machine was used at Rock Spring, his parents’ farm in Norbeck.  In our collections we also have his mother’s diaries, so we know that whenever possible, Carrie Farquhar – like so many other 19th century women who could afford it – hired someone else to do the laundry.  In the late 1880s, for example, Carrie names several African American women in the Norbeck area who either came to Rock Spring every Monday or received delivery of the Farquhar washing at their own home, including Lizzie King, Eliza Brown, Ida Williams, and Alice Snowden.  Carrie also mentions some weeks when circumstances required that she woman up and take on the dreaded washday herself.

Research on the Complete Washer brought up the question: If this was indeed owned by the Farquhar family, how did they acquire the machine?  An article on F.F. Adams & Co., manufacturers of wooden ware*, in “The Metal Worker: A Weekly Journal of the Stove, Tin, Plumbing, and House Furnishing Trades,” Vol. IV, No. 13 (1875) says that “these goods have been sold entirely through canvassing agents, in the same manner as sewing machines.”  A May 1890 advertisement in the woman’s magazine “Farm & Vineyard” (page 3) offered the “thoroughly tested” Complete Washer as a premium to any woman who recruited two new subscribers.   Did Carrie see a similar ad, and send in her friends’ names?  Did she buy it from a door to door salesman, or someone who set up shop in nearby Rockville or Sandy Spring?  Did she or her husband Roger make an impulse purchase from a storefront in Washington or Baltimore?

Laundry exhibit status: The Complete Washer did not make into the exhibit, though we have a more traditional clothes wringer on display, and several excerpts from Carrie Farquhar’s diary are also on view.

* FYI, the other specialities of F.F. Adams & Co. were “wringers, extension ladders, step ladders, clothes horses, towel rollers and kindred articles, to which they have lately added hardwood wainscoting.”  All but the washing machines were “sold through the trade.”

Historical Society interns work hard on a wide variety of projects. This past spring and summer we’ve had five students dedicating their time and energy to MCHS needs. You might get to hear from them in person in the near future, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at some fruits of their labors.

Josh, an MCPS student (and repeat intern, our favorite kind!) has been transcribing a 19th century diary, written by Caroline Miller Farquhar of Norbeck. Carrie’s diaries have been featured a few times before (and one of the earliest volumes is currently on display in our exhibit on Montgomery County women in the Civil War), but there is still this one last volume to transcribe. Thanks to Josh (and the many other students who have taken their turn with Carrie’s peculiar handwriting), we’re almost there.

Two students from GW’s Museum Studies program chose to fulfil their internship requirement here at MCHS. Maggie has undertaken the task of updating the location inventory for our main storage area; in the process, she’s seen many of our artifacts and, I think, learned some interesting new facts about household management in the 19th century. Here is our brass clock (or spit) jack, a mysterious item which inspired some internet searches. This puppy is worthy of a whole blog post to itself, but for now here’s a quick summary: clock jacks were used to evenly roast meat in a fireplace without too much tending. Once wound up, the clockwork mechanism – shown below – kept the spit (which hung from the bottom) turning.   This brass clock jack, circa 1850, was made by George Salter of England and is thought to have been used at the home of Charles England in Potomac. Ours still has its key, but it’s missing the round spit from which the meat hung; here’s a picture of a more complete one, from the collections of the New-York Historical Society. 

Maggie’s fellow-student Caitlin cataloged a significant portion of our medical book collection, adding the records to our computer database. One entertaining gem is the 1860 edition of Walker’s Manly Exercises and Rural Sports, published in London and owned by George Minor Anderson of Rockville. You will no doubt be delighted to learn, O manly readers, that this fine volume is available as a free ebook, complete with illustrations (for example, the link here takes you to the section on “vaulting” and “pole leaping” – scroll down to the picture, I implore you). Inspired by the artistic gymnastics portion of the London Olympics? Try it for yourself! (Note: MCHS is not responsible for any injuries incurred during Manly Exercises.)

Becky, a recent graduate of UMBC, interned here during the spring semester and stayed on as a summer office assistant. Her current project will be on view at the County Fair next week, as the “Old Timers” have once again kindly lent us space in their building. Becky surveyed our artifact and library collections for an exhibit on entries at both the past and current incarnations of the Fair. It’s good to have interns – they help you get to the things you haven’t yet gotten to, like taking photos of an 1884 knitted bedspread with crochet-lace border, made by Annie H. Settle of Virginia and entered in the “antiques” category of the Rockville Fair sometime in the early 20th century.

Our fifth intern’s project is not quite ready for the internet yet, but it will be soon! Cathy, a student of the Johns Hopkins online museum studies program – and also a professional videographer – is creating a short promotional video to help MCHS tell the world about all the cool stuff we have and do.

Of course, this only brushes the surface of the many things our interns have done over the past few months. Less ‘exciting’ activities included stocking the shop, scanning photos, cleaning out the Dairy House, labeling newsletters, washing coolers, and dressing a mannequin in a 19th century gown (well, hopefully they thought that was exciting). Museum work, especially in a small institution like ours, requires a certain willingness to do all kinds of boring and/or unexpected tasks.  The hard work of our interns (and of all our volunteers) helps keep MCHS running – we couldn’t do it without them!

Carrie Farquhar’s diaries donated by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.  The clock jack donated by Warren Conklin.  Exercise book donated by the Anderson family.  Annie Settle’s bedspread donated by Gladys Benson.