Pair of domestic account books documenting over three decades of home and farm management
Alleghany City, PA: 1869-1900.
Alleghany City, PA: 1869-1900. Pair of account books comprised of a total of 115 manuscript pages (plus additional content on pastedowns) and dated from 1869-1900. Both written largely in the same hand -- that of owner Mrs. C. L. Mason -- the account books document the intense work of running a household and a farm, and the important roles that women played in both during the period after the Civil War.
Ledger 1 (1869-1871). Quarter cloth over marbled boards with spine perished and rear board lacking. Measuring 11 x 7 inches. Containing 62 manuscript pages.
Ledger 2 (1896-1900). Half calf over marbled boards with spine perished. Measuring 12 x 8 inches. Containing 53 manuscript pages.
Widowhood was rampant in the decades following the American Civil War, during which "nearly 620,000 men were killed, a number approximately equal to the deaths in all other American wars from the Revolution to the Korean War combined. The deaths of huge numbers of men, Nancy Cott has argued, rendered 'the assumption that every woman would be a wide...questionable, perhaps untenable" (Hacker, Hilde & Jones). While the rate of loss in the South was higher than in the North, swaths of the female population above the Mason-Dixon had also been required during the way to take on labor done by men; and after the war's end, many remained in those positions. It seems likely in this circumstance that Mrs. C. L. Mason (whom we've been unable to locate in census records), was among them.
With end of year notes for the conclusion at 1869 documented at the rear of Ledger 1, Mason opens this book by accounting for the "rents received up to date" for January 1, 1870. Here we learn that she has at least seven tenants on her properties -- with a mixture of men and women as heads of household -- in addition to a Mr. Graham Scott who appears to assist her in accounting for property and bond interest on her accounts. Consistently she will update these balances and payments as each new month begins. Each month, new seasons reveal the types of costs she incurs. The cold months of January bring subscriptions to the Pittsburgh Gazette for weekly deliveries, in addition to marketing, the deliveries of "butter, milk, and sundries," and occasionally getting tickets for rail travel. February brings schooltime, and the cost of "Neville Institute for 5 months tuition of Harry up to July" as well as various textbooks and clothes for the same son. Pew rent, exhibit tickets, loaning money to friends, and donating to the orphans' court all appear as well. As the ledger unfolds, it becomes clear that Mason does not want for luxuries. Exhibits, travel, and even a piano figure into her expenditures. For the most part, though, she seems firmly rooted at home and in her community, ensuring the everything runs smoothly as a successful business.
By the second ledger, it becomes somewhat clear that there have been some changes in Mason's life. The pastedowns of her manuscript are filled with the addresses of women from all over the country -- not just nearby Philadelphia but as far afield as Denver and Colorado Springs -- suggesting either movement in her community or increased access to travel on her part. The handwriting, though recognizably her own in the early portions, begins to grow shaky and uncertain as time goes on -- a sign either of age or illness. Despite this, Mason continues to run her home and farms like clockwork. Expenses for clothes, linens, and foodstuffs are meticulously recorded. Rents are maintained. In 1891 she begins receiving rents from her son (formerly "Harry" now called "Harrison D. Mason") along with his new wife Carrie Howard, who likely lived and helped work the property. More medical bills are documented, and it becomes regular to see "hired conveyance to go to society and then to church" or "hired car to church."
We learn so much about Mason herself as a result of the accounts. The number of newspaper and magazine subscriptions suggest that Mrs. Mason was well-read and interested in national and local news; the range of exhibits, charitable associations, and ladies' societies to which she belonged reveal that she was actively engaged in trying to improve conditions for women and children around her. Her own family was also an investment -- tuition, books, clothes, nutritious food, and travel all figure into her budget. Farmland and her tenants all appear to be prosperous. Numerous projects could engage these manuscripts, which show the intensive work women were doing in maintaining their homes and businesses after the Civil War. (Item #5452)