[Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and various other locations. 1855-1914]. Twenty-six diaries, comprised of [6,817]pp. Mostly quarto volumes, a few folios. Several with boards either loose or lacking; wear to bindings. Some light wear and soiling to contents, but generally clean and highly legible. Numerous clippings either pasted or pinned into text. About very good. Item #783
A large archive of twenty-six diaries, comprising nearly seven thousand pages, written by Brooklyn and Philadelphia socialite Emma Lukens Hall Thompson, that cover the entirety of her life from girlhood through two marriages, childbirth, numerous travel excursions, meetings with celebrities and important figures of the day, and more. Thompson (1840-1926) was born in Philadelphia to a Quaker doctor and his wife. In 1861, at the age of twenty-one, she married Isaac Hall, a Brooklyn widower with four children; together, they had three children, only one of whom survived into adulthood. Hall was the director of the Union Ferry Company in Brooklyn, as well as the owner of a shipping supply company and several other business interests. Emma was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, an active participant in the women’s suffrage movement, and a frequent traveler both in America and abroad. Isaac died in 1883, and Emma eventually remarried, this time to Philadelphia businessman Samuel Swayne Thompson (b.1832) in 1891. Samuel -- who began in the grocery business, founded a bank, was a director of the North East Pennsylvania Railroad, and a trustee of the state insane asylum -- was already twice widowed. Samuel and Emma had been friends, and their union seems to have been a happy one. They owned at least three residences -- a house on Spruce Street in downtown Philadelphia, a place in the Poconos, and “Brooklawn Farm” in Chester County, Pennsylvania. A devout Quaker, Emma took up various causes throughout her life, such as abolition, Unionist sentiments during the Civil War, women’s rights, and numerous charitable and missionary efforts.
The first volume present here is an amalgamation of five years’ worth of diaries, stitched in paper wrappers. It begins in 1855, when Emma was fifteen years old, and documents her teenage years before her marriage to Isaac Hall. Her entries are relatively brief, noting the day’s weather and detailing visitors to the house and any outings attended. These occasions often involved several friends, and included boating trips, visits to musicals or other productions, attending museums, and social gatherings. The entry for August 11, 1855 is full of excitement, relating the “kidnap” marriage of her relation, Ann:
“Aug. 11th clear and warm. Harry was here at breakfast and left about 8 ½ o’clock. About 9 o’clock Ann came home and said she was married. She said when she went from here she went to see a friend, and there was her beau, waiting in a carriage for her. He told her to get in, and she thought he was going to take her riding, but instead of that he drove first to the Bishop’s and got a liscence [sic] and then to St. Augustine’s and was married by a Priest. She said she screamed but they told her to be quiet. But she seems now perfectly resigned to her fate and very happy. She is not going away from our house for a month or two yet. Amos Knight and Sam Fox spent the evening here, and Dave Stackhouse.”
In addition to relating her social activities and pastimes, she also writes about learning domestic tasks, including making quince preserves, writing about it in some detail in September 1855:
“In the morning Mother wanted me to learn how to preserve, so she made me come down in the kitchen and see how she first washed them off very nicely after they have been pared and boils them for 15 minutes then lets them stand over night so they will get perfectly dry. The next morning she takes the water they were boiled in, and puts as much sugar as will go in and lets it boil. Then she boils the seeds of the quince, and strains them through a sieve very fine, and puts it with the water that is boiling. This is for the juice. She puts the white of an egg in to clear it, and then puts in quinces, and if the fire is good they will be done in 15 minutes. She afterward boils the pearings for marmalade, when it is strained and sweetened.”
In the fall of 1855 she mentions having her daguerreotype made, and she notes a recurrence of this event in March 1860, writing, “I went around to 8th & Spring Garden and had my daguerreotype taken for a friend.” Through her initial diaries, one can chart the progress and life of a young woman readying herself for marriage and entry into middle-class society in the 1850s. Though they begin briefly, Emma’s entries grow as her confidence increases with age, so that by the time her next diary begins in October 1860, entries are lengthier and more detailed, and also begin to express her opinions rather than simple facts.
In October 1860, the family relocated to Brooklyn. She made new friends of the neighbors and of other members of their Quaker Meeting, and easily established herself in the social circles of her neighborhood in Brooklyn. Emma writes in November 1860 about the election of Abraham Lincoln, saying, “Election Day, but a very quiet one, oweing [sic] to the influence of the Republican party. Abraham Lincoln was elected by an immense majority over other candidates for the Presidency.” Near the end of March 1861 she writes, “Hal and I went over to N.Y. shopping and to see the Spring fashion. In the afternoon I received a newspaper called the Liberator, and edited by Loyd Garrison (a violent Abolitionist) from Silas Underhill at Cambridge.” Ever literate and in style, she also notes that she is reading Nicholas Nickleby by Dickens.
On April 15, 1861, she first mentions news of the Civil War, writing “Yesterday the Orthodox Meeting commenced in Philadelphia, and today every body is wild with excitement about the news from the South, viz. The surrender of Fort Sumter, etc.” She continues this thread several days later: “Excitement is increasing here in regard to the war in the South, and numbers of young friends are joining military companies -- notwithstanding the Discipline [i.e., Quakerism] is so in opposition to it. I am very anxious to offer my services as nurse for the wounded, and if possible will do so, as the little in my power is at the service of my country. (I am so patriotic that I would willingly fight if it was not unmaidenly).” The excitement begins to wear off, however, as the realities of military life hit home. In June she details a visit from a friend who has enlisted, who relates his camp experiences and also the fact that he has enlisted because of her and her opinions on the war:
“...who should step forth but Aaron Brown. He had just arrived from Washington, came on business for the Regiment and can only stay two weeks in Brooklyn. He is much changed -- more erect, taller, and better looking. Brought me two buttons taken from off Secessionists coats. He only staid about an hour, saying he had not yet seen his Father, asked my permission to come here tomorrow evening to tell me all about his life at Washington. … Aaron Brown spent the evening here. His account of camp life was quite entertaining and interesting, but his experience was sufficiently long to make him heartily sick of it, and as the term for which he enlisted (3 months) is nearly expired, I very much doubt his returning to Washington City at all. He fairly frightened me by saying that the only earthly cause of his enlisting in the first place was a conversation he had with me, when I expressed such strong Union sentiments, and an equal abhorrence to Secessionists, that it fired his blood. The next day he joined the 7th Regiment, and in two days started South. The mystery to me is how I could influence him to the extent of leaving all his comforts and friends to work hard, subject himself to exposure and even loss of life with scarcely prospect of obtaining any glory, and the change all effected in one evening, as before that his sentiments were strongly those of a Secessionist. Also said he was afraid to come bid me good by, as his strong resolve would waver if he again saw me (making me out quite irresistable [sic]).”
Brown was wounded several months later. News of the war continues, scattered throughout the diaries during those years.
Isaac Hall seems to make his first appearance around Christmas time in 1861. Emma met him at church, and writes, “I had quite a talk with Isaac Hall after Meeting.” After that, skating with Isaac and his daughter, Louisa, becomes a regular winter feature, as do visits to the house and gifts of oranges. Their courtship lasted several months, and the two were married in late July 1862. Emma writes with great detail about all of the hubbub surrounding the wedding, including sewing her dress “the skirt of which is so elaborate that it takes a monstrous long time to make it,” and all the delights of the reception. They honeymooned at the Cozzens Hotel in West Point. While there, she meets former President Fillmore and his wife, writing, “I was introduced to Ex-President Fillmore & wife, had a long talk, and became quite well acquainted.” Throughout, Isaac showers her with gifts, and you can see her giddy and glowing through her prose.
Emma’s union with the older and well-established Mr. Hall was certainly a brilliant financial match. The two lived in high style, and travelled frequently, as detailed herein. In November 1868 she writes, “This evening Isaac presented me with a pair of diamond earrings valued at $500.00. Five hundred dollars, they are the most magnificent ones I ever saw, now my diamond sett is complete.” Isaac proceeds to pierce her ears, as well, to accommodate the diamonds: “This evening Isaac armed himself with a large needle, white silk and a cork and commenced butchering my ears. He first ran the needle in the wrong place and had to make another hole, but I bore it until the two ears were pierced half ashamed that I had given up to such uncivilized vanity. The operation made Isaac so nervous that he could not go out as he intended to call on Louisa & Joe.”
Emma meticulously recorded the details of her daily life -- how much paid for hats for her and the children, who came for dinner, outings to the city and elsewhere. Among these details are her interactions with her hired help and the running of the household. On September 30, 1868, she fires the cook, writing, “I discharged Catherine (the cook), paid her $7 for two weeks service, and to my astonishment she turned around and said she would not leave the house without a month’s wages in advance, and I could not make her. I told her she had more than her earnings and I would not give her another cent. So I sent over for Isaac to come home and put her out, as she sat till ½ past 12. But she hearing me say a policeman would come with Mr. Hall started and Anna a new comer took her place.” Throughout the entire span of the diaries, Emma relates her experiences with the servants, both good and bad.
As wealthy people of some prominence, the Halls (and later, the Thompsons) were able to travel widely across both America and Europe. In 1869 they family traveled to the South, visiting the Carolinas and Virginia. While on the trip, Emma provides commentary on the African-Americans she encounters, none of it very polite: “We were quite amused at the colored policemen, they assume so much dignity, and look in the face more like monkeys.” In 1874, they travelled to California by train, departing on April 10 and arriving about two weeks later. Emma provides details of which lines, the trains themselves, and anything she finds interesting about her surroundings. Upon her arrival in Nebraska, she writes, “We have passed through the state of Missouri and are now in Nebraska. Here at the different stations we see Indians selling beads, begging, handing petitions written by Government Officers, saying they are good to the whites.” They continued westward, encountering new novelties along the way. “At Cheyenne City got dinner and were waited upon by Chinese men, very effectively. We are now in Wyoming Territory.” When they arrived in Salt Lake City, they took rooms in a downtown hotel, but Emma caught cold from the weather. She nevertheless describes the scene: “Salt Lake City lays in a valley entirely surrounded by the Wahsatch [sic] Mts on which snow is always visible. The streets are wide, and along each side is a clear, cold stream of water from the river Jordan. The Mormon houses are generally one storied, with a door for each wife.” Unfortunately, she is silent on the subject of polygamy, but she and Isaac do, however, tour the Tabernacle and drive past Brigham Young’s houses.
They arrived in San Francisco, relieved by the balmy California air after the chill and snow of the mountains around Salt Lake. With a keen eye for detail, she describes the friends they visited, the meals they ate, and the unusual flora and fauna of the area. She and Isaac tour the “principal buildings,” including the market, which is full of a wide variety of curious fruits and vegetables, “a feast for the eye,” and Emma buys some “Chinese curiosities to take home.” She describes a trip to the Cliff House, as well as a trip to a Chinese Mission School: “In the evening, the party took us to a Chinese Mission School. They learn very readily, and answer questions about the hymns, old and young, male and female, all with their long pig tail or que[ue] down their backs.” She also describes a day out to Woodward’s Gardens in the Mission District -- an amusement park of sorts which operated from 1866 to 1891 -- where they enjoyed the museums and aquarium and watched the feeding of the seals. They attended plays and the opera, had sumptuous dinners, and as was the fashion, they visited a Chinese temple and, perhaps less usually, also an opium den:
“We saw the different Gods that they pray to -- one for shipwreck, one for gambling, one for merchantmen, &c., and their incense sticks. [We went] Next to a Chop House or Restaurant and last to an Opium Den where the Chinese men were sitting and laying and smoking their opium pipes, some just going off in a sleepy state, while many were just commencing, and the men well crowded in little compartments not 6 feet wide or high. They economize their space so. The smell was overpowering so as soon as we understood the principle, we backed out.”
The following day, Emma prepares for a trip to Yosemite, writing, “May 2nd. A lovely day. I spent most of the day trimming my Yosemite hat.” They made day trips out of San Francisco the next several days, seeing canyons and ranches, geyser springs, and provisioning themselves for the tour of Yosemite. On May 7th while wandering about San Francisco she writes, “We were interested in watching a steamer from China unload 600 six hundred Chinese just arrived.”
They then journeyed to Cloverdale and Calistoga in order to visit the geysers, sulphur springs, and the petrified forests, sometimes travelling on unsafe roads:
“The road was almost 16 miles long and frightfully dangerous, right through rivers and along the edge of mountains hundreds of feet high and in many places 2 to 3 thousand feet of descent -- we just on the ledge with only a foot distance from destruction. Isaac was sick and dizzy, he could not look down, but would hold me in and look up at the tops of the Mts.”
They pushed on to Yosemite on May 13th, and Emma writes:
“We rode all day at Mariposa. I had a glass of peach ale here...there is an Indian village and a rich mining country. The whole open country is ditched and dyked in search of gold. We pass some very rich claims. At 7 o’clock we arrive at the Skeltons having ridden 54 miles. Here we are at a little rough country house built of unpainted boards and such a big party they could not accommodate us all under the roof covers. So we -- Isaac and Wm, Jeune and I, all slept in a Bar Room outside. They put up beds, then took a clothesline and suspended our travelling shawls, and here we slept.”
She continues the following day:
“They never drive here but start from Skelton’s horseback. About 10 o’clock we all mounted our horses. … It was a very pretty sight the whole party all mounted and in single file winding around the mountains, and of all dangerous roads I ever was over this exceeded my wildest dreams. …along a narrow ledge just wide enough for the horse to step upon. Mountains and ledges of rocks towering thousands of feet above us, and ravines and precipices on the other side hundreds of feet below. So we moved along each one for himself, dreading every moment we would be hurled down to destruction, and at one of the most dangerous points on the road, a square turn, just as a turned and was leading the party...my horse bawlked [sic], turned twice around and stood with his feet over the precipice. Isaac was so frightened he hollered out jump off, so I sprang off, but the horse would not budge. Then Isaac got off and took his bridle, gave him a kick, and led his own horse ahead. This started my horse so we all moved on.”
Emma travelled to Europe in the mid-1880s, after Isaac’s death in 1883, and continued to keep up her diaries throughout her years as a widow just as diligently. In 1891 she remarried and relocated, finding a new mate in wealthy Philadelphia businessman Samuel S. Thompson. The two travelled west in 1896, visiting South Dakota and the Black Hills. A newspaper clipping pasted into her diary in April 1896 reads, “Mr. and Mrs. S.S. Thompson of Philadelphia are about to visit Edgemont, South Dakota, in company with a party of prominent capitalists.” They take the train via Pittsburgh and Chicago to Omaha, riding in the company of the former Governor of Pennsylvania and his wife. Another longer clipping from the Omaha papers details the party and its destinations. On April 16 they arrive in Edgemont, a small town in the southwest corner of South Dakota, about eighty miles due south of Deadwood. In 1900, the population of Edgemont was about 475 souls (today it is around 750). Emma writes:
“All the four seated conveyances Mr. Grable could procure -- among them an original Deadwood stage driven by four horses which used to carry the mail across country -- were drawn up alongside our car, and we were driven 15 miles out through gulches, canyons and along mountain sides to a spot where they are making a small reservoir for use along and to Edgemont. In the afternoon we returned around 4 oclock...and about 5 oclock a delicious dinner was served, then we walked over to a little hotel where all our trunks had been deposited and we ladies dressed for a reception given for us by the people of Edgemont at the Club house. We paraded in headed by Governor Pattison, and were warmly welcomed by the Mayor of the town and his officials and their wives and sweethearts. We met there an old outlaw who had been in prison for 10 years; one of Buffalo Bill’s bareback riders, by name D. Middleton, who is living peacefully at Edgemont. We shook hands with him.”
The following day they made a trip to a grindstone mill and then set out for Deadwood, arriving around 7pm. They attend the theatre, “...and they did very credibly for a small house. We were crowded like sheep in a pen, and wriggled considerably through the evening.” The next day they set off in carriages for a visit to a mine: “We drive along five miles through gulches and canyons, along roads only used by four horse teams to draw ore, some places so narrow and precipitous we were frightened, but they make turn outs and wait for coming carriages.” Afterward they picnicked beneath cottonwoods, and Emma describes their luncheon and meeting an old miner, “by name Fagin who has lived in a log cabin here 18 years.” They visited one of George Hearst’s mines, then headed to Custer and enjoyed the mineral springs nearby. She mentions “a troop of colored soldiers are stationed to guard against Indian raids” at Fort Robinson, and they eventually arrive back at Edgemont. Thence they departed for Denver, arriving on April 30th. Emma notes that on the train, “George and Charles are the colored waiters who serve us well,” and near the end of the journey “each gentleman presented our colored men with $5.00 apiece.”
As many people across the nation did, Emma travels to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1894. In 1899, Emma and Samuel tour Europe, visiting Italy, followed by Vienna, Paris, London, before embarking for Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and a trip through the Arctic Circle. She writes on December 28, 1908: “I was made Life Member of the Woman Suffrage Society of Phila.” In 1912, she writes about the tragic sinking of the Titanic, and she laments the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Throughout her diaries, she keeps meticulous records of her social life, from menus to Christmas gifts to interactions with people in her everyday life, as well as the celebrities of the day. She notes each lecture she attends, each charitable meeting, and numerous details about her children. It is impossible to elaborate on all of the material present, due to its depth and scope, but Emma’s diaries are a wonderful resource for research as a comprehensive document of one upper class woman’s rich and varied experience of American life in the second half of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, spanning nearly her entire adult life.