First, the obvious: archives contain papers about adults. Because that fact seems so clear, we may not stop to wonder about it. It really couldn’t be otherwise, since children don’t tend to create and accumulate “papers,” except maybe the kind that get taped to the front of refrigerators, then maybe stashed in a drawer and eventually, regretfully, thrown out. There are certainly collections here or there whose main subjects are children, but those are few by comparison to those in which the focus is on adults.
The first child to catch my attention (and haunt me during evenings and weekends) was little Mary Bowles Foote. Ironically (from the archival point of view), Mary herself has no documentation in the collection, no doubt because her death as a toddler meant that she didn’t leave anything behind. I only know about Mary because I started to chart the families represented in the collection and stumbled across her existence while focused on her mother, Julia.
As I pieced Mary’s story together, the significance of her short life and early death became clear. I learned that Mary was the granddaughter of Samuel Bowles II, the founder of the “Springfield Republican” newspaper, and the daughter of his eldest child, Julia. Julia appears once in George Merriam’s biography of her brother (the most famous Sam Bowles) in Merriam’s description of her parents’ trip with their infant daughter “up the river in a flat-boat…bringing a hand-printing press and some scanty furnishings” from Hartford to Springfield, where her father started his paper in September 1824. Little more is known about Julia other than that she attended Springfield’s “Old High School” and subsequently married a fellow student named Adonijah Foote (sometimes Foot), whose family was related to Julia’s sister-in-law Mary Bowles. Foote studied to be an engineer, and his first jobs included work on the Connecticut River railroad and the Holyoke canals. Adonijah and Julia then moved to New Jersey, where he probably worked on the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Their baby daughter Mary went with them, something we only know because of an announcement in the “Republican” of her death from dysentery in New Jersey on August 17, 1851. New Jersey newspapers show that the incidence of deaths from dysentery in the region had doubled in the month of Mary’s death, and the toddler probably died within two weeks of the first signs of illness. Julia then returned to Springfield with the body so that it might be buried in the relatively new Springfield Cemetery. During this time Julia also fell ill from dysentery. On August 29, she died. By this time, her father had caught it, and less than two weeks later, on September 8, he died too. The family must’ve been stunned at this triple loss. If they understood anything about contagious illnesses, they must’ve feared more consequences, since at this point the extended family — three generations — all lived together on Union Street in Springfield. In this way, little Mary’s illness and death had rippling consequences for the family and their newspaper — not only were three family members dead within a month, but Samuel Bowles III was now the head of the newspaper much earlier than he would have anticipated. The stresses on him were enormous.
I visited the Springfield Cemetery recently but found no marker for Mary. An old cemetery plan indicates that she was known in the family as Minnie and that she was buried next to her mother, whose small, flat marker was barely visible when I visited.
Another Mary– Mary Dwight Bowles, called Mamie — provides a lighter note. This Mary was the daughter of Samuel Bowles III and his wife Mary Schermerhorn. Little Mary is the Bowles child Emily Dickinson referred to as “Minor ‘Mary’,” to whom she promised “a Butterfly with a vest like a Turk…” Mary was born in 1854 and was the third of seven surviving Bowles children. As you might expect, the older children helped out with the younger ones. On the right side of this note from early 1862, Mary anticipates a few chores in connection with her newborn brother Charles Allen Bowles:
Three unidentified children — two girls who seem to be twins and a younger boy, presumably their brother — appear in a daguerreotype and a pair of ambrotypes. Over the course of my work on the Bowles-Hoar papers, I have yet to come across twins in either family. The only twins I know of that have some connection to the collection are twins Fanny and Annie Stebbins, born in 1855 and friends and next-door neighbors to the Bowles family on Crescent Hill, but I’m not sure their dates work, and the brother isn’t “right” either. I keep all these names and images in mind in case something pops into place someday and I suddenly know for certain who they are. But whoever these children are, I love their little faces, especially the slightly furrowed brow on the girl at right. Is she concentrating on staying still or is she irritated at the photographer? She looks ferocious — I like to imagine she grew up to be a terror.
These same children appear in ambrotypes taken a year or two later. In both images, you can see that the boy has a distinctive nose that could help identify him if he appears in other photographs. Here, though, the girls remind me a bit of the Grady girls in “The Shining,” just because I’m programmed to associate “twin girls” with those famous characters. Maybe the boy’s name will turn out to be Danny.
Beth Hoar Bowles appears as a child in several images. Beth is the main collector of the Bowles-Hoar papers, the person who inherited, gathered, and preserved the materials from both the Bowles and Hoar families. She’s very well documented in the collection from her birth in 1854 to her death in 1924. Here she is as a young child in striped socks. As the person who would inherit the responsibility for all the family papers, she looks appropriately sober, even a bit deflated.
Beth’s sons also figure prominently in the papers. Her older son, Samuel Bowles V, was a rather tragic figure who struggled from an early age against his inherited obligation to run the “Springfield Republican,” and her younger son, Sherman, distanced himself from the paper for a while but ultimately became a major figure in the company and — even better, in my view — the temporary publisher of “Cat-Man Comics.” Here are the boys at about the age of their mother, above. Poor little Sam already feels the pressure of living up to expectations:
Beth Bowles was an active figure in her community and, judging by what survived, she must’ve conducted an enormous correspondence. Among the correspondence she saved — most of it from family and close friends — there is a single sheet from a boy named Fayette Corey. At the bottom of the sheet, Beth has added an explanatory note.
Beth’s added note is confirmed by newspaper evidence. That Beth kept Fayette’s note and handed it down among her papers shows us how much his situation moved her. Fayette probably didn’t leave much of a paper trail since he didn’t live long enough to create one — an obituary from the summer of 1919 shows that he died of enteritis at 13. So his single note above might be all there is.
To conclude on a happier note, we have Beth’s nephew Roger Sherman Hoar, the son of her brother Sherman and his first wife Caroline P. Wood Hoar. Roger looks like he was an eager child, straining to get out of his carriage and take on the world.
In addition to letters to Beth and her sister Clara from Roger (who became Attorney General of Massachusetts and a science fiction writer), the papers contain two entertaining notes from young Roger. The first note entreats–and threatens–Aunt Clara (nicknamed Pussy) for his chocolates.
The second note is to his cousin Samuel (Beth’s boy, above), reporting the birth of calves in the neighboring Prichard’s barn in Concord. I love this boy. Can’t you just feel his excitement? He has no need of mere exclamation points to show his enthusiasm, he has BLOCK LETTERS.
There are many more children, identified and unidentified, in the Bowles-Hoar Family Papers, each one with a story of their own, just waiting to be uncovered. Come and play with us. Meet the children.