A Victorian Holiday Diary

By David Schmidt
Main Line Life
Originally published December 25, 2002

At the turn of the pastcentury, America wasstill in the grips ofVictorian attitudes andlifestyles. For the rich,that meant a peacefuland pleasant life. Itwas the end of theera called the”Gay ’90s.”

For youngwomen, lifewas full ofsocial events. Today we might think of them asquaint: comings for dinner and games in the parlor;church and visits to relatives, friends and”shut-ins.”

Elizabeth Lodge “Libby” Oliver was thedaughter of a noted Philadelphia physician, JohnW. Lodge, who himself was born in LowerMerion in 1838. He was included in the bookRural Pennsylvania in the Vicinity ofPhiladelphia, a tome written by Rev. S.F.Hotchkin, M.A., and published in 1897 whileLodge was still living. He lived and Libby grewup on Union Avenue.

Lodge attended the old Lower MerionAcademy Public School and Bohnar’s School inWest Chester. He then attended the MedicalCollege of South Carolina and graduated in 1859.He served a year as resident physician atPhiladelphia Hospital. He was assistant to theprofessor of medicine at Jefferson MedicalCollege and engaged in lecturing to private classesin the Philadelphia School of Anatomy untilthe beginning of the Civil War.

He was commissioned surgeon of the 2ndRegiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Corps, in June1861 and spent the war serving in Pennsylvania,responsible for establishing the first military hospitalin the state.

In 1864 he was elected one of the consultingsurgeons of the Philadelphia Hospital. “He haspracticed medicine in Lower Merion since theclose of the war. At present, he is one of the companyphysicians, holding the post for many years,and one of the consulting physicians of the BrynMawr Hospital,” states Hotchkin in conclusion.

This career allowed Libby Lodge to be raisedin a genteel fashion and, in reading her diary,seems almost to be a model for what we todaysee as this era in American life. She was born in1882 and married Alfred Oliver, who was alsofrom the Main Line. The couple lived in a houseon Meetinghouse Lane in Cynwyd.

Not much else is known about her, exceptwhat comes from her diary. Much of the focus ofthis journal is about relationships. When you readher entries, you realize there’s much between thelines of who these people are and what Lizzy, asshe was known, wanted or perceived them to be.

Those views of an 18-year old girl are intertwinedwith very specificdata about the day: theweather and temperature aswell as times precise to theminute.

There’s something elsethat makes sense, particularlyas our own holidayseason nears. The entriesare fairly long and detailedas Christmas approached.But look to the last entry,Jan. 3, 1900. It’s as ifLibby herself is exhaustedby the holidays, and oneshort line will suffice todescribe the day.

But great care wastaken with these musings.The entire journal washand-typed and illustratedwith hand-painted watercolors.This was the era ofself-published books, butthis seems to be a privaterecord. Perhaps the bookwas prepared for her as agift. Perhaps she spent herold age painfully typingthese reminiscences of heryouth, a youth spent in what many consider to beAmerica’s most perfect age. If you were thedaughter of an affluent man, that is.

The Moment and Its ThoughtJournals of Elizabeth Lodge Oliver

The Turn of the Century or a Sad Winter

December 19, 1899Tuesday

It began raining at noon and kept it up untilnight. I went to Hal’s a while in the morning.Sister went with John Moore to Mill Creek forlaurel. She got soaking wet. Hal and I went torehearsal at the Rector in the evening. No onewas there but Mrs. Gardner, Harold McGeorge.This has been another busy day and I am notvery well.

December 20, Wednesday.

Abeautiful day but quite warm for the timeof the year. We have not had a bit of snow yet.In the evening I went to Church.

December 21, Thursday

Clear and pleasant. I was not very well inthe morning but went to town at 11:15. Didsome shopping, met Sister at 2:10 and wefinished up our Christmas shopping. Sisterwent out at 5:58 and I went to Mrs. Beyesand took her Christmas present. Came outat 9:33. Alfred did not come home until10:35. Hal was over and got the dinner.Susan went to town all day. JacobStadleman died last night, very suddenly.

December 22, Friday

Clear and beautiful. In the morning,Hal and I drove to West Laurel Hill.Jack and Ann came to Hal’s for lunch. Iwent in with them at 1:15 and came outat 2:10. Sewed all afternoon. Sister andLodge went to the Parish House andmade greens for the Church.

December 23, Saturday

Clear and pleasant. I was sewinghard all morning to finish Sister’scape for Christmas. After dinner, Haland I went to Stadleman’s. In theevening, we went to a rehearsal atthe Church.

December 24, 4th Sunday inAdvent

It rained hard in the night and awfully hard aswe went to church. There were onlyfifteen there, Before wecame back to church in theevening, they had trimmedthe church with greens. Inthe evening there was a beautifulservice. The boy and girlchoir sang and the SundaySchool was there and sang carols.We were all there at Hal’sfor dinner. It cleared off beautifullyin the afternoon. We werewith the Medarys, stopped atHal’s and helped trim the tree.Then, they came over here andtrimmed a tree for Sister. Theweather is getting much colder; agreat deal more like Christmasweather. Mrs. Hoyt sent us twomince pies.

December 25,Monday,Christmas Day

Amost perfectday. We allwent to Churchin the morning;had dinner athome. Paul cameover after dinner.Sister, he and Iwalked to Dr’sand Mickles; Nedand Susan were totern. Alfred had apicture framed for me. Ellagave me a piece of tapestryframed; Mary, a book; Hal,a brass plaque, Jenny twocut glass bottles for thetable and a plaque; Dr. $10;Sister a large bottle of bayrum; Lodge, a smell pictureframe; Howard, a bottle ofheadache cologne; BlancheHeston, a small picture.Clarice Hill, two doilies;Natalie Rutter, a small bag;Blanche Stadlman, a knittingapron; Lizzie Carswell,sleeve bottems [sic.]; Janet,a shelf for the bathroom; Susan Heston, a smallpicture. Sister got a great many very prettythings. It has been a bright, happy Christmas. Wehad the tree lighted.

December 26, Tuesday

Clear and quite cold. I was busy all morning.Sister went to Cranston’s for dinner, then shewalked with them to the Merion Meeting wherethey had an entertainment for the children. Sisteris not very well. Hal and the children and PaulMedary were here in the evening. We lighted the tree again.

December 28, Thursday

Clear and cold. Paul Medary came over and we trimmedthe attic with greens. Alfred got home in an early train, forwhich I was glad. There was a man in Hal Magee’s houselast night. At about two o’clock, the alarm went off andJohn Moore came down and saw him in the dining roomand fired a pistol at him. He got away.

December 29, Friday

Clear and getting colder. Paul came over in the morningand brought some beautiful palms and greens that he gotfrom Florida. We put them in the attic. Then, he came in theafternoon and brought some oysters. Hal Magee, he and Igot them ready to fry for the dinner in the evening. Sisterwent over to Susan Heston’s to a small luncheon and wentto Jeannette Keims in the afternoon. The attic was lovelyand warm; and “they” seemed to have a nice time. We hada violinist, Mr. Ainsworth from town. Ella came home fromLafayette in the evening. We were disappointed Paul did notcome in the evening.

December 30, Saturday

Still very cold. Hal and I went over to Ella’s in themorning. In the afternoon, Sister, Paul, Hal and I walkedover to see Brinton Robert’s new house. It is not quite finished.

December 31, Sunday, New Year’s eve.

Clear and very cold. Hal and the children were here allnight. Ned, Ella, and Paul were here to see the New Yearin. Near 12 o’clock, Paul, Sister, Lodge and I walked tothe Church and rang the bell. We enjoyed it very muchand we blew tin horns all the way home from the Church.

January 1, 1900, Monday, New Year’s Day

Clear and a most beautiful, cold day. We went toElla’s for dinner. In the afternoon, we went to the dancingclass at Keims. We had a fine time. Mrs. Keim had aPunch and Judy show and served ice-cream and cake. Wecame back to Ella’s for tea; played two games of cinch.Paul was there. We came home early for we were alltired.

January 2, Tuesday

Clear and cold in the Morning. I wrote letters. Went totown at 1:15 and came out at 5:10. The children startedoff to school. They were very loath to go. They were prettywell tired out. They had been going a good bit lastweek. We went to Hal’s for a few minutes in the evening.

January 3, Wednesday

Clear and a little warmer. I was over at Hal’s for lunch.