A Victorian Holiday Diary
By David Schmidt
Main Line Life
Originally published December 25, 2002
At the turn of the past century, America was still in the grips of Victorian attitudes and lifestyles. For the rich, that meant a peaceful and pleasant life. It was the end of the era called the “Gay ’90s.”
For young women, life was full of social events. Today we might think of them as quaint: comings for dinner and games in the parlor; church and visits to relatives, friends and “shut-ins.”
Elizabeth Lodge “Libby” Oliver was the daughter of a noted Philadelphia physician, John W. Lodge, who himself was born in Lower Merion in 1838. He was included in the book Rural Pennsylvania in the Vicinity of Philadelphia, a tome written by Rev. S.F. Hotchkin, M.A., and published in 1897 while Lodge was still living. He lived and Libby grew up on Union Avenue.
Lodge attended the old Lower Merion Academy Public School and Bohnar’s School in West Chester. He then attended the Medical College of South Carolina and graduated in 1859. He served a year as resident physician at Philadelphia Hospital. He was assistant to the professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College and engaged in lecturing to private classes in the Philadelphia School of Anatomy until the beginning of the Civil War.
He was commissioned surgeon of the 2nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Corps, in June 1861 and spent the war serving in Pennsylvania, responsible for establishing the first military hospital in the state.
In 1864 he was elected one of the consulting surgeons of the Philadelphia Hospital. “He has practiced medicine in Lower Merion since the close of the war. At present, he is one of the company physicians, holding the post for many years,and one of the consulting physicians of the Bryn Mawr Hospital,” states Hotchkin in conclusion.
This career allowed Libby Lodge to be raised in a genteel fashion and, in reading her diary, seems almost to be a model for what we today see as this era in American life. She was born in 1882 and married Alfred Oliver, who was also from the Main Line. The couple lived in a house on Meetinghouse Lane in Cynwyd.
Not much else is known about her, except what comes from her diary. Much of the focus of this journal is about relationships. When you read her entries, you realize there’s much between the lines of who these people are and what Lizzy, as she was known, wanted or perceived them to be.
Those views of an 18-year old girl are intertwined with very specific data about the day: the weather and temperature as well as times precise to the minute.
There’s something else that makes sense, particularly as our own holiday season nears. The entries are fairly long and detailed as Christmas approached. But look to the last entry, Jan. 3, 1900. It’s as if Libby herself is exhausted by the holidays, and one short line will suffice to describe the day.
But great care was taken with these musings. The entire journal was hand-typed and illustrated with hand-painted watercolors. This was the era of self-published books, but this seems to be a private record. Perhaps the book was prepared for her as a gift. Perhaps she spent her old age painfully typing these reminiscences of her youth, a youth spent in what many consider to be America’s most perfect age. If you were the daughter of an affluent man, that is.
The Moment and Its Thought: Journals of Elizabeth Lodge Oliver
The Turn of the Century or a Sad Winter
It began raining at noon and kept it up until night. I went to Hal’s a while in the morning. Sister went with John Moore to Mill Creek for laurel. She got soaking wet. Hal and I went to rehearsal at the Rector in the evening. No one was there but Mrs. Gardner, Harold McGeorge. This has been another busy day and I am not very well.
A beautiful day but quite warm for the time of the year. We have not had a bit of snow yet. In the evening I went to Church.
Clear and pleasant. I was not very well in the morning but went to town at 11:15. Did some shopping, met Sister at 2:10 and we finished up our Christmas shopping. Sister went out at 5:58 and I went to Mrs. Beyes and took her Christmas present. Came out at 9:33. Alfred did not come home until 10:35. Hal was over and got the dinner. Susan went to town all day. Jacob Stadleman died last night, very suddenly.
Clear and beautiful. In the morning, Hal and I drove to West Laurel Hill. Jack and Ann came to Hal’s for lunch. I went in with them at 1:15 and came out at 2:10. Sewed all afternoon. Sister and Lodge went to the Parish House and made greens for the Church.
Clear and pleasant. I was sewing hard all morning to finish Sister’s cape for Christmas. After dinner, Hal and I went to Stadleman’s. In the evening, we went to a rehearsal at the Church.
It rained hard in the night and awfully hard as we went to church. There were only fifteen there. Before we came back to church in the evening, they had trimmed the church with greens. In the evening there was a beautiful service. The boy and girl choir sang and the Sunday School was there and sang carols. We were all there at Hal’s for dinner. It cleared off beautifully in the afternoon. We were with the Medarys, stopped at Hal’s and helped trim the tree. Then, they came over here and trimmed a tree for Sister. The weather is getting much colder; a great deal more like Christmas weather. Mrs. Hoyt sent us two mince pies.
Amost perfect day. We all went to Church in the morning; had dinner at home. Paul came over after dinner. Sister, he and I walked to Dr’s and Mickles; Ned and Susan were totern. Alfred had a picture framed for me. Ella gave me a piece of tapestry framed; Mary, a book; Hal, a brass plaque, Jenny two cut glass bottles for the table and a plaque; Dr. $10; Sister a large bottle of bayrum; Lodge, a small picture frame; Howard, a bottle of headache cologne; Blanche Heston, a small picture. Clarice Hill, two doilies; Natalie Rutter, a small bag; Blanche Stadlman, a knitting apron; Lizzie Carswell, sleeve bottems [sic]; Janet, a shelf for the bathroom; Susan Heston, a small picture. Sister got a great many very pretty things. It has been a bright, happy Christmas. We had the tree lighted.
Clear and quite cold. I was busy all morning. Sister went to Cranston’s for dinner, then she walked with them to the Merion Meeting where they had an entertainment for the children. Sister is not very well. Hal and the children and Paul Medary were here in the evening. We lighted the tree again.
Clear and cold. Paul Medary came over and we trimmed the attic with greens. Alfred got home in an early train, for which I was glad. There was a man in Hal Magee’s house last night. At about two o’clock, the alarm went off and John Moore came down and saw him in the dining room and fired a pistol at him. He got away.
Clear and getting colder. Paul came over in the morning and brought some beautiful palms and greens that he got from Florida. We put them in the attic. Then, he came in the afternoon and brought some oysters. Hal Magee, he and I got them ready to fry for the dinner in the evening. Sister went over to Susan Heston’s to a small luncheon and went to Jeannette Keim’s in the afternoon. The attic was lovely and warm; and “they” seemed to have a nice time. We had a violinist, Mr. Ainsworth from town. Ella came home from Lafayette in the evening. We were disappointed Paul did not come in the evening.
Still very cold. Hal and I went over to Ella’s in the morning. In the afternoon, Sister, Paul, Hal and I walked over to see Brinton Robert’s new house. It is not quite finished.
Clear and very cold. Hal and the children were here all night. Ned, Ella, and Paul were here to see the New Year in. Near 12 o’clock, Paul, Sister, Lodge and I walked to the Church and rang the bell. We enjoyed it very much and we blew tin horns all the way home from the Church.
Clear and a most beautiful, cold day. We went to Ella’s for dinner. In the afternoon, we went to the dancing class at Keims. We had a fine time. Mrs. Keim had a Punch and Judy show and served ice-cream and cake. We came back to Ella’s for tea; played two games of cinch. Paul was there. We came home early for we were all tired.
Clear and cold in the Morning. I wrote letters. Went to town at 1:15 and came out at 5:10. The children started off to school. They were very loath to go. They were pretty well tired out. They had been going a good bit last week. We went to Hal’s for a few minutes in the evening.
Clear and a little warmer. I was over at Hal’s for lunch.