Martha Jane Gay papers  1853-1854
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Collection Scope and Content Note

All seven letters in this collection were received by Martha Jane while she was in the northeast. The letters that provide the most insight into the life of women in this period are those from Joel Farnsworth. In the course of the twelve months that this collection documents, Farnsworth's first wife Mary died of stomach complications that resulted from a bout with whooping cough. Within four months, he was married to his second wife, Harriet Reed. He noted that had Jane been back in Wisconsin to help him cope with his loss, he would not have had to marry so soon after the death of his first wife. The relationship between Farnsworth and Jane is not clear. He addressed her as "sister," and it is possible that she was his wife Mary's sister.

Farnsworth's letters reveal two aspects of marriage: marriage as companionship, and marriage as occupation. After Mary's death, he experienced the loss of a friend, but he also lost someone who had fulfilled vital functions in the home, keeping house and taking care of the children. Without someone to do that job, he was afraid he would have to send his children away. His daughter Martha was not yet old enough to shoulder all of the tasks for which her mother had been responsible. Farnsworth described Reed as a good woman who would make a good wife, and it seemed particularly important to him that the children "seem to think as much of her as they would of their own mother" (1853 October 24).

The single letter from Moses and Julia Clark includes their accounts of recent social activities. Moses was proud to tell Jane that he was President of the Committee of Arrangements for a "splendid" fund-raiser, held at "Depo Hall to get money for a bell for the Meetinghouse in the Village" (1853 February 15). The sewing circle hosted a social at a large house with a "good fire," -- an important detail in winter in Wisconsin -- and a great many people talked and ate "oisters and Eise cream" together. Julia helped prepare for and clean up after the event: "and last of all I had to wash and iron one of the tables cloth that we used about 10 yards long that was the worst of all but I always like to do my part."

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