Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Martha Jane Gay Papers, 1853-1854

Finding aid created by
C. M. B., April 1998

Summary Information
Title: Martha Jane Gay papers
Creator: Gay, Martha Jane
Inclusive dates: 1853-1854
Extent: 7 items
Miss Martha Jane Gay was away from home, traveling around New England, when she received these letters from her family and friends back in Wisconsin. They reveal glimpses into the lives of women in this period.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1994. M-2989.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Martha Jane Gay Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Miss Martha Jane Gay was away from home, traveling around New England, when she received these letters from her family and friends back in Wisconsin. Little is known about her or her correspondents. Joel Farnsworth of Bristol, Wisconsin, was possibly her brother-in-law. Julia Clark, who was married to Moses Clark and might have been Jane's sister, helped support her family by keeping a few boarders, including Mr. Dearborn, the school teacher. Although people urged Jane to return to Wisconsin, she continually delayed her departure from the east.

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."

Subject Terms

    • Child rearing--Wisconsin.
    • Family--Economic aspects--United States.
    • Farmers--Wisconsin.
    • Fund raising--United States--History--19th century.
    • Husband and wife--Wisconsin.
    • Married women--Wisconsin.
    • Whooping cough.
    • Widowers--Wisconsin.
    • Wisconsin--Social life and customs.
    • Women travelers--United States.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   19, Small Collections  
    Martha Jane Gay papers,  1853 February 15-1854 May 28 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Primary Correspondents

    • Addie [Martha Jane's sister]
    • Clark, Julia
    • Dickerson, [L?] A.
    • Farnsworth, Joel
    • Gay, Martha Jane