Helen Moorhouse collection  1906, [1915]
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of a 172-page diary, composed in the summer of 1906 (July 3-Sept. 2) about Helen Moorhouse’s experience as a hired musician at a hotel on Cape Cod, and a series of 32 letters that Moorhouse wrote from the Nichewaug Inn in Petersham, Massachusetts, to Alice E. Brown, the woman with whom she was romantically involved, in the summer of 1915. The diary includes numerous photographs, concert programs, and other clippings related to her summer. Both the diary and correspondence reflect Moorhouse’s interests in music, botany, art, and reading.

I. Diary, 1906

Helen Moorhouse’s 172-page diary from the two months she spent as a contracted musician at the Hotel Mattaquason in Chatham, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1906 offers a detailed account of daily life at a summer resort on Cape Cod.

Positioned somewhere between the hotel’s wait-staff and guests, Helen and her fellow trio members, Mary Molly Durgin and E. Isabel Foster, performed twice each day, but otherwise seem to have spent much of their time reading, sewing, and going on outings to the beach or into the village of Chatham. The diary entries record these activities, along with anecdotes about the hotel guests and employees, with particular attention paid to how the music the trio prepared and performed was selected and received. Other figures that appear throughout the diary are Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Wilkey, the Hotel Mattaquason’s proprietors; hotel guest Mrs. Edward Arthur James, of Chicago, and her son Sydney L. James, a violinist who often played with the Middlesex Trio over the course of the summer; Miss Ellen L. Cabot, a hotel guest who frequently commented on the trio’s music; Miss Haddock, a guest who also performed music; and Mr. Middlemass, the hotel’s head waiter and a student at Harvard. Other entries of note include a lengthy description of ice on the Great Lakes (29-31), the visits of an Armenian trader to the hotel (59; 113), a description of meeting journalist Lillian Whiting, who wrote The House Beautiful (83), and the complaints of an old crank of a Women’s Club Woman (99-103).

The journal contains various pieces of ephemera related to the concerts, activities, and places described in the written entries. These additions include 65 photographs (18 of which are cyanotypes), of beach scenes, the village of Chatham, the hotel, and its guests and staff; 2 real photo postcards; 2 hand-drawn sketches, one a diagram of her room and the other the view from her window; 2 news clippings; 6 concert programs from the Middlesex Trio’s performances at the Mattaquason; 3 visiting cards; 4 dinner menus from the hotel; a letter of music recommendations from Mr. Herbert H. White; and several other miscellaneous pieces of the hotel’s promotional literature. A couple of the photographs show men outfitted in dresses to play a hybrid game of baseball and tennis with the ladies of the hotel (132-133).

Moorhouse seems, in part, to have kept the diary as a record of the summer to share later with her parents, who were themselves vacationing for part of the summer at the shore in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.

II. Correspondence, [1915]

This portion of the collection consists of thirty-two letters that Helen Moorhouse wrote between the end of June and mid-August 1915 to Alice E. Brown, a widow with whom she was romantically involved.

Moorhouse was in the midst of a nine-week contract to perform as a member of a music trio at the Nichewaug Inn in the central Massachusetts town of Petersham, while Brown was at home in Melrose, just outside Boston. During their time at the Nichewaug, Moorhouse and her fellow musicians, Susie Wells and a Miss Wilson, tended to practice music or paint landscape scenes in the mornings and performed each afternoon and evening in the hotel’s music room. The letters also reveal her keen interest in botany, art, and reading. In particular, she spent much of the summer reading the works of American philosopher John Fiske, whose son was the proprietor of the Nichewaug, as well as a history of architecture.

Moorhouse’s account of her days at the Nichewaug are interspersed with outpourings of longing for Alice, her Dear Heart, and candid reflections about how the couple was negotiating the familial and financial terrain of their relationship. News about Brown’s two children, Effie and George, as well as Moorhouse’s aunts feature prominently in the correspondence. A couple of the letters additionally contain Moorhouse’s thoughts on current events, including World War I, women’s suffrage, and the status of Native Americans living on reservations. In one of the letters, she included sketches of British war posters that a group of women fundraising for Belgian refugees had brought to the hotel to display and sell.

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