Saturday, November 23, 2013

What Is It? Where Is It? (Octo-vember): The Commonplace Book

Did you guess that this is a page from one of Elizabeth's commonplace books?

If you're a friend of Elizabeth's on Facebook, you might even recognize it as her cover photo. So what the heck is a commonplace book anyway? Well, as you might have gathered from our blog name and blurb, it is a collection of writings, some original, some quoted, that is meant to be shared with others. There are three commonplace books of Elizabeth's known to be in existence: ours, known as the Willing Commonplace Book, was created for the Willing sisters between 1787 and 1789. Dickinson College owns a second volume that was created for Annis Boudinot Stockton, mother-in-law of Dickinson's founder Benjamin Rush. This volume contains Elizabeth's poetry and the poetry of her niece, Anny Young Smith. The third volume is known as the Yale Commonplace Book and is held by the Library Company of Philadelphia

Elizabeth's writings are also prominently featured in Milcha Martha Moore's published commonplace book and provide us with access to parts of Elizabeth's lost journal that she kept while she traveled in Europe. This multi-volume journal was sent back to America as she finished each part and was eagerly anticipated by her friends and family, who enjoyed reading about her experiences and observations. Unfortunately the original, complete, journals disappeared and have not been seen since prior to the mid-19th century, but this loss demonstrates the importance of commonplace books as a recording method. 

If you're interested in learning more about Elizabeth, we've recently stocked paperback copies of her biography, The Most Learned Woman in America by Anne Ousterhout in our shop, which is open Fridays-Sundays.

Friday, November 15, 2013

What Is It? Where Is It? (Octo-vember)

October was such a busy month with weddings, parties, and our annual Halloween tour, that we didn't get a chance to post an October "What Is It? Where Is It?", so once again we're combining two months together to bring you the Octo-vember edition!

Can you guess what the following document is and where it resides?

We'll be back next week with the answer and a bit of history.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Soldier's Christmas

Peace on Earth. It’s what we all wish for, not only at Christmastime, but throughout the year. Wars don’t stop for Christmas, but soldiers not actively engaged in fighting on Christmas day strove to celebrate the holiday in ways that reminded them of home. In fact, many of our beloved Christmas traditions came out of wartime celebrations and Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War, in an attempt by President Grant to reconcile the still divided north and south. 

Prior to the Revolutionary War, Christmas in America was a quiet, religious occasion and not celebrated with a lot of outward festivities and fanfare. Many historians credit the Hessian soldiers from Germany, who fought in America alongside the British, with introducing Christmas trees to the United States. Decorated trees were just starting to become popular when the Civil War broke out, and at least one account records Civil War soldiers as decorating their tree with “hard tack and pork” – materials they had on hand, just as they would have used popcorn, dried fruit, pinecones, and homemade paper decorations had they been celebrating at home. Later generations of soldiers did their best to maintain established traditions, with visits from Santa, wrapped gifts arriving from loved ones, singing carols - many of which originated during the years leading up to the Civil War, and decorations made from foil, tin cans, and anything else they could make with salvaged materials and creativity.

On Saturday, November 30 the grounds and first floor of the Keith House at Graeme Park will be open for free tours from 12:00 noon-6:00 p.m. with soldiers representing different wars encamped on the property demonstrating how Christmas was celebrated on the battlefront during different eras throughout our history. Crafts, ornaments and refreshments will be available for purchase in the Visitors’ Center and we're working on rounding up some musical entertainment.

Call 215-343-0965 for details. Directions are available on our website at

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...