Notes from the Archives: Mary E. Weston’s Children’s Books

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By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

Over 25 years ago I was a children’s book cataloger at the American Antiquarian Society, my first job out of graduate school. This week brought back memories of my time there, as I was absorbed into cataloging the books that belonged to Mary E. Weston as a child.

Mary was the daughter of James Partelow Weston, a Universalist minister who graduated from Bowdoin College. She was born in 1849 in Gardiner, and later lived in Waterville until her family moved to Westbrook (now Portland), when her father became president of Westbrook Seminary around 1853.

Her books, mostly published in the 1850s and 1860s, accompany a large manuscript collection about the Weston and Woodman families (Mary later married her cousin Walter, the son of Cyrus Woodman, and the collection came to Maine Historical Society through descendants).

Many are beautifully illustrated and hand colored. Although most were published in New England and Philadelphia, several were published in the United Kingdom.

What kind of children’s books are they? Well, there are books of poetry, writing and drawing books, an alphabet book, and a riddle book. There are books about the kings and queens of England (from Boadicea to Queen Victoria with portraits and poetry), dolls (The Edinburgh Doll), birds (The Sick Robin and Little Henry and his Bird), fox and geese, and a book of cautionary tales (Little tales for little folks, or Juvenile accidents).

Untitled-4One of my favorites is A Bible picture letter by Catherine Sinclair, which has hand-colored hieroglyphics and rebuses. The last two pages are “A Christmas letter by Catherine Sinclair.” Pictures of eyes, ears, sun, human figures, animals, ships, etc. dot the book, which tells tales of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Daniel, Elijah, David, and other Biblical figures, as well as a Christmas letter and story about gifts given to the poor, a Christmas dinner of roast with plum sauce and mince pie, a fireplace adorned with holly, and a bonfire. Catherine Sinclair was a Scottish novelist and writer of children’s literature.

I also loved Fanny Gray: a history of her life, which was issued in a box with six paper-doll figures. It also includes a background card depicting Fanny’s residence. Apparently this was the first commercially-made American paper doll set.

So, what happened to Mary E. Weston? As mentioned earlier she married her second cousin, Walter Woodman, in 1883. Walter graduated Harvard Medical School, also in 1883. After practicing medicine for only one year in Alfred, he left the profession due to ill health. Walter and Mary had four children before Mary died in 1888. Perhaps Mary’s children, and her descendants, enjoyed these books, passed down through the generations.

For more information about the book collection search Minerva under author name: Woodman, Mary E. For more information on the Weston and Woodman collection see Coll. 2820. See below for samples of the collections:

Goody Two Shoes; The sick robin, Mary the maid of the inn
“A little Robin once fell sick, but none could tell for why…” Doctors Rooke and Owl try to take care of him but it is Miss Jenny Wren who really saved him … “They soon wed, and Jenny Wren became a faithful wife…”Untitled-1

Little tales for little folk, or, Juvenile accidents.
“A pretty Poll, who talk’d so plain
Would often little Mary name;
But naughty Mary oft would teaze,
Although mamma was much displeas’d;
One day she struck against the cage,
When Poll her finger bit with rage.
Those children who would act contrary,
Remember the sad plight of Mary.”

“Bird’s nesting.
George and Henry to the meadows went,
A bird’s next they did espy,
To climb the tree young Hal was bent,
George to persuade him not did try.
The next he gained  – the branch it broke,
When, falling to the ground,
He found if advice in time he’d took,
‘Twould have save’d him many a wound,”
How cruel the boy who deems it fun,
To rob the poor birds of their young.”

Untitled-7“The disobedient girl.
Young Emma was a pretty child,
Though careless, obstinate, and wild;
Upon the chair backs she would play,
Not minding what her Ma did say.
One day to reach some toast she tried,
And clinging to the table’s side,
Upset the urn – oh, sad disgrace –
She burnt and spoil’d her pretty face.
Children, whate’ver your parents say,
Be mindful always to obey.”
[note that Emma looks much like Pretty Poll in the first poem]

“Throwing stones.
Edward was always first at school,
To learn his task had made a rule;
While George would loiter on the way,
Throwing stones, in idle play.
He at length the old church windows broke,
Which for months his pocket-money took
To repair the damage he had done,
So thus he paid dear for his fun.
Boys should take care, in throwing stones,
Of damag’d heads, and broken bones.”

The large and small alphabet book.

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Fanny Gray; : a history of her life / illustrated by six colored figures.

Fanny Gray

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