Mrs. Gray on marriage

Hedwiga Gray diary1
Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Regina Shober Gray’s diary abounds in telling details and contemporary gossip; in some ways, her views on the marriages (and marriage prospects) of her friends call out some of her choicest phrasing:

Boston, ca. Sunday, 5 January 1873: Our cousin John C. Gray, jr.[1]’s engagement to Nina Mason (daughter of the late Rev. Charles M.[2]) was announced yesterday. She is 19 – he 33 or 34, a great difference at her age. On dit[3] he fell very desperately in love with her when travelling in Europe – and that her mother would not consent to any engagement till the child had seen at least one year of home society, thinking very naturally Nina was too young & inexperienced to know her own mind.

Sunday, 19 January 1873: Poor young Nellie U[4]’s miserable entanglement with Charles Walker has come to a crisis at last, after having been town talk for more than two years; and in all that time, no whisper or suspicion has reached her parents’ ears. We hear that his broken hearted young wife and his mother waited on Mrs. Upham,[5] a few days since, & told her the whole wretched story – the daily appointments to meet in out of the way places and walk, or ride off in a close carriage together, &c &c the constant correspondence &c – and begged Mrs. U. to interfere and separate the two. Poor Mrs. U. was shocked beyond measure – had never heard a hint of the affair – could not believe it of her child – but when she went up to Nellie’s room she found these letters from this married lover of her daughter wh[ich] betrayed the whole miserable infatuation of both parties, and taught her how stupidly blind the girl’s parents had been. Of course no one liked to speak to them about it – one’s family are always the last to hear such things.

They are puritanical people, very austere in all their ideas, and we hear they intend shutting her up for months in the Convent of the Sacre Coeur! was [there] ever such utter madness? The girl loves this man (sad tho’t be to say it), she has suffered the torments of the lost in all this miserable business – has faded & aged & deteriorated under it, in a way that has shocked all her friends and ought to have opened the eyes of her family long ago. Her father is rich – he ought to send her abroad, with some cheerful, kindly lady; there are many such who would be glad of the chance.

She needs to be taken out of herself and her past – needs de se distraire[6] in new grooves of thought, feeling, & routine – and instead, they lock her up in a convent cell, to prey upon her own heart – to eat it out with pining for the love that has allured her so far from the right path, with its sweet poison, with rage & mortification at her own blighted youth and damaged name – and with dark remorse at the heart break she has brought on the sweet young wife whose home she has blasted, whose trust she has helped to betray, whose peace & hope she has crushed.

Sunday, 16 February 1873: Well, it has come and is over – the trial I have been fearing for some time for my darling daughter.[7] She has had to give the pain which she & I hoped she could yet avert – has had to wound and bitterly disappoint a friend whom she esteems & honors, but whose love she cannot return, though as she told him “she should think better of herself all her life, that he had thought her worthy of such love.” He is a truly noble hearted man, one whom any woman might be proud to love & win.

Ah, life is so hard; I am thankful beyond measure my darling girl does not want to leave us yet for the shelter & blessing of a husband’s love, but I feel sad at heart & she even more so, for the wasted love poured out on her, which might have blessed both giver & receiver if offered else where. It has made us both, sick and sad; and for a while at least it has taken the light & beauty from his lonely life. He told her she could never realize how precious & beautiful had been her influence on his life. How the old, old story repeats itself, and will, while this world is the home of loving human hearts strong and glad in the fresh romance of success, or sad & regretful in the blank failure of hopes that were sweetest in life to the heart that held them!

Sunday, 6 April 1873: In spite of Lenten fasts & penitence, Mrs. Charles Minot[8] gave a splendid dinner & reception at her house to the Earl of Caithness, his wife,[9] and daughter Lady Fanny Sinclair.[10] Mme. Rudersdorff sang, as did Lady Caithness & Mrs. Minot, whose brother, Father (!) Grafton[11] of the “Advent,” must have groaned in spirit over such heathenish disregard of Lenten formalities. Mrs. M. is a woman who has wholly lost the respect of the community – her conduct with young Gregorson[12] being very reprehensible – but every body who was invited, no doubt flocked to her reception, to see “a real live lord”!!! We were not invited, so we will not protest, as to what we would have done, but I gave up calling on the woman a long time ago.

Friday, 14 November 1873: Dudley Bradlee & Lizzie Hall[13] were married last Wed’y,  and Minna Motley & Mr. Clarence Clark[14] of Philad. on Tuesday. His recent failure since the Jay Cooke disaster[15] leaves him still a rich man, somehow. We have Minnie Robeson’s cards for her wedding with Charles Sargent (son of Ignatius),[16] and Amy Rotch’s with Winthrop Sargent’s son[17] will be in a few days – so the financial panic does not stop the marrying & giving in marriage.


[1] John Chipman Gray (1839–1915) married Anna Sophia Lyman Mason on 4 June.

[2] The Rev. Charles Mason (1812–1862) was married to Susanna Lawrence 1838–44 and to Anna Huntington Lyman in 1849.

[3] It is said

[4] Helen “Nellie” Upham (b. 1849), a childhood friend of Mrs. Gray’s daughter Mary.

[5] Catherine Choate Bell (1826–1889) married Dr. Jabez Baxter Upham in 1849.

[6] [To] be distracted

[7] Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923). Mrs. Gray probably refers here to Mary’s friendship with, and declined proposal from, Dr. David Hyslop Hayden (1839–1915); he married Elizabeth Cabot Blake in 1876.

[8] Maria Josephine Grafton (1833–1893) married Charles Henry Minot in 1857. Mrs. Gray makes another reference to Mrs. Minot (and to Isabella Stewart Gardner) here.

[9] James Sinclair, 14th Earl of Caithness (1821–1881), was married to Louisa Georgiana Philips 1847–1870 and to Marie de Mariategui in 1872.

[10] Lady Fanny Georgiana Elizabeth Sinclair (d. 1883).

[11] The Rev. Charles Chapman Grafton (1830–1912), rector of the Church of the Advent 1872–88 and Bishop of Fond du Lac from 1888.

[12] Mrs. Gray’s diary includes a number of references to an extramarital relationship between the two.

[13] Two of the diarist’s stepmother’s cousins.

[14] Maria Davis Motley (1845–1895) married Clarence Howard Clark on 11 November.

[15] The failure of Jay Cooke & Co. in Philadelphia was a symptom of a world-wide financial panic in the autumn of 1873.

[16] Mary Allen Robeson (1853–1919) married Dr. Gray’s cousin Charles Sprague Sargent on 26 November.

[17] Aimée Rotch (1852–1918) married Winthrop Sargent on 2 December.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

9 thoughts on “Mrs. Gray on marriage

  1. Whatever Mrs. Gray thought about the subject at hand, she was an astute observer, and a wonderful writer. Your pulling out of her diary chronological entries by topic is brilliant. Can’t wait to read the book you’ll ultimately create from all this transcription. She is a delight, and really illuminates the upper class world of her time, even when she’s being what we would call “intolerant.” Given who she was related to, and associated with, I presume you have access to some wonderful photographs to illustrate the book you’ll put together?

    1. Thanks, Doris! I have great fun making up the thematic diary posts — Mrs. Gray really comes into her own on marriage and death — two features of her world, as we see. Thus far, I have found just one repository with family photos, but I hope to find more — and for many of the people mentioned in the diary there are lots of images from which to choose, luckily!

      1. Scott,

        Terrific! Any projected date on publication of the book? Since you’re doing the blog posts thematically, it’s hard to tell when you’ll be “done” with those. While so far I haven’t seen any family names pop up, reading what you do with her diary will certainly go a long way toward understanding the times and the place.


        1. Great questions! I am actually editing the first six volumes (1860-65) into a single volume; my reading of the rest of the diary manuscript helps identify the people Mrs. Gray mentions. No publication date as yet; in the meantime, I can dip into the diary for the whole period she covers (1860-84) to find her views on everything from Senator Sumner to the identity of an alleged murderer!

  2. This must be a fun project for you to work on, however long it takes. I will definitely look forward to the end product.

  3. How exciting to find such a beautiful window to the social order and daily life of post civil war America. My research back to 1625 Plymouth has yielded names and dates but little of the daily lives of my ancestors.

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