Drusilla Chandler and The Young Lady’s Companion Part 1

The Young Ladys Companion #1This week, I diverge from purely military history to an interesting topic that I discovered while doing research for the next book in the Harper’s War Stories series.  I am going to report on a person who played almost no role in the Civil War as far as I now, but with whom I became fascinated during the course of research for Harper’s Rescue.

Who was Drusilla Chandler?  She was a new bride in 1860 who, I believe, lived a life typical of women in the merchant class of the time.  I suspect that she may become a meme for a character in a later novel.

This past September, I was deeply engaged in research.  I knew that in the next volume, young Katie Malloy would be subject to schooling in the art of being a courtesan.  How well she’ll take to being back at school at the age of sixteen, I’ve yet to learn.  But I needed a source for the lessons that Eleanor and the other ladies at Lafitte’s Hideout would attempt to teach the perky Miss Katie.

I had the great good fortune one day to be participating in a chat group at the website: Civil War Talk  when I noticed a thread entitled: The Lady’s Companion.  The originator of the thread expressed the intent to post passages from a book by that name onto the chat page.  The book was published several times between 1850 and 1860 and it appears to be a guidebook for training girls of the middle class about behavior expected of proper ladies of the era.  So, of course I had to see this book.  Checking at ABEBOOKS, I was able to find an 1854 printing at Phylis Tholin Books in Evanston, Illinois.  When it arrived I was surprised to find the original owner had signed the front overleaf with her hometown but not the date.  The writing is in a carefully-written cursive that today we could expect to see only in calligraphy.

The Young Lady’s Companion; Sketches of Life, Manners, and Morals, at the Present Day contains a series of discussions of various topics of interest to antebellum ladies.  To quote from the Preface:

“The tastes of the ladies has been consulted in preparing the present volume for press.  From many writers of the best class, who are now contributing to the entertainment and instruction of the millions who read the English language, we have gathered choice pieces in perceptive, elegant, and imaginative literature, with here and there a gem of poetry – all bearing an intimate relation to the conduct of life, and addressed to female readers.”

After the first item, “The Influence of Woman in Society” [e.g.: society and civilization could not exist without the feminine] , the book consists of a series of essays and parables suggesting ways in which the proper society lady might be expected to act in the events daily life.  Since it was collected from the writings of ladies of “the best class” one expects that the solutions offered not only resolve the problems presented but also set the societal standard.

Back to Drusilla.  Seeing her name and town caused me to want to learn more about the lady.  Did she actually buy the book to help her prepare for her expected future role in society?  The Young Ladys Companion #2Or perhaps later in life, when as a dowager, did she find herself with time to enjoy reading books of an earlier age?  I took a tour through Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc. search engines without result.  So I turned to Ancestry.com to learn the basics.

I found her easily enough in the Census of 1850: Drusilla Richardson Chandler, age 12, living in Fryeburg, Maine [North Fryeburg in her signature].  She was the second of two daughters in a family with seven children.  Father John Chandler owned a small farm valued at $450 in 1850, $1,000 in 1860.  But Drusilla disappears in the Census of 1860.  What happened?  There are several possibilities.  The most logical is that she married before 1860, so I check the marriage records for Maine during the 1850s. Ancestry connects me to Mrs. Drusilla R. Walker, age 22, in the Census of 1860, the wife of the merchant Marshall Walker in Fryeburg, Maine with no children.

Now, if the lady is twelve years old in 1850 and twenty-two and married in 1860, and if the book that I have was published in 1854, I think it is a logical conclusion that she possessed the book as a sort of textbook shortly after it was published.  Supporting the textbook theory is the fact that the book has doodles on several pages which, to my mind, represent the bored mental wandering of a teen-aged girl being forced to sit through a school lesson.

So now, I’ve found her and I believe I have an answer to my initial question.  But that only makes me want to know more.  I’ll cover those discoveries next week.



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