'Privileges of sex and rank'

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
This selection of Regina Shober Gray’s [1] reading includes current novels ( John Brent and The Earl’s Heirs) as well as a response to a controversial proclamation by the Military Governor in New Orleans. Mrs. Gray tells a story on herself in daring to read from the Bible in front of a visiting minister.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 12 February 1862: Cutting out Frank [Gray]’s[2] shirts this morning. Sat up till’ 1 o’clock last night to read John Brent[3] – began it at 10½ after … Fred [Gray][4] went home, and F. C. had finished his acct. of the “Negro Minstrels”[5] he and Lawrence Sprague[6] went to hear and see. It is a brilliant book…

Sunday, 16 March 1862: A continuation of yest’ys storm; hail, rain, sleet, and a raw north east gale. Tomorrow Miss Choate[7] comes to work for the boys – a busy week we shall have. I have found time this past week to run through Bulwer’s “Strange Story”[8] and “The Earl’s Heirs,”[9] both quite entrainant in their way. The first deals in matters which always have had great attraction to me – but it is a far less charming book than his “Zanoni,”[10] which treats of much the same ideas in a more poetical spirit – Zanoni is indeed a prose poem...

The following entry requires some context: Major General Benjamin F. Butler,[11] the Military Governor of Union-occupied New Orleans, had issued the following order in May 1862: “As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation [i.e., as a prostitute].”

It took several weeks for the order’s publication to reach Europe, and for the European reaction to be received in Boston.

Russell Place, Cambridge,[12] Sunday, 29 June 1862: The English statesmen, and parliament members, are working themselves up into a frenzy of indignation about Butler’s proclamation, as to the N. Orleans ladies, spitting upon and insulting our soldiers. It is certainly liable to terrible misconstruction – we were ourselves shocked at it, and it has given rebels at home and unfriends abroad just the sort of handle against us, they can wield emphatically against us; it was not in good taste, perhaps, but when they see how it works there, not to disorder and rapine and license, but to order and safety and good feeling, perhaps our English critics will realize, that Butler, in command at N.O. and going no farther than their own municipal law allows, may have done wisely, though not perhaps with good taste and delicacy, in promptly putting an effectual stop to this irritating persecution of loyal men, by women sheltering them selves under the privileges of sex and rank, which might at any moment, like spark to tinder, burst into irrepressible disorder.

Our men are protected from insult they could neither resent nor return upon women, and the women, who can no longer vent their spite with impunity, have learned to curb it within womanly bounds, rather than risk a visit to the calaboose, as one of the dis-reputable, “who seek to fix the attention of men upon themselves,” and therefore cannot be ladies, according to Gen. Butler’s natural inference!

Manchester, Monday, 11 August 1862: A most lovely day, with floating fleecy clouds over the deep blue. Less breeze than yesterday, when we were glad to take shelter in the oak ravine from the strong wind. There while I was reading to the children from [the Book of] “Daniel,” the Rev’d Mr. Farnham[13] joined us, and begged me to go on, saying when I offered him the book to “conduct our Sunday services” that he had not felt well enough to exert his voice – so I went on with the “fiery furnace” – and then the 7 chapter of St. Matthew. The children fortunately asked no questions and I volunteered no expoundings! They had already repeated the commandments &c.

So I dismissed them to amuse themselves – and betook myself to reading the “Missing Link,”[14] an interesting acct. of new modes of access to and benevolent labor among the dregs of the London poor – the Pariahs of civilization. Mr. F. had “English Hearts & Hands,”[15] which I lent him after breakfast. So we read very quietly, exchanging a word or two now and then...

After tea we climbed the opposite hill and from the pinnacle rock had a splendid view – a soft golden sunset, with rose-coloured rays sweeping out from it all round – a mellow moonrise, through level bars of cloud – and its long broad rippling, golden path across the open sea, which always seems to me the reality of the Patriarch’s vision – the ladder whereon angels pass to and fro…

Coming down in the [train] cars the other day I met Mr. P.T. Jackson[16] and his son Pat,[17] who went to James River to nurse the sick during his college vacation – [he] was seized with swamp fever and ordered home, but is recruiting fast now. It was a great disappointment to him, having received permission to go out with the cavalry pickets, with the prospect of a brush at the enemy – all which exciting experience for a boy of 18 he was obliged to forego.

He says some one said to Mc. Clellan[18] the rebels were waiting his advance to crush him with numbers. “They will not wait long for the advance,” said Mc. Clellan. We hope it may prove so, for his position becomes daily more critical, one would think. But it is terrible to think of more bloody battles – and yet they must come, if we would put down this wicked Rebellion.

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Mrs. Gray’s eldest son, Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904).

[3] Major Theodore Winthrop (1828–1861) was one of the first Union officers to be killed, at the Battle of Big Bethel in June 1861. Before the war an aspiring novelist, his John Brent (1862) was published posthumously.

[4] Dr. Gray’s brother Frederic Gray (1815–1877).

[5] Perhaps the Ordway Aeolians at Ordway Hall on Washington Street.

[6] William Lawrence Sprague (1849–1884).

[7] A seamstress.

[8] A Strange Story (1862) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (1803–1873).

[9] The Earl’s Heirs (1862) by Mrs. Henry Wood [Ellen Price (1814–1887)].

[10] Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni (1842).

[11] Benjamin Franklin Butler (1818–1893), a former Massachusetts State Senator.

[12] The summer house of Dr. Gray’s uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. John Chipman Gray.

[13] Perhaps the Rev. Luther Farnham (1816–1897), secretary of the General Theological Library 1863–97.

[14] The Missing Link, or Bible Women in the Homes of the London Poor (1859) by Ellen Henrietta (White) Ranyard (1810–1879).

[15] English Hearts and English Hands, or The Railway and the Trenches (1860) by Catherine Marsh (1818–1912).

[16] Patrick Tracy Jackson (1818–1891) married Susan Mary Loring in 1843; her aunt Sallie Loring Gray was Mrs. Gray’s sister-in-law.

[17] Patrick Tracy Jackson (1844–1918), who married Eleanor Baker Gray (of a family known but unrelated to Mrs. Gray) in 1871.

[18] Major General George Brinton McClellan (1826–1885). Mrs. Gray’s initial admiration for McClellan would fade by war’s end.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. 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.View all posts by Scott C. Steward