Category Archives: Eliza Baylies Wheaton

The Influences of Lydia Folger Fowler

This year, my holiday preparations include not only frantic knitting but also frenzied preparation of a paper that must be sent out on January 5.  There is nothing special about this situation, as some sort of writing to some sort of deadline is part of the academic professional’s condition.  It bears mention here because it takes me back to where I left off writing about Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s travel journal in (cringe) September.

The paper focuses on the business interests of Laban Morey Wheaton and David Emory Holman, and it includes some discussion about Lydia Folger Fowler, her travels in Europe between 1860 and 1862, and her influence on the journeys of the Wheatons and Holman in England and Europe.  My ideas about that influence have been percolating since late summer, and now that I have time to turn attention to some additional background research about Fowler’s travels in Europe, I am convinced that her influence offers a solution to a longstanding question in the interpretation of Eliza B. Wheaton’s herbaria.

My colleague and frequent co-author Wheaton College Archivist Zephorene L. Stickney (Zeph) is the real expert on the Wheatons and their papers.  Ever since we began working together on what has become the Wheaton College Digital History Project, she has emphasized the significance of the herbaria for our being able to develop a full understanding of the European trip.  The travel journal itself is quite short.  Eliza B. Wheaton described the time she spent in London through the first few weeks that she, her husband, and Holman spent in their rooms on Sloane Street, but her entries stopped at the end of May and did not begin again until July, when the travelers crossed the Channel to France. As I noted here on April 17, Eliza B. Wheaton wrote the travel journal retrospectively. Both Eliza and Laban Morey Wheaton made notes of their activities on various days, probably as an aid to memory for future entries in the journal. The gaps represent moments for which either the couple could not remember what they had done or Eliza Wheaton lacked time to go back to fill in descriptions of the experiences.  In fact, we might conclude that the wealth of ephemera that Zeph and I have relied on for parsing the travelers’ European itinerary represents an unfulfilled intention on Wheaton’s part to complete those descriptions after the trip had ended.

The ephemera is only one part of the Wheaton Family Papers collection that Zeph knew could help us describe the itinerary. Eliza B. Wheaton also compiled herbaria as a record of her journey. An avid gardener, she picked flowers and took clippings from trees at many sites, including the thorn tree in Glastonbury that vandals damaged last week. The herbaria introduced some confusion, however, because some of the evidence it included contradicted more reliable evidence from the ephemera. The herbaria contain clippings from Rome and Florence, but hotel receipts preserved in the collection provide evidence that the group traveled directly from Lyons to Geneva from there up the Rhine to Brussels. They did not go to Italy.

But Lydia Fowler did. And one of my tasks this week is to look through the Phrenological Journal for reports that might indicate she could have collected the specimens that appear in Eliza B. Wheaton’s herbaria and shared them with her friend when the activities of Garibaldi and his army prevented her visiting the sites herself. The game is afoot!


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Herbaria, and Ephemera, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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Advice from Lydia

When last we left Eliza Baylies Wheaton and her traveling companions, they had arrived in London and taken rooms at a hotel in Holborn. To Wheaton’s great joy, two letters from her friend, Lydia Folger Fowler awaited her at the desk.

A former student at Wheaton Female Seminary, Lydia Folger had married phrenologist Lorenzo Niles Fowler in Nantucket, her home, in September 1844. She had studied medicine at Central Medical College in Syracuse and Rochester, New York, in 1849 and 1850, becoming the second woman to receive a medical degree in the United States (after Elizabeth Blackwell). First principal of the women’s department and then professor of midwifery and diseases of women and children at Central Medical College, Fowler also published books of Familiar Lessons in Physiology, Astronomy, and Phrenology. Fowler also accompanied her husband on a lecture tour of western cities, lecturing to ladies on her specialities. She had a private medical practice and taught medical courses for women in New York City in the 1850s. Lydia and Lorenzo Fowler undertook another lecture tour through the United States and Canada between 1858 and 1860, and in August 1860, they began a two-year tour through Great Britain, lecturing in Liverpool, Newcastle, Perth, and Edinburgh. Biographer Madeleine B. Stern noted that Lydia “found time for a trip to Italy, a winter of medical study in Paris, and a three-months’ stint in charge of the obstetrical department of a London hospital” (181).

Like Wheaton and her husband, Fowler and hers were in London in spring 1862 for the International Exhibition. The friendship between Lydia Folger Fowler and Eliza Baylies Wheaton and the fact that the Fowlers had been touring Great Britain probably contributed to the decision by Laban Morey Wheaton and David Emory Holman to journey to London on business that spring. Lydia Folger Fowler certainly appeared as a significant source of information about the city and about travel in Europe in notations in both the travel journal and the myriad notes that Eliza Wheaton and her husband made during their stay in London.
Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Madeleine B. Stern, Heads and Headlines: The Phrenological Fowlers (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971).

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Touring Liverpool

In 1862, the Cunard Line mail route from North America terminated in Liverpool.  The  city’s position as terminus reflected a long history as a significant English port for Atlantic trade.  In this commercial city, Eliza Baylies Wheaton, her husband, and his cousin had their first experiences of England.  They spent a day touring the city’s sites and pursuing a lost bag.

Those sites consisted of St. George’s Hall and the Free Museum.  As the group made their way to the first, a clever Liverpudlian identified them as Americans and offered his services as guide.  “He added very much to the visit,” Wheaton noted.  The guide doubtless imparted the facts that she recorded about the “massive, grand, and beautiful” edifice—its courtrooms and concert rooms, and its marble floors and pillars of Aberdeenshire Marble.

The travelers parted with their guide and proceeded to the Free Museum and Library on their own.  On finding that the museum was not open that day, they explained that they were Americans, in town only for the day.  They received a private tour.  “We were surprised,” Wheaton wrote, “to find a very extensive collection of natural curiosities of every description.”  She remarked especially on the “most beautiful coral specimens.”

The group spent the afternoon riding around the city and its docks in a carriage.  Wheaton noted that they rode “some 8 or 10 miles in pursuit of my lost bag, which was finally found and brought to me.”  A satisfactory end to a first day in an unfamiliar country.

Liverpool now boasts eight National Museums, including the International Slavery Museum, which grew out of a permanent exhibit on Transatlantic Slavery at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.  Though the Wheatons favored the abolition of slavery, it is unclear how familiar they might have been with Liverpool’s long connection to the slave trade.  Laban Morey Wheaton had served in the Massachusetts Assembly as a member of the Liberty Party, and David Emory Holman had served briefly in the Union Army, earning the lifelong recognition of that fact in the honorific that memorialized his rank, “Major.”


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Charles Robert Gibbs, Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean: A Record of the North Atlantic Steam and Motor Passenger Vessels from 1838 to the Present Day (New York: Staples Press, 1952).

National Museums Liverpool

International Slavery Museum

The Former Transatlantic Slavery Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum

Tours of Liverpool’s Old Dock, Merseyside Maritime Museum

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Arrival in Liverpool

In Queenstown, the Niagara picked up the pilot who would take the ship to the coast of Wales.  On the morning of April 28, a thick fog slowed their progress, but the fog lifted by mid-morning.  Making landfall in Wales, the ship took on a Welsh pilot who took them up the coast to Liverpool.  The tides, however, prevented their entering the harbor for several hours.

Eliza Baylies Wheaton did not handle waiting particularly well.  An active woman who was accustomed to keeping busy, she found the delays as the ship approached Liverpool particularly frustrating.  After having waited for the tide to turn so that the ship could clear the sand bar that blocked the harbor at low tide, she chafed at the time the customs house officers took to question the passengers and examine their luggage.  “This examination,” Wheaton wrote, “which sh[oul]d have taken place at the bar while we were detained took two hours or more.”  She was not amused.

The steamship company did handle one piece of business in a way that impressed her.  While the ship had been in Queenstown the night before, the company had telegraphed ahead to Glasgow to notify the family of the man who had broken his knee that he would need to be met in Liverpool.  Taking the train from Glasgow, the young man met his father’s ship and assisted him on the final leg of his journey home.

Wheaton, her husband, and Major Holman took a cab to Angel’s Hotel.  “On entering the house,” Wheaton remarked, “we found it manned by women—tastefully dressed, modest in demeanor & intelligent— They assign the rooms, attend the bar, and in fact do all that men do in our Hotels— The porters are men—so in the Coffee rooms there are only male attendants.”

She found the rooms comfortable enough, with “a cabinet for sickness—a luggage chain and curtains for the bed.”  But she disliked the way the bed curtains were used.  “At Eve. a servant comes in,” she wrote, “and draws the curtains around the bed so you may be thoroughly poisoned by your own breathing—  Of course, I undid what they did.”


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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The Coast of Ireland

Mild weather greeted Eliza Baylies Wheaton on Sunday, April 27, and the ship’s crew announced sighting the Irish coast during breakfast.  Wheaton had attended religious services with other passengers that morning, and she was in her cabin reading her bible and a sermon about the ocean when Major Holman called her out onto the deck to see the view.  She declared it “novel and grand—a rockbound Coast surely.”  As the ship drew nearer the land she wrote, “We were able to see Huts and discern cultivated patches.”  Later she saw “a Church very like our N. Eng. Churches.”

In Queenstown Harbor, a small tug met the ship, which discharged the mails and a number of passengers who were taking a shorter route to London.  Wheaton described the process as “very exciting,” in contrast to “a phosphorescent display in the water,” which she found “not very brilliant.”

More impressive to her was what seemed the great heat of the ship’s smokestack, which they neared in order to dry themselves of sea spray.  “The chimney seemed very hot,” she noted, “and I felt sure they had put on all the steam they safely c[ou]ld to land before dark.”  Her anxiety returned.

Back in her stateroom, she located a life preserver and considered how to use it.  Wheaton was a small woman, and she thought the life preserver looked too big to be of use to her.  “However I rummaged up some strong twine with wh[ich] to tie it on,” she wrote, “+ inflated my own life preserver for the first time— and laid down and had considerable sleep—“


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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Calm Seas

Saturday, April 26, brought “more quiet,” which gave Eliza Baylies Wheaton her first comfortable opportunity to socialize with her fellow passengers.  In the afternoon, she drank some ginger tea that, she noted, “revived me greatly and enabled me to go to tea from which I had been absent from 1st. day.”

Tea was one of the numerous meals served on board the ship throughout the day and evening.  A light evening meal between dinner and supper, it probably seemed to Wheaton just right, neither too heavy nor the gruel to which her diet had been limited for the past week.

The social aspect of the meal probably appealed to her at least as much as the food, if not more.  Wheaton was accustomed to a lively social life, with neighbors, friends, teachers, and students in and out of her house every day.  The dreariness of her stateroom must certainly have extended beyond her seasickness, and homesickness had probably worsened her anxiety that the ship would break on the stormy ocean and she would never see her beloved friends and family again.

What a delight it must have been for her then, to leave her stateroom and join her fellow passengers for tea.


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Paine, Harriet E. The life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton: A Chapter in the History of the Higher Education of Women. Cambridge, Mass.: Printed at the Riverside Press, 1907.

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Storm’s End

Eliza Baylies Wheaton described the third night of the storm as the worst yet, bringing still rougher seas.  “On this morn[in]g about 2 o’cl[oc]k,” she wrote, a wave “came with a fearful power on to the upper Deck over the wheel house— The smoke stack was marked with the salt water some 20 or 25 f[ee]t above upper deck— At the shipping of this sea one of the sail burst from the strength of the wind and all together the sound was like that of a cannon on board— She tumbled a moment then mounted the waves and went on her way—”

Wheaton responded anxiously to these events, but she could find no one, either passenger or crew, to affirm her fears.  The wind lessened late in the morning of April 25, and she took the air on the upper deck in the afternoon.  “The English,” she noted, “have a confidence in one of Cunard’s Steamers that seems to set aside the superintending providence of God—“  An Englishwoman from Toronto told her she did not believe a Cunard steamer could be wrecked.  An officer disagreed with Wheaton’s characterizing the passage as rough, but he remarked that the way the sea made the ship roll did make everyone uncomfortable.

Wheaton herself took the opportunity to reflect on how well her faith had weathered the storm.  She wrote: “But during the Storm I had a good degree of quiet trust, and yet I longed for a more sensible nearness to Christ… for that perfect love that casts out fear.”


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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“Brot down helpless”

Eliza Baylies Wheaton spent April 24 in her stateroom, though her husband was able to spend some time on deck.  Her entry in the travel journal marked this as the day that one of the passengers broke his knee while he was out on the upper deck.  He “was brot down helpless to his room,” she noted.  “Fortunately he is going home.”

The storm continued.


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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“David still well”

Eliza Baylies Wheaton focused on the wind and the waves in the entry she wrote to mark April 23 in her travel journal.  Noting that she wrote the entry “from recollection days after the passage,” Wheaton mentioned that she did not think her husband left his room on that day.

The wind and the waves and their effect on the ship unnerved Wheaton.  She commented that there was “scarcely any abatement” in the wind, and she described the waves as “very high.”  Trying to maintain a cheerful voice, she remarked that both were “hurrying us on to our destined port from 230 to 266 m[i]l[e]s per 24 hours.”

But Wheaton could not hide the anxiety she had felt during the voyage.  She searched for changes in the weather at least twice every day, at sunrise and sunset.  At night, however, the wind would increase, and the waves would reach the ship’s deck.  The ship creaked constantly, and Wheaton feared that it would come apart.

“I was told,” she wrote, “there was no apparent concern by the officers or crew, and the creaking was the inside work not the frame of the ship.”


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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On Deck in Rough Seas

The weather continued windy on April 22, but Eliza Baylies Wheaton was determined to spend at least some of the day outside her cabin.  Having spent the entire previous day indoors compelled her to make a great effort to get out on the deck in the afternoon.  Her husband ventured out first, and with the help of his cousin, he reached the upper deck.  David Holman then helped Eliza Wheaton to the lower deck and stayed there with her for half an hour, after which she returned to her stateroom, sick again.

“Scarcely anyone could walk straight but plunged from side to side,” she wrote.

In the evening, the wind became a gale, and Wheaton passed a “fearful” night.  “Ship rolling so bad,” she noted, “that my feet were often some inches higher than my head.”


Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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