Monday, June 20, 2016

The Courtship of Sarah's Parents, Robert J. Howe and Alice Cost

Note: This is part of a series of posts about Sarah Eva Howe and the scrapbooks that hold her family history. If you are new to this blog, you may find it helpful to read the first post in the series,"Meet Sarah – Storyteller, Visionary, Keeper of Family Scrapbooks," posted on June 18, 2016.

On March 4, 1870, at the age of 15, Robert James Howe, abandoned his work on a composition about gorillas and started a new essay he titled “Matrimony.”

Keep in mind that members of the Howe family sat at their desks or curled up in cozy chairs and wrote compositions for their own enjoyment and to express thoughts and opinions. They shared their writings with each other and saved many of them in their notebooks, desk drawers, boxes, and scrapbooks. We’ll never know what prompted Robert to write a piece on the subject of matrimony, but we can learn a little about him and his era by reading it. I like to imagine him speaking the words in my favorite excerpt: “I once read an anecdote in a paper about matrimony. A boy had been asked by his Sunday school teacher the definition of the word matrimony. He had in his mind the answer to a question about purgatory, so he gave that to her: ‘A place or state of punishment in this life, where souls suffer a short while before they go to heaven.  . . .  Many persons differ in their opinions of matrimony, therefore I think the best way to judge it is by experience. So if you want to be initiated into the mysteries of matrimony, marry.”
Robert James Howe, undated photo

By 1880, having reached the age of 25, Robert gained a different perspective on matrimony. That was the year he met 21-year-old Alice Ada Cost. They met at St. Paul M.E. Church in Cincinnati, where Alice played the piano at Sunday school and other gatherings. A note Robert wrote to Alice on Oct. 7 of that year leaves no question about Robert’s plans:

“Your kind note . . . reached me in due time . . . but my almost immediate departure prevented the prompt reply your kindness merited. [Robert traveled as a representative of his father’s thriving woolen mill located in Carrollton, Kentucky.] Since my return I have delayed answering because I was waiting an opportunity to call or in some other way further cultivate your acquaintance. Next Sunday . . .  I expect to be at home and, if agreeable to you, I want to escort you to church that evening. Awaiting a favorable answer by mail – directly; I have the pleasure to subscribe myself, Respectfully, Robt. J. Howe.”

In 1880, a man’s promise to “call” meant he would visit. The telephone, though patented in 1876, was not commonplace in middle-class homes until the 1940s or later. So we can picture Robert putting on his best suit, probably donning a hat, and making his way to 516 West Court Street, Cincinnati, where Alice lived with her parents Richard and Sarah Arnet Cost. Alice, no doubt, took care to wear her favorite dress and style her hair just so. Off they went on their first date, a stroll to the church for the Sunday evening service.
The Cost home, 516 W. Court Street, Cincinnati

That first date must have been a success. The scrapbooks include many cards and letters from Robert to Alice. We find few, if any, from Alice to Robert. Alice, like many young women, kept her suitor’s letters as treasured mementos. If Robert kept Alice's letters, they did not make their way into their daughter Sarah's scrapbook.

Over time, Robert’s letters become less formal. Names evolve from “Robert” to “Rob” and from “Alice” to “Allie.” Sentences become shorter and less elaborate in structure and language. Notes refer to mutual friends and favorite activities. Affection is obvious.

On Friday, Aug. 4, 1882, Rob writes to Allie: “I returned last night in good health. Hope you are well. I expect to see you about eight o’clock this evening. Truly, Rob.” The evening went well, we can assume, because the next day Robert went to Duhme & Company, a highly respected jewelry and silver store on the busy corner of Fourth and Walnut streets in downtown Cincinnati, and paid for a ring to put on Alice’s finger. For the 18-karat band he paid $6.25.

Receipt for Alice's Wedding Ring, 1882
By October 1882, the mail carriers of Cincinnati and neighboring towns delivered a wedding invitation: “Mr. and Mrs. R.H. Cost request your presence at the marriage of their daughter, Alice A., to Robert J. Howe, Wednesday evening, October eleventh, at seven o’clock. Cincinnati. 1882.”

On the morning of their wedding day, Robert sent Alice a last-minute note about packing for their honeymoon trip: “Dear Allie, Brace up! Clouds have a silver lining! Remember, ‘the clouds we so dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings over your head.’ Herewith I send two packages. Please open both yourself. Put in trunk contents of the larger one and . . . the other please put in wardrobe or elsewhere until tonight. After the ceremony I will put it on for traveling. Beside these I want to pack in your trunk two other suits. Yours, Rob.”

(Robert’s reference about big clouds comes from “Light Shining Out of Darkness,” a hymn text written by William Cowper of England in 1774. The scrapbooks are full of references to literary and religious writings.)

The scrapbooks contain little information on the wedding, but I envision a beautiful event, with the Howe and Cost families and their friends – including some of the area’s social, political, and social leaders – “dressed to the nines,” reveling in delightful music and happy in each other's company.

Where did Robert and Alice go on their honeymoon? They packed trunks full of suits and dresses, so they must have traveled some distance, and they must have stayed a while. I have found nothing yet that specifies their honeymoon destination, but I see clues. When 15-year-old Robert wrote about matrimony, he  mentioned Niagara Falls as a typical honeymoon destination. Later in the scrapbook is a Niagara Falls picture postcard and a receipt dated Nov. 11, 1885, for a stay at the Hotel Kaltenbach. A second honeymoon, perhaps? The receipt, addressed to Mr. Howe, confirms payment of $9.38 for Room 24 for “Self and Lady” and Room 25 for a nurse. The nurse likely accompanied Robert and Alice to take care of 2-year-old Sarah Eva Howe.

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