A little girl’s very busy New Year’s Day in 1850

Catherinehavens1847“Yesterday was New Year’s Day, and I had lovely presents,” wrote 10-year-old Catherine Havens in her diary, which chronicles a year in the life of a privileged city schoolgirl, on January 2, 1850.

The diary is a wonderful artifact, describing her home on Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street, her favorite candy stores on Eighth Street, and the afternoons she spends rolling hoops and playing in Washington Square.

And it also gives contemporary readers a glimpse into what New Year’s Day was like for the city’s elite 165 years ago.

At the time, the colonial Dutch tradition of receiving male callers all day was in still full swing among upper class families, with smartly dressed gentlemen making short (often inebriated) visits to the ladies of a household.


“We had 139 callers, and I have an ivory tablet and write all their names down on it,” wrote Catherine.

“We have to be dressed and ready by 10 o’clock to receive. Some of the gentleman come together and don’t stay more than a minute; but some go into the back room and take some oysters and coffee and cake, and stay and talk.”

Newyearscalling1859harpers“The gentlemen keep dropping in all day and until long after I have gone to bed; and the horses look tired, and the livery men make a lot of money.”

Calling had romantic overtones. “Mr. Woolsey Porter and his brother, Mr. Dwight Porter always come in the evening and sit and talk a long time. They are very fond of one of my sisters.”

Catherine ends her New Year’s Day entry with a thought about the future.


“Next January we shall be half through the nineteenth century. I hope I shall live to see the next century, but I don’t want to be alive when the year 2000 comes, for my Bible teacher says the world is coming to an end then, and perhaps sooner.”

She lived until 1939, almost making it to her 100th birthday.

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9 Responses to “A little girl’s very busy New Year’s Day in 1850”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    What a smart lady!!! Yikes!!!

  2. trilby1895 Says:

    Fifth Avenue and 9th Street……candy stores on 8th Street……I wish I could close my eyes at these locations and magically be transported back to watch the little girl observing this in 1850. Btw, does anyone have a way of achieving time travel? I would definitely be interested….

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I know, at least we have her diary to let us peek into the past.

  4. Jack Says:

    Reblogged this on Universal Journal Review.

  5. RD Wolff Says:

    ” but I don’t want to be alive when the year 2000 comes, for my Bible teacher says the world is coming to an end then, and perhaps sooner.”

    Looks like her bible teacher was a crock and a crackpot at that.

  6. trilby1895 Says:

    Yes, and thank you. I have read, and reread, “Time and Again” as well as his sequel, “Time After Time” (I think that is the title). There is nothing like it and I wish someone would adapt those books for a quality movie

  7. Chips Off the Old Block Says:

    Reblogged this on Chips Off the Old Block and commented:
    Happy New Year, All!

    I am re-blogging this post from Ephemeral New York–one of my favorite blogs. Having grown up near NYC, I have always had a fascination with the city’s past. In this post, one of the city’s youngest citizens comments on life in the mid-19th century at this time of year.

  8. A boy remembers New Year’s calling in the 1860s | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] for a little girl’s version of the holiday, here’s an excerpt from an 1850 diary. Want to revive the tradition? Join guests at the Merchant House […]

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