Category: History Mysteries

Christmas Card History Mystery

Question – December 15, 2016

A quick look at this Victorian greeting card from our collection and you might assume that it was designed for a spring holiday or special occasion.  But take a closer look and you’ll see that it is actually a Christmas card!  Many Christmas cards from the 1880s in our collection feature a spring theme with various flowers.  If you want to find out more about these flower-inspired Christmas cards, return on Dec. 22!

Answer – December 22, 2016

Victorian Christmas cards often depicted nature and feature a variety of flowers that bloom from spring through early fall.  These examples from 1882-1883 feature spring-blooming flowers including violets (pictured above), sweet-pea, daffodils and lily of the valley (pictured below).  While this may seem an odd choice for the wintry season, it helped to remind residents living by candlelight or gas-lit fixtures that sunnier days were ahead.  The winter solstice takes place near Christmas and marks the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Each new day after the solstice brings a little more sunlight to people living with the cold, dark reality of winters without electric lighting and efficient heating.

Flowers also held special meaning in the 19th century and were used to convey specific sentiments and feelings.  Kate Greenaway’s “Language of Flowers” was first published in 1884 and helped codify and standardize the symbolic meaning of flowers that had been in use for centuries. According to Greenaway, blue violets signify “faithfulness,” daffodils express “regards,” lily of the valley connote the “return of happiness,” and sweet pea indicates “delicate pleasures.”

No matter how you decide to interpret these flowery Christmas cards, we wish you a very happy holiday season!

Kathleen Fahey, Curator

Christmas cards, 1882-1883, from the Aiken Family Collection at the Wellesley Historical Society.

Ether Day – History Mystery, October 2016


Question – October 15, 2016

Every October, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) celebrates Ether Day. On this day, a Wellesley resident is recognized as being the first person to publicly demonstrate the use of ether for anesthesia during surgery at MGH on October 16, 1846.  This person lived in the home pictured above, appropriately named “Etherton Cottage.” Do you know the name of this noted Wellesley resident?  Return on Oct. 28th for the answer!

Answer – October 28, 2016

The name of the Wellesley resident who lived at Etherton Cottage was Dr. William Thomas Green Morton.  Surprisingly, Dr. Morton was a dentist, not a medical doctor, when he demonstrated the use of anesthesia.  Dr. Morton manufactured artificial teeth and did so in an outbuilding on his property.  In fact, it was his patients’ discomfort while having teeth pulled that led to his interest in anesthesia.

Dr. Morton lived at Etherton Cottage with his wife and five children when Wellesley was still part of Needham.  The property had extensive grounds with barns and outbuildings.  Morton farmed the land and raised Jersey cows, geese, hens and ducks. When William Morton died in 1868 the property passed to his wife and children.  His family sold the property to H.H. Hunnewell in 1878.  Shortly after Wellesley was incorporated in 1881, Mr. Hunnewell gifted the land to the town to build a town hall and library.  H.H. Hunnewell had Etherton Cottage moved to a nearby flat section of land, aptly named Morton Field, where it stood for about 40 years before it was torn down.

Wellesley Town Hall still stands on the property formerly occupied by Etherton Cottage.  If you are ever up for a game of hide and seek, see if you can find the stone marker pictured below.  It is located at Town Hall and reads, “Here lived Dr. W.T.G. Morton, He gave to the world the use of ether in surgery A.D. 1846.”

For more information on Morton and his role in the discovery of anesthesia, please click on this PBS article:

Ellen Murphy, Volunteer Research Assistant