On Tuesday, April 24, 1917, Nina Winn wrote about attending a Historical Society event in which “Aunt Sue read a poem & Elizabeth Smith wore the ball dress she wrote of – made by Hannah Hall [later Mrs. Cyrus Cutter] & given by Mrs. Sterling & Mrs. Bates. Then the ‘[Old] Peabody Pew’ was presented and was apparently a great success – plenty of laughing & response – vestry was packed – over 300 – refreshments were _donuts – poor cheese, coffee, cake & punch not any [of it] so very good. but had a good time.”
And then on Tuesday, May 15 of that same year, “Peabody Pew” was reprised “Had to go over town – repeated ‘Peabody Pew’ in eve for benefit of Red Cross and surgical dressings – Went over about 7-45, rest [of cast] _much earlier. Miss [Dorothy] Doe played violin & [Mrs E. Nelson] Blake sang & rest sang old-fashioned songs. Aunt Sue read her poem & they sold printed copies of it. Home soon after 10. Vestry was packed & some standing – Said it was better than before.”
Arlington historian Richard A. Duffy has noted that “May 15, 1917 was also the day that the flag of the Red Cross was first hoisted in front of the old town hall that occupied the present site of the Uncle Sam statue and the end of Mystic Street. It was a prominent symbol of the surgical dressings work that had been taking place in quiet corners of the town, but which now had moved to large headquarters to accommodate an influx of volunteer workers since the United States had entered World War I.”
“Many in Arlington were eager to be among their neighbors at public events such as the encore of ‘The Old Peabody Pew,’ to demonstrate their patriotism. The poem read by its author, Susanna Adams Winn, at the April 24 performance, promptly was published as an illustrated booklet as a wartime fundraiser, each copy selling for 25 cents. None other than Caira Robbins, a spirited leader in Red Cross war work and one of the famous ‘Robbins Sisters,’ attended personally to ongoing sales of the poem in the community,” said Duffy.
“The poem certainly is a product of its time, but can be enjoyed by today’s readers as more than just a charming artifact. It’s important to understand its reception in the context of a time of great national uncertainty and fear,” Duffy observes. “The story related in verse form harkens back to idealized peaceful times of the past, and can be seen as encouraging a sense of hope among its listeners in 1917 that similar happiness will await when ‘The Great War’ has been won.”
The collection of images below is a scanned copy of the poem read by “Aunt Sue” — Susanna Adams Winn — “The Ballad of the War of 1812.” The front cover includes an image of Elizabeth Abbot Smith in the dress worn by Hannah Hall Cutter and the back shows a silhouette of Hannah Hall Cutter. Both the dress and the silhouette are also in the Society collection. See further down on post for a full transcription of the text to facilitate reading the poem in its entirety without needing to open separate images from the scanned original booklet.
A BALLAD of the WAR OF 1812
By SUSANNA ADAMS WINN
PRINTED FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE
SURGICAL DRESSINGS WORK AND THE
RED CROSS CHAPTER
The presentation to the Arlington Historical Society in April 1917 by Mrs. E.M. Sterling and Mrs. E.A. Bates of the quaint Ball-gown made and worn by their mother, Mrs. Cyrus Cutter, born Hannah Hall, more than a hundred years ago, seemed a fitting occasion for the writing of some account of the ingenuity and skill shown in its making, in the day and generation when the luxuries and facilities of the present-day debutantes were not only unknown, but undreamed of.
This can be called “a true story” with perfect impunity, as all the details of the narrative were related to me by the dear lady herself, many years ago.
A Ballad of the War of 1812
The tumult and the fighting now had ceased;
The dove of Peace had settled over all;
From War’s sad thrall our country was released;
But something troubled little Hannah Hall.
Still in her teens; with eyes of Heaven’s own blue,
And voice as sweet as any woodbird’s call,
With rosy cheeks and dimples not a few,
A comely maid was little Hannah Hall.
Skilled was her needle, in that long ago,
Deftly her tasks performed, both great and small.
While “trippers on the light fantastic toe,”
Were all surpassed by little Hannah Hall.
The war of eighteen-twelve was at its close,
And plans were making for a great Peace Ball.
Excitement reigned amongst the belles and beaux,
But sad at heart was little Hannah Hall.
As now, so then, a hundred years gone by,
Though wars may rage, and empires rise and fall,
“Eternal Feminine” repeats the cry,
“Nothing to wear,” had little Hannah Hall.
Her elder sisters, married long before,
She oft had seen depart for rout or ball,
In silken garb and finery galore,
But naught was left for little Hannah Hall.
The war had drained her father’s funds so low,
She dared not ask him for the wherewithal;
Her mother shook her head and answered, “No,”
When importuned by little Hannah Hall.
But suddenly she had a happy thought;
Hope danced again about the great Peace Ball.
For things are sometimes made, that can’t be bought,
“I’ll make a gown,” cried little Hannah Hall
For she bethought her of the fine nankeen,
Brought from o’er seas, beyond the Chinese wall,
By some old ancestor she’d never seen,
And stored away for little Hannah Hall.
“Now none must know,” unto herself she said,
“If anyone finds out ‘twill spoil it all.
I’ll wait ‘til everyone is safe in bed,
Then sew and sew,” said little Hannah Hall.
Candles she gathered in sly, devious ways,
No fragment for her purpose was too small.
For this, the feeble “light of other days,”
Was all she had, poor little Hannah Hall.
She dyed her homespun crewels with strange brews
Of vegetables, herbs, or berries small.
Lost is her art, but not the bright gay hues,
That decked the gown of little Hannah Hall.
And then she worked with fingers swift and deft.
Her stitches so infinitesimal,
We wonder now that any eyes were left,
To persevering little Hannah Hall.
Day after day, or rather night by night,
Unweariedly she plied her needle small.
Though time was short, facilities so slight,
Nothing discouraged little Hannah Hall.
Finished it was at last, in every part,
And “Pa” and “Marm,” brothers and sisters small
Were then allowed to view this work of art,
Proudly displayed by little Hannah Hall.
And when the long-expected time drew nigh,
And all the Precinct hastened to the ball,
Although her expectations were so high,
They all came true for little Hannah Hall.
More partners, than for just one girl seemed right,
By her sweet winning ways, were held in thrall,
More heads than one could count, she turned that night,
The reigning belle was little Hannah Hall.
Among the swains we need not name,
This sprightly lassie favored most of all;
And in due course of time a wedding came,
And so good-bye to little Hannah Hall.