I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the year 1832.
My parents were strict Quakers, and until my marriage at
nineteen, I knew nothing of any other religion. I had an absolutely
happy childhood and girlhood. I think so now, as I look back upon
it, and my diary, kept from the time I was sixteen years old,
shows that I thought so then. One of my first entries made in
1848 was as follows:
“Sixteen years of my life have passed, and, as I look back
at the bright and happy days of my childhood, and at the quieter
but more earnest enjoyments of my youth, my heart feels almost
bursting with gratitude to my kind and gracious Creator who has
filled my cup of joy almost to overflowing. Truly my life has been
one fairy scene of sunshine and of flowers.”
This may seem a very roseate view to take of one’s life,
and might be set down to the enthusiasm and glamour of youth;
but on looking back now at seventy years of age, I can still say
Under date of : 10th mo., 7th, 1849, when I was seventeen
years old I wrote:—
“I cannot understand it. I have thought that unless trials
and afflictions come to wean me from the joys of this life, I shall
never seek the higher and holier joys of Heaven. But instead of
afflictions, every day my blessings increase. All around me
conduces to my happiness; the world is very beautiful, my friends
are the loveliest and kindest that any one ever had; and scarcely a
trial or vexation comes to cast a cloud over my pathway. And this
happiness, this fate of happiness, I might almost call it, extends
even to the smallest circumstances.
Whatever I leave to God to decide for me He always decides just as I want Him to…
There is a continual clapping of hands and shouting of joyful voices in my
heart, and every breath feels almost as if it must terminate in a
smile of happiness.
Mother says I laugh too much, but the laugh is in me, and will come out, and I cannot help it.”
The same year under date of 12th mo., 29th,
“What a happy, happy home is ours. I could not but think
of it today as the merry jokes and tones of heartfelt pleasure
echoed around our family board. And this evening, too, as we
gathered together in our simple but comfortable parlor, it came
over me with a perfect throb of joy. Father was sitting on one end
of a sofa leaning his head on one hand, with the other hand
resting on mother’s lap; she sat next, and my head was in her lap;
and I occupied the rest of the sofa; I have no doubt, gracefully
and well. Sallie was sitting in a chair at the end of the sofa leaning
her head on father’s shoulder, and Lopno-Nose (my sister Mary)
was seated at all our feet, leaning first on one and then on
All of us were talking as hard as we could and feeling as
if there was nothing wanting but our absent, dearly loved brother
Jim, to make our happiness complete. Many perhaps would smile
at such quiet unobtrusive pleasures, but for my part they are the
kind of pleasures I enjoy most heartily and entirely. We can never
weary of them, nor feel that their first beauty has gone, but each
succeeding day makes them deeper and more earnest.
Perhaps I am weak and foolish to take so much enjoyment in things which
so many laugh at as unworthy of thought. I know I am but a child,
and pleased, as children are, with very little things. And yet to me
they are not little. A few of my father’s pleasant jokes, spoken
when I am brushing his hat or coat in the morning, will fill my
heart with sunshine for a whole day. And I am happy if I may read
aloud to my mother some book which I love, or even if I may sit
quite still and think. Oh, I do love my home better than any other
place I know of! I wonder if I love it too much.
Sometimes I fear I do, for even if I leave it for one night I am more homesick than I
would like any one to know, except those for whom I long.
Even when I simply take a walk I often almost feel as if I could cry to go
home again. It is very foolish, but I cannot help it. I should die if I
had no one to love, no home!
“But for one thing, and I would be perfectly happy,—a
father and mother, dearer, nobler far, than I can express, a
brother and sisters, uncles and aunts, and cousins, and friends, all
to love me, and, better far, all for me to love—with these priceless
blessings I could not but be happy.
One thing I say, prevents it,
but it prevents it only a very little.
It is the knowledge that I am not prepared for eternity,
and the small prospect I have that I ever shall be.
I wish it would give me more uneasiness, and that I
might feel the urgent necessity there is for me to act.
But I cannot compel myself to feel it, and so I go on as careless and indifferent
as though I had not the eternal salvation of my soul resting upon
me. I know it is very dangerous, but I really can do nothing
towards rousing myself; and so, in spite of it, I am happy—happy
in myself, happy in my home—my own dear home, happy in my
parents, my brother and sisters, and my friends, happy in this
beautiful world in which I am placed—in short, happy everywhere
and in everything,—thank God!”
In 1850, when I was eighteen, under date 4th mo., 25th,
1850, I write:
“I have been thinking to-day of my present life, and I could
hardly find words to express its happiness. Relatives, friends,
circumstances, all are nearly perfect. Outwardly I have scarcely
anything to wish for, unless it is for plenty of money to give away,
and to buy flowers with. I am crowned with blessings every day
and all the day long. Oh, there never was any one so blessed! . . .
Everything is so beautiful, and everybody is so lovely, and I can
enjoy it, and do enjoy it all to the very full. Sometimes I have
such heart gushes, as I call them, that I can scarcely contain
myself. I love them dearly, and yet after all perhaps they are a
little foolish. They are caused by such slight things—a blade of
grass, a leaf waving in the wind, a bright happy golden dandelion,
even an old barrel, or a heap of stones, or the creaking of a shoe,
often the rattling of a cart, or some equally common sound, give
me for the moment a sense of most exquisite happiness.
I cannot tell. It is not the beauty of the sight nor the harmony of
the sound, but only a something, I know not what, that causes my
heart to gush up joyfully, and my very soul to expand. I
sometimes think it must be association; but with what?
I do not love creaking shoes nor rattling carts, and yet often when walking
along the street I fairly laugh from inward pleasure at the
something in that creaking or rattling. It is not so always.
A hundred shoes may creak, and a hundred carts may rattle, and a
hundred barrels or heaps of stones may be around me, and jar
painfully on ear and eye; but once in a while comes the one, and
then comes the heart gush.
To-day a drop of rain fell on my forehead,
and I could have laughed aloud. But it was very silly; and I
am a foolish child altogether, and fear I always shall be…
we went with mother to the Shelter (a home for little colored
orphans). It was all very interesting there, but nothing pleased me
so much as when the little Blackies repeated,
‘Sparkle, sparkle, water pure,
dirty hands I can’t endure,’
with all the same gestures
and motions I used so often to do myself at the ‘Infant School.’
That gave me a right earnest heart-gush. I seemed almost to see
myself in short frocks and panties, a little white apron, and one of
those (as we thought) inimitable nets with a beautiful bow on the
side, which mother used to think was almost too gay, enclosing
my frisky hair, sitting on the highest bench of all in the school,
and feeling, and no doubt looking, as proud as a queen.”
Again under date 7th mo., 9th, 185o,
(after describing the pleasure of a little trip away from home):
“And yet the pleasantest of all was to get home again last
night. Home is home, and there is no place like unto it. Every day
I enjoy it more and more, and every day I am happier. Last night
I felt too happy almost. I fairly wanted to turn heels over head in
my exuberance, and I did scream with delight. And all for no
particular reason; only the influences around me were so
beautiful, and it seemed just then so glorious to live—to live, and
suffer patiently, and work earnestly and nobly, and trust
cheerfully, for years and years, until the glorious end shall come
and bring the reward of peace and everlasting happiness.”
Later in the same year I write under date of 7th mo., 6th day:
“In two weeks we start for a journey through the New
England States and to Newport. It is grand, this plan of going to
Newport—just the very place I had set my heart on visiting this
summer, though I did not at all expect it. But somehow, I can
scarcely tell how, whenever I set my heart on anything I am
nearly always gratified.
From a child it has been so.
I can scarcely remember being ever much disappointed, and I am sure every
step of my life hitherto has been through sunshine and flowers.
But I do not wonder, with such kind and good parents it could not
be otherwise. They really could not do more than they do to make
us happy, and they succeed beautifully…
I believe I do not know any children
who have so many enjoyments clustered in their home,
although I know many whose parents are far richer.”
I might multiply these extracts almost indefinitely, for my
diaries up to the age of nineteen are, with the exception of my
religious struggles, which seemed very tragic, but did not really
affect my spirits much, one long jubilant song of happiness. At
nineteen I married, and a new life began for me, which had its
own more mature joys; but girlhood was over, and its simple
girlish “fate of happiness,” as I called it, was exchanged for the
woman’s life of sober responsibilities, and weighty, although
In looking back now I can see that this “fate of happiness”
was created by two causes,—my health and my parents. As to
health, I never knew, through all the first eighteen years of my
life, except once when I had an attack of bilious fever, what it was
to be even ailing. I never had a headache, I did not know I had a
back, I never got tired, I had a perfect digestion, and nothing ever
caused me the loss of a single hour’s sleep. Moreover I was
blessed with what people nowadays call “La Joie de Vivre”
“La Joie de Vivre” is a French phrase that captures the meaning of
“the joy of living” or exultation of one’s spirit.
and simply to live seemed often happiness enough for me.
But the chiefest charm of my life was that I possessed the
most delightful father and mother that ever lived. In the narrow
Quaker circle into which I was born, very few of the opportunities
for amusement or excitement that come to young people
nowadays, were open to us, and all the fun we could extract from
life was of the most simple and innocent kind.
But with such a father and mother as ours, no outside pleasures were needed.
They were so sympathetic and loving, and so entirely on our side
under all circumstances, that we looked upon them, not as
uncomfortable criticizing “grownups,” but almost as children like
ourselves, with the same tastes and interests as our own.
We considered them far better comrades than any others we knew;
and no fun the world ever had to offer was half so attractive to us
as a quiet talk with our mother, or a good game of romps with our
They often used to say that they wanted their children to
have a happy childhood “tucked under their jackets”; for they
were sure it would make us better men and women, and they took
care that we should have this priceless boon. In looking back it
seems to me that there were absolutely no clouds over my
childhood’s sky. One of the much amused young people of the
present day said to me once, with rather an accent of pity, “It
seems to me you did not have many amusements when you were
young.” “We did not need to,” was my prompt reply. “We had our
father and mother, and they were all the amusements we needed.
They made our lives all sunshine.”
I wish I could give to others the vivid picture I have of their
inexpressible delightfulness. We knew, down to the very bottom of
our hearts, that they were on our side against the whole world,
and would be our champions in every time of need.
No one could oppress us,
neither playmates, nor friends, nor enemies, not even our teachers,
(those paid oppressors of children, as we felt all teachers to be),
nor any one the whole world over, without having
to reckon with those dear champions at home; and the certain
conviction of this, surrounded us with such a panoply of defense,
that nothing had power to trouble us overmuch. “We will tell
father,” or “We will tell mother,” was our unfailing resource and
consolation in every sorrow.
In fact, so sure was I of their championship, that,
when any of my friends or school fellows were in trouble,
I used to say, “Oh well, never mind, come home with
me and let us tell my father and mother;” feeling sure that that
dear father and mother could set the whole world straight, if the
chance were only given them.
And when the answer would come, as it often did,
“Oh, that would be of no use, for your father and mother cannot do everything;”
I would say, with a profound pity for their ignorance, “Ah, you do not know my father and mother!”
One of my sisters remembered to her dying day,
with a deep sense of gratitude, a deliverance our father gave her from an
oppressively long lesson before she was six years old.
Kindergartens were not invented then, and all children were required
to study abstract lessons in a way that would he considered
almost inhuman in these days.
My sister was toiling over a sum with a hopeless sense of incapacity,
and with tears trickling over her cheeks, when my father entered the room and said:
“Ho, Liney, what is going wrong?” She told him as well as she could,
and she says she could never forget his tone of absolute
comprehension and sympathy as he said,
“Why, of course it is too hard for my little Sally Dimple;
but never mind, put it away, and I will make it all right with thy teacher.”
And my sister says so strong a conviction came to her at that moment
of her father’s championship, that she went through all the rest of her school life
with an absolute sense of protection that made it impossible for
any “hard lessons” ever to trouble her again.
It was not that our father or mother encouraged us to shirk
any duty that they felt we were capable of performing. But they
had so much sympathy with us, and such a sense of real justice in
their dealings with us, that they seemed always able to
discriminate between the possible and the impossible, and to
protect us from the latter, while cheerily stimulating our efforts
after the former.
They never took it for granted, as so many “grown-ups” do,
that because we were children, we must necessarily be in the wrong;
but they judged the case on its own merits.
I believe it was this certainty of their justice that was more
of a steady comfort to us than almost anything else;
and I am very sure it has helped me to understand the perfect justice of my
Heavenly Father in a way I could not otherwise have done.
As I say, they always stimulated us to all right effort,
but this was never by commands or by harsh scolding, but always by
sympathy and encouragement. They recognized our individuality,
and respected it, giving us principles for our guidance rather than
many burdensome rules.
As far as possible they threw the responsibility of our
conduct upon ourselves. This degree of personal liberty was a
necessity to my freedom loving nature.
Under any other regime I should have wilted and withered; or else,
which I think is more likely, should have openly rebelled.
But as it was, no matter how averse I might be to any task, or how discouraged at any
difficulty, my father’s cheery voice repeating one of his homely
proverbs, “Come, come, Han, stand up to the rack, fodder or no
fodder,” would always drive away all my reluctance; and
discouragements melted like snow before the sun, in the face of
his courage-giving assertion, “What man has done, man can do”,
(he would slyly add) “consequently woman.” No child could have
withstood such inspiring courage.
My father’s own life had been a living illustration of the
courage that he so continually tried to instill into us. When a boy
of sixteen, his father lost a large part of his fortune in some West
Indian transactions, and his sons were obliged to do what they
could for their own support.
My father, with his adventurous spirit, chose the sea,
and beginning in the lowest place, he so rapidly
worked his way upward, that at the early age of twenty-four, he
was made captain of an East Indiaman; at that time the largest
ship in the port of Philadelphia; and his voyages in this ship were
He always attributed his success to the care and guidance of his Heavenly Father,
upon whom he relied in all his affairs,
and whose especial help he always asked and believed
he always received, in every time of need.
At the age of twenty-nine he gave up the sea, and went into business in
Philadelphia, and here the same energy and the same reliance
upon Divine help so prospered him, that he was able to make a
comfortable competence for his declining years.
I well remember when I was a little girl often wondering
what sort of a boy my father had been, and deciding, as I watched
the roguish twinkles in the corners of his clear grey eyes, and the
curves of fun around his genial mouth, that he must have been a
perfectly splendid boy, and just the kind I would have liked for a
For, getting on towards middle age as he was when we
were young, we found him the best playmate we children ever
had. Some of his old friends, who remembered him as a boy, used
to tell us that he was at once the most provoking and the best
beloved boy in all their circle.
No one could keep their anger against him for more than a moment.
Let his tricks be as vexatious as they might,—and he was, they say,
full and brimming over with mischief all the day long,—no anger could withstand his
genuine and openly expressed sorrow at any trouble he may have
caused, and the hearty and generous restitution he was always
ready to offer, nor the merry rebound of fun that would burst out
the moment his apologies had been accepted. He was always the
first to help in every case of need; and everyone, whether friend
or foe, knew they could rely on him for any service he was capable
All his friends loved and admired him, even while
they scolded him, and they generally found themselves laughing
at the very moment when they meant to be the most severe and
frowning. From childhood to old age this power of winning love
and approval continued with him; and the fun of his boyhood,
developing into the genial merriment of the chastened Christian
heart, gave his mature character a nameless charm.
In fact I do not believe there ever was a more contagiously
cheerful being than our father. No one could help feeling happier
because of his presence. His very hand-shake was an uplift, and
seemed somehow to make the world brighter than it was before,
and to put you in a better humor with yourself and with everyone
Many of my friends have told me that they would
rather have had a hand-shake from him than receive a valuable
gift from another man, because somehow, in that hand-shake, his
heart seemed to go right to their hearts, with power to cheer and
I remember well how, when my childhood’s sky would be all
darkened by some heavy childish affliction, a cheery “Well,
Broadie,” in his hearty voice, or some little passing joke spoken
with a roguish twinkle of his loving grey eyes, would clear my sky
in a moment, and make life all sunshine again.
And, even when I was older, his power to cheer grew no less, and it was quite my
habit, whenever I found myself down in the depths,
to put myself somewhere in his way,
with the certainty that even a moment’s
peep at his strong cheery face would lift me out.
I can even remember that,
in his absence, the sight and feel of his dear old
overcoat would somehow brighten everything, and send me off
encouraged to be braver and stronger.
To make life happier for everyone with whom he came in contact seemed to be his aim and
his mission, and rarely has any one succeeded so well.
Someone said to me, many years after his death, that
“John M. Whitall was the best loved man in Philadelphia”;
and in certain circles I am sure this was true.
Our mother also was equally well beloved. She was a most
delightful mother, not so full of fun perhaps as our father, but
always ready to champion her children’s cause everywhere and at
all times, and an unfailing rock of refuge to us in every
emergency. Sweetness and goodness, purity and truth, seemed to
emanate from her gracious presence; and, for everyone who came
in contact with her, she was an inspiration to all that was noble
People talk in these days of an atmosphere surrounding
each one of us, something like the radiant nimbus that is always painted
about the heads of saints.
They say it seems to envelop the whole figure,
and that it influences for good or evil all who come near it.
It is called the “aura,” and is the outcome of each one’s character
and inmost personality.
Some auras, we are told, are dark and gloomy,
and exert a depressing or even a wicked influence, while
others are rose color, or gold, or opal, or sky blue and full of light,
and their influence is cheering and uplifting; and all this without
perhaps a word being said in either case. If this theory is true I
feel sure that my father and mother possessed “auras” full of
heaven’s own sunshine, and, without knowing the reason, their
children lived in perpetual cheer.
That a childhood so lived could not fail to have an
enormous influence on the after history of any soul, seems to me
incontrovertible; and I attribute my final satisfying discovery of
my Heavenly Father largely to what I had known of the goodness
of my earthly parents.
They never said much about religion, for the Quaker fear of meddling
between a soul and its Maker had created a habit of reserve
that could not easily be broken through,
but they showed plainly that their lives were lived in a region of
profound faith in an ever present God. We could not but see that
He was to them a reality beyond all other realities.
Of religious teaching we had but little, but of religious example and influence
we had a never-failing supply. Not by talking, but by daily living,
were impressions made on our childish hearts.
I remember once however when my father did speak out of
the fullness of his heart, and when what he said made a profound
and lasting impression upon me.
I was a very imaginative child, and consequently very frightened of the dark,
which I peopled with all sorts of terrible monsters,
lurking under beds or behind doors, ready to rush out and devour me at any moment.
Of course, with the profound reticence of childhood, I never spoke of
this; but somehow my father at last found out that I was afraid of
the dark, and instead of ridiculing my fears or scolding me, as I
felt in my poor foolish little heart I deserved for making such a
row, he took me lovingly on his knee, and putting his dear strong
arm around me, he said, in tones of the most profound conviction,
“Why, Han, did thee not know there is never anything to be afraid
of ? Did thee not know that thy Heavenly Father is always with
thee, and that of course He will always take care of thee?”
And as I still trembled and shivered, he added, as though surprised that
there could be any one in the world who did not know this,
“I thought of course thee knew this, child.” I never shall forget the
profound impression this made upon me, nor the immediate and
permanent relief from fear it gave me; and I have always been
sure that this one statement of a fact, which was to my father the
most tremendous reality of his life, has had more than anything
else to do with the satisfying sense of God’s presence which has
for so long been my portion.
It was not a religious dogma my father Stated on this, to me, memorable occasion;
but it was a simple, incontrovertible fact which he was surprised I did not
know; and, as being the statement of a fact, it was far more
comforting than any amount of preaching or arguing could possibly
have been. God was with me—and that was enough; for of
course, being with me, He would naturally take care of me. I
remember that when my father lifted me down from his lap and
told me cheerily to run along and not to be frightened any more,
I walked off in a stately sort of way, feeling as if somehow I was
safe inside an invisible fortress where I could laugh to scorn all the
lurking monsters of the dark, and could hear their angry rustles
I dare say the rarity of any direct religious teaching from
our parents helped to make the few occasions when they did
speak more impressive; but however this may be, I can truly say
that, though often obscured for a time, the convictions of that
occasion have always been with me at bottom, and thousands of
times in my life since, my father’s words then, have brought me