Object of the Month

"Happy childhood's golden hours": Marian Hooper's 1850 Sampler

Marian Hooper sampler Cotton on linen

Marian Hooper sampler

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[ This description is from the project: Object of the Month ]

This monochromatic cross stitch sampler was worked by Marian Hooper of Boston and dated the day after her seventh birthday. Today, little Marian is better remembered as Clover Adams (1843-1885)—the tragic and talented photographer and wife of scholar, historian, and novelist Henry Adams.

Who was Clover?

Marian Hooper was born 13 September 1843, the third child of prominent Boston ophthalmologist Robert William Hooper and his wife Ellen Sturgis, the daughter of China trade merchant Captain William Sturgis and his wife Elizabeth Davis. For a time, "Clover" (her birth a "lucky" surprise for her doting parents) and her siblings Ellen, known as "Nella," and Edward, called "Ned," led a charmed childhood--a lovely and loving home on Summer Street in Boston near the Common, summers at their grandfather Sturgis's place at Horn Pond in Woburn or Aunt Eunice Hooper's in Marblehead or Aunt Carrie Tappan's in Lenox. Unfortunately, though, the tragedies and sadness that had plagued Ellen Sturgis's own family would not spare the Hoopers.
Hoping to salvage Ellen Hooper's failing health, in 1848 Clover's parents and siblings travelled to Savannah, leaving Clover in Boston with her Aunt Susan Bigelow and grandfather William Sturgis. In letters to reassure Ellen of her daughter's well-being, William Sturgis described Clover as "hearty as a North Carolina pig (that eats more than it earns) and as healthy as a young Indian … she is certainly the best child in the world." Unfortunately, Ellen Hooper's health did not improve and the family returned to Boston where she died of consumption at the age of 36, leaving three children under the age of 11. Robert Hooper never remarried and Clover and her siblings were raised with the assistance of the Hoopers' much-loved housekeeper Betsy Wilder who remained with Dr. Hooper for the rest of his life.

 The Education of Clover Hooper

For earlier generations of women, the completion of needlework samplers was an important demonstration of their academic attainments. While we don't know whether needlework was taught at Miss Houghton's school, Clover's sampler is very neatly and skillfully done. In her youth, Clover was passionately creative, delighting in theatricals, painting and writing, as well as needlework. Biographer Natalie Dykstra describes Clover as "always" having "sewing in hand at the end of the day."
Clover was born into a family that valued education for women. Ellen Sturgis and her sisters had attended the boarding school of Elizabeth and Margaret Cushing in Hingham, where Ellen's favorite subject was Greek history. Clover and her sister attended Miss Houghton's school in Boston and the prestigious Agassiz School in Cambridge where, according to her grandfather Sturgis, Clover was "a good scholar and excels too in all domestic and household matters."

"Happy childhood's golden hours"

According to biographer Otto Friedrich, "Clover Adams acquired and kept and left behind her a surprising number of Bibles," so it is not shocking to see the golden rule to "Love one another" included on Clover's sampler, but the phrase "Happy childhood's golden hours" is an intriguing choice. Although it could be seen as a statement of fact about a happy present, in mid-nineteenth century usage, the phrase is more commonly tied to loss and nostalgia. Two sentimental poems in the 1848 volume of Graham's American Monthly Magazine of Literature, Art, and Fashion demonstrate the link. "The Return to Scenes of Childhood" by Gretta includes the stanza "Why come you back? We can give you naught, / no more the past is ours / Thine early scenes with thy blessings fraught / Thy childhood's golden hours." Lydia Sigourney's "Visit to Greenwood Cemetery" describes a child's explorations of cemeteries as "… sweet it was to me, in childhood's hours / ‘Neath every village church-yard shade to roam …." The specific phrase, however (in a poem that seems peculiarly suited to Clover's situation), appeared in print mere months before Clover's sampler was complete in a poem called "The Past," by "Fanny" in The General Baptist Repository, and Missionary Observer (April 1850).

The past! There's magic in the word,
By which the coldest hearts are stirr'd
With thrilling memories
Of happy childhood's golden hours,
When roaming free in woodland bowers,
We dreamt that life was strewn with flowers,
And bright with cloudless skies.

The past! It speaks of by-gone joys;
It echoes back a mother's voice,
Whose tones of purest love
Would often soothe the childish fear,
And hush the sob and dry the tear;
Or, when she saw some danger near,
Our heedlessness reprove.

The past! It brings before our mind
The gentle smile, the accent kind,
Of those we loved in youth;
Ere time had breathed his withering breath
Upon hope's gay and flowery wreath,
Or friendship been dissolved by death,
Or falsehood blighted truth.
The present tells us what we are;
The past but speaks of what we were,—
Of innocence and joy.
The present shows the careworn man,
Ever devising some new plan
Power or riches to obtain;
The past, the blooming boy.

For Further Reading

Consult the following three published biographies for information about Marian "Clover" Hooper Adams's complex and tragic life:

Dykstra, Natalie. Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Friedrich, Otto. Clover. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979.

Kaledin, Eugenia. The Education of Mrs. Henry Adams. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981.

A selection of photographs by Clover Adams and a brief biography are available on the MHS website.

Manuscript collections at the Massachusetts Historical Society pertaining to the life of Clover Adams include:

The Hooper-Adams Papers, 1870-1967 

The Sturgis-Hooper Family Papers, 1785-1944