Milford milliner makes news

In the Cabinet’s Thumbing the Files of March 12 of 1899 there is a mention of a lady stepping in a hole in the sidewalk and spraining her foot. One wonders why the newspaper would mention it. Who was this Mrs. Boutelle?

Well, according to the 1899 diary of Cate Langdell, who was my
great-grandmother, Mrs. George Boutelle had the accident on Wednesday night March 8, and on Thursday when Cate went to visit her, “she had her foot up on a cricket, as the doctor told her she had broke a ligament. She turned her foot or ankle over by stepping in a hole in the sidewalk last night.”

Ada Boutelle lived in the same house as Cate, the Gilson house just over the stone bridge on the north side of the Souhegan River. (Today this is the site of the Milford Post Office)

They were very good friends and visited together often. “Mrs. Boutelle was about the same on Friday, but by Saturday she was suffering with a swollen ankle and leg,” writes Cate.

By March 16. Cate writes, she was “getting along.”

As it happens, Mrs. Boutelle was a prominent woman in Milford during that time. She ran a fine millinery shop at 21 South St., and those were the days when no respectable woman ever went out of the house without her bonnet on.

Mrs. Boutelle was the lady you went to get your bonnet repaired, to have new flowers put on your bonnet or to buy a new one. Since Mrs. Boutelle was laid up with a bad ankle, no woman in town was able to get their bonnet repaired. Bonnets were the fashion statement of the day in 1899.

Women were judged by how fancy their bonnets were, how much “stuff” was on top of the bonnet and how pretty it was. Mrs. Boutelle made most of her bonnets at home and Cate often went “on the other side” into Mrs. Boutelle home to see what she was making.

By May 4 Mrs. Boutelle was back in business repairing hats as she had stopped in to see Cate, and Cate writes Mrs. Boutelle “carried my hat home to fix over.”

So, there is always a story behind the story, and it is always interesting and satisfying to find out what it is.

Polly Cote is a member of the Milford Historical Society.