Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: Aug. 5, 1872: Vacation Preparations

Posted on August 5, 2013

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, 1-6 August, 1872

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, 1-6 August 1872

Early August found Eliza Wheaton extremely busy, copying important papers, taking shopping and business trips to Boston and Providence, and visiting her relations in Uxbridge—all in preparation for vacationing in New Hampshire.  Mrs. Wheaton was an extraordinarily careful person.  She always left early for the train station, in case her horse or carriage suffered some injury (the station was exactly a mile from her home), she was particular about her gardens and plantings, and as we have seen over the last few days, she copied her important deeds and other records for placement in her new safety deposit box at the Union Safe Deposit Vaults in Boston.

Union Safe Deposit Vaults entrance

Union Safe Deposit Vaults entrance

Economic historian Richard Germain has described how socioeconomic segmentation in banking included women's departments targeting wealthy females.

“Safe deposit service…illustrates how financial institutions initially targeted the wealthy for a service. The concept of a ‘community safe’ predated safe deposit by many years; the distinguishing feature of safe deposit service was the privacy afforded to box renters. In America, the first safe deposit institutions specialized in that line of business.”

The first such bank was the Safe Deposit Company of New York, established in 1865, followed by the Fidelity Trust Company of Philadelphia in 1866, and the Union Safe Deposit Vaults in Boston in 1868. The upper-class orientation of these early safe deposit vault companies is indicated by the prices charged by early vault suppliers: during the 1880s the Union Safe Deposit Vaults' minimum price was $20 per year.  Although this may not sound like much today, this annual payment would have beyond the means of all but a few. Advertising for the vaults promised, “absolute security, as far as human foresight can guard”, and often showed people of wealth using the vault facilities.

Union Safe Deposit Vaults

Union Safe Deposit Vaults

The Boston vaults were constructed under Col. Henry Lee’s family-owned building at 40 State St.

“They were constructed slowly and with every imaginable care: for one thing, the strength of their roof was tested by dropping a large safe on it from a height of four or five stories. They were not ready for use until 1868; since that time, for a full half-century, they have been the prinicpal depository of the securities held in Boston.”

Henry Lee (Harvard A.B. 1836, A.M. 1839), of Lee, Higginson & Co., pioneered Boston’s safe deposit vaults for valuables previously kept in private houses. He remained the manager of the Union Safe Deposit Vaults until his death in 1898.

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