I spent many a harried, tweaking night at the University of Iowa Library in my college days. Though I love libraries with all my being, I never truly appreciated the U of I stacks and reading rooms — probably because I was always too freaked out about making a deadline or studying for an exam while I was there. However, the brilliant Kelly of Nothing is New (one of my favorite blogs) turned me on to the Iowa Digital Library in the course of her Archive Road Trip, whereupon she trawls the nation’s digital archives, state by state.
After poking around the Digital Library — of which there is an abundance of cool stuff, and I’ll be posting much more! — I came across (and was blown away by) their collection of historic Iowa children’s diaries. These tomes originated with early settler children — teenagers, actually — of the 1850s through the early 20th century. The best part is that some have been transcribed and biographies of the kids are provided. I kind of fell in love with the pages of the last diary shown above, mostly because of the doodles, kept by 14 year old Linnie Hagerman (1852-1934), of Keokuk, Iowa. (Check out that handwriting! Gorgeously messy.) Born in Missouri in 1852, Linnie moved with her family to Keokuk at age 10, and remained there for the rest of her life. She began drawing by doodling in her diary, and later became an artist, creating many oil paintings during the 1880s.
An exciting transcription (second to last page above):
“Sitting room Saturday Nov 24th 1866
Sat down to wash the baby, when a man came running in saying ‘Your house is on fire’ and Mrs Cunningham ran to the stairs screamed for the children to come down stairs she got the children over to Mrs McNamaras I went over to Mr McNamara and got Emma and Nellie and brought them home with me Mrs Armitrout [Armentrout], Mrs Grim, Mrs Johnson Mrs Hill, Sallie Beadle [and] Emma & Nellie Cunningham were here to dinner. Mrs Grim brought her baby with her and so did Mrs Armentrout but they would not come to me, well I did nurse the little Grim baby awhile. I have been over to Mrs Fryers several times today on errands. Emma Cunningham went home away and left Nellie towards evening[.] Nell got dissatisfied and wanted to go over to Mrs McNamaras so I took her over and I went over to the burnt house Emma and Nellie came back with me and our ore [are] going to stay all night. Oh! I forgot to say Mrs Cunningham had a wardrobe full of the best clothing and all of Dan Morgin clothes burnt.”
A transcription of the last page:
“Home. Sunday March 3rd 1867.
It has been a dreadful day snowing and cold I have not been to Sunday school today I am not going to school to Miss Lawrence any longer than this quarter I am sorry I know it because I do not take any interest in it School when I am going to stop Park is going to stay baard [board] here I beleive [believe]. Park and Jim or [are] trying to get off to church I wish they would go on for I am tired of so much fuss confusion, for Aunt Susan is always teasing Park and all the rest laughing. I start to school tomorrow wonder how the girls will like school after so much excitement. Our new girl Ivha Denny is just a splendid girl she is such a good cook She was pastry cook at the Dening house We are reviewing arithmetic and then we are going into Greenleaf [Greenland?] We are nearly through geography we are going into Physiology. Em and I have a good deal of fun about the three proffessor [professor], I like Lyman much the best.”
Most of Linnie’s commentary seems to center around chores, school, very polite angst and her family, which makes sense for a girl of that age and time. (Also, they live in small town Iowa. It’s not so exciting even now.) Some of the diaries are quite sad to read, knowing the writer’s fate before they do, as one is written by a 16-year-old that dies of scarlet fever the year after her diary is completed. It’s so crazy to think that my family was also living on frontier farms during this period. I wish so hard that I could see my German great-grandmother’s diary, if it even existed.