When I was little I kept a diary. It was a small black diary with pictures of popcorn, candy, and admit one movie tickets on it. It had a little gold key that you used to open it (although if you lost the key, a paperclip could do the same). I’ve tried many times in later years to journal or keep diaries, but life always seems to get in the way, too much hustle and bustle. Fortunately, for us, some women were faithful chroniclers. There are dozens of diaries and journals in the Archives of Women of the Southwest. Many of the early diaries comprise day-by-day entries.
I recently came across Nellie Pettibone’s daybook which dates to the year 1878 when she was about 12 years old. She talks about attending grade school, doing her chores (boiling sap, picking cherries, washing pails, skimming milk), hobbies (quilting, reading), friends, family life, and social activities. Each entry starts off the same way. A few of my favorite entries include:
January 1, 1878
As this is New Year ’s Day I did not do much of anything to celebrate it. We all shot the revolver at the mark. Mother and I shot it also. We had a large roasted rooster for dinner. In the evening I went over to Mr. Sibley’s. I got no presents.
January 4, 1878
I went to school today and the snow this morning is about four inches in depth. It snowed all day and at night it is about six or seven inches in the evening. I studied and solved problems.
February 4, 1878
I went to school. We had examination in geography today. I scored 75%. Mom wasn’t that awful. In the evening I read a little. Jennie made a fruit cake today and I went to bed.
March 1, 1878
I went to a school today for the last time this week. I stayed after school a little with Ella to sweep the school house. Alice and Pearl are here yet she has almost finished her dress. They gathered twenty two barrels of sap today.
November 26, 1878
I got my winter shoes yesterday and put them on and started to school to the grand old teacher Mr. Morse again. We had a pleasant time and got well started…”
December 1, 1878
I got up in time for breakfast and helped do up all the work and then fixes up and went by myself to study my history lesson. But Ed and Alice came and spoilt it all. So I leaned it this evening.
Inside the diary is a teacher’s certificate valid for third grade in Cherokee County, Kansas, dated July, 1886. Evidently Nellie managed to finish her studies and chores and went on to become a teacher herself.
To read more of Nellie’s diary, or to learn more about the adventurous women of southwest, be sure to visit the DeGolyer library and check out our books, manuscripts, pamphlets, and photographs.
Contact Samantha Dodd, curator of the Archives of Women of the Southwest for additional information or assistance with accessing the collection.