At CHS we have an extensive and constantly growing collection of diaries because of the detail they provide about daily life of ordinary people, the ones who do not usually appear in the history books. The contrasts between diaries can be striking, as it is between the two that we recently added to the collection.
While a bit sparse, the first diary illustrates the life of a woman in the upper middle class in either Danbury or New Fairfield, Connecticut. Her husband’s name was Ralph and they had a son Billy, whom she walked to Wooster School. I found that there is a private school in Danbury by that name. There are also frequent visits to Ball’s Pond in New Fairfield, hence the question as to their actual home.
What is notable is the number of times she recorded going to New York City to see a show or two, or going to “The Club”. She also attended performances of the Empress Stock Company, which is probably a Danbury venue. In the page illustrated below, she (no name has yet been identified with the writer) attended a show at the Palace theater and later attended “Show Boat” on Friday. On Saturday they went to see Ed Winn in “Manhattan Mary”, but not until after her shampoo, wave and manicure
Contrast this diary with the one kept by Laura Dodge of Woodstock, Connecticut. On Monday, March 8, 1937, her husband Leon was a bearer at the funeral of Mrs. Howard who was only 74 years old. The next day Leon was out chopping wood. Another person is reported as dying. Leon continued to chop wood on Wednesday and Thursday. I began to think, why isn’t Leon working? Well, the year was 1937 and people were out of work during what we call The Great Depression. In fact, Leon does eventually get paid in the spring and summer for working on the roads. At the end of this year, Laura remarked that several W.P.A. men had come to work on the roads as well so maybe that is how Leon was getting paid.
Diaries make those topics we read about in history, like the Great Depression, come to life by making it personal. You are invited to come to the Research Center and read any of the hundreds of diaries in our collection. They range in date from 1780 to 1980 and were written by men, women and children. What a fun way to make history come alive!
The next question is, what will the new diary look like? Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, web sites? And, more importantly, how will we preserve them?