“With the first day of my journey, I commence this first page of my diary; hoping that the whole jaunt will be as favorable to my compositive powers as this beginning:”
So begins the travel diary of sixteen-year-old Gertrude Barnum, who left Danbury, Connecticut for a trip across the Atlantic to Paris and London with her mother, Sarah, on June 11, 1850. Her diary, along with her mother’s passport (Gertrude did not have her own passport, but traveled on her mother’s), are in the CHS manuscript collection and demonstrate the participation of Connecticut women in travel and tourism—a trend that would only grow as the century progressed.
Gertrude keeps a careful record of her journey, taking her writing seriously and citing travel as an excuse to exercise her “compositive powers” and become a writer. She adds her own spin to expected travel writing tropes, as when she barely conceals her pleasure when a haughty young man succumbs to sea sickness, a departure from the usual discussion of the topic that highlights her own success as a traveler (who does not fall ill). Although she is nearly thrown from her berth by the rough seas, Gertrude finds the greatest trial of the sea voyage to be boredom:
“for really this sea-voyaging is rather dull and monotonous, the same thing over and over, walking on deck, eating, sleeping, and reading, one after the other until I am really tired of it.”
She evens goes so far as to declare that she’s “made up [her] mind to stay in France if we ever reach that country.” Once she reaches land, her enthusiasm returns and she eagerly experiences highlights of both Paris and London. She enjoys the Tuilleries, Versailles, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but is unimpressed with Notre Dame and the Tower of London.
By the time Gertrude returns home on August 16, 1850, she is thoroughly homesick and longing to return to what she left behind. But Gertrude finds that travel has been a transformative experience:
“At home? Can it be possible that our own dear home is in sight? I can scarcely convince myself of the truth of it. One should leave their home if they would learn to prize it. We are almost at the dock, I wonder if they are expecting us and if they will come over to welcome us home? Is it possible I frequently ask myself that I have been so far; we have been gone such a short time, that I can scarcely realize that I have been so far. Yet it is true, I have seen a great deal, and have a great deal to tell our folks at home. I suppose they will think I am a little cracked, and I begin to think I am; for I am just as happy as I can be to think I am so near home. . . . [Main street] looks rather strange now, it seems as though it was greatly changed, I expect though that it is me.”
As part of a four-part lecture series for University of Hartford’s President’s College, “Globeskirters: A History of American Women’s Travel,” we are putting the travel writing of Connecticut women in conversation with texts from around the nation documenting women’s increasing participation in travel and tourism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their travels and travel texts invite us to ask, do women enjoy freedom, knowledge, and the opportunity to publish their thoughts as a result of travel? Are they changed by the experience of their journeys? Is the end result liberation or the reinforcement of the conservative ideas about women’s roles they briefly left behind?
Jennifer Steadman, Adult Programs Manager, has a PhD from Emory University.