Excerpts from my ancestor’s journal (Spring and Summer 1888)

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some excerpts from my great-great grandmother’s journal. Her name was Emma and she lived in western Massachusetts. The journal starts in 1888, and I’ve been retyping May, June and July today and thought I’d share some interesting tidbits.

The very first entry in the journal listed everyone who lived in Emma and her husband Frank’s household. After listing their five children, as well as Frank’s mother and his stepfather, Emma states that there is also a “foreign man and woman.” I don’t know if it’s class snobbery or what that keeps her from referring to them by name in that first entry, but she names them in later entries: Mary and Ferdinand.

Mary and Ferdinand do not appear to be a married couple as I wondered at first. Indeed, only a few weeks into the journal, Emma remarks that “Mary has not been in good humor the past week” and by the next week, Mary announces that she is going to Amherst after a new job that pays $3.00 a week.

Ferdinand sticks around until June 5, 1888, when Emma writes, “Our hired man, Ferdinand, went away today – he intends to go home to Russia and return with his family next spring.” I do not believe that he shows up in the spring of 1889, but I’ll have to keep an eye out and see if his name is ever mentioned again.

In the meantime, Frank and Emma start searching for new hired hands.

[Wed., June 13, 1888] A beautiful day. I have been to So. Hadley to see about getting a girl – but did not think best to take her. I have had a delightful time – left home little before eight and took the 8.20 tr. for Northampton where I stopped to do a little trading then went on to S.H. took dinner at Mr. Lewis Porter’s – he is the Steward at the Fem. Sem. there, then Mrs. P. and I called on Frank Porter’s wife – then went into Williston Hall and the Sem.

At 3 ½ o’c we went to see Miss M. Judd about the girl and met the high school teacher, Mr. Kelly. Miss Judd’s mother is an invalid cannot get about only as she goes in a wheel chair. I left Smith’s Ferry at 5 ½ P.M. waited in N. an hour found Prescott and papa at the depot waiting for me. Mattie stayed at home from school and did her best to help Grandma take care of Susie.

The “Fem. Sem.” is referring to the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary; in 1888, the institution was actually called Mount Holyoke Seminary and College.

In the end, Frank goes to New York and hires a married couple, setting their wages at $25/month, and they are to stay on until December. Similar to her initial journal entry, Emma does not give the couple’s names at first. But then there is this entry a week or so later:

[Mon, July 2, 1888]

Our woman has taken the washing and done it entirely without our help. The first hired help we have ever had that could do their work without being told how at every step.

The very next day: “Louisa has done the ironing.” Apparently her laundry feat earned her a mention by name! A week or so later, and Emma’s mother-in-law gives Louisa lessons in washing clothes in kerosene (19th century dry cleaning). I still haven’t come across Louisa’s husband’s name, but I’m sure that will happen at some point.

Not related to the hired help storyline, but this was a recent intriguing entry I retyped today:

[Fri. July 13, 1888] Cool out of the sun. The children have built a stone fort out by the scales and put up three flags – I suppose they are Harrison flags.

Not quite so windy today. We have been reading of snow-storms on Mt. Washington and damage done by wind and rain on the coast and all about the N.E. and Middle States. The counsel of ministers met in Conway yesterday to decide in regard to the disturbance there. They decided that Mr. Thomas should leave in three months. They had a long meeting lasting until late in the eve. Aunt Fannie called. Mother is not very well. Frank has a lame back. Mowing “lugs heavy” with him. We have used green apples twice this wk. I have been doing mending.

I’m not certain, but the “Harrison flags” could be a reference to President Harrison’s 1840 Presidential campaign. That campaign was before Emma’s birth, but it was the first presidential campaign where a candidate used flags and posters and other such tools to promote his run for office.

I was also curious about the ministerial “disturbance” at Conway (the town where Emma’s parents lived). I imagine it as an American version of the church politics featured in Trollope’s novels. Unfortunately, Emma did not see fit to follow up with more details on this incident and a search through The History of Conway through Google Books did not reveal further details.


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5 responses to “Excerpts from my ancestor’s journal (Spring and Summer 1888)

  1. Nan

    This is really, really wonderful! I’ll go back and read the other excerpts. A treasure.

  2. I’m finding it fascinating, I love social history. Thanks.

  3. So curious about the disturbance! I’d even be interested to know what categories of things would qualify as disturbances of the type that would require a counsel of ministers. I can’t imagine the kind of thing — theological differences in the congregation? Or like, disagreements between groups of parishioners?

  4. Wow! You are so so lucky to have this history and to have the honour of capturing it. Your little teaser here is enough to make anyone read the book! I assume it will be published one day?

  5. Nan – Glad you enjoyed it!

    pining – You’re welcome!

    Jenny – My mom read my post and did some research and she found the minister’s full name and that he was minister at the Congregational Church in Conway for two years. No more specifics than that, though. I’m guessing disagreements between parishioners – that’s usually the way things fall apart in churches.

    Tamara – Thanks for the comment! I plan to distribute the journal to my extended family when I’m done. I could see maybe putting it online too because it may be of interest to the descendents of people Emma mentions in the journal. Not all of the journal is as interesting as the parts that I’m posting. There are many days where it is just a report of the weather and what everyone did in the house that day. (Emma herself is constantly making clothes for everyone in the household.)

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