University of Delaware Library

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Domestic Diaries

Oh dear what shall I say that I have done today a little of everything.
- Ruth B. Swan, 1839

The domestic diaries of these three nineteenth-century women document the importance of family and social relations, the role of religious faith, and the nature of work performed in their daily household affairs. It is interesting to consider the prevalence of death and illness in the nineteenth century, and what effect that had on each woman's strength of character.

Mary White Journal Mary Avery White, d. 1861?.
A Journal [February 21] 1805 - September 25, 1807; 1827-1835.
2 volumes
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

According to notes in these two volumes, a total of ten volumes of Mary White's journals were divided in March 1861 among her children (at least four daughters and two sons). Mary White, wife of Aaron White and daughter of the Reverend Joseph Avery (of Holden, Massachusetts), was a resident of the farming community of Boylston, Massachusetts. The earliest of her diaries (1805-1807) was made of handsewn leaves of folded paper and a later volume (1827-1835) was bound with her name tooled in leather on the cover. She recorded arrival of each new barrel of flour for the household, and making sausages, minced pies, and butter; and there is ample evidence of her skill as a seamstress making gowns, shirts, pantaloons, aprons, stockings, waistcoats, and "shimees" for her daughters and others. But White's journal entries primarily emphasize her religious meditations and daily social calls. She attended religious meetings at least twice weekly, and often met with the Female Society for prayer. Death was frequent and dramatically sudden in her community, and she recorded each passing with a prayer acknowledging the mysterious uncertainty of her Maker's plans. Clergy, family, and neighbors were all significant social relations.

Anna M. Potts, b. 1830.
Diary for 1860, January 1, 1860 - January 19, 1861.
1 volume (148 pp.)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

Anna Potts Diary

Anna Potts' diary keeps record of the weather, her ailments, and her household duties as mother of a five-year-old son and wife of Charles, a farmer and businessman in Paoli, Chester County, near Philadelphia. Her "spells" were practically daily occurrences treated with doses of chloroform. In spite of such frailties (and questionable remedies), Potts kept a busy schedule visiting relatives and friends in the Philadelphia area, and attending religious meetings. Home management routinely involved Monday washing days, ironing, baking, sewing, and making butter; and seasonally included chores such as putting up pork, preserving blackberries, and helping with the wheat harvest. An unintentionally comic thread in Potts' diary is her difficulty in retaining hired domestic help.

Hemperley Diary Harriet Hemperley.
Diary, 1868-1869.
1 volume (127 pp.)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

Harriet Hemperley lived in a boarding house and made her living as a seamstress in the small town of Columbia, Pennsylvania. Her diary records sewing projects, social visits, and attendance of church meetings. The initial comment of every entry is a report of the weather, followed by a description of work accomplished for the day or any notable events, then a mention of friends visited or calls made to care for the sick, and, frequently, remarks on church attendance and lessons of sermons heard. Hemperley prayed for self discipline and guidance against "Satan's temptation to neglect duty," and she expressed equal concern for friends she hoped to see converted. Hemperley attended summer camp meetings, referring to Jesus as her precious Savior. Even when she questioned the outcome of events around her, Hemperley faithfully accepted them, "but why should I say this when God permitted it to be so?" In spite of her dutiful outlook, Hemperley confided in the diary her loneliness and feelings of social insecurity before the families who employed her.

Considering self works Creating self works Living & learning Domestic diaries
Business & adventure War diaries Keepsakes Word & deed
Inner journeys Travel diaries Professional writers Avocational efforts

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