Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sharing Diaries - Nature Journal 1920s

Cover of 1925 diary loaned to me by a friend.
It seems to be a handmade cover with printed
fabric glued on board.
A friend heard about my 1882 diary project and was reminded of a diary she found in an antique shop many years ago. She brought it to me to share and has allowed me in turn to share it with you. (I get goosebumps when I examine these things!)

My friend wondered if the diary was a real period piece and if it is really a "diary". I think, in fact, it's creation may have been a school journaling assignment. The manuscript covers the month of April, 1925. The writer talks about her teacher.  Some of the sentences are short and a bit out of context, as if the text tumbled out of the writer's head with a little preview of her life. So, I don't think it is fantasy or a creative fiction writing assignment. I am left wanting to know more about this personal story, but I feel that she has established a sense of place for the narrative that describes her surroundings.

I am assuming that this booklet is written by a girl based on the cover, the subject matter (which includes fairies), the writing, and the tone that she uses to reveal reverence for  nature and for her teacher. The girl talks of studying  in Manchester. I believe this must be Manchester, New Hampshire because she mentions traveling to Keene, which is located one hour west of this city. (Coincidently, I live right outside of this city, while the friend who owns this diary lives in Massachusetts.) The cover of the book reminds me of one made by my elementary-aged daughter for a recent school writing assignment. Eighty-five years later, we recognize that some crafts are still worth teaching.

Bluebird feathers are pressed into the diary,
which talks in-depth about nature.

Our diary writer was very observant of nature and I think this must be in part because she was told to be so. As an enthusiastic gardener, I find it a perfect assignment to write about nature as the birds and plants wake up in April! In the diary, there is talk of the sky, sunset and outdoor surroundings.There are photographs from an early spring snowfall and the journalist also discusses all kinds of weather changes - warmth, wind, snow, rain - that are typical of New England. (In fact, there is a saying around here that if you don't like the weather here you should just wait twenty minutes.) She even includes transcribed nature poems to accompany her own observations.

The writer shared found objects, including flowers that have since lost their blossoms and retain only their stems. She talks of her found objects keeping her diary company. The most beautiful among these saved treasures are blue feathers that she claims are "bluebird" feathers. They have retained their color even after three-quarters of a century pressed into a book.

A flower once graced these pages.
All that remains now is a stem.
Objects pressed into the booklet, including the
bluebird feathers, leave behind their imprints on the opposite pages, as acids from organic materials migrate from one page to the next.
The writer cut images out of publications
to illustrate some of her words.
One thing struck me as unusual and lends itself to the idea that this is more of a creative writing assignment than journal... The author cut images out of printed materials and pasted them here. They serve as illustrations to her words. I wonder: did she find things to illustrate her words or did her words illustrate things she found? I wonder where she found these pictures and wish she discussed more about what prompted her to incorporate each into her writing.

The aging of the paper seems about right for 80 years, with found objects and clippings leaving their browning impressions on opposite pages. The book is in very nice condition. Pages had been tied together with green thread that retains its color and still holds some of the papers in place. Though the string is not fully looped and dangles at the book's center. Despite some browning, the pages are not brittle. I think I will add some interleaving sheets between for my friend before I return the book to her. That way, pages can be a little better protected in the future.

Our author ends by saying goodbye to her booklet. Based on the author's goodbye page below, I wonder if it was getting passed on to the teacher to be returned the following autumn. Will the writer have the same instructor come fall? Manchester was a thriving mill town at this time. I first imagined a one room school house scenario where many kids of different ages had the same teacher year after year. On second thought, I doubt this was the case here. I may need to try to find some time to examine Manchester school records to see if I can find our Miss Hodgdon!


  1. Melissa,
    Thanks so much for sharing your insights about my diary. I just love how you're able to piece things together based on the little clues left behind. Reading your post has increased my appreciation of this quaint piece of history. I'm now doubly glad that I decided - all those years ago - to bring this little treasure home from the antique shop on a whim.

  2. Really neat! I've always looked, but never found, a diary in an antique store. Dream come true... great post, and very well written. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Fascinating stuff - what a treasure. We have a similar saying about the weather here in Scotland - but you only have to wait 5 minutes! Jo