Mrs. W's 1901 Diary
Mrs. W's 1901 Diary is exactly that, a diary. Mrs. W, a wife and homemaker wrote her daily thoughts, struggles, and accomplishments within her diary's pages from April 1 to August 28th, 1901. Her diary is written in an old meteorological record book that appears to have seen little to no use as such before she started using it as a diary.
Most of the entries related to her work tended on the repetitive side, and she on occasion complained about working too hard. However, when the neighbor steps in to milk the cow on some days, she is always overjoyed as this is a rare but delightful occasion. She does the same chores nearly every day. The cow must be milked, and she must continue to sew clothes for herself and her family. On a documentary by Iowa PBS entitled "The Role Women on the Farm in the Early 20th Century" the phrase "A Woman's work is never done" is mentioned. This was especially true for the women mentioned in the video, but it also applies to Mrs. W's daily life.
Some of the entries suggest that Mrs. W, while she lived in a rural house with farm animals, she also ran a mercantile, most likely from her home. This is not the only example of her unusual resilience in that she handled societal expectations in her role as a wife, but she also held some authority over her own life and decisions prior to the women's rights movement. Her writing style shows that she was very intelligent and well educated, as she uses extravagant language and poetry at times. Mrs. W by having independence falls perfectly into the depictions of a modern woman in the early 20th century who added pressure for the suffragette movement that would take place 19 years after her diary.
Mrs. W's diary does not contain anything that would immediately strike the average person as "monumental" or "groundbreaking," rather it was just a medium in which she employed to relax in the evenings. She often mentions that she sits in an armchair before bed to write in the diary. It is a comfort to her. The information contained in its pages are important to her and her life, but "trifles" to others. In the book "She left Nothing in Particular: The Autobiographical Legacy of Nineteenth-Century Women's Diaries," Amy Wink points out that while many people thought diaries at the time of creation were but mere trifles and not worth much, are, on the contrary, extremely important windows into the lives of people whose stories may never be told otherwise.
What I found most interesting overall about the diary was Mrs. W's entry about her wedding anniversary. Instead of describing her daily tasks and interactions with people that day, she created a poetic lament about how she "died" on her wedding night. She says on April 17, "Had there been the cruel cold and merciless hand of death to come in our midst there could not have been more sighing and shedding of tears." She continues to speak of her wedding in the same tone for the next few days. Though she claims that she loved her husband, she states that she "made [herself] miserable for his sake." This seems to be a common concept for women in the late 19th to early 20th century. In "Farm Wife" from Eyewitness History, the author relates a diary entry of a woman who was married at 14. She had a happy, busy life but is not completely satisfied with her husband as she calls him "Innocent of book learning."
Overall Mrs. W's diary paints a beautiful picture into the life of a woman in 1901. This piece was intriguing and proves to be very useful when examining the past. Diaries like this and others have been used by many historians. In the articles "Understanding and Using Early Nineteenth Century Account books," Christopher Densmore explains that first account records like diaries tells parts of history that the historical record does not tell. It is bookkeeping at its finest.
To learn more about this item, view the finding aid for Mrs. W's 1901 Diary. If you have questions about the collection, contact Lorraine Stuart at or 601.266.4117. Materials can be viewed in Special Collections located in McCain Library & Archives room 305. The library is open Monday – Friday from 9:00a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Isabella Ragazzi, Major in Anthropology and Forensic Biology
**Items of the Month featured in 2023 and part of 2024 will be the work of Southern Miss students who took HON 303, a sophomore seminar held in Fall 2022 focusing on archives and special collections.