Thursday, June 28, 2012

Diary of A Farmer's Wife, 1892

photo: Farmer's Wife in Clogs, 1892 by Louis Roy, from

Check out this website,  As the link suggests, it's a diary of a Maine farmer's wife in 1892.  Doesn't sound interesting?  Well, I thought so, too, but since I was doing some research for The Gravediggers--I needed to know everyday life for New England farmers in 1892--I gave it a shot.  The really interesting thing about the journal is that its author writes just a few sentences--if not just one--per entry.

And so you might think, "How much can I learn about someone who only writes a couple of sentences per entry?"  The surprising answer is: A lot.  Why?  Because she writes every day!  And I do mean every single day.  So it's not what she writes that matters; it's the consistency of what she writes that matters.  And because the writing is so spare, you learn a lot about her, and the time, because there's no fluff at all to get in the way.  In fact, I read the whole year in about 30 minutes.

You learn that she's religious.  Okay, most rural people at the time were.  But you also see that she mentally beats herself up quite a bit.  When she even hints that she may have done something bad, it's jarring.  And she never tells you what she's done, or to whom she's done it to, so part of the enjoyment of reading this thing is that you have to do a lot of playful guesswork sometimes.

The publisher of the website says she has an entire journal to put on the site, but nothing beyond 1892 appears yet, even though it's been a few years now since it was posted.

Why am I pushing this?  Because the woman's philosophy is one I'd love to embrace.  Keep it simple.  Thoreau: "Simplify, simplify."  This woman is honestly grateful for everything!  She keeps it simple (and keeps it real) by doing what she has to do, accepting what comes, being grateful for the good, and hoping for better.  She's no pushover, either, just passively accepting everything.  (She comes across as someone not to be messed with.)  She's a hard-working go-getter, if not a particularly gifted writer, and she is an obvious presence.  The site's author notes that her great-grandmother (the author of the journal) was a woman of her time, and probably not known at all outside of her household and closest neighbors.  But she seems content with this as well, and just gets along as best she can with her bad knees, her quiet convictions, and her place in a very unpopulated area that is very cold and very harsh.

I've been keeping a journal--as I always have--but lately I'm trying to do the same: to boil the day down to its two- or three-sentence essence.  Maybe I can make my head and psyche as clear as my journal.

And maybe you can, too.


  1. Replies
    1. It was, C. And quick and easy reading for those of us with low attention spans! Good to see you again. Sorry I missed you last time I ventured up to the WWG.

  2. I really enjoyed reading her day to day journal entries. She wrote about her activities with such simplicity yet her days seemed tiresome and harsh by my modern standards. I've also been keeping a journal with two to three sentences summing up my days sticking to the positive (no matter how mundane) with very few embellishes. It will be interesting to look back on it in a few years time! Nice find!

    1. I feel my journal is already a failure compared to hers, as it's not as concise or as consistent as hers--and those two things were the only goals of my journal to begin with! Makes you appreciate how ordered her mind must've been to actually write something every day. It's not that I haven't had the time; as busy as I am, who doesn't have a few seconds to write a couple of lines? But when I get home late, I just forget...or I don't write when I can, at those moments every day when we all have a few seconds (if you know what I mean). Speaks more about the difference of mental regimentation between our eras, rather than just saying that time was simpler back then. In many ways, I'll bet it wasn't.

    2. Her journal almost had a story-esque quality to it. It's like you said, you were able to gain a strong sense of the type of person she was. If you were to read my journal (and maybe your's) I don't think the reader would get a feel of my mindset, beliefs, or faith at all. They would say this person is just all over the place. I'm sure her time was not in the least bit simple, but there was considerably less distraction. She seemed much more focused on accomplishing her tasks, spending time with family, appreciating her health, and giving gratitude for all she had. It's much easier said than done to feel that way in today's time! She also probably took great pleasure in settling down at the end of the day and writing those words. It may have been her only true form of relaxation and even entertainment. Whereas today we see it as a last minute scribble after watching tv and before bed...if we remember to write it at all.

    3. I think that "distraction" is a relative term. Had she been alive today, she strikes me as someone who simply wouldn't allow herself to be so distracted as I'm sure we do. Comparing different people in different eras is impossible--and she could even be a farmer or farmer's wife today, too--but from what I glean of her personality, she would think of the journal as just another duty, like making a pie or anything else. So I don't think there are more distractions today, per se; in fact, with a large family and a large farm, she probably had her share of distractions, except they'd be responsibilities, and not the mindless distractions we allow ourselves to get sidetracked by today. In other words, goofing off is goofing off, no matter what the era, and this is a woman who simply would not allow herself to goof off. Therefore, she wouldn't allow herself to get as distracted as we allow ourselves today. (Boy, that wasn't just long-winded, or anything.)