My Grandmother’s Diary

I was going through some files right after the New Year and came across a few pages I had scanned from my Grandmother’s diary.  It included the exact same month and day as the day I was reading it, January 2.  And it was exactly 100 years earlier, 1912. My Grandmother was born in July 1894. This diary entry was written when she was 17 years old and living in South Dakota.

My Grandmother Alma's Diary from 1912

My Grandmother on Her Wedding Day in 1914

I dug out the actual diary from the safe where I keep important documents. I paged through it and saw an entry for every day of the year, and the year neatly fitting into the single Composition Book. Some entries are very brief “Worked in the field all day. August 19” and others are almost full pages with details of happy journeys by wagon, auto, or train.  Most are matter of fact entries, some express excitement and joy, and a few offer hints of frustration such as the repeated times she needed to chase the old horses out of the neighbors flax field. My grandmother’s diary provides a glimpse into the routines (washing, sewing, churning butter, milking cows, and cooking) as well as the comings, the goings, and social network of the community. And here 100 years later I can read from this hardcover Composition Book filled with the handwritings of my grandmother.

I am also reading the reminiscences of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More (1815-1897). Elizabeth along with her long time friend Susan B. Anthony spent their lives fighting for women’s suffrage. I find Elizabeth’s writings as mesmerizing as my grandmother’s diary. Elizabeth had discipline similar to my grandmother to record her life in a way others could benefit from. They each provide a glimpse into history and life growing up as a woman in the United States in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

When my grandmother turned 18 in 1912, she could not vote. In the back of one of her diaries I found a newspaper clipping. It was entitled Women’s Rights and it contains the verses of a song

“Sew, sew, sew, my patient sisters, good times are coming by and by; I’ve good news for you my dear, Women’s rights will soon be here, and the men will mind the kitchen by and by.”

The song also contains a verse to be sung by the boys:

“Sow, sow, sow, my patient brothers, good times are coming by and by, I’ve good news for you, my men, Women’s rights will come and then pretty girls will do the farming – let them try.” 

In 1920, eight years after my Grandmother turned 18, the 19th amendment was passed and gave women the right to vote in the United States.

Today, we use email, Facebook, Twitter and other on-line methods to document our lives and stay connected. We post links rather than save newspaper clippings. Some things are the same across the generations, and inevitably other things evolve. I wonder in 100 years what will remain of the Internet diaries of lives today? What will be the connection across the generations? In 100 years, will the Twitter archives of Grandpa be nostalgic reading? Will the Facebook postings of Grandma about get-togethers with friends, pictures of the kids and pets, and funny cat videos serve as insight in the routines of daily life?

I’m not so sure it will be as easy as picking up a diary and reading the handwriting but then maybe there will be an app for that.



  1. I contrast my own grandmother’s oral history growing up in Mexico and leaving around the turn of the century (1900) due to the political turmoil in the country which resulted in warring factions and the disruption of many lives. By the time they emigrated to the US, she had lost two infants to disease and starvation. Although she never had much in the way of a formal education, she and my grandfather managed to raise seven additional children who became productive members of their adopted country, with sons serving in WWII and Korea and living to 93 with over 50 grandchildren. She’s been gone over 35 years but I’ve never forgotten her or her strong faith.

  2. Joan,

    What a lovely story. I have kept every diary I ever wrote. I sometimes think of throwing them all out. People say purging the past is healing. But my whole life is in that box of journals. I too wonder about what hard copies will be left of us with all this digital information. I don’t even know how to print a photo anymore, I have them all on my iPhone. Want to see my dog, my niece? We show our phones!

    I loved reading the diary and her entries. I sometimes yearn for that kind of simplicity in life (OK more than sometimes). And just the idea of cutting a dress, playing cards, and going to bed when it’s dark.

    Thanks for sharing this, it’s very thought-provoking on many levels.


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