I have never succeeded in keeping a diary. As a young girl, I had countless journals with embellished covers and heavy pages on which I intended to inscribe my most intimate and profound thoughts. But the awe that I felt for those precious notebooks overwhelmed me and I could not bring myself to sully their bright white pages. I never kept a journaling habit. Perhaps for this reason, I am always intrigued by those who have succeeded in keeping a diary.
This month, as we celebrate the lives and contributions of women throughout history, it is especially worth exploring the University Libraries’ North American Women’s Letters and Diaries database. It is a treasure trove of mundane and, therefore, exceedingly interesting accounts of women’s lives from the colonial times to 1950. For instance, you can browse Julia Heller’s Boy Friends Book to discover which boys she liked and learn important details about them such as their hair and eye color, whether they rode a bicycle or drove a car, and if they were any good at kissing. You can also read the Diary of Evelyn L. Jackson, a young black school girl who recorded her daily life in New Jersey in 1933, beginning with her New Year’s resolutions, which included “Improve in everything” and “Do my best.”
North American Women’s Letters and Diaries also includes works by and about notable women, such as Abigail Adams, Louisa May Alcott, and Susan B. Anthony, to name a few. You can browse by person, subject, or even historical event to find contemporaneous writings on topics as diverse as the Salem Witch Trials, Civil War battles, and the sinking of the Titanic. These sources offer an unparalleled view of history as lived by women.
If you are interested in exploring more sources related to women’s history, check out the Libraries’ other women’s history databases such as Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 and Women and Social Movements in Modern Empires since 1820.
The University Libraries embrace intellectual inquiry and innovation, nurture the production of new knowledge, and foster excellence in learning, teaching and research. During each academic year, the Libraries welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors across its network of three libraries: the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, the DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library and the Savitt Medical Library. Visitors checked-out more than 90,000 items and completed more than 2 million database searches.