In my job as “overseer of the archives” of the Watertown Daily Times (otherwise known as “librarian”), I’m often asked if I’m from the area. My answer is “kind of.”
My husband’s teaching job brought us to the north country, but I grew up in Fulton in Oswego County. My recent ancestors were mostly from Fulton, Oswego and Scriba. I’ve been in Watertown for 11 years, at this job for two and a half, and at this point, I know more about Watertown-area history than I do Oswego County’s.
But what got me interested in local history is a treasure from my maternal great grandmother who lived in Scriba her whole life. She was a prolific diarist throughout her life and I have been lucky enough to inherit some of her journals.
One of my life’s goals is to transcribe the entries and put them online so they can be of use to someone besides me. But until then, I’d like to share some of them with you today since they shed light on what everyday life was like in rural New York at the turn of the 20th century.
In a way, I hope this honors her memory and gives her writing some legitimacy. She’d be absolutely tickled to know her name and writing appeared in a newspaper, even — or especially — nearly 90 years after her death.
Grace Baker was born in 1891 in Scriba, outside Oswego. She later married Edgar Hart and had 10 children over 22 years. She died in childbirth in 1934 at the age of 43.
But at one time she was a teenage girl writing in her diary.
Much of her writing illustrates how much has changed in 115 years. Her mother was often sick, leaving Grace to tend to the household and preventing her from attending school. These entries from when she was about 15 highlight the hard work and monotony of the time:
Tuesday, Sept. 25, 1906, 9:45 p.m.
“Mother has been sick since Monday night (a week ago last night) in bed and I have done the work, staying out of school to do it.
I went to the city this P.M. about 1 o’clock and got back about 3:45 and I took our new horse Bromie and the buggy. Clara Boadway went with me. I spent just $1.00, not foolishly either.
Mother was out of bed yesterday quite a while for the first time and she has not been out of bed today at all. I made bread today (4 loaves) and had dandy luck.
I guess I have about 51 post cards now. ... I got 4 post cards to the city today to send away. Mother and I made quite a few cans of grape jelly yesterday.”
Sat. 9 o’clock P.M. Oct. 27, 1906
“I have got to bake bread tomorrow morning and I told Dellie I would press his pants.
I wish I had money enough, if I did I would have Dellie take Gerty and I down to Shepard’s moving pictures tomorrow night at the theater.
The prices are 10, 20, + 30. Dellie and Ralph Wilson go every Sunday night.
Shows are about all the recreation or amusement I have lately and they are very few. I may be able to go to school in a couple of weeks.
Mother expects to get a new washing machine like Mrs. R. B. Jones, if she likes hers. She is going to try Mrs. Jones next week and I suppose I will have to help.
I hope Mother gets good and well soon so I can go to school.”
But at other times, these entries could have been written today, if you get past the dated language:
“Ruth Wilson wrote a note to me this P.M. Wants me to sit with her tomorrow which I won’t do because I think Cora is a friend and more of one than Ruth and I am in the habit of sitting with Cora.
I wonder if other girls my age ever think of the future. Those are my thoughts all of the time with just a few exceptions and sometimes I think that if I knew now what was going to happen in the future that I would rather die rather than live through it.
I have a great many faults that I know nothing of and that are constantly worrying me while those I do know of I cannot conquer or if I do concur them there are others to take the place of the one conquered.
If I was sensible and could reason — Oh dear, I don’t know what.
Most always I like to get out and have a good old time for a while, occupied with pleasure. Such thoughts are put aside and I am not always daydreaming making myself miserable.
Religious thoughts worry me too. I know lots of times I am not doing right but I have no one to advise me or teach me something better, at least no one to whom I think is capable.
What do you think about it? That I am very hard to please?
My only help at present is the hope that I will know more when I get older and I hope I will be sensible so that people don’t won’t laugh at me.”
Squabbling with friends? Check. Finding faults with oneself? Check. Melodramatic musings? Check. She was a teenager alright. Later on, she wrote about boys, acne and her weight, but that’s almost too on the nose.
Please let me know if you enjoy reading these old diaries. I may revisit them in the future.
Until then, this one is for you, Grace.
Listen to Second Look podcast to hear more from Kelly Burdick about north country history online at nny360.com/podcasts or by searching for “Second Look” on your podcast app.