WOMEN’S DIARIES FROM THE 17th, 18th and 19th CENTURIES
Have you ever read the diaries of colonial or pioneer women? If you haven’t do you know where to access them? There are numerous online resources that allow us as researchers a glimpse into the lives of our female ancestor’s peers. Granted the diaries are not our ancestors usually but still our female ancestors lives were likely similar to those in some of the diaries we are going to explore.
DIARY OF MARTHA MOORE BALLARD
This diary is a compelling and detailed diary begun on January 1, 1785 by Martha Ballard, a midwife, then living in Hallowell on the Kennebec River in the District of Maine. For the next twenty-seven years Mrs. Ballard recorded her daily activities, both personal and with regards to her midwifery.
This amazing piece of historical writing provides more than a glimpse into the past, it illuminates the joys and heartbreak of many women from this era.
Take the time to read one woman’s life story at Martha Ballard’s Diary Online
DIARY OF ELIZABETH SANDWITH DRINKER
Elizabeth’s diary predates the diary of Martha Ballard by about eighteen years. Elizabeth kept her diary from 1758 through 1807. At the onset of her writing she was a young Quaker girl. The diary takes the reader through four distinct periods in her life beginning with her youth and courtship and progressing through motherhood, middle age and finally as a grandmother. Her middle years were during the Revolutionary War and she chronicles the difficulties she and her family faced because of their Quaker faith.
This is another amazing piece of historical writing from a distinctly different geographic and social perspective. Do you have Quakers in your ancestry? Have you ever wondered what the Quaker culture faced in a country at war? Spend some time reading this account in the Diary of Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker to get a better idea of what your ancestress life might have been like.
DIARY OF MARY ROWLANDSON – THE CAPTIVITY AND RESTORATION OF MARY ROWLANDSON
At sunrise on February 10, 1675, the frontier town of Lancaster, Massachusetts Bay Colony was attacked by various Indian tribes during the King Phillip’s War. During this attack Mary Rowlandson and three of her children were taken captive. Mary was held for eleven months before her ransom was paid on May 2, 1676 (new calendar).
Six years later, in 1682, Mary published her account of the ordeal in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are numerous accounts of women and children being taken captive especially during the time of King Phillip’s War but Mrs. Rowlandson’s account is one of the earliest and most insightful. The original manuscript has not survived but the publication was printed four different times and a digital version can be found at the Guttenburg website.
DIARY OF SARAH SMITH EMERY 1787-1879
Sarah Smith Emery was born in 1787 on the family farm near Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1877 at the age of ninety Sarah wrote her memoir titled Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian. In her diary she recounted her early years on the family farm with particular attention to the duties and responsibilities of a young girl and woman.
This diary is full of daily chores and descriptions of what life was like for over ninety years. For anyone interested in the life of women in New England this is a wonderful resource. Do you have New England ancestresses? Spend some time reading this publication to better understand their lives.
PIONEER WOMEN’S DIARIES
There are quite a few more examples of women’s diaries for the 20th century. Some are available in digital format through the Library of Congress here at Women Pioneers in American Memory or the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, “Gold Rush Stories of Women Pioneers,”
There are numerous compilations of women’s diaries. Several titles include Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey and Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier.
This just scratches the surface of what is available to genealogists online and in publication to enable travel back in time to the lives of our ancestors. I have focused on the diaries of women but also be aware there are quite a few more examples available for men. Depending upon your interest, simply use Google to search for diaries + women or diaries + men. The offerings will amaze you.
Does this excite you? Does it get your creative juices flowing? Pick one of your ancestors and then find a diary that might reflect their lives by time and geography … and start that writing project you have always wanted to do. I would love to hear from you regarding what you have found or what you think about this perhaps previously unknown resource.
3 thoughts on “USING WOMEN’S DIARIES FOR HISTORICAL CONTENT”
Another marvelous article! Your heart-centered passion for the life stories of these women is both impressive and contagious. I thoroughly enjoyed them all! Bravo!
You spoke in Santa Barbara a few years ago and were incredibly inspiring. Your presentation on Women’s Stories brought so much life to my ancestors they really became living beings in my head and heart. I am looking forward to your new website.
Dixie, I remember talking with you about getting some stories written. Were you able to do that? Thanks so much for your comment. It means a lot to me. I am looking for clients or others to provide short testimonials. Would you be willing to do that?