Kate Gardner's Diary, 1884

[Go to the Diary.]

Ivan and Dorothy Miller with Kate Gardner Miller

(Richard Ivan Miller with his daughter (my mother), Dorothy Mae Miller, and his mother, Kate J. Gardner, probably late summer 1926.)

Kate J. Gardner, my great-grandmother, was 19 years old when she began this diary January 1, 1884. (See genealogy below.) I received the book from my mother when she was moving from one place to another and wanted me to keep some heirlooms safe for her. It sat on a shelf with some other ancient volumes for ten years before I even tried to read a page. The cover is leather on cardboard. The pages are ledger lined and bound with string. It measures about 9 cm by 15 cm by 1.3 cm in thickness, or 3 1/2 x 6 x 1/2 inches. In fact, the cover photo below shows up actual size on my computer screen.

I transcribed this diary to a publishable form because it needs to be read, and the original, fragile bound writing book cannot safely or practically be handled by as many people as need to see it.

This book is not fiction. It is real. Every word from the diary is here, and only the words from the diary, including the errors Kate Gardner made in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and so forth. If I have succeeded as I had hoped, then each scan of a pair of pages in her own hand is accompanied by a transcription of the text on those same pages.

I transcribed it, also, because some pages are so faint that they could barely be photocopied or scanned, and to present the diary as mere scans would have made the reading tedious and more daunting than it is while reading from the original paper. I am confident that I have captured every word she wrote. Some words required a few moments of serious study before I realized what they were, so faint has some of her writing become over time, (and may have faded further as I have had it open so much). It needs to be read by every one of Kate Gardner’s descendents and by anyone else, studying American history perhaps, who is interested in the historical footnote it offers.

After letting it sit for about ten years, I finally read it. I was immediately impressed by her penmanship and her obvious formal education. While she usually used “come” for “came” and “done” for “did” and had a few more colloquialisms like that, she almost consistently spelled “too” correctly when usage called for that spelling (at least for the first few months, then she grew lazy and left off the second ‘o’ consistently); words such as “congestion,” “masquerade,” "frescoe," and “navigate” are sprinkled effortlessly through her work. I even had to look one up, when, on July 29 she wrote of how she had “shirred” something while sewing.

Whenever I read her words I’m inclined to breeze right along, the somewhat speedy reader that I am, but I am reminded, looking at her script, that these pages were written slowly – slowly in order to be legible, which obviously mattered for its own sake, but not so slowly as to be grammatically perfect or formal. This diary is informal and personal.

It strikes me as not a little remarkable that, among my mother and her four siblings, she obtained the diary, then I. But it is equally remarkable that Kate, and then perhaps her son and daughter-in-law (my mother's parents) kept it safe for over fifty years, until she died in 1935, and didn’t destroy or otherwise bequeath it during that time.

Written with a quill and inkwell, my great grandmother’s script is elegant. It also contains some interesting quirks. She only occasionally ended a sentence with a period, although it’s likely that I missed a few due to the faintness of the writing. Her capital letters, used correctly most of the time, are exquisite. She only occasionally used an apostrophe in a contraction, and then usually before the ‘n’, not after it. Either may have been in vogue. I found one place (August 3) where she inserted an apostrophe in a plural: photo's.

Her name is written in the same faint, fine quill on the tan leather cover of the book, but so faintly that I didn’t discover it until I had been reading it for several days. Beneath her name, Black Lick is visible, and below that, I believe Pennsylvania is spelled out. There is some more writing toward the bottom of the front cover, but unless there is a forensic technique to make it stand out, it will never more be discernible.

(After my first reading of the beginning of the diary, after encountering Black Lick and other place names, including Homer City and Hollidaysburg, I looked them up on the Internet and then went immediately to an atlas to see where in Pennsylvania they lay – a few miles east of Pittsburgh in some pleasantly hilly terrain. Black Lick and Homer City are still mere hamlets as America measures settlements. I didn’t know until making this search for their collective names that Black Lick was in Pennsylvania nor that that was where Kate had lived for some substantial time after she was born. It's interesting, I suppose, that her place of birth is given as Blair, Pennsylvania. It is unclear whether this means Blair Township or Blair County. The county includes the city of Altoona and, remarkably, also the townships of Woodbury and North Woodbury. Hollidaysburg is in Blair County, but Black Lick and Homer City are further west in nearby Indiana County.)

The first two pages were written in pencil. Then Kate – or someone else trying to be helpful – went over it with a quill afterward, and it’s still legible.

In transcribing the diary, I chose to retain every idiosyncrasy I possibly could. She started out writing that it is “Dictated” to her dearest friends, but I believe she meant to write that it was “Dedicated” to them. I’ve retained her spellings (with the rare mistake, such as “bigest” for “biggest” and her lapses in capitalization, a lower case letter on a word following a period, “papa” for “Papa”). In setting it up with a computer font that resembles her script, what I could call my "enhanced" version, to distinguish it from the plain text version, I retained, to a faithful degree, the same words per page that she had written. It may seem like a hokey result, but it gives everyone the chance to see it as she saw it herself, at least in her mind's eye: elegant script on white paper.

(I painstakingly retained the original errors. Look, for instance, at March 30, then at April 2. At the top of the page on April 2 she wrote 'home' and crossed it out. At the top of the page on March 30 she wrote it again and didn't cross it out. When she wrote it at the top of April 2, she was merely putting down the last word of her entry for March 29 but had obviously turned two leaves in the book when she intended to turn one.)

At one point she clearly wrote “auite” for “quite,” and I retained it, but I think the tail of the ‘q’ was truncated when the quill hit a snag in the paper or swooped down and back so quickly that no ink flowed in the loop. I found another couple of examples almost like it but there was a rudimentary tail on each of them, so I gave them credit for being ‘q’. At another point she repeated the word “with” and I retained it. She wrote “awhile a while” and I retained that as well.

She crossed out letters with a neat double line, which may or may not be replicated with the computer font you will see in the PDF version.

It surprises me, given her overall good spelling and her proximity to Pittsburgh that she dropped the ‘h’ from Pittsburg when she wrote it (Feb 3). Among the few mistakes she made I found “envited” for “invited,” “awhile” instead of “a while,” "with" instead of "wish." I point out these examples just to make it clear that they are hers, not my errors in transcribing.

I’ve retained her precise style of writing the dates. Early in January she slipped in a few 1883s but then went back to writing 1884 or ‘84, never bothering to correct the few dates that contained the mistake. She repeated the word “is” once, on August 12, where it was the last word on one line and then the first word on the next.

It was difficult to tell whether she made a period at the end of a sentence. For the first fifty days or so it seems she didn’t bother, but just when I’d think it had been omitted I’d find a tiny dot. It was her habit, and perhaps she had been thus trained, to put the tiny, faint period just below the end of the last letter. I may have missed a few, but look at the scans of some of her pages and you’ll see the challenge to find them. In mid February she became more careful to include them, even after the “Feb.” She also became more careful to add an apostrophe before the ‘n’ in contractions, but not consistently. And the apostrophe does show up in the right place in a rare instance.

The diary runs from January 1 through August 19. I found only two dates when she failed to write in her book: May 3 and May 19. The last page is written in pencil, as was the first. That's one reason I suspect that the last page was written at the same time as the first, but there is another reason. The first page is dedicated to “Myself + Chum.” I first thought this said “Myself + Chums” - the faint extension after the final 'm' could be an 's'. But the final page contains an inscription that starts: “To my Chum,” and on January 1 she writes that Sadie Geary is her chum and that they are each keeping a diary for the year.

There are 96 sheets in the little ledger book that became the diary. August 19 fills the first side of the 96th sheet. The inscription “To my Chum” covers the second side – but it ends abruptly in mid-thought: "May the golden pleasures"... I don't know whether there were a few more pages (97-100?) which fell out, nor whether there were any subsequent diaries picking up where this one leaves off. I rather doubt that either is the case.

Kate turned twenty on January 27, 1884, and this was the year when she met my great-grandfather Dan Miller, whom she introduces to her diary just as she was introduced to him. (A “Mr Miller” first appears on May 25.)

It’s remarkable also to me that Kate, just as “kids” today, writes almost exclusively about herself and her “chums.” Hardly any mention of her parents. No description of the towns, the house; no mention of the outhouse (how cold it might have been). She often speaks of doing chores – “I baked swept scrubbed churned and cleaned the lamps” – and regularly mentions going to prayers or singing. It’s interesting, too, how many things that were features of her life are still common in ours: Groundhog Day, for instance, and sending valentines on Saint Valentine’s Day. She talks often of Sadie Geary, and eventually I deduced that the Geary house was actually next door to the one Kate lived in in Black Lick, but perhaps a bit of a distance away, since she goes "down" to Sadie's now and then.

Kate nearly always wrote in it in the evenings, apparently very late sometimes, and considering that she did so beginning January 1, she had to be doing it by lamplight. There’s no mention of how large the house might have been, or how cold. Did she write with gloves on with the book lying just against the base of an oil lamp? Where did she squirrel it between writing sessions? Who might have happened upon her from time to time as she was writing?

The diary is conspicuous for what else it omits: any mention of money or the price of things. Some other omissions are more peculiar. Kate often spent the night at her friend Sadie Geary’s house. You’d think she’d write about their overnight conversations. She seems taken with a certain Will Wehrle, for instance, hears Sadie say that she too is “mashed” over him, but when they get together soon afterward, she gives no hint whether they talked about him. From time to time, Kate "put a mash on" some gentleman - and what did she mean by that? My dictionary says: "to flirt with; court the affections of." She often says of whomever she was with that they talked and had “lots of fun.” That seems to describe many of her soirées, but it still doesn’t describe her feelings. She relates her chores and her comings and goings but little of her feelings over anything. She took a lot of walks with her favorite fellow, Charlie, but, apart from relating an occasional argument, she never says what they did or talked about while on their walks.

Yes, On March 21 she used “than” instead of “then.” On March 28 she used “Charley” instead of “Charlie.” I point these out to assure the reader that, in transcribing, I did not inadvertently make the mistake; she did.

What is most special about this book is something she could not have known when she began it. She chose to keep a diary for the year in which she met my great-grandfather. Had she chosen an earlier year to do it, there would be no extent description of her encounter with him and her subsequent surrender. The diary would be interesting but not nearly as special. (She confesses in her diary on August 6: "I am getting very much in love with Dan.") Unfortunately it barely makes it past the date when she makes that confession, but the rest almost doesn't need to be said. On August 6, she goes on to say: "I wonder what would poor old Charl say if he knew I like Dan better than I do him. Ah well neither Dan nor Charlie must ever know it." I wonder whether she remembered writing that after she had made her love public and married Dan.

It fusses me more than a little that the book necessarily suffered minor damage while I handled it over the course of several days. It is now stored safely and needn’t be handled again except perhaps ceremoniously or in order to prove to some doubter that it actually exists. This transcription is not fiction; this is not a novel. I scanned the cover and all of the two-page spreads just to give general evidence of its authenticity.

About the names she uses: Sadie Geary is her "chum" - evidently her best friend (and next-door neighbor). There is also a Sadie Bell and a Sadie Griffith, and sometimes she writes "Sade."

She writes of several men named Charlie. One is a Charlie Hill, of no special consequence. There is a Charlie Sides or Charlie S. She writes continually about Charlie or Charl or at one point, Charley, without a last name, who is plainly a close friend and possibly a candidate for a sweetheart, but she never seems to express particular affection for him. I'm persuaded this may be Charlie Sides, whom she speaks of right away on January 1. But, at one point she says of Charlie Dixon: "That Charlie is a cure." That's the only time she mentions Charlie Dixon, but perhaps he, and not Charlie Sides, is the close friend who usually shows up without a last name.

A Mr McQuaid and a Johnny McQuaid appear a couple of times, and close by in time a Mr McQuade, so this is probably just one man. Will Wehrle, sometimes just Will, is someone she longs to receive letters from, but he fails to make an actual appearance that I can recall. She often receives letters from Dice (McNulty), but there is no explanation who this might be; in fact at one point it sounds as though it is a woman.

She writes of a Mr Mitchell, but at one point refers to a Mr Mitcher. This is during the time that Dan Miller is also in her life, so I suspect that Mitcher meant Mitchell.

There is a Hettie (as well as Het) Dixon, and there is her younger sister, Hettie (Het), always mentioned without a last name. Both are short for Hester, which is her mother's name as well.

Beccie or Beck is her older sister, Rebecca. This is plain throughout the diary. Sallie is her youngest sister, about eight years old in 1884. And her older brother, Lynch, is married to a Sallie of his own. It is usually plain from the context which Sallie she is writing about.

Kate says at one point that Charlie is going to farm at the Altmans in the summer, then at another point she laments that it has been a year since Harry Altman died - a pretty clear connection, although there is no more mention of the name, so we deduce what we can.

There is Ella (Ellie) Butler, and Ella Duncan. There is one mention of Ell, which by the context refers to Ellie Butler. There is one mention of an Ellsworth Griffith. Then, throughout the diary, there is Ellsworth Gerhard or Gerhardt or Gerhart. (She spelled it all three ways).

These are the names that can confuse a reader because they appear so frequently and interchangeably.

Then, of course, there is Dan Miller, and at one point she meets Dan's brother, Ivan.

Many, many other names come up in the diary but either don't risk being confused with others or are merely "extras" in the scenes.

Some Genealogy
David A. Woodbury
born 24 October 1950 in Sarasota, Florida

My mother:
Dorothy M. (Miller) Woodbury
born 26 July 1925 in Lima, Ohio

Dorothy’s father:
Richard Ivan Miller
born 1885 in Roanoke Virginia, died 1943

Richard’s mother:
Kate J. (Gardner) Miller
born 1864, died 1935

Kate’s husband:
Daniel Richard Miller
born 1863, died 1916

A search at familysearch.org turns up Kate Gardner, born “about” 1864 in Blair, Pennsylvania, with parents James Gardner and Hester (Cassell) Gardner. In the 1880 census the family consisted of

James, 44, farmer
Hester, 39, his wife
Rebecca, 19, daughter
Kate, 16, daughter (born 27 January 1864)
Hester, 14, daughter
Sallie, 4, daughter (born 1 April 1876)

At one point, Kate’s diary speaks of having “the baby” baptised at Easter, Marian Beulah, but whose baby? She also writes about her brother Lynch, who is listed separately in the 1880 census as a blacksmith, age 19. In her narrative about visiting Lynch in Roanoke, she speaks of writing to Sallie back home in Black Lick, presumably her then-8-year-old sister, and of Sallie who is with her in Roanoke, (evidently Lynch’s wife, who also is apparently pregnant with the “heir.”) She often mentions Beccie and Hettie, who are evidently her older sister Rebecca and her younger sister Hester.

As a footnote: While Kate met Dan Miller in late May and would have her diary (and its readers a century later) believe on August 6 that "neither Dan nor Charlie must ever know" of her love for Dan, and there is no hint by the end of the diary on August 19 that anything more had transpired to change that delusion, nevertheless, their first child, Richard Ivan, my grandfather, was born March 14, 1885. You do the math. I'm still trying to find the date of their wedding, and yet that matters but little. His birth date implies that he was conceived within a month of when Kate first met Dan, which would place it around mid-June, two months before she declares her love for him in her diary. Either young Richard was extravagantly premature for the 1880s, or my mother's genealogy has his birth date seriously incorrect. I am inclined to trust that the date is accurate, and that, sometime within days of Kate's declaration, "it" happened, and that, yes, he was a bit premature. It surprises me a little that the date wasn't later falsified, which would have been pretty easy in those days.

And yet, what's to be surprised about? My own parents were married in April 1950 and I was born in late October the same year, to which anomaly my mother often added that I was three weeks overdue as well. It's just that, as I and my five younger siblings were growing up, my parents never made any fuss over their anniversary and especially never spoke of the year.

Kate, as it probably turns out, was as normal as a 20-year-old is today.

So, here it is, the book. And here she is: Kate Gardner in 1884. -David A. Woodbury