[Northeastern US]: 1887. Quarter sheep over marbled boards measuring 6 x 7.5 inches. Comprised of 63 pages in the single hand of Mary Johnson, documenting the 1881 financials of her father's estate after his death as well as her own experiences living as a single woman after his demise, beginning 1887. The result is a rich document evidencing the knowledge of women as well as their unpaid labour as they ran the households and estates of their families. Such a manuscript also records the emotional toll such women experienced.
For five pages, Mary Johnson records the expenses owed and the money gained in her father Josiah Johnson's estate following his death. The records are neatly and precisely maintained, as Mary documents taxes for schools and roads alongside wages for workers on the family's farm. Money made is also present -- for butter, milk, and other goods being sold to neighbors. But the bulk of the book gives us insight more directly to Mary herself. Beginning her journal in 1887, she writes about continued business, social visits, and the continued labor she performs to keep her family afloat. Some days, like January 8, 1887, she balances business and family, while making little time for self care: "I went up to Adams Center to see about my Taxes. Mr. Foster Dealing is the collector. The hard cold I had the forepart of the week still hangs to me. Yesterday my head ached...Mother returned from Greens Settlement where she had been visiting." Between January 15 and 19 of that year, "The railroad trains were blocked with snowout south of here...Dr. Fred Bailey was here to see Phebe and prescribed some medicine for her. Phebe has been sick." As she ensures the care of others, Mary appears to conceal from all but her diary her own woes. "My teeth commenced to ache last Monday night in the night they ached until last evening when...I thought I would have to have them pulled...On Tuesday Benny Babcock and his wife was here and took dinner." Throughout, she continues running the family farm, documenting the cutting, curing, and weighing of hay, the people who assist, who wants payment and who volunteers. Sometimes women, including Mrs. Caroline Babcock assist her with domestic work, coming to "bake some mince pies and helping me get dinner." As she works to get domestic labor done, a joy for her comes in hosting some more creative groups. "The writing class met here three times this week," she writes with some glee on February 26. "I have done the housework." Throughout, farm production and output, vet visits, and the care of her family continually shape her life. Though she does find rare moments of amusement (she writes of seeing Barnum's Circus, for example), the bulk of her existence is focused on caring for others. Caroline Babcock's contraction of spinal meningitis in November, for example, is a low point. But it is also near that time that Mary reveals something of great importance: "I have been to writing school." Attending this school becomes a highlight, and one of the few things Mary gives herself.
An incredibly research rich document, showing a savvy woman balancing a business, home life, and selfhood. With study opportunities including but not limited to gender studies, the history of education, the history of rural communities, women in business, women's education, land ownership, the history of medicine, genealogy.
Several of the names that appear in the manuscript also appear in Census records (1850-1880) for Connecticut, although we've been unable to make a final determination of Mary's state of residence. (Item #3358)