Norwich, CT: 1889. Quarter cloth over marbled boards, with corners marked in black and owner's name to center front board. Comprised of 67 pages in a single hand, with two additional receipts laid in loosely at front. Spine cracked and hinges broken and exposed; first quire detached and laid in, with remaining textblock held together with string. Composed by Lila Moran (b. 1872) at the age of 17, the present notebook shows a girl rising to womanhood in a way that might feel familiar to modern readers. A thorough student, Lila is not solely focused on her studies; and her notebook blends reveries about her future throughout her essays on history and her spelling lists.
The opening pages of Lila's composition book show her participating in two very different practices that reflect her age and cohort. On the one hand, the book initiates with her essay on Alfred the Great and the Anglo-Saxons; Lila notes Alfred's youth on ascending to the throne, as well as his martial prowess. "He was the hero of fifty seven battles. In several actions with the Danes, he showed a martial skill and courage beyond his years." In examining the Anglo Saxons more generally, she shows interest not only in the men but in the women as well. "The Saxons were ruled by a king...the king's wife was called queen, but after the time of Eadburga, wife of Brithric of Wessex, who poisoned her royal husband, she was named lady." Yet on the other hand, dropped into some of these essays in pencil sections that demarcate them, Lila engages with her peers in non-academic ways. Several pages into her essay on England Under the Normans, she records two different marriage spells. Likely shared among her friends at school, one spell involves walking forward and backward while reading specific lines of a "chapter amor" before blowing out a candle; the result, she writes, should be a "dream of your future husband." The second spell involves dirt, a ring, and a saucer of water. Though the incantation is incomplete by the end of the page, Lila picks it back up and completes it in her essay on England Under the Plantagenets. Depending on where the ring is placed at the end of the spell, it will result in "a voyage on the water...being married within a year...or dying before a year."
In the midst of her lessons, Lila engages in reveries about the future -- a future that might involve marriage but also holds other possibilities (as the spell about causing a voyage suggests). Her notebook suggests the emerging tradition that would later become so common among young women at sleepovers and other events away from adults -- engagement with the occult or with spells.
A piece with potential for further research, Lila's notebook opens the possibility for projects on education and women's education, cultural approaches to marriage and courtship, and intergenerational attitudes about witchcraft and the occult, among other topics. (Item #5015)