[New York]: 1906-1908. Quarter cloth over card, embossed to front. Measuring 6.5 x 4 inches and comprised of 79 pages with several leaves excised at the front. Despite having the ownership signature "Mrs. L.P. Gates' Book" on the first page alongside a draft of an advertisement for a 1903 charitable benefit, the diary appears to be filled by her husband from 1906-1908. The resulting manuscript poses opportunities for researching the economics and pay of millwrights during the period, the changing technology, attitudes toward marriage, sex work, and cohabitation outside of marriage, boarding houses, cross-gender friendships, and climate change.
According to the U.S. Census, Laura P. Gates and her husband Milton J. Gates lived in New York at this time, during which he was a millwright. While entries are short in the beginning year, during which the couple lived together, they become more expansive after he documents an argument leading him to move out and seek residence in a boarding house. In May 1907, he reports "Had a row at home and came to Dickinsons to board." He apparently never returns, as he notes in November 1907, "Six months to day I left home." From the time of leaving Laura (to whom he only refers in this diary as "Wife"), his longer entries reveal more about his life beyond daily weather reports, documentation of his pay from the machine shop, and visits. Now his entries more clearly show that he was maintaining relationships with at least two sex workers -- Della and Blanche -- during his time at home and then later with increasing regularity. It also becomes clear that someone named Friggle whom he referenced occasionally in the past is actually Della's pimp whom he is paying or scheduling visits through. With this new knowledge, a return to the earlier entries allows one to trace how he balanced his visits with Della and Blanche, how often he saw them, and how he tracked when they were available or not.
In the midst of documenting more visits with friends, the health of himself and his colleagues, and the deaths of at least two community members' daughters (one by suicide and the other an infant), Milton also seems to want something more permanent with the women whose company he has been paying for. In December 1907 on a rainy day, he leaves work early and "went to see Della and her pimp...ask Della to live with me." This does not appear to happen, and Milton's appointments begin to focus on Blanche (a later December entry mentions correspondence with her pimp) as well as a church-going woman named Eve who he seems to attend picnics and shows with. That said, he shows intense signs of jealousy over Della and her movements (as on December 14: "Carroll lied to me Della was home and not at Barkers"). By January he notes spending time with Carroll: "Carroll quiet. Ask her to live with me."
The present diary is an intriguing manuscript that reveals how complicated and multi-faceted a life is. In his early 20s, Milton leaves his wife but remains married (with the Census showing them together as late as 1920) and maintains gainful employment as a machinist working on bicycles and cars (several of which catch fire). He has a social life and documents his budget; but he also has a private life which only his diary gives any surviving evidence of. Further research could be done to potentially trace his wife Laura's life after their separation, as well as the identities and lives of the women with whom he engages outside his marriage. (Item #5050)