--January 23rd is National Handwriting Day, brought to you by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers of America - WIMA
Yep, it’s once again that time of year (okay, it’s the first time ever) when New York Heritage digs deep into its treasures and pulls out a piece of handwriting to admire. To wit, we give you the musings of one Miss Jessie Elvira Jenks (age 12) of Oneonta, New York, telling us how she and her family celebrated the New Year way back in the mid-1880s:
Diary, page 5
Diary, Page 6
Do you know any twelve year olds who write like this now?
Hmmm…hard to read, right? Well, thanks to the fine folks at the Greater Oneonta Historical Society and the Milne Library at SUNY Oneonta, the handwriting is deciphered and searchable within New York Heritage Digital Collections. Below, a transcript for those first few entries of 1886:
January 1st, Friday 1886. Goodmorning 86, How do you do. I got 6 cents, an old white skirt to make dolls clothes of, and a wide long white ribbon. Grandpa and Grandma got here about 11 o'clock. Uncle Elwood started for Aunt Lura's this morning. Uncle Jay was sick so they could not come. I wrote four New Year letters, one to Effie, to Emeline, to Aunt Lura and to Bessie.
Wednesday 2nd. Grandma gave mama a salt cellar (or bottle, or box) for a New Years present. they went away about 10,30 o'clock. I went over to Uncle Newtons and got the mail this morning. I got a "St. Nickolas" and a "Youth Companion", a letter from Jennie and one from Effie. Papa got the "Witness", "Herald", and "Farmer and Darimen". also an alamanac. Mama got her "Chautauquan". I sent a New Years letter to Cousin Lizzie Connitt I sent a bag of Walnuts to Arthur. We 6 [illegible number] drove up to Altons a little while this afternoon Mrs. Bergen was there; I think she is about the fattest woman I ever saw.
January 3rd, Sunday, 1886. I had the "Sunday reading" in the Chautauquan, and 50 pages in "the Bible in ^[the] Nineteenth Century" on which I took notes; I will copy them here they are expressed in my own language. "New views ought not to be accepted because few men say they should; but, because they are more reasonable than the old ones. The Bible is in harmony with sience when correctly interpeted. The microscope can reveal nothing that does not show Gods work. Every man has his own characteristics. Caution is necessary in the interpetation of the Bible." I am writing to Jennie. I have been up to Aunt Nancys a few minutes.
9th Saturday. Mr. and Mrs Gallup had a supprise party last night. they have married 40 years. [...]
[Emphasis and paragraph separation added.]
Want to read more of Jessie’s adventures? Ready to witness the sometimes difficult transition to adolescence as it happened in the late 19th century? Or maybe you simply want to know how Wednesday follows Friday? (no answers to the last one...)
The full diary is available here. Miss Jenks kept the diary from November 10 1885 through December 31, 1888, starting when she was 12 years old.
The digitized version of this diary was published by the Milne Library at SUNY Oneonta and is part of the Papers of Jessie Elvira Jenks at the Greater Oneonta Historical Society. This diary, along with letters written to Willard S. Jenks and his wife, Rhoda, from their daughter, Jessie, is part of a larger collection which was donated to the Greater Oneonta Historical Society by the Jenks family. In addition to the letters and three journals Jessie kept, there were teaching contracts, report cards, recommendations, resumes, newspaper clippings, and stacks of letters from 1892 to 1894 and 1930. Jessie lived from 1873-1964.
To read a more complete biography of this remarkable woman, see “Jessie Elvira Jenks: An Educated Woman in the American Workforce” by former Hartwick College student, Amanda Rosner. The paper was originally published in the journal, Phoebe, v. 16, no. 2 Fall 2004.
Both the Papers of Jessie Elvira Jenks and the Delaware Country Historical Association Sherwood Collection are currently being digitized in partnership with SUNY Oneonta, supported by Regional Bibliographic Database funds made available from the South Central Regional Library Council.
For more on National Handwriting Day, see this 2012 post detailing a Brief History of Penmanship from our friends at the History Channel.
Extending the spirit of National Handwriting Day, check out this letter from the Sherwood Collection at the Delaware County Historical Association, in which Laura Sherwood encourages her son John to work at his penmanship while attending Yale University.
The Greater Oneonta Historical Society, the Delaware County Historical Association, and SUNY Oneonta are members of the South Central Regional Library Council.