Today I’m going a little farther afield, into our Library’s special collections to be exact, to bring you two small journals written by a mother and daughter in Rockville. Both are re-purposed “Physician’s Daily Visiting” logs, measuring 3.75 by 6 inches. The green one is a traditional diary, kept by Henrietta Eliza Brown Clagett (1848-1925) from June 25, 1924 until May 15, 1925. The blue one was kept by her daughter, Mary Ethelyn Clagett Pratt (1874-1938), and is a little different than your typical journal: it records the meals served at the various card parties, club meetings, and so forth that Mrs. Pratt attended between 1919 and 1929.

The green volume is inscribed “Diary of Mrs. Darius Clagett, Rockville, Maryland,” and at first the blue volume was attributed to Mrs. Clagett as well. However a little research showed that, well, for one thing, if Mrs. Clagett died in 1925 she probably wasn’t attending card parties in 1928; plus, the books are written in distinctly different hands. Although the blue volume does not contain a name, there are a few loose notes written on Dr. W. T. Pratt’s prescription pad, and frequent references to young Ethelyn, Dr. and Mrs. Pratt’s daughter. Mrs. Clagett’s diary is not transcribed yet, but a quick glance through the pages gives the impression of an elderly woman, often unwell and a little lonely but still taking an interest in the society around her. It appears that after she was widowed she lived, for the most part, with her daughter Mrs. Pratt in Rockville.

Mrs. Pratt’s luncheon journal has been transcribed, and it’s pretty entertaining reading. For each event the date, hostess and menu are noted, along with the occasional editorial comment, recipe, or illustration (see below). Other tidbits appear here and there, such as movies she’s seen, books she’s read, and a list of all the “things that were sent us, while we were sick” from February 2 to March 8, 1920.

You might ask, why should I care what the Women’s Club had for lunch in 1922?  One answer is nicely phrased by author Mary Mackie, in her 1994 book Dry Rot and Daffodils: Behind the Scenes in a National Trust House:  “The attics [of Felbrigg House] . . . are full of fascinating memorabilia which, while not of great intrinsic value, are of endless interest to anyone the least drawn to history and the minutiae of other people’s lives – those of us who are nosy, in fact, and like rummaging in other people’s odds and ends.”

That would be me (and, I hope, many of my readers). Yet the “minutiae of everyday life” is of more value than simply satisfying one’s curiosity. This journal provides an intimate glimpse into the parlors and kitchens of Rockville citizens in the early 20th century. Who was friends with whom? How did the ladies of the town occupy themselves, and what causes did they support? Broader questions can be addressed, as well. For example, it’s one thing to research recipes in contemporary cookbooks and ladies’ magazines; it’s another thing to see if real people were actually making those dishes, and for that you need the evidence from the trenches, so to speak. Perhaps by itself Mrs. Pratt’s journal isn’t worthy of a historical treatise (although of course, nothing in history should be taken “by itself”) but when combined with other primary sources, it adds another element of knowledge, one more layer of information, a little extra proof that the people who lived here before us were more than just names and dates. They enjoyed a good fruit salad, too.

On the left side of this page, from Mrs. Pratt's journal, there is a bird's-eye view of a banana and orange salad.

 

This 1925 entry from Mrs. Clagett's diary mentions her granddaughter's first music lesson; Mrs. Pratt later noted that Ethelyn "never went back."

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