Continuing from last week, here’s another transcribed diary thanks to our summer interns.

The diary (literally titled “The Diary”) of Marie Theresa Stang tells us about the life of a 17 year old girl in a fairly rural part of the country. Marie lived with her parents, Mary and Joseph Stang, and her older brother Joe in Clopper.  Clopper was a small community along Clopper Road near St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church (which the Stang family attended), and close to several stops on the B&O Railroad’s Metropolitan Line through the county. Mr. Stang was a carpenter; both he and his wife were the children of some of the original German families of Germantown. This first volume of Marie’s diaries covers January 1 to March 13, 1912 (the next volume starts up in January 1914; maybe 1912 was a New Year’s resolution that ran out of steam?), and at first glance it is a fairly straightforward accounting of winter in a small community. The weather is bad, or not quite so bad; some mornings the family goes to church, some evenings they play cards; friends and relatives make visits. Most days her father and brother have work to do, but other days they have to go out looking for jobs. Marie often says simply that “nothing very important happened.”

Marie and her family, ca. 1905. From the estate of Marie Stang.

A closer look at the pages reveals something slightly odd, however. Under most of the hand-written dates in her composition notebook/journal, Marie adds the word “rebos.” Occasionally there’s a longer phrase, equally unintelligible. Neither our intern nor I could make any sense of this until one day when Marie forgot to write all of the words backwards – that’s when we realized that each day was noted as either “sober” or “not so very sober.” We checked old dictionaries, and indeed the 1913 Webster includes this definition for sober: “Not intoxicated or excited by spirituous liquors.” Who was Marie keeping track of? There isn’t an obvious correlation between the notation and the family activities she describes. Was she writing it backward because someone was reading her diary, or was it a teenager’s unnecessary precaution?  So far, no further clues have come up.

There are plenty of other interesting snippets in these diaries, related to events national and local; Marie describes (briefly) a fire at Bowman Brothers’ Mill in Germantown, for example. Like Mrs. Clagett’s diary from last week, Marie’s entries can tell us more about relationships between neighbors, family members, and strangers – the social dynamics in Montgomery County 100 years ago. But I think one of the most valuable aspects of these simple day-to-day accounts is how they bring home the fact that people in the past were not really all that different than people today. Mrs. Clagett is worried about being a burden on her children. Marie Stang’s father has trouble finding work. Pets get lost, the “wrong” person is elected, inclement winter weather keeps you in your house for a few days (and those of us on the east coast this past February know what that’s like, right?). Thanks to the hard work of our summer interns, a little more of these personal, and highly relatable, histories can be easily shared.

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