For many people, the first day of a new year is a time for resolutions and fresh starts.  January first has been an official U.S. holiday since 1870, when it was included in a list of holidays for federal workers in the District of Columbia.  But not everyone has the day off, of course, and New Year’s Day celebrations – if any – can be muted, quiet, and personal, whether you’re recovering from a midnight party, enjoying time off with family or friends, getting started on those resolutions, or simply taking care of business as usual.  Interested in some New Year’s activities of Montgomery County’s past? Of course you are!  Let’s take a look.  (Note: spelling and punctuation are all as written by the original authors.)

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January 1, 1891
I have often wanted to keep a diary and as Mother has not written in hers for so long she has given it to me to begin in.
Was at Dr. Brookes, Rainy, so we staid in the house and played Tiddledy Winks.

Carrie Miller Farquhar (1842-1904) of Norbeck kept a diary or journal for much of her life, but rather sporadically.  She took a break between October 22, 1890 and January 7, 1891, and one of her young daughters seized the opportunity (with permission, apparently) to make a start on a diary of her own to start the new year.

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Carrie’s husband Roger Brooke Farquhar, Sr. (1837-1929) likewise kept a faithful record of his daily work.  He was a farmer, and most of his new year’s entries are little different from any other day; for example, here are the first three entries in the first journal volume, begun on January 1st, 1856 (click photo to enlarge; transcription below):
Farquhar 1-1-1856
January 1856
1st  Took Jinny to shop and she kicked so that they could not shoe her. Mended the dam &c.
2nd Went to Lea’s mill with buckwheat shod colt at Perry’s, hauled wood in the evening. very sleety.
3rd  Shelled corn for cow feed, and took to mill.

In 1861, Roger indulged in a bit of timely festivity, noting on January 1st:

Set up last night at Brooke Grove, saw the old year out for the first time I remember, took Mother to Brooke Grove in the sleigh.  Bill cutting wood     had a political meeting at Rockville.

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A new year can be a time for reflection on the year that’s concluded, as well as for looking ahead.  Okay, that’s a little trite, but it’s important to remember that it was as true for our predecessors as it is for us today.  As 1924 turned to 1925, recently widowed Henrietta Clagett (1848-1925) of Potomac noted sorrowfully in her diary,

Dec 31st, 1924.  Last day of old year which brought so much sorrow and loss of loved ones &c.  . . .
January 1st 1925.  New Years day dark and dreary snow on the ground from last night’s fall.  Looks like we would have more.

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The Stang family of Clopper were devout Catholics, who attended nearby St. Rose of Lima Church.  On January 1st, 1912, 18 year old Marie Stang (1894-1970) wrote in her diary,
Stang 1-1-1912
We stayed up until 12:00 to see the old year out and new year in.  We had two masses – 9:00 and 10:00.  Papa went to Holy Communion and so did I.  Mamma & I went to Gaithersburg to get Bess shod, came home and played cards, Papa & I beat Miss Mary and Mamma.

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Davey 1929In 1929, 23 year old W. Cecil Davey was living at home with his parents in Takoma Park, and working with his father in the plastering business.  New Year’s Day was a chance to relax.  In his red-covered “National Diary” for 1929, he noted on January 1st:

The New Year has come in decidedly damp.  It rained all day but was not cold.  fooled around the house all morning doing nothing in particular. Cleared up my room & books some so that it looks a bit tidier. Some time after dinner I went over to Dodge’s and helped Harry on his railway for a while. Stopped there playing with him & Doris till about six.  After tea Doris & Fred came over & we played cards for a while.  I took some photos of Doris over to Mrs. Johnston & she liked them.  Donald came in about 8 o’clock & we played cards with Frank & Dad till past ten.

(In the 1930 census, the Dodge family – including ten year old Harry, Jr. – are the Daveys’ next-door neighbors on Maple Avenue.  1950s records indicate that W. Cecil Davey was a professional photographer in Silver Spring; perhaps Doris’s photos were some early efforts.)

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From 1801 through 1932, there was a public reception held at the White House every New Year’s Day.  In 1892, Roger Brooke Farquhar attended with his daughter Anna and friend Katherine Hall; but, as noted in both Roger’s and wife Carrie’s diaries, it was not everything they’d expected (and, yes, Roger still included some of the day’s farm work):

Carrie:
Roger, Anna & Katherine Hall went to Wash. to Presidents Reception – had not a very successful day.

Roger:
Anna, Catherine Hall & I went to town to see the Presidents reception, shook hands with Mr. Harrison but were disappointed at not seeing foreign ministers
Carrie came home
The men plowing & spreading manure

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And one last entry!  Thirteen year old Catherine Dawson (1910-1974) of Rockville spent January 1st, 1924 visiting family, doing homework and chores, and generally having a nice day.  She ends with a cheerfully misspelled good wish for the coming year – a wish that your blogger also extends to you, dear readers!

Tuesday Jan 1
Had breakfast at Willard with Uncle Wade. There were great times last night. . . . Cleaned up a while & then wrote my synopsis of “David Copperfield.” Fooled around until dinner time. Virginia was here for dinner. Afterwards we read, talked & played with the boys. She left & I read until supper. Had a light supper. Read & fooled around all evening & then went to bed. Hears hopes for a Happy New Year for all my family & friends.

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Farquhar family diaries donated to MCHS by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.; Marie Stang’s diaries donated by Marie Stang; W. Cecil Davey’s diaries donated anonymously; Henrietta Clagett’s diary donated by Molly T. Keith; copy of Catherine Dawson Hill’s diary provided by Beth Dawson Rodgers.

Here’s more on the diaries, and lives, of Marie Stang and Mrs. Clagett, as well as some notes from the diaries of Carrie Miller Farquhar and Catherine Dawson.

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.