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