Motherhood Past - seen through the pages of diaries
The diaries of Amanda Patch Baldwin and Martha VanOrsdol Farnsworth, two women who lived during the late 1800s, describe motherhood as a seven-day-a-week job, with lots of overtime. ``I am tending babies, and am almost worn out with the business,'' wrote Mrs. Baldwin, mother of seven, in 1871. ``There is but little rest for one who takes care of children.''Skip to next paragraph
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The rediscovery of women's diaries from the 18th and 19th centuries - whether written in a neat, legible hand on sheets of stationery, squeezed between the lines of figures in accounting books, or scrawled on brown wrapping paper - has disclosed a wealth of information about the authors' daily lives. Mrs. Baldwin's diary is comparatively short, covering a period of less than seven months, and is still in the possession of David Baldwin, the grandson of its author. Mrs. Farnsworth's diary is an extraordinary 4,000-page record of 40 years, recently published in edited form as a book, ``Plains Woman.'' Both diaries are like open windows into the homes and hearts of mothers from the past.
The diary of Amanda Patch Baldwin was written in terse daily entries between Jan. 1 and July 23, 1871. It is both a record of chores accomplished and children tended and also, on a personal level, a candid chat with an imaginary friend. The busy wife and mother had little time to herself and few women friends. ``It is lonesome this afternoon,'' she wrote on a cold and rainy day in May, a day filled with washing and mending. ``How I wish I had a neighbor that would run in once in a while.''
Amanda Elizabeth Patch was born April 24, 1834, in Weston, Mass., 30 miles west of Boston. At the age of 19 she married Samuel Emmes Baldwin, whose great-great-grandfather, Captain David Baldwin, had settled in nearby Sudbury in the early 1700s. Amanda and Samuel settled down on the Baldwin family farm. Samuel farmed the land, helped to build the county roads, and become part-time butcher for his neighbors. Amanda cared for the home and, eventually, for their seven children.
Apart from the few pages of the diary, and a tombstone in the ancient Sudbury cemetery (now part of Wayland), little is left from Amanda's life. She died in 1882 at the age of 48, when her youngest child was eight. Her son Charles, three-year-old ``Charlie'' in the diary, somehow saved the diary and later passed it on to his son, David, who lives in present-day Sudbury. Charles told his own children little about their grandmother, however. There remain no small keepsakes and no photographs.
``I have a feeling she wrote other diaries,'' said Mrs. Hope Baldwin, David's wife, ``but we have never seen them.''
After their parents died (Samuel died two years before Amanda), the children were separated and sent to live with different relatives. ``After that, everybody went his own way and they didn't keep in touch,'' Mrs. Baldwin explained.
Through the pages of Amanda's diary, one glimpses the large problems and smaller joys of typical days, the unfulfilled wishes of a devoted mother.
Her pleasures were simple ones, squeezed into busy days. ``I make candy in the eve. with the children,'' she wrote on a snowy January evening. On Feb. 14 she wrote: ``It snows fast today. I wash the flannels and dry them in the house. It is Valentine's Day and the chldren have great fun about sending valentines. How I like to see them enjoy themselves.''
On a pleasant June day, her husband took the children to a church fair and returned in the early evening. ``I go after the little ones are in bed and stay about 3 hours, have strawberries and fruit cake, candy, etc.,'' she wrote. Usually it was Amanda who stayed home with the younger children at night, while Samuel and the older boys went fishing.
The diary records trying days, filled with imcomplete chores and underfoot children. ``Damp, east wind today. I feel nervous and cross, and nothing goes right,'' Amanda wrote on Wednesday, April 19. ``I feel as though I would like to run away from home today.''
Although Amanda was a religious woman, who often thanked God for small blessings, she never attended church. Not, however, because she didn't want to. Every Sunday morning she dutifully bathed and readied the children, then sent husband, children, and hired help off while she stayed at home with the baby.
``It is a beautiful morning. Oh how I wish I was going to meeting,'' she wrote.
``Sunday is the most trying day of the week to me,'' she once lamented. ``It is hard to try to keep so many restless spirits in proper order.''
Quiet seven restless spirits she did, though, with firmness and praise. From the entries in her diary, it is easy to imagine how she would have talked to them.