The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

He Said, She Said

The Hall-Baury-Jansen family papers at the MHS include ten small diaries kept in Pine Bush, N.Y. between 1858 and 1878. Most of them belonged to a young farmer named John Egbert Jansen, but three were written in another, unidentified hand. By checking the diaries against each other, I was able to confirm that the second diarist was John's wife, Margaret A. (Wisner) Jansen.

John and Margaret weren't married until 1862, but both kept diaries in 1858 and 1859, during their courtship. A side-by-side comparison of these two years makes for some fun reading. Both John and Margaret wrote in their diaries every day, and while the entries are short, repetitive, and often dry, taken as a whole, they give us a glimpse into the couple's relationship as it develops. And it’s hard to resist speculating on what some of the more elusive entries mean.

At the beginning of 1858, Margaret was a lonely young woman of 17. She disliked the days she spent at home alone and was disappointed when she received no letters or visits. Some of her early diary entries are forlorn: “I do wonder if any body likes me.” Her first reference to John comes on 21 January 1858: “To tea with J.E. Nice visit.” His entry for that date doesn't mention her, but that was apparently the day he decided to “quit chewing tobacco.” (Coincidence? Hmm.) A week later, Margaret wrote that John “called for a singing book.” The corresponding entry in John's diary discusses other matters before noting that he “made a call.” This circumspect little phrase was almost invariably the way he described his visits to Margaret.

The relationship of the young couple was moving along, and when he visited, she often had “a real funny time,” while he enjoyed himself “very much” or “finely.” He even helped with chores around her house. It's possible that Margaret and John had known each other for years, if not their whole lives, considering how small the town of Pine Bush was. The Wisners and the Jansens ran in the same social circles and attended the same church and many of the same events. These included singing school, bible class, lectures, and parties. On 15 March 1858, Margaret attended a party at the home of John's aunt and stayed until the wee hours of the morning. Her entry for that date reads: “Went to a party to Mrs. Jane Jansens. Had a splendid time. Saw ___. Came home about four A.M.” He wrote more succinctly that he “staid all night.”

John began calling at Margaret's house more frequently, often multiple times a week. She now expected his visits and  made a note in her diary when he didn't come. But of course their relationship, like all others, had its rocky patches. Margaret sometimes doubted that her feelings were reciprocated. Once she complained: “I think I may easily say I am thinking of those who think not of me & perhaps care not for me. I have one in my mind.” Other days, she was more dreamy and sanguine and “had some very pleasant thoughts.” One wistful entry just trails off: “Freligh Lyon called. I wish – ” And she still had those downcast days: “Did various little things. Took a little walk in the evening. Here on the rock I post this thinking, looking, all alone.”

If only she could have read John's diaries! While he was more subdued in expression and less confessional in tone, he definitely thought she was “pleasant” and “agreeable.” He wrote happily about joining her and her friends on fishing trips and picnics. He still referred to her coyly as “a companion” or just by initials or a blank line, but we can use her diary to confirm that he did, in fact, mean her. And she might have been interested to know how disappointed he was the day she didn’t attend church and he felt “some what forgotten.” The end of the year made him philosophical: “Where will I be next year this time? I would like to know. I do not know! Do you?”

At the beginning of 1859, there was trouble in paradise, and the two different perspectives sometimes present a startling contrast. John thought his 1 Mar. 1859 visit to Margaret was “pleasant,” but she wrote: “J.E. called. Was much out of humor.” (I don't know if she meant John or herself.) On another visit, she thought he was “very anxious to get away. Can't say why.” He described some of the calls he made to her that spring as “miserable,” even “disgusting.” Neither wrote explicitly about their problems, but Margaret did confess that “one will get provoked occasionally.”

Whatever their differences, the couple rode them out, and their diaries contain many endearing, if terse, references to each other. She wished his visits lasted longer: “Johnie called, one minute. Always in a hurry.” For that matter, so did he: “Made a call. Sorry could not stay. Sorry to leave indeed.” He began to call her “Maggie” near the end of 1859, and her lonely days seemed to be a thing of the past. Her diary entry for 6 August 1859 reads, in part: “This is a good world but some mighty quear people in it.” Along the side of the page, she added, apparently later: “Some very nice good ones too.”

Reading John and Margaret's diaries side-by-side also paints a picture of a typical man and woman of the time. While she spent days cleaning, sewing, and doing other housework, he was working on his farm, haying, logging, etc. It's a rare treat to see two lives lined up so perfectly, each diary fleshing out and enriching the other to create a fuller picture…not to mention giving us a little peek at what these two young people really thought of each other!

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 29 July, 2015, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

The lone event on the calendar this week is our free tour, "The History and Collections of the MHS." This tour is open to the public and begins at 10:00AM. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 26 July, 2015, 12:00 AM

An American Woman in Egypt, 1914-1915: Wadi Halfa to Asswan

Today we rejoin our anonymous female diarist as she journeys down the Nile in the winter of 1914-1915. You can read previous installments of this series here (introduction), here (Cairo to Aysut), here (Aysut to Asswan) and here (Asswan to Abu Simbel).

Image: “The Oriental Lounge of the Cataract Hotel at Assuan,” from Douglas Sladen, Queer Things About Egypt (1910)

 

In today’s entries, our diarist tours various sites on the border of Egypt and Sudan, in an area today bordering (and in some cases subsumed by) the Lake Nasser/Lake Nubia reservoir. In one case, visiting the Temple Kalabsha, she would have seen the temple in its original location nearly half a century before it was moved to accommodate the rising waters of the lake as the Aswan Dam was constructed (between 1958-1971).

On December 15th our narrator departs the steamer on which she has been traveling and takes the train north to Asswan once more, where she checks into the Cataract Hotel at which she will spend her Christmas holidays. These entries continue to illustrate how, as an American tourist, she experienced the country through which

 

Dec. 11. A.M. wrote post cards & at lunch we arrived at Wadi Halfa. Went on shore after lunch & walked around, then went up to train and saw people off for Khartoum. Went to P.O. for stamps. After tea went ashore again with dragoman & walked through [illegible phrase]. Saw Nubian village & then Sudanese on the desert.

Dec. 12. Had early breakfast & left in small boat at 8:30. Miss M. did not go. Were rowed across first to shore & then towed along for about an hour’s ride. Then landed & got onto donkeys & rode over the desert to the rock of Abu Seer, 1 ½ hours. Went up on rocks & saw two [illegible word] shoot the rapids. Rode back to river bank & had lunch in a little hut there. Then visited Temple of [illegible phrase] took boats again & were rowed back to our steamer in time for tea. After it wrote a letter. Fine full moon.

Image: “The Rock of Abusir” from Amelia B. Edwards, A Thousand Miles Up the Nile (1890)

 

Dec. 13. Had early breakfast & at 8:30 went ashore in row boats to see rock temple of Sebel Addeli 4 papyrus columns with bud capitals -- used as a Christian church. Soon after leaving this we passed Abu Simbel again. Wrote till noon time. Sailed along all the afternoon.

Dec. 14. Reached Kalabsha just at breakfast & immediately after went ashore -- a large group of [visitors?] - went to rock temple of Beit-El Wali, a vestibule [illegible phrase]. Only side walls of vestibule standing, interesting historical reliefs. Some coloring in the hall & sanctuary. Then went back to river, took boats & rowed into temple of Kalabsha, which is partly submerged -- never finished -- has [illegible phrase] rooms -- 1st vestibule has [illegible word] columns with floral capitals, the roof is gone. The other 3 rooms have walls, preserved reliefs with vivid coloring. Arrived at Shellal at noon. Most of people took 3pm train to Asswan. After they had gone Miss M., Miss Gillender & I had a boat & went around to Philae & back for tea & stayed on boat overnight.

Dec. 15. Left Prince Abbas* after an early breakfast at 7.30 & took 8.30 train to Asswan going to Cataract Hotel to get room. Then walked round to steamer “Arabia” and made a call on the Phelps’, stepping into Cook’s on the way. After lunch lay down & slept, then  sat on my balcony & watched sunset then went down & wrote till dinner. Talked with two English ladies in evening.

In our next installment, we’ll see how our diarist’s routines change (as well as stay the same) once she is no longer traveling daily from place to place but instead residing in a fixed location with a revolving cast of European guests.

*The first mention of it in this diary, I believe Prince Abbas may be the name of the boat our diarist had been staying on.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 22 July, 2015, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

Once again this week, the MHS hosts another three-day teacher workshop. "Maritime Massachusetts: Salem Stories and Sources" takes place in Salem, Mass. starting Monday, 20 July, and continuing through Wednesday, 22 July. The program is open to all educators and history enthusiasts with a fee of $35.To Register / For more information: complete this registration form, or contact the education department at education@masshist.org or 617-646-0557.
And on Saturday, 25 July, there is another tour of the Society. Stop by at 10:00AM for "The History and Collections of the MHS." This free tour is open to the public with no need for reservations for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 19 July, 2015, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is all about the teachers this week at the Society as we host another three-day teacher workshop, starting on Tuesday, 14 July. This time around, participants have the opportunity to get acquainted with John and Abigail Adams in "John & Abigail: A Life in Letters." For more information: contact the education department at education@masshist.orgor 617-646-0557. To register: visit The Education Cooperative website: http://www.tec-coop.org/sites/default/files/PD-Sum15-AbigailandJohn.pdf

Also, on Saturday, 18 July, join us for a tour of the Society. "The History and Collections of the MHS" is an opportunity for visitors to get an informational look at the art, architecture, collections, and history of the MHS. Free and open to the public, the tour is docent-led and lasts about 90 minutes. No need for individuals or small groups to make reservations. However, parties of 8 or more should contact the Curator of Art, Anne Bentley, at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 12 July, 2015, 12:00 AM

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