By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on the diary of Amy Lee, I told you about her teenage years, her crushes, her friends, her thoughts on life, and the death of her mother in 1920. I’d like to finish her story by looking in depth at the last three entries in the volume, which pick up when Amy was probably 18 or 19 years old.
All three entries are undated, but the first is titled “Chis,” which was the nickname of her future husband Charles Cary Colt.
It is hard to know where to begin in describing him, the task is so big that my mind balks and becomes dazed. […] Somehow when he smiles I don’t see anything particular, I just feel happy and like throwing my arms around his neck.
Amy gushed about Chis’s charisma, courage, sense of humor, ambition, and intelligence. She loved him, but also admitted parenthetically, “(I’m scared to death of him),” and even asked her recently deceased mother, “Dear mother please tell me if I should say yes just yet.” It’s likely Chis had proposed, and Amy was using her diary to work out her feelings. Her ambivalence is very relatable, I think, as she ponders her future with a series of unanswered questions.
Am I sure enough and is he sure enough is it love that makes me so bewildered, at times so weak, almost sick? […] I stammer and stutter when I am with him, I do not trust myself. Is it love or is his will surplanting [sic] my own? […] Where am I falling shall I try to climb back or shall I jump and make it quick – but where would I land? Would Chis be always there – Does he love me or his idea of me – could I keep up the bluff?
The next entry in the diary was written after Amy had accepted Chis’s proposal. But she was still intimidated by the prospect of marriage, writing “the popular fancy held at least by most young girls, that love is a door into a blissful, carefree peaceful paradise is decidedly an illusion,” and wishing sometimes that she could run and hide. She described herself as “frightened and shaking” and prayed to God for help.
Amy’s ideas about the role and duties of a wife were shaped by her day and age. To be the ideal wife required, as she put it, “stiff self-training,” including “much reading” to keep up with Chis’s intellectual interests. Parts of this entry are written in the second person; Amy lectured herself, “You’ve accepted a gigantic undertaking – you can not let it down one inch.” (Throughout her diary, in fact, Amy switched her audience in interesting ways, sometimes addressing her reader, sometimes herself, and sometimes a third person.)
The final entry in Amy’s diary was apparently added in early December 1924, one year into her marriage and one month after the birth of her first child. Amy was very happy; her husband was patient and helpful, and even got along with his father-in-law! But she was especially rapturous about the arrival of Charles Cary Colt, Jr.
His eyes are still kitten eyes and give him a most helpless look that goes right to the heart. He seems very bewildered to be suddenly (not so very suddenly at that) ushered into this strange world, and not so awfully pleased.
Particularly moving is her description of the physical and emotional sensation of feeding her baby for the first time. Her frankness is rare in historical manuscripts.
When he first put his little cupid mouth to my breast to drink I felt a great longing to cry out against the inconquerable march of time. Like all mothers since Eve it filled me with sadness to think how soon he would be independent of me – be where I couldn’t protect him. My little tiger tugs at my breast with the most concentrated business-like air. […] Sometimes his little feet kick my side and his flowerlike hands rest on my breast.
On Thanksgiving day 1924, the Colt family moved into a new home, and Amy said she had “never been so utterly happy in all my life.” Records indicate that she would go on to have at least seven more children. Amy died in her nineties on 6 January 1996 and was followed by her husband nine months later.
During my research, I discovered that the MHS holds a book about Amy’s mother, Letters and Diaries of Margaret Cabot Lee, printed in 1923. While this book, of course, focuses on Margaret, I did find this reference to Amy in a letter Margaret sent to her sister in 1919, which made me smile: “I am glad you appreciate my child, you must n’t appreciate her too much but she is quite winsome.”
That book also contains a reproduction of this lovely photograph of a young Amy with her mother.
The diary of Amy Lee Colt is part of the papers of her father Joseph Lee here at the Massachusetts Historical Society.