Dear Diary

Dear Diary, on September 22nd each year, we celebrate the way “you” help us document our lives. 

Diaries offer us a glimpse into how we change and remind us of events long forgotten. Diaries also offer a reference for future generations. While many may think of diaries as a place to keep precious secrets, they also provide a look at how life has changed (or remained the same) from one generation to another. They serve as a reminder of ways long forgotten, words no longer in use, or attitudes that were once acceptable.

Most mention the weather, daily activities of work and play, the cast of characters whose lives intersected with the diarist, and the highs and lows of life.

At the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center in the Davenport Public Library our collection contains diaries in various formats. Here is a sampling of items we are preserving for your use.

Lilah Bell was a local force to be reckoned with. She was appointed the first director of the Homemaker Service of Scott County in 1963 to meet a community need. It was a pilot project administered through the Davenport Visiting Nurse Association serving the chronically ill and aged. Bell single handedly set up the physical office space, selected furnishings, hired staff, prepared training materials, and ran the show. She was appointed October 1, 1963 and began keeping a diary that day of her activities. By October 15th  there had already been three calls for service. She began training staff on November 4th  and the team began their first care on November 18th. Her diary is a testament of what can be accomplished in a short span of time by someone with knowledge, skill and desire.

The European Diary of Henry Vollmer Sr. from 1887 is a bound and typed manuscript. It documents his voyage from Davenport to Europe during April to September detailing all he saw and endured. From the first pages, he seems to indicate that adjusting to the voyage was a bit more difficult than anticipated.

The diary of Florence Berrigan spans 1923-1926, an era of freedom, especially for ladies, post-World War I. Her entries are a study in a twenty-something’s life…ice skating, dances, wiener roasts, angst waiting for letters and calls from beaus, innocent flirtations and bold conversations. Florence tallies 99 dates at the end of 1923, 39 of which were with George. She also dated Julius, Art, Rex and Harry while flirting with the barber. Her father bought a radio in December 1926, a highlight for the family. Florence ultimately chose Harry Wingate and was married to him in Chicago in 1927.

P.S. It looks like someone snooped in  her diary and added an entry of their own!

Sometimes it is an interesting exercise to compare two completely different experiences on the same date to underscore our human tendencies to dwell on our own circumstances, perhaps too much at times. Here are the diary entries of Angelina Petskyes, a Davenport housewife, and George Morrissey, a medic on November 19 and 20, 1944 during World War II.  The reflections and concerns could not be more dramatic.

The Diaries of Lettie Barber from 1907-1912 are filled with both the spiritual and the mundane. Lettie attended the Assembly of God church and was a strong believer in her version of Christianity. Born in 1875, Lettie was married in 1897. She never had children and her husband traveled extensively for his business. Her writings share deep personal joys, suffering and conflict, the desire to do the right things, and efforts to help others find salvation.

Do you journal? Do you have journals from ancestors? We hope to some day have journals representing a wider and more diverse population, so think of us if you would be willing to share these fascinating reflections of daily life with our Center.


1990-06 Diary of Nellie Seaman

1998-27 Diary of George Morrissey

2006-03 Diaries of Angelina Petskyes

2011-01 Diary of Lilah Bell

2011-23 Diary of Florence Berrigan Wingate

2014-11 Diary of Henry Vollmer, Sr.

2014-21 Diaries of Lettie Barber

(posted by Karen)

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