poetry and prose about place

from the pages of an old diary – words about women’s work

with 11 comments

I have been thinking a lot about ‘women’s domestic work’ these days.  This not only because I do some housework myself from time to time (!), but because I am taking a History course – “Canadian Women’s History”. 

One of the assignments for the course is to read a woman’s diary or journal and learn about what life was like for her through her words.  I am lucky to have a set of six five-year diaries from my great-aunt who lived in Nova Scotia and I have decided to look at her diaries for my project.  The diaries cover the years from 1944 to 1972 .  Since I was born in 1954, I have chosen 1954 and 1957 as years to study.

Her diary for a particular year is a simple record of her daily activities.  Simple, but what a lot of information is found in a few lines of text!

I have reviewed all of her entries for the year 1957 and find she covers the following topics in her entries:

  1. the weather
  2. people who visited
  3. people she visited
  4. housework done (she includes her husband’s work around the house)
  5. community work done
  6. community events (such as funerals or weddings)
  7. letters written or received
  8. special trips
  9. unexpected events (such as the car breaking down)
  10. family health

One thing I notice about her diaries, is her faithfulness in making an entry every day for 29 years!  So many diaries I have begun fizzle after the first month or so of writing! 

Another aspect is the value of her words.  Over 50 years later, I can still find helpful advice in the way she did her work and the emphasis she put on participating in her community.  I can find specific information of the birth dates of relatives or the date our family arrived for our summer vacation in a particular year.  In addition, for anyone interested in the daily life of women in the 20th century, a set of diaries like hers is an invaluable resource and window into history.

Over the next few posts, I am going to look at various aspects of the daily life of my great-aunt and consider how similar or different life is for me today.

two of the six diaries my great-aunt wrote from 1944 to 1972 ... the quilt is one she made during the last years of her life

Copyright  Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

February 4, 2012 at 7:38 am

11 Responses

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  1. What a valuable treasure. It is good to know where we come from and to see the progress and similarities in women’s lives over the years. Enjoy your exploration!


    Carol Steel

    February 5, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    • Thanks Carol. I agree. I’ll explore this in future posts, but the biggest difference seems to be how connected she was with her community. Jane


      jane tims

      February 6, 2012 at 6:45 am

  2. What a great gift. It’s like receiving a present from the past. Wonderful drawing. I look forward to your future posts about the diaries.



    February 5, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    • Hi Robin. The worst thing about doing this project is all the unanswered questions I have. When I did see my great-aunt, as a teenager, I could hardly think of a single thing to say. Jane


      jane tims

      February 6, 2012 at 6:42 am

  3. I agree that this is a treasure. I would love to have something like that! I can’t wait to see what you create on this project! Looking forward to it!




    February 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    • Hi. So much of past generations is lost. Glad you like the project. Jane


      jane tims

      February 6, 2012 at 6:40 am

  4. What a fascinating document to have- looking forward to your future posts, Jane.


    Watching Seasons

    February 5, 2012 at 11:38 am

  5. What a treasure you have there! I was born in 1957 so I’m curious to see what daily life was like for women when I was born…

    My grandfather kept a diary in Ukrainian, so I cannot read it, but I was able to discover the birth and death dates for his firstborn son, who died at age 9, before his younger brother, my father, was born. He drew a little cross between the dates and I could make out the name – it was a thrill to decipher the clue because I was never able to find a birth or death certificate for this child.


    Barbara Rodgers

    February 4, 2012 at 9:16 am

    • Hi Barbara. You will probably learn quite a bit from my next few posts! I also have had thrilling moments when I found something out about my family history. I remember once, I was looking at a census record for my great-great-grandfather, and the words were so badly written I could not make out his occupation. I tipped the page up so the words would elongate and I saw the word ‘shoemaker’. It was a wonderful moment. Jane


      jane tims

      February 4, 2012 at 9:54 am

      • Oh, how I know that feeling! So wonderful… Looking forward to your next few posts…


        Barbara Rodgers

        February 4, 2012 at 1:08 pm

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