In preparing for our upcoming WWI Letter Reading I took a closer look at a diary we have at the Drew Archives. It is a small blue day book that once belonged to a Duxbury summer resident, Eleanor Stearns Young, in 1916 . Fourteen year old Eleanor was a faithful diarist for the first quarter of the year, recording her skating and sledding adventures with her best friend, Phyllis Winch Twombly (Phy); her crush on Atherton (Atty); her “peach of dress” and her desire for a “tin lizzy.” But peppered throughout her tales of sunny winter days are hints of a sadder, darker world. Her diary gives us a sense of what it was like to be a young adult during the tumultuous days of WWI. Below are a few examples of her entries:
“Wednesday, January 12, 1916
Going to Chin-Chin. Good bye. Went, had a simply corking time. Montgomery & Stone were corking. They had a clown band. Simply great. Grandma enjoyed it greatly. Vera still presists in teasing me. Father has a cold. He gave me a ten dollar gold piece. I have got 152 dollars in the bank. When I put this in I will have $172. Gosh I am sure some rich kid. Be able to buy a tin lizzy soon. Mother is going to Mrs. T’s for a dinner next Wednesday. Phy is coming over here. My dress is getting on.
Thursday February 3, 1916
Damn those Germans. The last raid in England they killed almost one hundred people. Mostly women and children. They are planning a new offensive to take Dunkirk and Calais. They won’t get it though. Phy to supper. Got a little cold. Went to bed early. Gee, I could smash those Germans.
Monday, February. 21, 1916
10 below this morning. Great fun riding lying down. Awful cold. K. and G went too. Just three of us. Coasted all the afternoon. Slept like a top. The Germans on West Front capturing a few trenches. Nothing new.
Friday, February. 25, 1916
Grandmother home from New York. Brought me a red Chinese wrapper. Great. Went to school. Bad day. Phy came to supper. Dressed in costume I am going to wear tomorrow night. Germans are still giving it. Kaiser is sending them on to slaughter like pigs.
Wednesday, March 1, 1916
Verdun attack calmed down a little. Went to school. Phy has bought of some of her spring clothes. One of her hats looks awfully well on me. Striped skirts are all in style. Am going to have one suit. Just wait til I get speeded up.
Friday, March 3, 1916
Germans on fresh drive for Verdun. Oh well. I guess we are very sure of a few things wave. Katie came. I am having five white shirts made over from mother’s. Such is life. I must be getting fat
Tuesday, June 6, 1916
I am fifteen years old. Lord Kitchener dead. He was on his way to Russia. The ship was torpedoed in the North Sea. I am afraid this is a very disheartening thing to happen. I never felt this sort of thing but I do now. It seems so awfully queer. There seems to be a black shadow always behind one. The President of China is dead also. This is an awful world.
Shopped all the morning. I got thirty dollars from Gram and Gramp.”
Eleanor’s diary does not continue after a few entries in early June. Perhaps she left her diary her Brookline home when she packed for her summer house on Harrison Street. Perhaps it became lost or she simply lost interest. Whatever the reason, we are glad she wrote her mind for at least a few short months in 1916.
To hear Eleanor’s words come alive or hear other WWI letters, join us in the Wright Building on May 20, 2010 at 7pm. The even its free of charge and, as always, refreshments will be served. See you there!