looking back, looking forward

Category : Books
Date : January 1, 2014

As the New Year dawns, it seems appropriate to look back as well as forward.

Martha Ballard, midwife, January 1, 1796, living in Hallowell, ME:

“Clear and Pleasant.  I washt and washt my kitchen.  Was Calld at 9 hour Evening to see the wife of Capt Moses Springer who is not so well as Shee Could wish.  Her husband is gone a trip to Boston.  I tarried there all night. Slept some after 1 o Clock.”

Abigail May Alcott, mother of Louisa May Alcott, January 1, 1877, Concord, MA:

“……..Brilliant, beautiful day.  The year comes in festively; its gorgeous drapery of clouds of many colors.  Not cold. I sew a little for Louisa.  Freddy played the piano last night, the last tune, “America,” ushers in the New Year with his favorite waltz (Star).  We rake a sleigh-ride, call at Mrs. Pratt’s.”

Margaret Dow Gebby, farmwife, January 1, 1891, Bellefontaine, OH:

“A very wet day.  Orra and George made each a key for the P.O. but Georges did not open the lock.  Jerry was at the farm this morning, everything all right, went to town this P.M. paid the taxes $240.22, got bank div $140.  I swept and dusted the house all over to day.”

[Note: Virginia McCormick, editor of Gebby’s diary, points out that a century ago New Year’s Day was not always a holiday, and that it was business as usual for merchants, bankers and government workers.]


At our home today, it dawns crisp, 12 degrees with ribbons of mauve clouds in the sky.  A snowstorm is predicted for the Berkshire hills in the next few days, accompanied by howling winds and frigid temperatures.

The weather is a constant.  A grounding for each woman–Martha, Abigail and Margaret–began by noting the climatic conditions.  Likewise, for the past six years, I have opened my ledger, every morning, and recorded the temperature.  Often, I will note events of the day—the coming of mud season, the planting  of onions, the harvesting of the garlick crop, the starting of the wood furnace, and, happily, the day the first puce points of the skunk cabbage open in the bogs: the harbingers of spring.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich,  A Midwife’s Tale:  the life of Martha Ballard, based on her diary, 1785-1812, (Vintage Books, 1990), p .205.

My Heart is Boundless Writing os Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother, edited by Eve LaPlante, (Free Press, 2012), p. 216.

Farm Wife A Self-Portrait, 1886-1896, edited by Virginia E. McCormick (Iowa State University Press, 1990), pgs. 147.

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