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Happy Times: A Young Woman's Life in the 1890s

Updated on January 9, 2016
A Young Woman's Life in the 1890s: St. Paul's Church, where Aldan and Eliza married, in Brookline, MA.
A Young Woman's Life in the 1890s: St. Paul's Church, where Aldan and Eliza married, in Brookline, MA.

This hub chronicles details of a young woman's life in the 1890s who lived in Brookline, Massachusetts. A number of women in my family had kept journals (which have been well preserved), and this hub reflects the life and times of my great-great aunt, Eliza, who was born in 1876.

These journal excerpts discuss her life when she was 18 and 19 years old. She notes that "These are happy times." Her story reflects the simplicity of life in the late 1800s and how women optimistically viewed marriage.

I typed out her diary passages as carefully as possible and shortened excerpts where I saw fit. Enjoy this little peek into the past.

March 1894

It is my 18th birthday today. Mother, father, Emma (sister), and William (brother) are all going to take me by the lake today where we will have a birthday picnic for me. I am excited. Mother said we are having beef sandwiches, stuffed eggs, olives, blackberries, and a molasses cake.

I greatly love her molasses cake. We only eat cake on our birthdays so such a rare treat must be relished. Mother tells me that I need to gain some weight. She said my cheeks are not full enough and that it is a sign of poverty to have sunken cheeks. Maybe I shall eat more eggs at the picnic.

It is good that my birthday is at the height of Spring rather than Summer. Picnics are simply impossible during the Summer. Locusts and bees swarm and chase the partakers before they can ever eat their delicacies. The sun is also uncomfortably strong after mid-May.

My skin is indeed delicate and I can not keep it fair if I have to chase the shade all day. How can one enjoy a picnic if one has to hold a parasol all day or keep changing the seating area to remain in the shade?

I shall go to college in September. I only have two dear friends that are going to college, but neither of them shall be going to Lasell (Lasell Female Seminary which became Lasell College) with me. I will be studying literature and art and sewing. I only care to attend to my studies until I find a husband.

I know that Edward whom I greatly care for also likes me but he might leave for the city for an apprenticeship. A girl must keep her options open. Mother always says that the happiest day for a women is when she secures the one man who will take care of her for the rest of her life.

I will greatly miss my family when I am in college. I love them dearly and cherish the time we all have together. There is rarely ever any discord or illness. And father did not lose his business last year when the economy harshly cut down many a man (she is referring to the Panic of 1893 -- possibly the worst depression in American history). We are fortunate and blessed. These are happy times.

Brochure: Lasell Female Seminary Students

October 1894

It has been a month since I started college. I met new friends here -- Kitty and Edna. Kitty is from New York and is the niece of the governer of the state. Edna is the daughter of an accountant. We live in separate quarters but spend a lot of time together. It is nice to have people to go to chapel with. Worshipping with friends makes my soul very glad.

Though I like college, I am impelled to stay only as long as I must. School is filled with women, and I would rather spend my time finding a husband than studying. At least when I leave college I can save father a few hundred dollars each semester for my tuition and boarding.

There is a man at chapel I see every Sunday. He comes by himself. I often glance at him when he does not see me. He looks perhaps ten years older than myself. He is very handsome and I have grown to have affection for his gait and his expressions.

He also has sandy blonde hair and blue eyes. I am impelled to speak to him but I have not dared thus far. I do not want to give my feelings away. We are in church after all. It would not be appropriate to God.

Then again it might be. God wants us to pair with other godly people. Perhaps I will tell Edna and Kitty that I will sit by myself near him this Sunday. I will send a few glances his way. I can wear some lovely perfume that I think he will like the scent of. We shall see how this goes. I want a husband so I must be friendly. Though I shall not be too forward.

November 1894

Last Sunday I sat in the pew in front and to the left of the man I am fond of. I wore my hair up with my neck exposed and wore some perfume. I hope no one thought less of me. I simply wanted to capture his attention. I was quite nervous. I succeeded because at first I felt his eyes on me, and then I could hear his nose attempting to pick up my perfume even more.

And then, my heart fluttered. We turned to shake hands to make peace. And our eyes met. His hand grip was firm yet gentle. I instantly felt that he could scoop me up in his arms and carry me away. Then I blushed. I can't think these thoughts in church. His name is Aldan and he is an accountant. We spent the next few weeks communicating and going to church together.

April 1895

I am in my second semester at Auburndale, but excellent news -- Aldan asked me to marry him! He met mother and father two months ago when they came to Auburndale to visit me and to ascertain Aldan's worthiness and financial stability. They thought him to be a perfect match for me. Aldan then went by coach a month ago to ask for my hand and he received my father's blessing.

So no more schooling for me once this semester is over! I am not really suited to the college lifestyle with all the studying, gossiping girls, and strangers. I can not wait to be his wife and go arm in arm around town with my husband!

Edward, from back home, apparently had been interested in proposing to me because it turned out he stayed in Brookline to do business. But I was already being courted by Aldan at the time. I had heard that he wanted to marry me when we were still 17. But I can't imagine having married him now since I found Aldan. He is the most caring, sweet man.

June 1895

Aldan and I were married two weeks ago, and last week we moved into a home he secured for us. We also found a delightful little cat amongst the grounds which we decided to bring into our home. We named her Mabel.

Aldan and I married at St. Paul's Episcopal Church amongst only cozy friends and family. The entire church was filled with daisy chains and my wedding day will be one of the best memories of my life. I know our lives will be happy with God's full blessing.

Ads from Women's Magazines in the 1890s

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