Guide to the Nettie (Davis) Holmes Diaries, 1881-1909

Collection number: MC 345
Size: (1 box) (0.15 cu.ft.)

About Nettie Holmes

Nettie Ardell Davis (17 July 1867- 19 August 1913) of New London NH was the daughter of Edmond Davis (1825-1901) and Emeline C. Young (1834-1971). She married Arthur Walter Holmes (1864-1946) in 1894. Their four children were Shirley Edward (1898-1971), Marjorie Emeline (1900-1987), Gladys Elizabeth (1903-1981), and Dorothy Ardell (1905-1988). The family lived in what the Ottertown area of New London, between Otter and Goose Ponds, where they farmed and sold ice cut from the ponds.

The diaries begin when she is 14 years old. In addition to attending a one room school, she attends dancing and singing schools, knits, helps on the farm, and goes to occasional dances. Neighbors included the Messer, Preston, Mitchel, and Bayley/Bagley families. After her 1894 marriage to Arthur Holmes, they appear to have built a house or perhaps stayed in the same house (her older sister Minnie was married and moved out by now). The focus of the diaries shifts to daily housework, handiwork such as quilting and knitting, taking care of her increasing family, the comings and goings of visitors and the mail, and other small daily events. A close friend (mentioned nearly daily) was neighbor Emeline (Philbrook) Preston.

After her death at the age of 46, a stained glass window in the Wayside Chapel - now a private residence at 320 Otterville Rd. - was dedicated to her memory. She was a member of the chapel from its construction in 1902.

About Nettie's diaries

The 9 diaries in this collection document Nettie as a young teen on her parent’s farm working in the fields and sewing her wedding chest up through the infancy of her fourth child a few years before her death. Frequent observations include the weather, comings and goings of visitors, health, births/marriages/deaths in the surrounding area, farming/housework, and child rearing. Her writing contains more emotional depth and commentary than is usual for rural women’s diaries of the time.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

This collection is open.

Copyright Notice

Contents of this collection are governed by U.S. copyright law. For questions about publication or reproduction rights, contact Special Collections staff.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], [Folder Number], Box 1, Nettie Davis Holmes Diaries, 1881-1909, MC 345, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Acquisitions Information

Purchase from Carmen Valentino Rare Books, 2018 (Accession No. 2018.07)

Separated Material

Given Nettie’s dedicated daily writing it’s likely that these are only some of the diaries she kept during her lifetime. These may have been separated and given away by family, for example, as the years covering her marriage and the birth of her four children are conspicuously absent.

Collection Arrangement

Arrangement is chronological.

Collection Contents

Folder 1Diaries, 1881, 1882, 1891

These three volumes cover the years before Nettie married. In 1881 she describes school and her teacher Ed Hastings, dancing school, dances, handiwork, visitors, family events, and more. On Jan. 16 it was too cold to go to school and she stayed home. In 1882, it continued to be “offle cold” but that does not deter her from “going to a sing to knight” or to house parties in a “slay”. On Sundays her father Edmond goes “to meating”. She notes the breeding and shoeing of pigs, horses, oxen, as well as her parents’ 30th anniversary on April 18. The back of the book contains a detailed list of neighborhood births, deaths, and marriages.

After a gap of nine years, she is 24 years old in 1891. She has become more religious and is being courted by “Mr. Holmes”. Her wedding chest is receiving a goodly amount of work in the form of knitting, quilting, clothes, and more. 1890 was a hard year for the family (though she doesn’t say why), and she hopes that 1891 will be better and “the dark cloud [will] lift away from us”. She again includes extensive local vital records in the back of the diary.

Folder 2Diaries, 1895, 1899, 1901

Nettie is 27 years old by 1895 and celebrating her first full year of marriage, which included the 1894 death of her mother Emeline. Arthur derives a goodly income from cutting ice, while Nettie quilts, bakes, washes, makes butter and maple sugar candy, writes letters, and all the innumerable other tasks required to keep the household going. The 1895 diary includes local vital records in the back.

By 1899 her son Shirley has been born and by the end of the summer she is pregnant with Marjorie. She carefully lists the 1898 Christmas presents given to her and to ‘Baby’. Although her health is shaky after the birth and during her early pregnancy, she still keeps up with the chores and keeps track of the processing dates and dressing weight of pigs, when the horses and oxen are shod, and how many blocks of ice Arthur cut. A major event is the purchase of a baby carriage. She either didn’t keep a 1900 diary or started it late, because the back of the 1899 volume contains entries through Jan. 2, 1900.

Her daughter Marjorie was born in April of 1900, and by 1901 the family has hired a woman named Helen Dunbar (b. 1875) to help around the house. The family augments their income by selling butter and eggs as well as meat and ice. Arthur frequently works in the woods with their horse, Old Major. Her father Edmond’s health is failing, and he dies on 12 July, several days before her birthday on 17 July.

Folder 3Diaries, 1904, 1907, 1909

By 1904 Nettie is 36 years old. Helen is still there to help with the four children but marries and moves away April 26. Neighbor Emeline Preston largely takes her place, visiting every day to help with chores. Nettie and Emeline are obviously close friends. Arthur attends the local Odd Fellows Lodge, while Nettie irons and makes maple candy and washes truly impressive quantities of laundry. She also spends time trying to find things that the children have hidden, including finding Shirley’s silver spoon in the ice box. The older children attend school and help their parents on the farm. For diversion, the entire family visits a neighboring family to see what came in their order from the Sears & Robuck catalog.

The diaries from 1907 and 1909 are only partially filed and contain Marjorie’s scribbling and arithmetic in the back along with recipes and rhymes. Arthur is still cutting ice, but also working for neighbors and building furniture. The last entry, on Oct. 17 1909, reads “Ralph [Preston] and Emeline went to Boston today. Arthur began work for Mr. Clark.”