Transcribing: A Close Connection to the Past

In One Night in Norwalk – A Hitchhiker’s Tale, I told how I found entries in my grandmother’s diary of the night I arrived at her door after a failed attempt to hitchhike home from school.

I am lucky to have Grandma’s diaries, and other writings of hers. They have provided me an intimate window into her life – and told me what she thought of me. While transcribing them, I felt I became closer to her than I ever did while she was alive. And, while transcribing her words, I adopted a process that made her seem even closer; a process that is the subject of this post.

 

Harriott Wickham Memories

Photos: Harriott Wickham self-portrait, 1914; Commencement photo of the Class of 1907. Harriott Wickham earliest diaries: 1908-1909 (open); 1910 Tour of Europe (black cover); 1910-1914, Wooster College Years (red cover).

Early on, I formed the habit of transcribing Grandma’s letters, diaries, stories and other documents before I read them. Seeing the words for the first time as I typed them made it seem I was experiencing her thoughts as they had formed in her mind. Sitting at my desk late at night, or in the morning before dawn – my usual time for research and writing – I often felt as though Grandma was with me, directing my fingers as they moved across the keyboard of my computer.

Have you ever tried this technique? If you have not, I suggest you give it a try.

 

 

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One Night in Norwalk, Ohio – A Hitchhiker’s Tale

With all I have written about the history of Norwalk, Ohio, you might think that I grew up in that city and the Firelands. But I did not. I was born in Amherst, Ohio, and raised in Lorain and Avon Lake, all in the county east of the Firelands. In fact, to my knowledge I have spent only one night in Norwalk, Ohio: Thursday, September 27, 1973, forty-four years ago today. How do I know that, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

I had just begun my Junior year at Bowling Green State University, south of Toledo, and after two years in the dorms, had moved to an apartment on Napoleon Road, across the railroad tracks from a hog slaughter house.

I needed a car. A neighbor of my parents back in Avon Lake had a car for sale. I decided to hitchhike home and buy it. After all, it was only a hundred miles or so. No problem. So I walked to Wooster Street, hung out my thumb, and headed east. [1]Norwalk Hitchhiking Map

Rides were scarce that day, and those who picked me up did not take me very far. As dusk settled in, I found myself standing at the U.S. Route 250 exit of the U.S. 20 Norwalk Bypass. Continuing to hitchhike in the dark did not appeal to me (wisely, I think).

But, Grandma Barton lived in Norwalk. [2] She’d take me in. I abandoned my plans of getting home that night, and hiked north along Benedict Avenue toward town.

I arrived at Grandma’s home on Hester Street after dark. The lights were on. I knocked. She opened the door and stared at me with surprise.

What did she think of me showing up at her door after dark? I’ll let her tell you.

 

Thursday, September 27, 1973

Another warm day, but not as hot as yesterday. Late in the p.m. a knock at the door and there stood David. He had hitch-hiked this far on his way home, but did not want to try his luck farther, as it would soon be getting dark. I did not think he should either, so he called home to tell them he was staying here over night. Nice to have him for a little visit.

Friday, September 28, 1973

Just after we had eaten breakfast this a.m. Carrie [my mom] arrived to take Dave on to Avon Lake, where he is to finish his deal to buy a car there. Somehow it did not occur to me to lend him my car to go on to A.L.! But perhaps that would have been just as much trouble, as they would have felt it should be brought back.

Harriott Barton Christmas 1973 - Avon Lake Ohio (2)

Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, Christmas 1973

That’s it, my one night in Norwalk, Ohio. And breakfast, too!

I had wondered over the years what Grandma thought about my little adventure. (I had learned my mom’s opinion of my “antics” on the ride from Norwalk to Avon Lake that morning). Finding these entries in Grandma’s diaries a decade ago was a blessing. I’m glad she was not upset with me. But what else could I expect from someone who had homesteaded in Wyoming as single young woman, married a rancher, and raised a family on the edge of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.

Grandma was not the timid sort.

 

Diaries from our ancestors are such a treasure. In my next post, I’ll tell you how I make the transcription of these gems into a deeply personal experience.

 

Footnotes

[1] To any children (in the unlikely event any children actually read this post), do as I say, not as I did: don’t hitchhike!

[2] Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, Norwalk High School Class of 1907, whose stories of her life, our family’s heritage, and of the Firelands inspired me to publish the Firelands History Website. After my grandfather’s death, she had sold their farm south of Norwalk and moved into town.

 

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Nothing New Under the Sun

Great fire of 1908

Scene of the Devastation of the Michigan Fire of 1908 [1]

This year, it seems that the entire western U.S. is in flames. Although in Colorado, where I live, we have mostly been spared the fires, we have suffered through weeks of heavy smoke from conflagrations in Canada, Oregon and Montana that obscure the sky, burn our eyes, and weigh heavily on our spirits.

I hiked in the hills near my home south of Denver this morning. Normally, Pikes Peak, fifty miles to the south, stands out boldly against a blue sky. But this morning, I could barely make out the foothills of the Front Range, a little over ten miles to the west.

Fires like these are not new, however. One-hundred nine years ago, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham, wrote in her diary about smoke from faraway fires that blanketed Norwalk, Ohio. Here’s what she had to say:

 

Saturday, Sept 11, – The air is so full of smoke from the Canadian & Michigan forest fires that it is like a thick fog. The air is close & muggy, and the sun doesn’t even cast a shadow. It is only about four o’clock now, but you can scarcely see the sun although there is not a cloud in the sky, at least as far as I can see, which isn’t far, for I can hardly see across the valley. My, I’m glad we don’t have forests around here. It’s bad enough clear across the Lake. [2]

There is nothing new under the sun, according to the prophet. [3] And sometimes, there is no sun.

Something is different today, however – coverage of these events. These days, national and local news sources extensively cover wild fires, and cautions us of the health risks. But on September 11, 1908, the dense smoke Harriott Wickham described in her diary merited not even a mention from the Norwalk Daily Reflector or the Evening Herald. An article in the latter paper did report about a forest fire in Minnesota, but only because it threatened a town. [4] Property loss was news. The environment was not.

Footnotes:

[1] From “MAJOR POST-LOGGING FIRES IN MICHIGAN: the 1900’s.”

[2] From the unpublished diary of Harriott Wickham, Norwalk High School Class of 1907 covering May 1908 to May 1909 in the possession of the author of this blog. As it is today, there were no real forests around Norwalk in 1908. Pioneers like Harriett Wickham’s ancestors had cut them down over the previous century.

[3] Ecclesiastes, 1:9.

[4] “Forest Fires Do Great Damage,” Norwalk Evening Herald, page 3, column 5.

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Matrimony

old-norwalk-high-school0001

When I began researching the lives after graduation of the members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, I expected to find that a higher percentage of the men of the class had married than women. A prejudiced assumption, of course, which almost guarantees it will be wrong. In fact, only sixty percent of men married compared to over seventy percent of women [1]

The grouping of men and women by ages is even more interesting, and unexpected (for me, at least). The six men who married did so between the ages of twenty-one and twenty five, with Stephen Young marrying first, at the age of twenty-one, on January 11, 1911, the same year he graduated from Western Reserve University with a law degree. On the other end of the spectrum, Sheldon Laning and Arthur Young waited until 1915 before they wed, when they were twenty-five and had started their careers.

 

 

Stephen Young, Sheldon Laning, and Arthur Young

 

Twelve women of the class married, with a much wider spread in years and ages than the men: from age nineteen to thirty-four and as early 1907 and as late as 1924.

Gertrude Ryerson married first, in 1907, the same year she graduated. I haven’t been able to learn the exact date she wed, so it’s possible she married prior to graduation. That may be why she does not appear in the graduation photo. Gertrude was twenty-one when she wed, so she was not the youngest of the class to marry. That was Nina Humiston, who married at the age of nineteen, almost exactly one year after graduating from Norwalk High School.

The woman who married last, and at the oldest age, was Harriott Wickham, who waited until 1924 to marry at the age of thirty-four. This was after graduating from Wooster College (the only woman in the class of 1907 to graduate from college), teaching high school in the west for over a decade, and homesteading in Wyoming.

 

Gertrude Ryerson, Nina Humiston, and Harriott Wickham

 

Many women worked before marrying, mainly as teachers in one-room schools around Norwalk. But, unlike their male classmates, none had a career after they wed. The remainder of their lives were dedicated to their husbands and families.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The percentage of women married may be higher than 70%. As I reported in a previous post, Florence Davidson disappears from the records after the 1910 Census. She was still single then, but may have married afterwards.

 

 

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Education After Graduation – The Women

old-norwalk-high-school0001

As we saw in my last post, only two women out of seventeen in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 went on to a degree-producing college, Florence Davidson and Harriott Wickham.

Florence Davidson

Florence Davidson

Florence Davidson attended Oberlin College beginning in the fall of 1907, just after graduation, and studied there for at least two years. [1] Her story is an interesting one, and frustrating. As we’ll see when I get around to publishing her biography, she was adopted after her father died by her mother’s new husband, Charles Davidson. [2] By 1909, the Davidson family moved to Massillon, Ohio, [3] and by 1910 were living in San Bernardino, California, where her adoptive father was a machinist in a railroad roundhouse, and Florence was a music teacher. [4] Then, she disappears. I cannot find any record of her at all after the 1910 Census.

All of this raises more questions than answers. How did Charles Davidson afford to send Florence to college on a machinist’s pay? Because Florence was a music teacher in California, I assume that she studied music at Oberlin, but have not found proof of that. I like to imagine that she had a part in the beginning of the movie industry in California and changed her name. But that is only a fantasy. Her life is a mystery I would love to solve.

Harriott Wickham Commencement Photo

Harriott Wickham

Harriott Wickham studied one additional year at Norwalk High School and then taught in a one-room school in Peru Township, just outside of town. Not long after the end of the 1908-1909 school year, she received startling news, Her uncle, oil magnate and philanthropist Louis Severance (brother-in-law of Harriott’s grandfather, David Benedict), had decided to pay her way at Wooster College. It was a dream come true. Years later, she wrote about her school experience:

That fall [1909] I entered Wooster College – and spent 4 “school years” there – very good years! – that prepared me for teaching in high schools of S. Dakota & Wyoming – the years that made a “westerner” of me, & years in Deer Creek Canyon, with Angus & the children. [5]

And that’s all the women in the class who went on to college: two out of seventeen female students in the Class of 1907. Three other women attended a technical school after graduation: Lillian Smith went to a teaching school in Toledo and Chicago. [6] Florence Bascom attended nursing training at a hospital in Lakewood, Ohio. [7] Irene Bragdon went to a “normal school” for teachers in Ypsilani, Michigan. [8] Lillian and Florence married soon after completing their schooling. Irene Bragdon never married, and had a career teaching in Minneapolis.

 

Higher education was beyond the reach of most women graduates of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. That was not the case for the men of the class, however. In my next post, we’ll see where they went to college, and how that opportunity shaped their lives.

Footnotes:

[1] The only evidence I have that Florence attended Oberlin are from short newspaper accounts reporting that she returned to Norwalk for a visit from attending school there. For example: “Personal Mention,” Norwalk Daily Reflector, May 9, 1908, page 3, column 5.

[2] Cuyahoga County Archive; Cleveland, Ohio; Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Marriage Records, 1810-1973; Volume: Vol 56; Page: 109; Year Range: 1903 May – Oct.

[3] U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Massillon, Ohio, City Directory, 1909.

[4] U.S. Census: 1910: San Bernardino Ward 3, San Bernardino, California; Roll: T624_94; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0120; FHL microfilm: 1374107.

[5] The story of Harriott Wickham’s education at Wooster College are mostly from her diaries, 1908 to 1914.

[6] “Personal Mention,” Norwalk Daily Reflector, January 6, 1908, page 3, column 5 and “Personal Items,” Norwalk Evening Herald, August 14, 1911, page 4, column 4.

[7] US Census 1910; Cleveland Ward 10, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: T624 1169; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0175; FHL microfilm: 1375182

[8] “Deaths and Funerals: Irene Bragdon,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, November 17, 1944, page 8, column 4.

 

 

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Age and Gender

It’s been a couple weeks since my last post about the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 – Out Into the World. I return today with a series of posts about demographics of the class in 1907 and during their lives after graduation. I know demographics may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think they are fascinating. They provide the only way to truly understand what’s going on in a population – or in this case what went on over one hundred years ago.

I start with a breakdown of the class by gender and age. The graduates of the Class of 1907 were almost twice as likely to be female: seventeen women to ten men. Why was that? I would imagine that more young men of that era had to start work early to help support their families. In that more agrarian age, boys often were needed in the fields.

There was also a striking difference by gender in the ages of the class. The women were on average older at graduation than the men. Fred Osborne was the only boy twenty years old at graduation, but five girls had reached that age: Alice McCammon, Edna West, Carrie Spurrier, Gertrude Ryerson, and Myrtle Woodruff. Interestingly, these young women all were born in the townships around Norwalk.

 

Norwalk High School Class of 1907 graduates who were twenty years old at commencement (clockwise from top left): Fred Osborne, Alice McCammon, Edna West, Carrie Spurrier, Myrtle Woodruff, and Gertrude Ryerson.

 

Fred Osborne was not only the oldest male graduate, but was the oldest in the class overall. He and Myrtle Woodruff were the only graduates born in 1886. If you’ve been following this blog, you may remember Myrtle from the series, It Was Buried on the Banks of Mud Run. If you don’t remember, it’s worth checking it out.

Harriott Wickham Commencement PhotoThe baby of the class was Harriott Wickham (my grandma), who was the only graduate born in 1890. On the first page of her 1909-1910 diary, she wrote that she had started school early, two months before her fifth birthday. I remember her mentioning that to me because I also began school when I was four, although I only had to wait two weeks before my birthday. That wait did not mean much to me back when I was very young. Where my early start really made an impact on me was when I went to college. I was one of the few in my dorm who could not legally drink — at that time in Ohio, you could purchase 3.2% beer at eighteen.

Finally, two graduates of the class had the same birthday: Sheldon Laning and Eugene Bloxham were both born on November 9, 1889. Was that considered remarkable by them and their classmates?

Sheldon Laning and Eugene Bloxham shared the same birthday.

 

That’s all I have for now on this subject. Starting with my next post, we’ll look past graduation, and see how the Class of 1907 fared in life.

 

 

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Class Dance

June 19 fell on a Wednesday in 1907. That evening, the recent graduates of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 hosted a dance at Link Hall, which they had decorated with a Native American theme, with skins on the walls and wigwams set up in the corners of the banquet room.

1907 Dancing

A formal dance – June 1, 1907 [1]

In the reception line greeting the crowd of a hundred and fifty graduates and guests were the class officers: President Arthur Young, Vice President Harriot Wickham, Secretary Carrie Spurrier, and Treasurer Robert Venus.

 

Officers of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 [2]

Dancing began around 8:30 p.m., with Arthur Young and out of town guest Harriet Nufer leading the Grand March. The festivities continued until midnight, but no worries – the class did not need to rise early for school the next morning.

The dance concluded a month of ceremony and festival that marked the Class of 1907’s transition from school to adult life. And what would that life hold for these graduates?

It would be a different life – to be sure. The world they had grown up in was about to be upended by war. The peaceful small town America that had been their life was about to be shattered. A few of these graduates would stay in Norwalk, but most of them would not. They would move to larger cities, Cleveland and Detroit mainly. The men would go into careers in business. Most of the women would marry men who did the same, although a few would pursue careers in nursing or teaching and never marry, or would wed late in life. In subsequent posts, we’ll see how they all fared.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Photo of Lawn Tennis Club ball at Charters Towers, 1907 Elegantly gowned women and formally dressed gentlemen are crowded on the dance floor of the hall. From Wikipedia Commons.

[2] Individual photos clipped from Class of 1907 Commencement Photo.

[3] Descriptions of the class dance are from accounts in “Seniors Have a Gay Time,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, June 20, 1907, page 4, column 3, and “Senior Class Dance,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 20, 1907, page 1, column 7

 

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