1936-1940 Collection of Diaries of a Young Ottawa, Kansas Republican Woman on the Verge of Independence

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On offer is a terrific archive of four diaries spanning over four years in the life of a busy, politically engaged and descriptive young Kansas woman named Stella May Durbin (later Brown) (1909-1977) [SEE BIO NOTES AT END OF LISTING].

Stella was a proud Republican and member of the the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic and Order of the Eastern Star. She suffered from colitis and describes the experience of inpatient surgery and recovery in 1936 quite well. She references abdominal pain throughout her diaries. Stella works in both Ottawa and Tokepa, Kansas. At one point she works at the Topeka State Hospital. 

Stella’s entries are generally long and very newsy. Reading her diary is very much like hearing an update from a friend. Her 1936-1938 diaries are very comprehensive. In 1939 she tapers her writing, begins using it as more of a ledger book for her finances, and includes a few random 1940 entries (and dates them as such), which is a fun treat. 

Some excerpts give a sense of how Stella writes and the general content of her diaries:

“...Lois and Merv took us to see the wrecked car downtown. Two cars collided head on, then Carl, Murch and Eileen drove into the wreck. They weren’t hurt but one fellow was killed. Had quite a surprise this afternoon when Clair Spears called and came up to talk. He must have thot I was a wreck for I’d shampooed and set my hair…” [Jan 5, 1936].

“Hottest ever recorded as late in the season. Leota called to ask me to attend the G.O.P. party council with her in Topeka tomorrow and I don’t feel like it…Saw Ritz Malone and talked about the elephant cookies for the next G.O.P. banquet. Have pills to take, got Belladona for colitis…” [Aug 24, 1936]. 

In September of 1936, Stella has a surgery, in which one and a half of her “tubes” are removed and she reports her “appendix had an attack”. This surgery was presumably related to her colitis though she does not specify. She writes for several days after the surgery, painting a picture of what it was like to be inpatient post-op in the 1930s. A sample excerpt from her post operative recovery is here: 

“...Get a bath every morning, alcohol rub on back and powder bath then back rub again..keeping register of doctors, nurses and aids…” [Sept 17, 1936].

“Saw Franklin D. Roosevelt today…Ruth, Mother and I went to Junction to see Roosevelt. He just sat in the car and waved - rather disheartenedly, we all thot. Crowd went wild…” [Oct 13, 1936].

“Washed and dressed, straightened house & dishes about 9:30 when 5 of K.C. folks drove up. Busy all morning getting dinner but I let them do the dishes. Rested and we all read excerpts from grandma’s diaries…” [May 30, 1936].

“Home after work...Not paid tonight & was surprised. Paid the balance on my shoes and they seem alright but I don’t know... Put 9 pennies in bank tonite – I’ll get something nice with them someday…” [Mar 25, 1937].

“...Went to the Circle meeting...Mrs Morgan pres, Mrs. Bidermans Sr Vice & yours truly Jr Vice. Also elected 1st delegate to State encampment at Topeka in May with all expenses paid Can be so nice with granddad going too…” [Dec 10, 1937].

“Went to see Alexander’s Ragtime Band and surely enjoyed it. Don Ameche, Alice Faye & Tyrone Power. Went to Cheney’s for groceries but didn’t see anyone I knew. Had an experience – a woman tried to run Mrs. Bowlby & Nadine. Then the woman thumbed her nose – audibly – was I mad!“ [Sept 14, 1938].

“Election at Eastern Star and I was gloriously defeated! Mrs. Chalmers got it. Feel relieved but I got the best votes of all 4. She got it easily on the 2nd ballot” [Dec 7, 1938]. 

“...Mr. Pleasant called today and I’m to work in driver’s license bureau at $12.60 a week, am to go to Olathe Sat re to schooling. Cleaned ice box and floor all around it….Made ice cream too - butterscotch. Anna, Mother and I to Star and the dummy candidate - my feet are screeching!...” [June 7, 1939]. 

“Got letter from Frank this morn so I answered it and told him the decisions were up to him or we might try a month’s separation - just writing if we cared to” [June 20, 1939].

“...Granddad died 3:15am July 13…Started work in Topeka State Hospital - July 30, 1939…Frank started work Jan 3, 1940 and on his own in car on Wed 24th January” [Memoranda Section, 1939 diary].

For a social historian, this group of diaries offers and excellent look at the life of a young American woman in the years immediately preceding WWII. They also portray the social structures of the time and the roles that women played within society – roles that would radically change in a few short years.


Stella was the third of four children born to parents William Henley  Durbin and Mary Estella  Getty in Ottawa, Franklin County, Kansas. Stella married Talmadge Abraham Brown in Ottawa, Kansas on October 6, 1940. Brown served 19 years in the US Navy and Stella moved with her husband for his career, landing in South Carolina, where Talmadge would sadly die in 1956. 

This archive contains four diaries covering the years of 1936-1939. All four diaries measure 6x3.75 inches. The diaries for 1936-1937 are 90% complete, while the 1938 and 1939 diaries are about 60% complete. The covers, bindings and pages are all in Good condition. There are several neat pieces of ephemera tipped into the diaries, including. 

Please don't hesitate to contact us for more information or to request photos. (Kindly include the SKU, listed on this page above the price, in your e-mail so we can more easily answer your questions.)

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