1924 Diary of a Cornell University Agriculture Student Travelling Through Europe and Studying at the University in Grenoble

1924 Diary of a Cornell University Agriculture Student Travelling Through Europe and Studying at the University in Grenoble

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On offer is a terrific journal covering the travel and studies abroad of an American college student who would go on to graduate from Cornell University, open up a dairy farm, and die before his 40th birthday. 

The journal belonged to Richard Everard Williams (1902-1937) of New York. Williams was born to Captain Edward Peet Williams (1839-1910) and Laura Carroll (Dennis) Williams (1862-1938). His mother was an accomplished musician who had studied and worked in London in her younger years, and went on to be active in the Liberal party in Washington. His father served two years in the Civil War as a Captain and married Laura following the death of his first wife, Abby Townley. William graduated from Cornell University, Class of 1927, with a BS in Agriculture. He then purchased a large farm in New York and began a dairy farm. In 1927, just before graduation, he married Carolyn May Brooks (1903-1983). They had a son, David Brooks Williams in (1932-1988). 

Williams’ journal covers a three month period in 1924 during which he crossed the Atlantic to France on the SS Voendam. In France  he attended university, and then visited Switzerland and Italy before returning to the United States. 

He was accompanied by his mother and Aunt Ann Dennis Bursch (1870-1932). This trip is not the first time had been to Europe as he mentions a visit in 1914 [Aug 12]. 

Williams is an excellent, poetic writer, engaging without meaning to be:

“In the evening Adelaide Hooker and I slipped under the rope bearing a “No Admission” sign and tiptoed out onto the bow where we sat for nearly an hour. Every few moments the ship would run into schools of fish which would dart away gleaming with phosphorescence as they swam. The spray which broke from the bow, likewise had a phosphorescent glow. Later, just before I got into my birth an orb having all the appearance of a yellow harvest moon rose up out of the sea and cast its golden light across the gently tossing waters” [June 20]. 

Williams stopped in London, Paris and Lyon before reaching his initial destination, Grenoble where he enrolled in the University as a student (likely the Gernoble Alpes University) on July 1st. He discusses the lectures he attends and the professors M. Morillot, M. Chevallier, M. Bergson M. Galland, and M. Mengin. When not in classes, Williams and his family visit neighbouring communities, and he discusses his experiences both as a student and tourist, naming his fellow students, parties he attends and places he visits with and without his family: 

“About 8:20 this morning, I started out with my lunch for a snowfield just east of Peyron d’Amout ( or d’Amour), a rocky peak of which the rounded head rises a little northeast of La Meije. My way led up thru lovely alpine meadows and across Chalvachere – a roaring torrent fed my the melting snows of the Glacier de la Meiji. Heated by climbing it was most refreshing to stand on the bridge above it fanned by the cooling breath of air which rose from its icy waters. Far above towered the beautiful and majestic Meiji…” [July 6]. 

“We left Avignon in 3 auto buses about 8:30. Our route led through a region which prof Metzger said was typical of the Midi – gently rolling country with rather sparse vegetation suggestive of a hot climate, sprinkled here and there with olive groves, almond groves and vineyards. ... The sky was a light blue with white clouds here and there, and altho the sun was intensely brilliant, the mistral was blowing sufficiently to make me very glad to wear an overcoat while motoring…” [July 27].

“...At Fontainbleau, we lunched ta the Restaurant de l’Aiglon. Afterward we visited the Chateau which looks like a barracks from the outside but contains much that is stunning. Mention must also be made of the gardens which are refreshing in being much simpler than those of Versailles and of the famous and crowded carp pond…” [Sep 14].

This is not your typical travel diary. It is fascinating to read about the experience of an exchange student with significant resources and accompanied by family, as he is able to see and do so much more than the average 22-year-old. For a geographer or travel buff, this journal paints a wonderful, first-hand view of glimpses of life across Europe in that seemingly golden time following the devastating World War 2. For a genealogist, this journal demonstrates neat connections between Americans and Europeans. 

This journal covers June 14, the first day of sailing, and concludes on September 28th, when Williams docks in New York. It measures 10x6.5 inches and contains 188 pages. It is about 70% complete. The hardboard covers and the binding are in good condition as are the pages. The spine is securely taped and is in good condition.. There is some slight staining on the covers due to age. The handwriting is quite legible.

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