1898 Detailed Diary of a Perceptive Wife of a Prominent Orwell, New York Farmer

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On offer is the diary of the wife of a very successful farmer and businessman in upstate New York in the late 1800s.

Strong context clues including names of all family members, locations, dates and more indicate this diary was written by Ida J. Olmstead (1858-1915)  and covers the year 1898. Ida was born in Michigan and moved to Orwell, New York in 1876, when she married Arthur Erastus Olmstead (1850-1926) [SEE BIO NOTES AT END OF LISTING FOR MORE ON OLMSTEAD]. They had two sons, Frederick Lorin and Orimell Brown (who she calls Orra). 

Ida was 42 the year that she wrote this diary. The following entries will give a flavour of the life she experiences:

“Rained hard all day. Went to Sandy Creek to G.A.R* and W.R.C*. meeting, a very nice time. Got home before dark. Got pretty tired” [Jan 12]. 

[The GAR is the Grand Army of the Republic. WRC was the Woman's Relief Corps, the official women's auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic]

“A nice day and evening. Col. A. D. Shaw spoke in evening at church. G.A.R. and W.R.C. went in body. Had a reception at hall after lecture. A fine time. A good turnout” [Feb 8]. 

“Pleasant. Claudia gone to her sisters child’s funeral. Just got word Uncle Anson very sick. Orimel and Arthur went on 11 o’clock train. He died at 6 o’clock P.M. Rained in night” [Mar 15]. 

“A nice day. Arthur went to Watertown on morning train, home in evening. I went down to Mrs. Nat Stowell’s to birthday club. She is 43 years old. Orra got face filed with powder in eve. Frightened me very bad. Did not see him till morning” [Apr 13], 

“Orra very bad off. Dr. Low came and did what he could to relieve him. Has a very bad face, eyes swollen shut. Don’t think eye sight is effected. Cannot tell for sure” [Apr 14].

“22 years ago we were married at Clinton Michigan. Arthur went to Utica on morning train and I went down to Camden to spent the day. Home in evening. A very pleasant visit” [Sept 16].

“Pleasant. Went to Richland in afternoon to see Roosevelt pass through on special train. Went to hall in evening to social for Reverend Davis” [Oct 28]. 

For a social historian, this is an outstanding chronicle of life in rural upstate New York. Ida Olmstead is a perceptive observer and keeps a very good record of people and events. This would be a very good reference work for a Women’s Studies program as it details her daily life and by inference, the lives of her many acquaintances. For a genealogist or local historian, her diary is full of the names of friends and acquaintances, many of whose families would still be resident in the community.

BIO NOTES ON ARTHUR E. OLMSTEAD: Olmstead came from a family that was quite well-known in the community. Arthur Olmstead’s father Orimel was a successful farmer and businessman who also served as a county official. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Oramel Olmstead raised a company for the 110th New York Infantry Regiment. He served himself. Our informal research has turned up an interesting story concerning his service.

His son, Melvin, was serving in the 24th New York Infantry Regiment. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of Bull Run. He lay on the battlefield for 3 days before being discovered. Unfortunately, he died of his wounds. When notified about this, his father Orimel, travelled to Manasass to retrieve his body and bring it home. Returning to his Regiment in Baltimore, he fell ill and his wife rushed to his side to nurse him but she became exhausted. Administered opiates by a physician to relieve her fatigue, she fell into a deep sleep and never woke up. Orimel Olmstead was subsequently invalided out and returned to Orwell to carry on with his life. He died in 1884 at the age of 78.

His son Arthur Erastus Olmstead (1850-1926) carried on his fathers dry good business and farming. In time, he ended up owning over 700 acres of farmland, running 2 successful dairy operations, a chair factory, a cheese factory and an iron works. He was active in his community serving as town clerk and assessor. He was also active in the GAR – The Grand Army of the Republic which was the largest and most important veterans organization made up of former Civil War veterans of the Union army.  

The diary measures 6 inches by 3.5 inches and contains 183 pages. It is about 95% complete. The cover is a soft maroon leather and is in good condition. The back cover has parted slightly from the cover. A pocket on the inside back cover has come apart, mostly due to the adhesive drying out. The pages are in good condition and the handwriting is legible.

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