1938-42 Energetic, Jam-Packed Diary of a Freewheeling 20-Something Who is All About the NYC Life

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On offer is an excellent, jam-packed 5 year diary describing in detail the life of a young working woman in New York City from ages 27 through 31.

The author of this 5-year diary is Elisabeth (Betty) Townsend Otto (1911-2009), born in Buffalo, New York. According to her obituary, she was the daughter of the late Dr. Jacob S. Otto and Elisabeth Townsend (Wheeler) Otto. After attending schools in Buffalo, New York, Betty worked for ten years in the 30s for Standard Oil of New Jersey, which later became Exxon Corporation. Returning to Buffalo, she was employed at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Western New York. After purchasing a home near Long Island Sound in 1961, where she could swim and enjoy the beach with her friends, she became a lifetime resident of Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

Her ancestors included the late Augustus Seymour Porter of Buffalo, who in 1838 became Mayor of Detroit and then served as a U.S. Senator from Michigan until 1845, and the late Col. Peter Augustus Porter of Niagara Falls who  fought in the Civil War for the Union and fell near Richmond on June 3, 1864 while leading the 8th New York Volunteer Heavy Artillery troops in the battle of Cold Harbor.

Elisabeth’s entries are detailed and she fills all the lines every day. Her focus is on living it up in New York, and she therefore mention many locations across the city. Some excerpts follow: 

“Work as usual. All of the girls had lunch at Eliz Driscoll’s. I came home on 5:03. Mother & Dad arrived. I had cocktails for Dad and dressed. There was the first dance of the season which was fair. I danced with Captain Howe, Russel Cook, Mr. Babcock and Mr. Forsbay. In bed at one” [July 1, 1938].

“Worked as usual. Lunch at Automat. Marketed on way home. Wrote to Dad & Mother. Got dinner, played piano and listened to radio after reading” [Nov 17, 1938].

“Listened to radio, read paper, finished letter to M & D. Played piano. Had light lunch. Called on [ ] at Barbizon and found her out Went to movies at Lowes 42nd and saw “Trade Winds” & “The Girl Downstairs”. Came home, got supper, listened to radio and read paper” [Feb 19, 1939].

“Took my time getting up. Went over accounts with Dad. Swam. In afternoon, Dad & I played golf at Hubbard Heights & enjoyed it. Took a dip. Dad and I had cocktails. I sat on porch after dinner with [ ]. Came to room at ten. Heard Roosevelt’s war speech. France & England declared war with Germany to help Poland” [Sept 3, 1939].

“Lunch as usual. Lunch at Millworth’s. Shopped. Marketed on way home. Got dinner & washed stockings. Went by car to Business & Professional Women’s meeting at St. Georges. Came home at 10: 15, to bed 11:50. Real summer weather” [June 4, 1940].

“Work as usual. Lunch at Orange Bowl. After work went to 5 & 10. Dinner at Eliz Hynnes. Stopped at Bloomingdales. Came home, listened to radio, played piano and knitted. Wrote to M & D at office” [Nov 28, 1940].

“Up at nine. In morning Ma & I shopped and marketed. I got 2 hats and a suit. Lunch at [ ]. We went to Boston Symphony concert which was very good . Came home. Got dinner. A.E. Bondman came. We talked and listened to Roosevelt’s speech on lendlease bill. A.E. went at ten. I read papers and played radio, retired at 12:30 [Mar 15, 1941].

“Worked as usual. From 12:30 on most all heard FDR speech & Congress declare war with Japan. I lunched at drug store. From work did Christmas shopping at Bloomingdale’s. Went to [ ] for dinner. Listened to radio & knitted. Came home at 12:00. In bed about one” [Dec 8, 1941].

“In morning typed at Red Cross after taking Jonathon to vet for deworming. Lunch at Howard Johnson’s with Mary Halloman. Came home. Mother left with Mrs. Smith for 3 days at Basses. I did errands, went with Dad to 2 calls. Dad and I dined at Westbook’s, went to baseball game and Toronto beat Buffalo 2-1…”[June 29, 1942].

This is an outstanding record of a young woman who has built a successful life during the war years of the mid-20th century. Full of details, for a historian or researcher into Women’s Studies, it offers an excellent look at the changing roles of women in American society. This diary’s heavy New York theme makes it an outstanding piece to enhance an NYC-themed collection. 

Measuring 5.5x4.25 inches, this diary contains 365 pages and is 100% complete. The cover is a pebbled leather. The leather is intact but is well-worn. The accompanying clasp is intact as well. The binding is in good condition as are all of the pages. The handwriting is legible. Overall VG. 

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