1924-1927 Diary of a Young Civil Engineer and Student Dating and Coming of Age in Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • $1,655.99
    Unit price per 
Tax included.

On offer is a collection of three little diaries kept by a city of Cambridge, Massachusetts civil engineer who served as a First Class Petty Officer in the US Navy during WWII. 

The author of this diary is James Donnell Sullivan (1907-1970). Sullivan the son of well-known lawyer Jeremiah S. Sullivan and Annie Taffe. He was a civil engineer and surveyor who worked for the city of Cambridge. He married Elizabeth A. Boylan (d. 2004). Together they had four children: Nancy, Maura, J. Donnell Jr. and Barbara. 

Sullivan kept these three diaries in 1924, 1925 and 1927, when he was 17, 18 and 20 years old. However in some places he crosses off dates and uses the diaries out of order. During this time he was living at home and working in the Engineering Department at Cambridge City Hall and also attending school. 

While his diaries are small in size, Sullivan’s words paint a very generous picture of the life of a boy on the verge of manhood. For example, in the summer of 1925 (written in his 1924 diary), Sullivan in a relationship with Fran…but making discreet phone calls to Dorothy:

“Talking to Dorothy Dwyer for two hours on the phone tonight. Fear not my Fair Fran” [Aug 14, 1925].

“Fran’s mother said that Fran couldn’t go out for a week because Fran and I stayed out so late last night. Talking to Dot Dwyer on the phone” [Aug 17, 1925]. 

“Talking to Dorothy Dwyer on the phone. Yesterday was her birthday so I just thought I’d call her at least. She said she was thrilled and surprised at my calling” [Oct 14, 1925].

The most fun part of Sullivan’s diaries is that he has created a coding system which he lays out in the Memoranda section of the 1924 diary, using symbols to indicate what sort of a day he had. Some of the codes are easy to interpret, such as a forward slash equating to him having a “good time” and a rectangle with checks equating to a “fight”. However some of the codes are more cryptic. He uses the coding system through two diaries.  

The following excerpts will give a flavour of his diaries: 

“Well after a years hard work trying to be introduced to Frances Shea was introduced bu Bunny Reardon. The drama was punk but the dancing was great and i danced in a [ ] all night” [Feb 9, 1924]. 

“Went to Dot Nagle’s dance at Larch Road Bungalow” [June 24, 1924]. 

“Ted Johnson & I went to Ponds Tutoring School. Taking English, Latin & Algebra. Bed at 11:45 P.M.” [Oct 16, 1924].

“Our department had a party for Mr. Davis (“Uncle”). Pensioned after fifty one years service. Didn’t go to school. Talking to Bunny Potter on phone. Meet Fran & her tomorrow afternoon. Bed 11:45 P.M.” [Mar 31, 1925].

“Mc & I measured [ ] house today. I was in Harvard Sq. Tonight and I met Fran and Agnes McCarthy so I went up to McCarthy’s house with them. Went home with Fran. Acted just like long ago when I first went with Fran Oh Boy. How I love here. She is adorable…” [Sept 10, 1925].

“Didn’t work this afternoon. Studied at the library. Went to school tonight. Talking to Fran on the phone. Went over to Leona’s house. Got an invitation to Mayor Quinn’s reception today. Call for Fran at 10 and took her home…” [Dec 11, 1925].

“Council meeting at City Hall. Budget went through OK. Netting me $300 more per year” [Apr 12, 1927].

“Ball game this afternoon. Fran and I went to the movies tonight, then for a walk. Wonderful time. Fran gave me a marvelous kiss. XXX O.K. arms!!!?? 1:30AM” [July 6, 1927].

“‘Pinched’ for racing Bunny Cronin down Cambridge St. Booked on six charges. I think Chief McBride fixed it for me…” [July 18, 1927]. 

“Drove to Quebec today. Couldn’t get room at Frontenac so we stayed at St. Roch Hotel. Danced at the Frentonac with the sharkey girl. Blow out. Wired for money. With two fellows from W. Virginia. 2:45AM” [Aug 30, 1927].

“Raced from Quebec to Montreal with four other Mass. cars. Think we came in second. At Windsor. Watched dance at Windsor. Played cards. 2:45AM” [Sept 1, 1927]. 

For a social historian, these diaries give an excellent look into the world of a young man living in the Roaring Twenties in New England. They paint a picture of success and general contentment in the years immediately preceding the Great Depression.

All three diaries are very small, measuring between 1.75 inches and 4.25 inches. They are between 70-90% complete. They are all in Fair to Good condition. 

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.)

We Also Recommend