Discovery Center

Iowa Youth Diaries Project

The Old Capitol Museum has collaborated with the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, State Historical Society of Iowa, and other archives to highlight exceptional collections of young Iowans' diaries from the 1850s to early 1900s. The goal is to make these entertaining, fragile, and rare primary documents accessible to all, particularly to students studying state history and all Old Capitol Museum visitors. The museum staff has digitized 13 diaries and created dynamic history lessons, biographies, and synopses surrounding their stories. In December 2006, 11 of these diaries became part of two computer interactives on Iowa history, housed in the Discovery Center.  The newest diaries to this group, added in April 2010, are those of Kate Martinson and Sarah Jane Kimball.

Scroll down to view a short biography of each author.

Kate Martinson (1858-1941)

Adella Martínez & Family (1929 - )

Sarah Jane Kimball (1838-1923)

Mary Griffith (circa 1864-1881)
Charles Whipple Hadley (1844-1936)

Linnie Hagerman (August 18, 1852-April 6, 1934)
Ellery Moses Hancock (July 11, 1850-1929)

Clara Hinton (August 17, 1894-June 21, 1987)
Anonymous Meskwaki Woman (circa 1850-1920)

Oliver Perry Myers (July 30, 1856-March 6, 1933)
Louis Parsons (circa 1860s-?)

Belle Robinson (1862-1887)

Lucy Van Voorhis White (1869-1935)
Mary Elizabeth Wood (1902-1998)

Kate Martinson (1858-1941)











Kate Martinson was born in Rockford, Illinois in 1858 as Kate Anderson. At age eleven her family moved to Dickinson County, a remote region in Northwest Iowa dominated by the prairie and Iowa’s great lakes. Despite the lack of educational materials on the prairie, Kate had a love for learning. By age seventeen she had earned a Second Class Certificate from the Spirit Lake Institute. Though she was still a teenager, this permitted her to teach “mental and practical arithmetic.”

Hardships on the prairie caused Kate to grow up quickly. Over the course of a few years, she watched her brothers Sid and Will and sister Mate leave to begin their own families. By age fifteen Kate herself was engaged to a local carpenter named George Emerson and married at eighteen. Unfortunately, this marriage would not last and Kate remarried later in life. She remained in Iowa until her death in 1941.

Kate's diary courtesy, Iowa Women's Archive, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Adella Martínez & Family (1929 - )














In 1929, Esperanza and Cruz Martínez had their sixth child: Mary Adelaida “Adella” Martínez, in Truman, Minnesota. For most of the year, the growing family travelled to different farms in Minnesota and Iowa where they cultivated crops such as oats, cabbages and sugar beets. They spent the winters near Manly, Iowa. In 1936, tragedy struck when Adella’s oldest sister, Crecensia “Florence” Martínez, died of tuberculosis. Her father, Cruz, died the next year, in 1937, at the height of the Great Depression. A few years later the family moved to a Mexican settlement in Davenport known as Cook’s Point.

Adella helped her family as much as she could. She often stayed home from school to care for her younger brothers and sister while her mother was at work. She played games and danced with them and did the laundry, housework, and cooking so that everything would be ready when her mother came home from work. But tragedy struck again when Adella and her two younger siblings were diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to the Oak Knoll sanatorium where Adella remained for two long years.

Adella married and raised her nine children in Davenport. She retired from the Wonder Bread Company in 1991 after working there for twenty years.

Adella Martínez interviews courtesy, Mujeres Latinas Project, Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Sarah Jane Kimball (1838-1923)














Sarah Jane Kimball was born on October 10, 1838 in Cabatsville, MA. She was the oldest child in a family of three boys and three girls. In the 1840s the family moved to a farm in Mukwanago, WI, where Sarah eventually began her career as a teacher. In 1856, her family moved to Iowa and settled at a farm in Jones County. Sarah continued to teach in Iowa as she loved working with children. When her health began to deteriorate, she was forced to stop teaching. She moved into her parent’s house and spent her time reading, writing, and producing art. Sarah lived a long life and passed away at the age of 85 in 1923.

Sarah's diary courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Mary Griffith (circa 1864-1881)


Mary Griffith

Mary comments frequently in her diary about cool Iowa winters. Mary and her friends sometimes forgot about the cool temperatures and enjoyed winter activities. Although Mary isn't pictured here, these young people "chill out" at a bobsled party in 1906, like she might have done.

Born in Bridgeport, Ohio, Mary had seven siblings: four sisters and three bothers. When her older brother graduated from high school, he decided to move farther west. He traveled to Harlan, Iowa, and began to work in a general store (a shop that sold items ranging from grains to cloth). The rest of Mary's family soon joined him in Harlan.

Mary's father was a contractor and builder. He helped construct many important buildings in Wheeling, West Virginia. He also built several bridges across the Ohio River. When the Griffiths moved to Harlan, Mary's father worked as a builder for two years. He then became very sick with what was likely scarlet fever. Mary writes about his illness in her diary.

Mary probably caught scarlet fever not long after her father. She died when she was only seventeen-about one year after she wrote her diary.

Mary's diary courtesy, State Historical Societyof Iowa, Iowa City.

Charles Whipple Hadley (1844-1936)

Charles Whipple

Charles gets his portrait taken in 1861, when he enters the Union Army as a volunteer. During his two years of service, Charles became a member of the 14th Iowa Regiment and captain of a company. Courtesy State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Anamosa, Iowa, was Charles Whipple Hadley's birthplace and hometown. When Charles was 17, President Lincoln asked for young men to help fight in the Civil War. Charles left Anamosa to join the Union Army. He traveled south to Davenport. When he arrived, he became a member of the 14th Iowa Regiment of Volunteer Company H. His regiment was based in St. Louis, Missouri, at Benton Barracks.

Charles served in the Civil War from 1861-1863. He was a prisoner of war for six months and was probably wounded in battle. He also commanded his own company.

In 1863, Charles finished his service in the Army. He returned to Anamosa to live with his family. He continued writing in his diary for one more year. After that, we know little about Charles's life. He spent many years in Ogden City, Utah, where he died in 1936.

Image courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.  Charles' diary courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Linnie Hagerman (August 18, 1852-April 6, 1934)


Because of Linnie's education and her family's affluence, she frequently borrowed books from a library where people were charged to check out materials. Although Linnie and her mother aren't photographed here, they sometimes read together, like this pair pictured around 1900. Courtesy State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Linnie Hagerman was born in Missouri in 1852. The Hagermans moved to Keokuk, Iowa, when Linnie was about 10. Linnie stayed in Keokuk for the rest of her life.

The Hagermans were a wealthy family compared to others in Keokuk. Linne's father was a lawyer, who also invested in real estate. Her mother raised Linnie and her three brothers. Linnie attended a private school in Keokuk, called the Girls' English and Classical School.

Linnie began drawing by doodling in her diary, and later became an artist. She made many oil paintings during the 1880s. She also helped found the Keokuk Art Club. Linnie continued her education throughout her life, studying French, German, and Swedish. She also studied law.

Linnie made many contributions to the Keokuk community. She died in 1934, when she was 81 years old.

Image courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.  Linnie's diary courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Ellery Moses Hancock (July 11, 1850-1929)


Ellery Moses Hancock

Ellery Moses Hancock moved from Massachusetts to Waukon, Iowa, with his brothers and sisters. On the 4th of July, all of the Hancock children would come together and celebrate the holiday. Although they aren't pictured here, Ellery and his siblings lit fireworks, like these children in the 1900s. Courtesy State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Ellery Moses Hancock was born in Winchendon, Massachusetts. His family moved to Waukon, Iowa, in 1856. His father, Moses, was a butcher. His mother, Sally, raised Ellery and his nine siblings. Many of Ellery's siblings died at an early age. His brother Frank fought in the Civil War and passed away after being a prisoner for over six months.

Ellery and his wife raised two daughters. He became a well-known man in Allamakee County. He learned the printing business at the Waukon Standard. He owned half the paper for more than a decade. The Waukon Standard still covers the news of Allamakee County.

When printing became too physically difficult, Ellery retired and went into the insurance business. Ellery also served the public as County Recorder (someone who keeps track of land sales, court reports, etc., for a county), from 1894-1906. In 1913, he wrote Past and Present of Allamakee County, Iowa: A Record of Settlement, Organization, and Achievement.

Image courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.  Ellery's diary courtesy of Special Collections and Digital Libray Services, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. 

Clara Hinton (August 17, 1894-June 21, 1987)

Clara Hinton

This portrait depicts Clara and her brother Eugene, taken in the late 1890s or early 1900s in a photo studio. As the eldest, she took part in raising her siblings after her mother died. However, she still was able to pursue her favorite activities like drawing, going to parties, and volunteering in the community.

Clara Hinton grew up in Hedrick, Iowa. She had a difficult childhood. Her mother died when she was nine years old. After her death, Clara's aunt adopted her youngest sister. Clara helped her father take care of her two brothers and remaining sister. This sister died shortly after their mother.

Clara's father, Frank, was a farmer. After his wife died, he moved his family from the farm into town. Once in Hedrick, he worked as a mail carrier. He also used his skills to help other people farm.

Despite the Hinton family's hardships, Clara received a good education. After high school, she went to Central College in Pella. She then attended the University of Wisconsin for an advanced library degree. Clara dedicated many years to improving the University of Iowa's library. When she neared her death, she donated many writings, including her diary, to the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Clara's diary courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Anonymous Meskwaki Woman (circa 1850-1920)

Meskwaki Woman

The Meskwaki established a settlement in Tama County in 1857. This Meskwaki woman lived in a wikiup (a home made from bark and other natural materials), like the one on this postcard from the late 1800s. She also probably wore shawls woven in the Amana Colonies-nearby German settlements where the Meskwaki traded goods. Courtesy State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

This Native American woman asked to keep her name secret. Because of this request, we don't know exactly who she was. However, she shared many personal details about her life. She married when she was 19 years old and outlived two husbands. She grew up to be an important woman in the tribe. Her community considered her a wise elder.

The title of this woman's life story, told to an interviewer in the 1920s, was Autobiography of a Fox Woman. The publisher of her story chose this name because the United States government called her tribe "the Fox" during that time. She was actually part of the Meskwaki-the tribal name used today. Clues in this autobiography suggest this anonymous woman lived on the Meskwaki settlement in Tama, Iowa.

Image courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.  Meskwaki woman's reflections courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Oliver Perry Myers (July 30, 1856-March 6, 1933)

Oliver Perry Myers

Oliver's family owned a farm in Washington County. Although Oliver isn't pictured here, he may have watched as hay was lowered from the loft onto the hayrack, like these children. This barn, from the mid-to late-1800s, features steel stanchions (beams that provide support for the structure) and water bowls (troughs for watering the animals). Courtesy State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Oliver Perry Myers was born on a farm in 1856. His family lived near West Chester in Washington County, Iowa. Though Oliver worked many hours a week on the family farm, he also received a strong education. When he graduated from high school, he attended the University of Iowa. He graduated as the class valedictorian in 1880.

Oliver studied law with two different law firms, in Iowa City and in Newton. At the time, individuals didn't have to go to school to become lawyers. Instead, they could study with other lawyers. Oliver completed his studies and practiced law in Newton. He also became involved in politics, and served as a State Senator for the 29th District, beginning in 1930. Oliver lived his entire life in Iowa. He died on March 6, 1933.

Image courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.  Oliver's diary courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Louis Parsons (circa 1860s-?)


Louis Parsons

Like other students in the 19th century, Louis got his picture taken just once a year. (Today, you probably have many pictures taken of you at school.) This photo from the early 1800s shows what a school class in a larger town, such as Burlington, might have looked like. Different from rural-area schoolhouses, this one is made of brick and has large windows with shutters. Courtesy State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Louis Parsons grew up in Burlington, Iowa, during the 1870s-1880s. He came from a middle-class family. His father, Albion, owned a general store (a shop that sold items ranging from grains to cloth). His mother, Mary, raised Louis and his older sister, Ella. When Louis was 13, his father passed away.

As a boy, Louis enjoyed drawing and playing with his cousins. His also practiced technical skills, like photography and making electric batteries. Louis attended West Hill, a private middle and high school in Burlington. He had a number of health problems, which caused him to miss one year of school. One of his favorite childhood memories was visiting California in 1889.

Image courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.  Louis' diary courtesy of the Burlington Public Library, Burlington, Iowa. 

Belle Robinson (1862-1887)

Belle Robinson

Belle Robinson led an active life in Dubuque, Iowa. She enjoyed lots of outdoor activities, from football to swimming. In the winter months, Belle ice-skated outside with friends, like these girls in 1899. She probably wore the same strap-skates-individual blades with leather straps that secured to shoes. Courtesy State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Belle Robinson grew up in Dubuque, Iowa, in the late 1800s. She was born in 1862, and was the middle child of three sisters. As her diary entries show, Belle's personality was shaped by her family's focus on education and equality. Her father, Frank, was a lawyer with a private practice in Dubuque. Her mother, Laura, was an important woman in Iowa women's history. Laura was an early member of the Dubuque Ladies' Literary Association-one of the first women's clubs in the United States. She also fought for women's suffrage (women's right to vote).

Belle died in 1887-10 years after she completed her diary. She had a long battle with what was probably tuberculosis. She was 25 years old.

Image courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.  Belle's diary courtesy of the Iowa Women's Archives and Digital Library Services, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Lucy Van Voorhis White (1869-1935)


Lucy Van Voorhis White

Lucy proudly holds her high school diploma in this graduation portrait, taken in nearby Eldora in 1885, when she was 16. The flowers might have been gifts to commemorate the occasion. Courtesy of the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries.

Lucy Van Voorhis White was born in Grundy County, Iowa. Growing up, she lived in Pleasant Township, Poweshiek County. Lucy was the second of seven children. Every member of the Van Voorhis family helped work on their farm. Even though farming was important, Lucy prioritized her education. She found time to study and practice drawing. She won first prize in a physiology contest for her drawing of the human body.

After finishing school, Lucy became a teacher. When she married, she stopped teaching, to farm and raise three children. The White family farmed land in Dallas County-where the farm remains with the family today. It became a century farm in 1982.

Lucy was a skilled seamstress and cook. She was also an avid writer, sending countless letters to friends and family. She passed away in 1935 from cancer.

Image and Lucy's diary courtesy of the Iowa Women's Archives and Digital Library Services, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Mary Elizabeth Wood (1902-1998)


Mary Elizabeth Wood

Mary enjoyed many activities with her brothers and sisters in and around their Des Moines home. They did everything, from playing tricks on neighbors, to practicing music, to just hanging out-like these five children in Dickenson County around 1906. Many children living in this period wore hand-made play clothes, and reserved outfits purchased from stores or catalogues for special occasions. Courtesy State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

Mary Elizabeth Wood grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, with five sisters and three brothers. Her father worked as a miner. Her mother and grandmother, like many urban African-American women of the time, worked for other families. Mary's mother took in laundry, and her grandmother worked for the family that owned Polk Railroad.

Education was a big part of growing up in the Wood family. Mary graduated from East High School and attended Drake University. She was the only African-American student in each of her graduating classes. Mary used her education and experience to help youth at YWCAs across the United States. She focused on the YWCA's mission to fight racism.

Mary won many awards for her community involvement. In 1996, she was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. She passed away in 1998, at the age of 96.

Image courtesy, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.  Mary's oral history courtesy of the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

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