Goodbye Blacksmith, Hello Schoolmarm!

When Diann Benti, former AAS assistant reference librarian, created our now (nearly) complete anonymous blacksmith blog, she was inspired to do so by the Massachusetts Historical Society’s tweeting John Quincy Adams.

Past is Present would never have a tweeting blacksmith, Diann informed us in her blog post when the blacksmith initially forged his way into the digital world. Instead, the blacksmith, and Diann, butted into the online world every day with blog entries, the closest they could get to a diary in digital form.

The identity of the blacksmith was a puzzle for us to solve, yet clues came slowly and erratically as the diary entries were posted at Past is Present and A Day in the Life of A Blacksmith (at http://blacksmithaday.wordpress.com/). One reader expressed uncertainty about the relationship between the blacksmith and his beloved Sara (Was she his wife? His betrothed? His beloved?). Most others ventured no guess about the identity of the blacksmith, his relatives, or his friends. The blacksmith has now been identified as Albert M. Stone, and interested readers can read a full update on his life at A Day in the Life of a Blacksmith. Once there you can learn all about his relationship with Sara, his California dreams, and his family.

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While we bid a fond goodbye to Albert the blacksmith, this summer Past is Present is introducing a new diarist to its family of bloggers. In keeping with our established “A Day in the Life of…” ritual, we’ll be importing entries from our new diarist’s own 1870 diary-blog. Mary L. Bowers was a schoolteacher in western Massachusetts who kept a tiny pocket diary throughout 1870. Every day, Bowers wrote in her 1870 pocket diary, and each day will post on her 2010 blog, allowing us twenty-first-century readers to gain access to her thoughts on teaching, family affairs, household matters, and, unfortunately, deteriorating romantic relationship. We have titled our blog of entries from Bowers’ diary A Day in the Life of a Schoolmarm (at http://schoolmarmbowers.wordpress.com/) You will now find entries from her diary as a header on Past is Present.

Bowers most likely never intended for her diary to be public in the way that our blog will make her private diary open to readers in the blogosphere. She expressed hesitancy about telling her diary, let alone the rest of us, her secrets: “I have a heavy weight of woe but I dare not tell it even to my most confidential friend (my diary) and the world must never know it” (May 30). Bowers’ diary was her only friend, her confidante, in what seems to have been a lonely world.

Diary of school teacher Bowers

1870 Diary of Mary L. Bowers


A blogging Bowers can post entries, but she must be mute when it comes to replying to readers’ comments. We can provide historical context for you, but Bowers is forced into silence on contemporary issues. The Bowers blog attempts to speak for Bowers by offering links to period-appropriate digital sources, clippings from Bowers’ weekly newspaper, and suggestions on broad historical trends. So be sure to check the blog every day for these resources.

Over sixty years after Bowers kept her pocket diary, another female diarist, Anaïs Nin, would tell her diary, “You have kept me alive as a human being. I created you because I needed a friend. And talking to this friend, I have, perhaps, wasted my life.” We have no indication that Bowers’ daily record of 1870 led to sentiments of a wasted life. We also have no indication that Bowers had aspirations of anything beyond teaching, marriage, and a quiet life in western Massachusetts. Her diary, her friend—a written work without readers—is now available for the reading pleasure of the rest of us bloggers and tweeters, who might sometimes find ourselves feeling the same emotions as Bowers about life and writing.

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