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Children's Manuscripts

Diary of Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson

Prominent Virginians are well represented in the myriad manuscripts housed at the Virginia Historical Society. However, documents by individuals who did not achieve fame, or notoriety, comprise the bulk of the society's collections. Among this larger, lesser-known group of people are children. Children's diaries, scrapbooks, and autograph books, although typically exiled to dusty attics or trash bins, now compel historians' attention as they study the world of young people in decades past.

Young authors described daily chores, longed for and savored trips, and reflected the influence of teachers and preachers—all without the internal editing that adults tend to employ. Consequently, scholars can gain insights into family dynamics, the effect of large political events on children, and how children internalized the moral issues of the day. Perhaps more importantly, for the families lucky enough to keep these diaries and scrapbooks, the volumes provide fond mementoes of days gone by. As one unidentified contributor noted, in Mary Virginia Early Brown's autograph book in 1840, "The Album is one of Friendship's dearest minions. It is the declared enemy of Oblivion. Its owner may well regard it as of inestimable value."

This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.

Diary of Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson Enter Fullscreen More information
Diary, 1908, of Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson
Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson (1894–1985) kept a diary while growing up in Montezuma, Virginia, in Rockingham County. Gift tags and a stitched design provide a tangible record of Helen's Christmas in 1907. School and church were major components of Gilkerson's life. She attended the Tinkling Springs Academy in Rockbridge County, and often wrote of the sermons she heard on Sundays. (VHS call number: Mss1 G3973 a [vol. 1])
Diary, 1909–10, of Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson Enter Fullscreen More information
Diary, 1909–10, of Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson
In 1910, Helen Gilkerson turned sixteen, and the news of the day began to seep into her journal. On May 31, 1910, Helen mentions attending a "fine" debate on "Women's sufferage"—a misspelling that many activists of the day would have likely appreciated. (VHS call number: Mss1 G3793 a [vol. 4])
Autograph Album, 1833–46, of Mary Virginia (Early) Brown Enter Fullscreen More information
Autograph Album, 1833–46, of Mary Virginia (Early) Brown
Mary Virginia (Early) Brown (1823–1864) began keeping this bound autograph album in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1833. The printers included several elaborate images in the small book. The script on this page reads "I count myself in nothing so happy/As in a soul remembering my friend." (VHS call number: Mss1 Ea765 a 177)
Diary of Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson
Diary, 1908, of Helen Blackwood Patterson
Diary, 1909–10, of Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson
Diary, 1909–10, of Helen Blackwood Patters
Autograph Album, 1833–46, of Mary Virginia (Early) Brown
Autograph Album, 1833–46, of Mary Virginia

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