Diary of Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson (1894–1985)
Call number: Mss1 G3793 a, Vol. 1
Click here for related materials
Children in Virginia
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."
Pictured on this page is an example of a child's manuscript identified in the society's collections. Helen Blackwood Patterson Gilkerson kept a diary while growing up in Montezuma in Rockingham County. Gift tags and a stitched design offer 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. In 1910 Helen Gilkerson turned sixteen, and the news of the day began to seep into her journal. On May 31, 1910, she mentions attending a "fine" debate on "Women's sufferage"—a misspelling that many activists of the day would have likely appreciated. Mary Virginia Brown, whose bound autograph album was mentioned above, began keeping the volume in Lynchburg in 1833. The printers included several elaborate images in the small book. The script on the page shown here reads "I count my self in nothing so happy/As in a soul remembering my friend." Inspirational quotations such as this as well as excerpts of popular poems were common entries in children's autograph books.
• Other images from Helen Gilkerson's and Mary Brown's manuscripts may be viewed on a "Take a Closer Look" page of the society's web site.
• Read more History Corner articles