The collection consists mainly of diaries, twenty of which were penned by Mrs. Emily M. Morrill and seven by her sister, Mrs. Saluta Barber. Both women wrote diaries in 1888-1889 and 1891-1893. Otherwise, their diaries exist for different years. Sixteen of the diaries document an entire year. The remaining diaries document a year plus part of the next year, or slightly less than a complete year. Saluta’s diaries exist for 1884-1885, 1887 through January 2, 1888, 1889, and 1891-1893. Emily’s diaries exist for 1874-May 23, 1875, 1877-1879, 1881-1882, 1885-1886, and 1888-August 7, 1900.
The diaries are excellent primary sources for researching nineteenth century Michigan women, their social, religious, familial, and emotional lives, household and farm labor, social and religious activities, concerns, illnesses, and funeral customs. Saluta and Emily wrote daily for years about many topics in detail. Both women had neat penmanship and fairly good vocabularies although they were a bit phonetic sometimes with their spelling of words. They both used initials instead of names in their diaries when writing about close relatives and friends. The diaries are gems of primary resources for the period in which they were written.
Emily and Saluta wrote about the same types of events, but with different amounts of detail emphasizing different activities, events, people, or concerns. They both noted the weather, birthdays of family members, local community news, including births, marriages, illness, and deaths, helping dress the dead, attending funerals and social events, and their and their husband’s illnesses and labors. They kept track of their correspondence, noting who they wrote and when, as well as when and from whom they received letters or postals (postcards). Sometimes there are miscellaneous accounts, receipts, or lists written in or enclosed in their diaries. A lens from Saluta’s spectacles is also enclosed.
Emily noted a lot of vital statistics, including birthdays of relatives and their ages, death dates, marriage dates, and anniversaries of marriages and deaths. In comparison, Saluta always noted Rena’s birthday, but rarely her own and never her wedding anniversary. She noted DH’s birthday only when he turned 70 and they had a party to celebrate the occasion, but rarely recorded other family member’s vital statistics. However, she wrote in detail about funerals and preparing the dead for burial.
The sisters both wrote about visiting and visitors. Saluta wrote in more detail about this part of her life than Emily did. Saluta noted if the person she visited was ill, getting worse or better, what illness or symptoms they had, and the food she brought them.
When Emily and James visited Vermont in 1874, Emily noted the names of relatives and the towns they visited, and housework she helped with, such as washing and ironing lots of laundry, cutting out dresses, and berry picking and preserving. She also noted that James shot many woodchucks and helped Adams farm, as well as their illness. Emily also recorded their colds and that James suffered from several migraines. What exactly they saw when they visited various towns is not noted and relatives’ surnames are rarely noted. Being photographed was still an important event and she noted when one relative, Charles [Barber?] from Vermont, had his photograph taken during their visit.
Saluta and Emily usually noted the daily weather, the daily high and low temperatures, and drastic changes in the weather, particularly when it was inclement. Saluta noted when she and other family members or friends went sleighing or swimming (although she and DH did not go in the water), whereas Emily noted few outdoor leisure activities outside of attending church or her visits with relatives.
Emily always noted where James was and what he was doing, either hunting, farming, or gone on business and with whom, when they left, when they returned, and if they rode, walked, or took a train. Saluta does this to a far lesser degree of detail when recording the agricultural labors of her husband. Without children, Emily apparently focused more of her attention on her husband than Saluta did.
Saluta, who may have worked harder and been more of a “neat freak” than Emily, often wrote about housework. Her long list of detailed backbreaking labor usually ends with a note that she had “sore shoulders” or was extremely tired. Usually within a day or hours she had a migraine. Saluta also wrote more about going to religious events, hearing different preachers, evangelists, and sermons at various churches, quilting, attending socials, prayer meetings, and attending the Presbyterian Women’s Foreign Missionary Society meetings than Emily. Emily more often simply noted that she and other people attended church or Sabbath School. Both women often noted the chapter and verse or the general topic of the sermon, and if there was good attendance.
Comparing a few days in diaries that exist for both sisters offers an example of their styles and what they chose to record. For example, on April 16, 1885 Saluta wrote, “16th April, Thursday. It was cloudy the most of the day, and quite a chilly wind from the east. I was very busy this forenoon straightening up the house and doing some baking. This afternoon went up to the store and from thire[sic] to Mrs. Coon’s we called Mrs. Ball’s and saw her new carpet. I eat [sic] supper to Mrs. Coon’s then we went to prayer meeting.”On the same day Emily wrote, “ 35 degrees 45 degrees Cloudy. Busy cuting[sic] [quilt] blocks in the pm. baking in the am. Herby called they came down with their fat cattle. Jenny Traves a little better. Attended prayer meeting in the evening a good number present. Red[sic] a letter from Ella S. Johnson (a cousin?) and a postal [postcard] from Aunt Lonesa Flint saying she thought she would be here next week.”
Another example records Rena’s twenty-fourth birthday on Sunday, January 18, 1891. On this day Saluta wrote, “It keeps just as dark and cloudy as ever, no change in three days. We both went to church and S.S. [Sabbath School] and DH has gone again to night[sic]. Bro. Riehl’s subject today was card playing, dancing and theater going, and a very sensible sermon it was. To day [sic] is my Rena’s birthday,24 years old, it don’t[sic]seem possible. My prayer to night[sic] for her is that she may have her health and that she may be true to the vows she made to God and the church.” Emily wrote on the same day, “Cloudy. All went to church except Merritt and the twins and P[a]. Merritt has a hard cold, he helped me do up the work, I gave quite a general sweeping, only got through when they came from church. Florence and I staid [sic] at home in the evening, she has a hard cold. They heard Bro. Wightman’s baby died at 2 this morning. I enjoy making myself useful for Florence has so much to do. Rena 24 today. George gave a present.” [probably one from Emily to Rena]
It is obvious here that Emily was living with George and his family by January 1891. Merritt was 13-years-old and the twins both four in 1891.
Also included in the collection is biographical information from censuses, three family letters, one from James Morrill, Tunbridge (Orange County, Vermont) to Emily M. Dewey, Concord, Michigan, February 1, 1846 prodding her to consider marriage; one from Emily to her fiancé James in Cohocton (Steuben County, New York), June 6, 1849; and one to Asa O. Dewey, Concord from a friend in Tallmage, November 2, 1851, with a mailing address of Steele’s Landing, Ottawa County, Michigan. Asa must be a relative, but the connection is unknown.