A Voice from Philly’s Past

Years ago I went through a phase of buying late 19th/early 20th century diaries on eBay, especially if there were a Philly connection.

This little diary has entries from May 12 to Dec. 28 1893.

He was a young man and lecturer of some kind. I don’t know his name, but he noted he weighed 159 lbs. I have a feeling this guy would have had a blog if he could, so I’ll share a bit of mine.

“Sunday May 14, 1893

Attended services at the Friends Meeting in the company of Miss Ella Hood. First time I’ve heard their preacher. Slept all afternoon.”

I went to a Friends school and there are no preachers, so not sure what this means. The “slept all afternoon” sounds like me.

“Saturday May 27, 1893

Played croquet most of the time. There are at the boarding house (this is in Paoli) which Mr. Lewis keeps, Prof Neff’s two children, Mrs. Chamberlain, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Britton & myself. And we are a congenial crowd. Time goes most pleasantly.”

“Friday June 2, 1893

Philadelphia. We are kept busy with the affairs of the college. I professed to faculty that we write a complete and philosophical catalog and that the courses and methods be thoroughly re-organized.”

I bet that went over well. I don’t know what college, but think could be an early version of Temple University because of a later entry.

“Thursday June 15, 1893

Atlantic City

Out on the beach and boardwalk nearly all day. I love the ocean. It awakens so many thoughts and feelings.”

“Thursday June 22, 1893

(Still in Atlantic City where they are running some kind of school.)

Miss Stewart and I had our first bath to-day. It was delightful. Never enjoyed anything more. I left after dinner. I sleep nearly every afternoon.”

Again with the naps. Make of that bath thing what you will, but my guess is they went in the ocean. Many young ladies to come.

“Monday June 26, 1893

School open today. Had an informal session in the afternoon. Did my first real work in the N.C.O. Introduced my system of Word Study. Had a session in the evening. The school is small.”

“Thursday June 29, 1893

Gave my first general talk or lecture: subject ‘Nothing Moves.’ It made a profound impression. I took my incidences from every field. Annihilating ‘free will’ hurts some. But all were pleased.

(The next day.)

Completed a very satisfactory week of school. The students are enthusiastic. A dozen of us went sailing. In the evening had an earnest talk with Miss Bradshaw on ‘natural law.'”

According to Wikipedia, “Natural law is a philosophy asserting that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature, endowed by nature – traditionally by God or a transcendent source – and this can be understood universally through human reason.” I hope it went over well with Miss Bradshaw.

“Saturday July 1, 1893

Many of us went bathing. I took charge of Miss ?, the blind lady. Miss Haviland, Miss Bradshaw and I went on the beach. We had a delightful talk.”

What kind of school is this?

“July 4, 1893

The school had its own celebration. The most enthusiastic crowd I’ve ever seen. I had the portion of the day. Subject: ‘From Bondage to Freedom.’ It was the best speech I’ve ever made. Had a glorious time all day. After 8:30 we met on the boardwalk and had our own fun. Firecrackers, songs, Virginia Reels etc. It’s now after 11. Miss Havelin and Miss Crumbly and I had a private celebration. Was a delightful and patriotic day.”

I’ll bet. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, a Virginia Reel is “an American country dance performed by number of couples facing each other in parallel lines.” I leave the “private celebration” to your imagination.

“Saturday July 8, 1893

Miss ? and I went rowing. After dinner large party of us went sailing. We were out in the open sea. Had a delightful time. Many were sick. Went to the opera.

(The next day)

Went down to the pier and wrote and read all morning. Several of us met on the beach and read Byron’s ? to the ocean.”

“Thursday July 25, 1893

Arrived in Avondale about 6 pm. Prof. Neff and family arrived about the same time. Mr. Francis Hicks met me at the train.

(The next day.)

Had a delightful time. Trampled across the fields and through the woods. Again, a boy and free. Out again with nature in her secluded haunts.”

“Saturday July 29, 1893

We all attended the Friends’ ? Prof Neff and I made addresses. I took for my general theme ‘More Liberty for the Girls.'”

I think some liberties have been taken with the girls. Avondale is in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Train travel follows to Wooster, Akron, and Chicago.

“Friday September 29, 1893

(In Chicago)

At the fair early. I spent the afternoon at Anthropology. After dinner met Bro. Pixley and we walked through Liberal Arts and took in the midway.”

This would have been the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. A fantastic book about the fair is The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.

“Friday October 6, 1893

Miss ? and I did the fair alone to-day, the other members of our party having left. And we spent a delightful day. It rained quite hard. She left for home at 8:00. ”

This guy sure has a way with the Victorian ladies.

“Sunday October 15, 1893

Found on arriving at 1414 Arch that Prof. Neff has gone to Paoli. I took afternoon train for Paoli. Expected to get a ? for being a week late, but he gave me a hearty welcome.”

“Sunday November 12, 1893

In company with Misses ? attended services at the Temple and heard an effective sermon by Russell H. Conwell. Mr. Conwell took dinner with us.”

Russell Conwell was the founder and first president of Temple University.

“Saturday November 18, 1893

Just returned from the Walnut Street Theater where I heard Alexander Salvini in The Three Guardsmen. It was thrilling. I was seized with the old desire to go on the stage.”

Walnut Street Theater (founded in 1809) is still in existence. Current show is Legally Blonde: The Musical. I doubt that would have had the same effect on him. The Three Guardsmen is an alternate title for The Three Musketeers. Alexander Salvini was one of the most famous stage actors of the era. You can Google him.

“Wednesday November 22, 1893

My classes were very enjoyable today. I presented an ? for the study of the emotions, which I projected, vaguely, years ago. Saw Julia Marlowe in Hunchback.”

Julia Marlowe was also famous, and can be found on Google.

“Thursday November 30, 1893

Thanksgiving. At the boarding house 2020 Race all day. Could not accept an invitation from Dr. John Walsh Croskey. Took Miss Kessingler to see Creston Clarke in ‘Richelieu.’ He is magnificent.”

Creston Clarke came from a theatrical family. His uncle was John Wilkes Booth. He was born in Philadelphia and has an IMDB page even though he died in 1910.

The next day, the diary writer read the play with Miss Kesslinger and another Miss, and the day after that he and Miss Kesslinger went to see it again.

“Thursday December 28, 1893

In company of Misses Squire, ?, Boyd, Clarke, Delaney and Mr. Hammond, spent the day at Memorial Hall, the only relic of the Centennial at Belmont Park. Beautiful day.”

And that is the final entry. Memorial Hall still stands. Goodbye, diary writer. I hope you had a long and happy life.

3 thoughts on “A Voice from Philly’s Past

  1. Hmm… Very interesting, and mysterious! I didn’t know something like this could be purchased on eBay!


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