Book Review of 19th Century Schoolgirl: The Diary of Caroline Cowles Richards, 1852-1855 (Diaries, Letters, and Memoirs)

19th Century Schoolgirl: The Diary of Caroline Cowles Richards, 1852-1855 (Diaries, Letters, and Memoirs)
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Helpful Score: 1

The essential value of such a book as this is to take a peek at everyday life in America in the years before the Civil War. It is considered to be a primary source - which is important to those of us who work on genealogy. Primary sources give firsthand accounts of folk's lives; they may appear in letters, diaries, photos, etc.

Caroline was 10 years at the time she began her diary; she lived in western New York, in Canadagua, near the Finger Lakes region. When Caroline was 6, her mother died and her father wanted her to be raised well (good education). Thus, this teacher and Presbyterian minister sent his daughters to their grandparents to live.

His sons were sent to boarding schools. In those days everyone went to elementary school until age 10 - 12. The goal was to teach children how to read, write, spell, do math, plus learn geography, grammar and history. Both genders engaged in physical education.

After elementary school, only the wealthy could afford to send their children to private schools and the poorer children went to work. Seminaries (for girls) and boarding schools (for boys) were separated by gender because it was believed females and males had different educational needs.

The biggest surprise in this small tome is related to Grandmother Beals. Caroline reports that when her grandfather left on a trip out-of-town, Mrs. Beals invited an elderly (and quite portly) black woman to her house for dinner. She also sent a carriage to collect and return the woman to her home.

I was surprised; abolition might be the way people thought in New York State, but prejudice against interacting with them was still the accepted course. Grandmother was rather feisty to tempt the wrath of her neighbors.

The book is a delight with lots of photos, which made the diary jump to life. I just wish it had been longer.

4.5 stars