Ella Warner, Oct. 24, 1923

On this day 92 years ago, Ella reported

It has rained most all day but the wind didn’t blow after this morning Mabel Upson was married yesterday, 10 o’clock, at Mr Tolemans

Eliz, Sarah + I went to the Strand to see Penrose + Sam + it was rich

It was pretty muddy on the road

Ella’s previous entry identified Mabel Upson’s spouse as Arthur Harrison, who may have been a 54-year-old bachelor farmer living in Wolcott (still living with his widowed mother, 87-year-old Mary H., whose father was an English immigrant) (1920 Census, Roll T625_188, Page 1B). The only Mabel Upson I’ve been able to find was a resident of Bristol, a 43-year-old spinster who lived with her 84-year-old grandmother, Esther w. Lane (1920 Census, Roll T625_180, Page 11B).

In honor of their late-life nuptials, I herewith present a map that shows some of the places that Ella has been talking about.

places01In this entry, she spoke of the theater in downtown Waterbury (southwest of her home), and of people who lived in Wolcott and Bristol. Another place she mentions is Plymouth, which is also where she grew up.

The entry also speaks of “Penrose + Sam.”  After a little searching, I determined that she was probably speaking of a 1923 silent film called Penrod and Sam, which was based on a novel by Booth Tarkington. The film’s actors included Ben Alexander (who later played Officer Frank Smith in Dragnet), Mary Philbin (who later starred in 1925’s Phantom of the Opera but whose career ended with the silents), and Eugene Jackson (who played Pineapple in the Our Gang serials and continued in show business, mostly in bit parts, into the 1990s) (thank you Internet Movie Database).

The story was basically a boys’ adventure, with “youthful hijinks” and so forth; in the early twentieth century, stories about children had not yet been shoved off to the side as “children’s literature.”  Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) was a very popular writer whose publishing career ran from 1899 to 1947 and included two Pulitzer Prize winners – The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) and Alice Adams (1921). In other words, he was famous in his time but has largely been forgotten – for various good reasons, according to Thomas Mallon.

I’ve skimmed Penrod and Sam (1916) for you, so I can tell you that it’s full of the kind of “youthful hijinks” that make one wonder exactly how these little monsters could have grown up to be civilized human beings. I think that what Ella meant by “rich” is “funny,” which the movie certainly could have been, at least by 1923 standards. It was a different time.

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The Warners Vote in 1923

Ella’s diary entry for October 2, 1923, says:

Mark went to the Dr’s today.  We all went + voted + then I went to the woman’s club, to the tea + reception.  It has been a fine day + warmer the boys finished Clarence Faber’s Silo.

This was exactly three years after Ella and her daughter Elizabeth were (after decades of increasingly vocal campaigning) given the right to vote in all elections by the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.


They “all went + voted.”  This was before election days were changed to November – and it was still special enough that the “woman’s club” celebrated with a tea and reception.  Possibly this was the Waterbury group of The League of Women Voters of Connecticut, an organization founded in 1920, but I can’t know for sure.

Tea and a reception.  Because of the election.  And it wasn’t even a presidential election year, or even Congressional one.

Connecticut’s 2014 election turnout was 55.6% statewide – but under 40% for the two Congressional districts that Waterbury is split between.  That was a Congressional election year.  2012, on the other hand, saw a 73.89% turnout (but only 56% in Waterbury’s two districts), because it was a Presidential year.

Did anyone but the political parties serve tea and cookies?  Maybe the LWV, where it still has chapters.  (There aren’t all that many of them, now.)

I know, from experience as a poll worker for the last, what, ten years? that in non-presidential years and non-Congressional years, like this year, we’re lucky to see 30% turnout.


State and local governments control an immense amount of our lives!  Tax rates – school boards – zoning regulations – budgets ranging from the immense to the tiny.  Yet only 30% (or less) of the voters can be bothered to turn out!

In 1923, my random diarist, at age 70+, had probably been voting on school matters for quite a few years (in 1919, Connecticut was one of the states that allowed women to vote on school matters, because those were “womanly” enough matters to be “proper”).

But Ella didn’t give up voting once she had a say in national elections.  Local matters were enough to bring her and her entire family out to vote.

Readers – if any of you are still with me – what are you going to be doing on November 3, 2015?

Apparently 70% or more of you won’t bother to vote.  But I wish you would.

There was a time when the only citizens who could vote, at all, were white males who owned a certain amount of real estate.

Now, we’re all eligible.  And a shocking number of us aren’t even registered.

I don’t want to hear excuses.  Your life is affected by your elected representatives every day.  Every hour.  And you can’t be bothered to vote?

Do you think the politicians don’t know most of you don’t care enough?  How do you think they’d react if 90% of us showed up and voted?  Maybe they’d be inspired to listen to the middle instead of the extremes.  Maybe you’d feel like you’d earned the right to call them up and complain when they do something you disagree with.

I’d also offer you tea and cookies, but I’ll be working at the polls from before dawn until after dark.

You could have your own election party, though!

Nothing’s stopping you but you.

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Ella Warner’s People

Ella refers repeatedly to a number of people by first name (or abbreviation thereof).  I’ve been able to identify most of them, I believe.  This information is based primarily on the 1920 U.S. Census records, but also some other census years.

Ella – the diarist, aged about 71 at the time the diary beings.

Mark – her husband, aged about 75 and still working as a farmer.

Eliz. – Elizabeth, their daughter, aged about 46, and unmarried, living with her parents.

Geo. – George, their son, aged about 44, unmarried and living and working on his father’s farm.

Kenneth – their son, aged about 34 and working as a farmer elsewhere in Waterbury.

Ros. – Rosalind, Kenneth’s wife, aged about 29.

Marjorie – Ella’s niece, daughter of Kenneth and Rosalind, aged about 3.

Ida – probably a neighbor, Ida Alcott (or Olcott), around the same age as Ella.

Morris – Ida’s husband.

Bill – probably Wilfred Warner, aged about 56, who lived in Wolcott and by the surname may have been a relative of Mark; but if his daughter Rosalind is the same one who became Kenneth’s wife, not all that close of a relative, one hopes.

Clayton – one of Bill Warner’s sons, aged about 32, still unmarried as of the 1920 census and working as an assistant shipping clerk in a factory.

Mary – a sister of Ella’s, who would have been around 65 at this time.

Jennie – another sister of Ella’s, who would have been around 62 at this time.

The one person I have not been able to identify is Sarah. Judging by the contents of the diary, she was probably a friend and contemporary of Elizabeth, but she is not listed in the Warner households in 1920 or 1930, and I have not been able to pick a likely candidate from among the neighbors.  It’s possible that she was boarding with Mark and Ella Warner in 1923; I’m just not sure.

One of the things that has continually surprised me, on the occasions when I’ve done research on families, is the number of people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who never married.  Here, two of Ella’s three children never married. It’s an intriguing phenomenon that I mean to look into one day.

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Introducing Ella Warner

In August, I purchased a diary at the Mansfield Flea Market. The seller told me it was part of a lot of paper items he’d recently bought at the Brimfield Antique Show. I paid him $1 and brought it home, and started reading about the everyday life of a rural housewife in 1923-1924.  It’s not much to look at, I admit:

Diary cover

Diary cover

Nor is it a gripping narrative of astounding events. The author simply wrote a few lines about her day every evening – which is more than I, with arguably more free time than she had, can ever manage to do!  But it’s not without its affecting touches. For example, every time she wrote her husband’s name, she put at least two Xs above it, like this:


Also, on the inside front cover of the diary, she wrote about her daughter-in-law and granddaughter:

When Marjorie is 3 1/2 years, + Sarah Elliott was telling her about Mother goose + Marjorie turned + looked at her mother + said are you a goose + then she said you have got a tail I looked at Ros + sure enough there was quite a lock of her hair sticking up on top of her head

This would have been right around the time the diary started. Ordinary, yes, but unaffectedly real.

The diarist mentioned a lot of names, but not her own.  After I took copious notes on the names and places she wrote of, however, several searches in the 1920 U.S. Census records allowed me to identify her.

She was Ella Warner of Wolcott Road, Waterbury, Connecticut.  In September 1923, when this volume of her diary begins, she was 71 years old.

How her diary wound up in Brimfield, MA and then in Mansfield, CT I cannot guess. I believe there must have been earlier volumes that were not in that batch of papers – her persistence suggests a long habit of diary-keeping.

Her new Twitter account is @EllaWarner1923.  Entries begin September 10.    Please follow along!

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Another Vintage Pamphlet Post

I picked up five more items for the collection at the Brimfield Antique Show yesterday.  I was particularly taken with this one, which I think is from some time in the 1920s:

may_items001 may_items002It’s one of many recipe/advertising booklets produced by the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company of Lynn, MA (producer of Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, amongst other patent nostrums).

I was going to write a thing about it, but in searching for info I determined that I can’t do better than what Meg Favreau has said.  Go on, click through and read her piece.  No, wait – are you eating anything?  Don’t be eating anything.

Back?  Sorry about that, but I did warn you.  I’m thinking of trying the “Potato Candy,” or possibly the “Carrot Fudge” that’s on the same page.  That recipe goes:

Put 1 cup each of corn syrup, grated carrots, milk and light brown sugar into a deep saucepan.  Add 2 tablespoons butter and any flavoring you like.  Cook carefully until it hardens in cold water. Pour into buttered plates and cut into squares.  This fudge may have cocoa or chocolate added and may be beaten until creamy.

Because the carrots make it healthy!  Right?  Right.

Okay, the next pamphlet isn’t anything like Mrs. Pinkham’s company’s, honest.  Even though it sort of looks like it might be “interesting.”  And is also pink.

may_items011 may_items012

Alas, the author – Irene Garfield Abbott (identified in a 1930 newspaper from Southington, CT as a “world famous dietician and food expert”) – was interested in spicing up the menu only with things like adding color and texture contrasts to standard meals.  So let’s take a look at her proposed menus for Thursday and see what she thought was, well, not exactly “kinky” in American foodways.

Sliced Oranges
Unusual Poached Egg*
Thin Buttered Toast
Grape Jelly
Milk or IGA Coffee

Fig & Orange Salad*
Fluffy Omelet
Ginger Bread with Whipped Cream

Melon Ball Cocktail
Baked Ham
Scalloped Potatoes
Fruit Salad
Five Threes*

So what’s “unusual” about the poached egg?  It goes like this:

Unusual Poached Eggs
6 slices buttered toast
Anchovy paste
6 eggs
2 tea sps. IGA prepared mustard
2 ta. sps. butter
2 ta. sps. flour
2 cups milk
1/2 tea sp. salt

Spread toast with anchovy paste generously.  top with a poached egg and cover all with the butter, flour, salt and milk made into a cream sauce, to which has been added the mustard.  Garnish with parsley.

Yes, it would definitely be “unusual” if I were to make a cream sauce for a breakfast dish and then garnish it with parsley.  And even more unusual if I included anchovy paste.

The “Fig and Orange Salad” is much as advertised – “Shred the green outside leaves of lettuce.  Place orange slices on top.  And on the sliced orange place a canned fig, which is stuffed with cottage cheese.  Children like this salad for luncheon.” Figs are not very large, you know.  How could one possibly stuff one with cottage cheese?

But what you really want to know is what “Five Threes” is, I’m sure.  And it is … a frozen dessert!  Ah, the days of family dinners with two desserts … but I digress.  The recipe:

Five Threes
3 bananas
3 oranges
3 lemons
3 cups water
3 cups sugar

Use only the juice of the oranges and lemons.  Add bananas after mashing them thoroughly.  Make a syrup of the sugar and water by boiling together 3 minutes.  Add to fruit and freeze.

So basically a fruit juice ice with banana in it.  It could work.  It might be really nice during the middle of summer.

Maybe I’ll even give it a try to find out.

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Research is not always fun (civil commitment)

Sometimes you just run across a tidbit, and you know the whole story is probably lost somewhere in that distant past, but you also know that whatever the details are, it’s a sad story.

Like this:

At a Court of Probate holden at Danbury in and for the District of Danbury on the 2nd day of December A.D. 1890.

Present J. Howard Taylor, Judge

Upon the hearing of the complaint of George W. Hamilton of the town of Danbury setting forth and showing that one Laura K. Hamilton of the town of Danbury in said District is insane and Indigent and praying that said Laura K. Hamilton may be taken to the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane at Middletown this Court after a full hearing of all the evidence adduced finds that the condition of said Laura K. Hamilton renders it not necessary to personally examine her: and this Court doth further find that the certificate of J. H. Benedict and S. Penfield Physicians and the report of Henry Bernd, a Selectman of the town of Danbury are true and that said Laura K. Hamilton is insane and indigent and a fit subject for treatment in an asylum. And it is therefore ordered that Laura K. Hamilton be taken by the said George R. Hamilton or some other fit person and conveyed to the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane at Middletown and that this order, with an attested copy of said Physicians certificate be delivered to the superintendent of said Hospital.

Attest J. Howard Taylor, Judge

(Danbury Probate Records, Volume 44, Page 151).

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Reading notes: “mainstream academic professionalism”

“The concept of ‘mainstream academic professionalism’ is fairly straightforward.  It involves a suspicion of grand theory and of epistemological quibbling, a preference for concrete and clearly manageable projects, a penchant for technical methodological refinements, and, above all, attention to aspects of the social sciences and humanities least likely to be mistaken for political advocacy, cultural criticism, or journalism.”

This is describing the late 1950s/early 1960s, but conservatism sure hasn’t changed, has it?  Which is as it should be, I suppose.

(Quote from David A. Hollinger, “Academic Culture at the University of Michigan, 1938-1988,” Ch. 7 in Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth Century American Intellectual History, pp. 121-154 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 133.)

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