Monday, January 21, 2013

Amanuensis Monday: Miriam and Her "Variety Book"

Miriam F. Vaughan, ca 1900
Imagine being 17 and suddenly have to move over 700 miles, just because your father got a new job.  It isn't that unusual today, but in 1898, it was much less common.  Miriam Frances Vaughan was 17 years old when her father, my Great Grandfather Albert Bell Vaughan, left Canton, Georgia, to become the minister of the Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas.  The family moved to Texas and lived in Nacogdoches from July 28, 1898, to Nov. 26, 1899, after which they returned to Georgia.  From Miriam's vantage point, it turned out to be interesting time.

During those 16 months in Nacogdoches, Miriam kept a diary of sorts, penning her first entry the morning after they arrived in Nacogdoches and her final entry being written their last night in Texas.  Perhaps the book had been given to her as a farewell gift by family or a Georgia friend.  Her "Variety Book" is filled with quotes from literature, song lyrics, pressed flowers carefully attached to pages, and details of daily life.  Scattered throughout the 200 page book were also sermon topics, lines from hymns, and scripture - after all she was the preacher's daughter.   For me, her small book gave a personal and interesting look at being a young lady in the late 1890s.

The 4x6 inch faux leather book was given to me about 14 years ago by an elderly cousin.  For years, I had kept it just sitting on a table with a few other family heirlooms.  Recently I took the time to transcribe the book, and by doing so I started getting to know my Great Aunt Miriam.

The first thing that was apparent was how well educated Miriam was.  Her vocabulary was extensive, and running my 36 page transcription through a spell checker showed only ONE word which she had spelled incorrectly!  Even more impressive were her personal reading lists written in several parts of her Variety book.  Miriam had attended college in Georgia prior to their move but did not while in Texas.  On her own, between late September and early July she read four plays by Shakespeare, Vanity Fair by Thackeray, David Copperfield, Lorna Doone, works by George Eliot, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and popular writers of the day, plus my favorite on her list, Little Women.  Miriam obviously loved to read, sometimes receiving books and magazines as gifts from others.

Being an 18 year-old, single female in 1898-1899 was quite different from life today.  Her social activities were almost always planned by ladies of the community - picnics, parties, watermelon cuttings, simple activities.   Perhaps because her mother was looking after seven younger children, Miriam also spent a lot of time "calling on" ladies of the church.  For other entertainment Miriam also wrote of seeing a traveling minstrel show that was in Nacogdoches, a theater production of Christopher Colt, Jr., a popular play of the time, and attending band concerts at the local college.

Whenever Miriam and any of the eligible young men of Nacogdoches kept company, they were always with others.  Even an invitation for a buggy ride was to a public area and sometimes accompanied by friends.   Since her father was the minister, It wasn't surprising to see the number of gentleman who asked to accompany her to church services.  One Sunday evening, a dinner invitation prevented her from being able to attend the evening church service.  Her entry for that night showed how torn she had been between having fun with friends and doing what she knew was expected of her.  The other suitable escort for social activities turned out to be her 16-year old brother who was apparently willing to exercise this task so he could talk with some of the other young ladies present.

Miriam seemed to have made friends easily in Texas and wrote often about spending time with a close group of girls.  Early on Miriam was invited to be a member of the newly formed Pierian Chataque Circle, a literary and social club for young ladies.  This same group of friends spent the night at each other's homes, wrote notes to each other, went for walks, laughed, shared "confidences" (Miriam's term), and yes, even had some spats, all complete with emotional highs and lows. Sound familiar?

Before carefully reading and transcribing the Variety book, Miriam had been a rather shadowy figure to me.  I never met her, had only heard of her as being the oldest sibling in my Grandmother Perkinson's family, and had only the one picture of her.  Now she is much more real to me, thanks to her Variety book. 


  1. FABULOUS! I never realized that a 'scrapbook' of random thoughts and such would make someone more real. However, you've completely proved me wrong... or shall we say Miriam proved us wrong. Thank you so much for sharing this post. I really, really enjoyed it.

  2. Thanks for your kind comment. Eventually I plan to transcribe some family letters from the Civil War (wish these folks had Miriam's wonderful penmanship).

  3. What a treasure! I also love her photo here. I can't help but think of "Meet Me in St. Louis" with Judy Garland when I read about this time period. The dresses, the social activities. A great read, thank you!