About Josephine Jordan & Her Diaries

My Mom passed away in 2003. A few weeks ago, my stepfather gave me a box of my mother's family papers. Among those papers were three old notebooks. Two were daily diaries of my great, great, grandmother, Josephine Jordan. They span the years 1892 to 1898. Grandmother Josephine wrote only a line a day. Occasionally she wrote two. On a few rare occasions, she penned three lines. I don't think she missed a day of writing in those seven years.Here's what the diaries look like:

As I read the 1892 diary, I began to learn about this ancestor who I previously knew absolutely nothing about. I discovered that, within the constraints of only a few words each day, Josephine could not elaborate. Nevertheless, as the chronicle of days and months and years pass, a life story develops. Because of the lack of details, the story is something of a puzzle. It can only be assembled by understanding the historical setting (more about this later), the cultural context, picking up little clues in the entries, reading "between the lines," and employing some imagination.

There are people who will, undoubtedly, find the diaries to be boring. But the combination of genuine humanity, unpretentious writing, seven years of continuity(I will be posting all the years if there is an interest), and 115-year-old agrarian setting will be of interest to many. I believe that if you read the first year of Josephine's diary entries (a line a day doesn't take long to read), you will be drawn into the story of this woman's life. You will find yourself putting the puzzle together, wanting to know more, wondering what will happen next.

One thing is abundantly clear right from the very first entry. Josephine is a Christian woman. Her faith is rooted deep. It is the central focus in her life. It is the well from which she draws hope and joy. It is what sustains her through the difficulties and disappointments she encounters along the path that God, the Great Orchestrator, scripted for her.

Josephine and her husband, who she refers to as "Husband" or "Hubby" (Update: I have learned that Husband's name was Cyrus) had a farm in Aroostook County, Maine. That's way up in the northern part of the state. It appears that they lived somewhere around the town of Presque Isle. Like every other farmer in that region, they grew potatoes. Farming was all about potatoes in Aroostook county back then, and it pretty much still is.

But the Jordan farm was surely not like the typical farm of these days. Farms back then were smaller. They were also more diversified and self sufficient. Farm folk provided much of their own food, and fuel from the forest. The community they lived in was more closely knit than communities of today. People relied on, and cared more about, their neighbors.

Josephine and her husband had four children. When the diary begins in 1892, Blanche, the oldest, is 19 years old. Three years later, she would marry a local farmer named George Lang. They would have a daughter, Gertrude, who would grow up and marry a local farmer by the name of Percy Philbrick (the man pictured with me on the cover of This Book. Gertrude and Percy were my grandparents.

Josephine's other children were Frank, who is 18 years old on January first of 1892. Another son, Laurie, is 14 years old. And the baby of the family, Gertie, is 9 years old. It is a small family compared to many farm families of the time.

It's worth noting that Josephine was not a doctor, scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, or politician (women could not even vote in 1892). She did not travel the world. She was not directly involved in any great historical event. She wasn't even a good writer. The fact is, she never distinguished herself in any notable way outside the little circle of her home and family.

Which is to say, Josephine was an ordinary farm wife. As such she devoted herself to helping her husband, caring for her home, her family, and, at times, others in her community when they were in need. She dealt with great tasks of cooking, washing, ironing, feeding, churning, sewing, and so forth--day after day, month after month, year after year.

It is the commonness of her life, her hard work, her self-sacrifice, her hospitality, and her devotion to faith and family that distinguishes Josephine--especially when viewed from the perspective of our modern culture where so many woman have, by choice or circumstance, refocused their daily work away from home and family.

The fact of the matter is, Josephine Jordan demonstrated her love for her Lord and her family by her devotion to the work of being a wife and mother. That is one of the things that stand out when I read the lines of words that chronicle her years.

Another thing that stands out is what appears to be Josephine's greatest desire in life. It is not for any personal or material gratification. It is, rather, that her children would know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Time and again Josephine speaks of this spiritual burden she has for her children, and her great hope that they would follow in the faith.

As I write this introduction to the diaries, I have read only about two years into the seven. I do not know exactly how Josephine's life unfolds. I do not know if all her children embraced her faith. But in the one other notebook among my mother's papers is a line-a-day diary from daughter, Blanche. From Blanche's diary it appears that she did hold fast to the Christian faith. Blanche's daughter, Gertrude, did too. So did Gertrude's daughter, Mary, (my mother). And I have also. So, to a degree, God gave Josephine the desire of her heart. That is something to keep in mind as you read about her life.

There was one more item among my mother's papers that is pertinent to this story. It is a small page of yellowed notebook paper with a faded pencil-scrawl. The words touched me deeply as I read them...

In Memoriam

Oh Josephine, thy gentle voice is hushed.
Thy warm true heart is still.
And on thy pale and peaceful face,
is resting death's cold chill.
Thy hands are clasped upon thy breast.
We have kissed thy marble brow.
And in our aching hearts we know
We have no Josephine now.

Through all pain at times she smiled,
A smile of heavenly birth.
And when the angles called her home,
She smiled farewell to earth.
Heaven retaineth now our treasure.
Earth the lonely casket keeps.
And the sun beams long to linger,
Where our sainted mother sleeps.

Presque Isle, June 28th, 1914

Why I am Posting These Diaries 
To The Internet?

When my mother, the great granddaughter of Josephine Jordan, lay dying of cancer, she asked me to read her Psalm 103. There, in part, it says:

As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.

The flower that was Josephine Jordan's life faded generations ago, but a precious piece of her remains in two old notebooks. Now, one hundred and fifteen years later,wonderfully, amazingly, providentially, that fragile remnant testifies of my great, great grandmother's love and trust in Jesus Christ. And, more than that, in entry after entry, Josephine's humble writings glorify God.

With that in mind, I have decided to share my grandmother Jordan's diaries with you beginning where the first note book begins.

It is a way of honoring her memory and the simple agrarian life she lived--a life focused on faith and family. I think we can learn some things from this common, but remarkable farm wife of 1892.

I am also publishing these diary entries so I can copy them off, put them in a binder and keep them for my children (perhaps even my grandchildren) to read one day. Josephine's old style of penmanship takes some effort to understand and it's easier to read in this format.

Some 1892 
Historical Perspective

As you read Joephine's diary, keep in mind that in 1892 she does not have ANY of the household conveniences that we take for granted these days. Though Thomas Edison's light bulb was first displayed to the public in 1879, it was not until 1910 that the Central Maine Power Company was founded, and household electricity probably did not get to northern Maine farms until the 1920's. So there were no electric stovetops, ovens, refrigerators, washing machines. irons, toasters, blenders, or any of that. There was also not radio or television or telephone.

The Jordan home probably had a hand pump to get water, unless they had a spring above the house and could gravity feed it into the kitchen.

Prior to the Civil War, President Millard Fillmore installed the first flush toilet in the White House. But in 1892, twenty-seven years after Lee surrendered to Grant, it's unlikely that there were any flush toilets in the farm homes of Aroostook County, Maine. Outhouses were the standard.

Josephine cooked on and baked in a wood stove. She also heated the water for clothes washing and bathing using a wood stove. When she ironed clothes, her irons would have been heated by a stove too. Chances are there was another stove (or more) to keep the house warm in winter.

The family probably had an ice box, but possibly not. Perhaps they had a spring house to help keep food cool. One thing Josephine did have was canning jars— they were in widespread use at that time.

When Josephine writes about going for a drive, she is not in an automobile. It would be 1909 before the first affordable automobiles (the Model T) started rolling off Henry Ford's assembly line. Which means there were no tractors on any of the farms in 1892. The work was accomplished with animal power, man power, and human ingenuity.

In 1875 a new Maine law required children between the ages of nine and fifteen to go to school for at least three months a year.

That same year, the New Brunswick Railway was run into Fort Fairfield, thus opening up outside markets to Aroostook's farm and forest products (potatoes in particular). More land was being cleared to farm and more people were moving into the area to establish farms. When Josephine's diary speaks of Husband loading a car, it is a rail car he is loading. In 1894, the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad was established. That made the northern woods of Maine even more accessible.

At one point, Josephine writes of potatoes going to a factory. It is probably a starch factory she is referring to.

When she mentions an event at the Union, she is probably speaking of the Union Meetinghouse which was a place for civic and religious functions. Such meeting houses were built in the 1800's all down the Eastern Seaboard. The Union Meetinghouse Josephine speaks of is probably one built in 1859 at the junction of Blaine and Presque Isle roads.

When Josephine speaks of ordering material for a dress she may well have ordered it from the Montgomery Ward catalog. By 1886 the catalog (which was targeted towards the rural population of the country) was 280 pages in length with more than 10,000 illustrations. Aaron Montgomery Ward's merchandise catalog was the official supplier to the Grange. Sears and Roebuck was just getting its business underway and would soon overtake Montgomery Ward in sales.

Josephine does not mention the Grange but it was established in 1867 by Minnesota farmer and activist, Oliver Hudson Kelley. If it had not made it to northern Maine by 1892, it would soon be there. Daughter Blanche's husband, George Lang, was a member of the Perham Patrons of Husbandry in 1920.

As I consider the comforts of my home and the average farm home of 1892, it occurred to me that they probably did not have spring mattresses on their beds. Rope beds and feather ticks were the norm.

And one ubiquitous modern-day thing that was certainly not found anywhere in Northern Maine would be.... PLASTIC.

Can you imagine a world without plastic?

More Historical Perspective: 
The Second Industrial Revolution

Until I did some research into the era around 1892, I did not realize that it was a time in history referred to as the second industrial revolution. The following information from Wikipedia sheds some light on what was happening in the world at large during the time of Josephine's diary entries.

From 1865 to about 1900, the U.S. grew to become the world's leading industrial nation as evidenced by the expansion in the pace of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which expanded from under $10 billion in 1800 to well over $350 billion by 1900.

Where the First Industrial Revolution shifted production from artisans to factories, the Second Industrial Revolution pioneered an expansion in organization, coordination, and scale of industry, spurred on by technology and transportation advancements. Railroads opened up the West, creating markets where none had existed. The First Transcontinental Railroad, built by Irish and Chinese immigrants, provided access to previously remote expanses of land. Railway construction boosted demand for capital, credit, and land.

To finance the larger-scale enterprises required during this era, the Stockholder Corporation emerged as the dominant form of business organization. Corporations expanded by combining into trusts, and by creating single firms out of competing firms, known as monopolies. Business leaders backed government policies of laissez-faire. High tariffs sheltered U.S.  factories and workers from foreign competition, federal railroad subsidies enriched investors, farmers and railroad workers, and created hundreds of towns and cities. All branches of government generally sought to stop labor from organizing into unions or from organizing strikes.

Powerful industrialists, such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould, known collectively as "robber barons", held great wealth and power. In a context of cutthroat competition for wealth accumulation, the skilled labor of the old-fashioned artisan and craftsman gave way to well-paid skilled workers and engineers, as the nation deepened its technological base. Meanwhile, a steady stream of immigrants encouraged the availability of cheap labor, especially in the mining and manufacturing sectors.

And Finally....

I hope you will enjoy and be blessed by Josephine's 1892 diary. Please feel free to add your comments and questions.


Josephine Jordan was my great, great, grandmother. She lived the life of a common farm wife in northern Maine. She kept a line a-day diary. I have her complete diaries from 1892 to 1898. You can learn more about Josephine, her diaries, and some historical perspective by going back to the first installment of this series.

Your questions, insights, or comments about this month's diary entries are welcomed.


--Friday, January 1, 1892
Clear and fine. I have a great deal to be thankful for--all the mercies of the year that has just passed. May I be more faithful this year that has just commenced. May my children repent and turn unto thee. Thou knowest how I want my children to give their hearts to thee and in thy good time wilt thou answer my prayers.

--Sat, January 2

Snowing most of the day. I expect we will have plenty of it now. Laurie is helping his father saw part of the day.

--Sund, Jan 3

Raining but we all went to church, but Hubby.

--Mon, Jan 4

Raining and snowing most of the time. Was down to see Mrs. Varman in the afternoon. All well, thank God.

--Tues, Jan 5

Snowing quite fast. Went down town and did some shopping quite a lot for husband. All well.

--Wed, Jan 6

Very busy washing. Got through nice and early.

--Thurs, Jan 7

Am quite sick. Did not feel able to sit up.

--Frid, Jan 8

Lovely and fine. Feel nice and smart. I am able to do some baking. How good the Lord is to me.

--Sund, Jan 10

Lovely and fine. We all went to church.

--Mon, Jan 11

Fine and mild. Mr. & Mrs. Shaw, Mr. & Mrs. Hutchings were here and spent the evening.

--Tues, Jan 12

Our Laurie is fifteen years old today. He weighed 88 pounds today. Hope he may have many happy returns.

--Wed, Jan 13

Storming quite fast. Made Gertie some under clothes. Called on Mrs. Crockett. Had a very pleasant call.

--Thurs, Jan 14

Got up real early for the men could go to depot and load a car of bark. But they had to come home for it stormed so bad they could not work until noon.

--Fri, Jan 15

Got up about four. Got the men off by daylight. They got the car most loaded but it's a very cold day.

--Sat, Jan 16

Lovely and fine. Men finished loading the car.

--Sund, Jan 17

Very cold. Yesterday we went to Presque Isle. Started about noon. Was gone about three hours.

--Mond, Jan 18

Very fine. Husband went down to start the car.

--Tues, Jan 19

Storming very fast. Husband sick. Fear it's Erysipelas.

--Wed, Jan 20

The storm has abated. Husband had a bad spell last night. We made a fire and sweat him, then he seemed better.

--Thurs, Jan 21

Doctor Sincock came this morning. He thinks it's not Erysipelas. I hope it's not. Hope he’ll soon be better.

--Fri, Jan 22

Am thankful to say he is better. Bless the Lord.

--Sat, Jan 23

Husband a little better. I feel very very glad.

--Sun, Jan 24

Blanche, Frank and I went to church and sabbath school.

--Mon, Jan 25

Husband a little better. I feel so glad about it.

--Tues, Jan 26

Fell sick myself. But I sweat and feel better.

—Wed, Jan 27

Husband much better, I think. Bless the Lord.

--Thurs, Jan 28

Husband does not feel so well. Feels discouraged.

--Fri, Jan 29

Lovely and fine. Husband better. Thank the good Lord. Mr. Shaw our neighbor is sick.

--Sat, Jan 30

Baking for Sunday. Hubby is better. I am so glad.

--Sund, Jan 31

Fine but cold. Blanche & Frank and I went to church and Sunday School.


Josephine Jordan was my great, great, grandmother. She lived the life of a common farm wife in northern Maine. She kept a line a-day diary. I have her complete diaries from 1892 to 1898. You can learn more about Josephine, her diaries, and some historical perspective by going back to the first installment of this series.

Your questions, insights, or comments about this month's diary entries are welcomed.


--Mond, Feb 1
Husband had a good night. Is weak yet. Frank took a load of potatoes away. Brought them out of the cellar alone.

--Tues, Feb 2
Frank took potatoes away. Blanche & Gertie and I went down town. Shortly after we got home, Mr. & Mrs. M. came and spent the evening.

--Wed, Feb 3
Washed today. Mrs Tweedy came. Spent the afternoon.

--Thurs, Feb 4
Neighbor V. sick. F. gone for the doctor.

--Frid, Feb 5
Frank with the rest of his Sunday School Class are invited to the Wright's.

--Sat, Feb 6
Not able to sit up but a few minutes.

--Sund, Feb 7
A little better. Thank the good Lord.

--Mond, Feb 8
Finished a dress for Blanche. Feel very weak.

--Tues, Feb 9
Mr. Crockett came with some apples. We got some.

--Wed, Feb 10
Am real sick. Cannot sit up but a few minutes.

--Thurs, Feb 11
Not well, but the good Lord can help me.

--Frid, Feb 12
Am still sick. God can help me. May I be faithful.

--Sat, Feb 13
A little better. Thank the good Lord.

--Sund, Feb 14
Cold and the roads are drifted. All well.

--Mond, Feb 15
Not so cold. Ploughed out the roads this afternoon.

--Tues, Feb 16
Lovely and fine. Hubby and Laurie went to Presque Isle.

--Wed, Feb 17
Blustering and cold. Dare not go out today.

--Thurs, Feb 18
Roads all full. Snowed all night. But we know who sent it.

--Frid, Feb 19
Lovely and fine. Hubby and I went to Presque Isle.

--Sat, Feb 20
Fine. Went to the village. Roads are very bad.

--Sund, Feb 21
The three eldest went to church. All quite well.

--Mond, Feb 22
Fine and soft. Did not wash. Went to see Mrs A. who is sick. Hope she will recover.

--Tues, Feb 23
Lovely and mild. Went to see some more sick folk.

--Wed, Feb 24
Husband went to Presque Isle. Got some groceries.

--Thurs, Feb 25
Blanche went with her father for a drive. I got dinner.

--Frid, Feb 26
Lovely and fine. All at home.

--Sat, Feb 27
Cold and clear. Washed and baked. All well.

--Sund, Feb 28
Went to church and Sunday School.

--Mond, Feb 29
Husband went to see Melon Lombard.


Josephine Jordan was my great, great, grandmother. She lived the life of a common farm wife in northern Maine. She kept a line a-day diary. I have her complete diaries from 1892 to 1898. You can learn more about Josephine, her diaries, and some historical perspective by going back to the first installment of this series.

Your questions, insights, or comments about this month's diary entries are welcomed.


--Tues, March 1
Clear and cold. Hubby went to Presque Isle. Got $20.00

--Wed, March 2
Husband paid Gary $18.50 on a debt, leaving a balance.

--Thurs, March 3
Dull and gloomy. Mrs. E. Washburn buried today.

--Frid, March 4
Last evening Elder Young took Frank up to meeting.

--Sat, March 5
Snowing real fast, but we are all well, thank God.

--Sund, March 6
Did not go to church. But I can read the Bible.

--Mond, March 7
Hubby gone to the woods. Don't know when he'll be home.

--Tues, March 8
Blanche & Gertie are visiting this afternoon.

--Wed, March 9
Blanche and her father got ready to go to town.

--Thurs, March 10
Very windy. Sold some hay. All well.

--Frid, March 11
Sold more hay. Got ten dollars for it.

--Sat, March 12
Real March day. Mrs. Hutchings here.

--Sund, March 13
Am sick today. Cannot sit up. Hope I'll soon be well.

--Mond, March 14
Real cold. Hubby gone to Presque Isle.

--Tues, March 15
Blustering. Real cold & clear.

--Wed, March 16
Mrs. H. was here and paid $26 on their farm.

--Thurs, March 17
Settled with L. Gary paid him in full.

--Frid, March 18
Washed today. Am still lame. Sprained my knee.

--Sat, March 19
Tried out my lard. Made hogs head cheese & cookies.

--Sund, March 20
Storming most of the day. Did not go to church.

--Mond, March 21
Clear and cold. Husband has got cold.

--Tues, March 22
Lovely and fine. Husband gone to the woods.

--Wed, March 23
Storming real fast, but not too cold.

--Thurs, March 24
Went to Presque Isle. Got very tired.

--Frid, March 25
Blancher & I have gone to the village to do some shopping.

--Sat, March 26
Blanche and I have gone to Washburn.

--Sund, March 27
Lovely & fine. Did not go to church. Can't very well.

--Mon, March 28
Blanche and her father started to go to N. Sweden, but did not.

--Tues, March 29
Very fine. Washed today. Hope I'll soon be well.

--Wed, March 30
Gertie went down town to make some visits.

--Thurs, March 31
Very fine. Went to Presque Isle. Am still lame.


Josephine Jordan was my great, great, grandmother. She lived the life of a common farm wife in northern Maine. She kept a line a-day diary. I have her complete diaries from 1892 to 1898. You can learn more about Josephine, her diaries, and some historical perspective by going back to the first installment of this series.

Your questions, insights, or comments about this month's diary entries are welcomed.


--Frid, April 1
Just one year since we moved here. All well.

--Sat, April 2
Very lame today. Don't seem to be any better.

--Sund, April 3
Have a great deal of pain today. Must not complain.

--Mond, April 4
Bless the Lord, oh my soul. He is so good to me.

--Tues, April 5
Thank the good Lord I am better. Had some maple sugar.

--Wed, April 6
Feel a little better. Frank commenced working for E. Hall.

--Thurs, April 7
Blanche churned today. I am still lame.

--Frid, April 8
Blanche washed, I worked out of doors. Feel very pleased.

--Sat, April 9
Had some new maple sugar. Not quite so well.

--Sund, April 10
Feel discouraged. But God is able to bring me through.

--Mond, April 11
No better. Hoped I'd soon get better but don’t feel like it.

--Tues, April 12
Think I feel some better, though my knee is very lame.

--Wed, April 13
Commenced to go on wheels. Mr. Wright fell down dead.

--Thurs, April 14
Very fine. Have done a lot of work. Had some maple sugar.

--Frid, April 15
This morning Mrs. Wright & Elder Young left for Vermont with the
corpse to inter him, where she is going to live.

--Sat, April 16
Boiled 24 pails of sap today. Sent for Frank. Flora. S. was here and
we had a nice evening. Dear little Frank was so glad to get home.
We had sugar and candy.

--Sund, April 17
Blanche, I & Laurie went to church and sunday school.

--Mond, April 18
Lovely and fine. Am boiling sap as fast as I can.

--Tues, April 19
Blanche is twenty today. Hope she may have many happy returns and give her heart to her Savior.

--Wed, April 20
Mr. & Mrs. B. were here & spent the afternoon & three children. Eva Smith died today.

--Thurs, April 21
My knee pains me very much. Had a short drive.

--Frid, April 22
They have just taken up Mrs. Smith's casket.

--Sat, April 23
Dear little Frank came home after supper. Raining.

--Sund, April 24
Frank & Blanche Have gone to church. I should like to go.

--Mond, April 25
Went over to Mrs. Shaw’s and spent the day. Husband Ploughed.

--Tues, April 26
The Lord is so good to me. A lovely day.

--Wed, April 27
Feel miserable. Did not get up until after breakfast.

--Thurs, April 28
Better today. Trimmed a hat for spring.

--Frid, April 29
Fear I got cold yesterday. Fear I got careless.

--Sat, April 30
Better today, thank the Lord. Feel so pleased.