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.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting your diary. I have my grandfather's from 1918 to the mid-1920s from Easton, Aroostook Co, Maine. Perhaps I should also post it online.

BTW, the husband of Josephine is Cyrus Jordan, born 1848 in Canada.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hello annonymous,

Yes, you should post it online and please let us know here when you do.

Thank you for letting me know about Cyrus and where he was from. What a surprise to know this one day after I posted the diary!

And I sure do appreciate the other information you shared with me by e-mail. I've decided to post it here because I find the last thing you shared particularly amazing...

I encountered your 1892 blog with my google search alert for aroostook. I was able to find out more information about the Jordan family. (Genealogy is my hobby)  The Jordan's lived in Caribou at the time of the journal and moved from Canada to Maine in 1880.
Josephine's husband is Cyrus Jordan. Here is an  image of the 1900 census record. Let me know if you want copies of more.

Believe it or not, my pastor here in CT is related to you. His ggrandfather is Frank Jordan, brother to your Blanche Jordan Lang.

I find it remarkable that your pastor is Josephine Jordan's great, great, great grandson. This is evidence that God honored Joesphine's prayers for his children, and that future generations have, I believe, inherited the blessings of her faithfulness.

Thank you so much for contributing this information and please give my regards to my newfound cousin there in CT! :-)

Herrick Kimball

Anonymous said...

Hi, my grandfather was Earl Jordan of Presque Ise, son of Frank Jordan. You have spoken with my cousin ken who is the pastor spoken of in previous message. Earl's daughter was my Mom, she passed away 12/17/2006. What a delight to read this. Many of Earl's kids are ministers and missionaries as are their children. What an awesome legacy of faith started by a mother's prayer for her 4 children. Whow!

Old Hound said...

Fascinating! Here in the Ozarks, I knew an older lady who has a diary started before the civil War, by an ancester. She owned a store, and was loaning money, and supplies to local farmers. The Civil War was awful in this area, and her business suffered for a while. Many farms and towns were burned down,
luckily, hers, wasn't. The part in the diary were she would send someone to ring the town bell for events was interesting. Diaries make history come alive in ways, nothing else does, because the ordinary things that people did, are shown in them.things that history books overlook.

Carol Michel said...

Hi. I found you through another blog. I've been posting my grandmother's diaries from 1925 - 1927 one day at a time since 02/12/2006. Stop by, you might find them interesting, too. www.ruthcampbellsmith.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

My middle name was given to me by my father for his Uncle Leverett Kimball - your ancestor.
Since a repy has been given as to Cyrus Jordan being Josephine's husband and they lived in the township of Caribou, the 1900 census also states they came from Canada in 1880. To late for the 1880 US census and to early for the Canadian 1881 census, it appears.
However, by going to the Nova Scotia Archive site on line, many family records can be found on the birth, marriage and deaths. Cyrus James Jordan was born on 28 sept 1848 in Beech Hill, Kings County, Nova Scotia which is near Kentville. He married Josephine Johnston on 25 May, 1871. Cyrus parents were Edward Manning Jordan and Sarah Johnston.
Near Kentville, Nova Scotia is where the Jordan and family members came from to Maine and it appears some returned in later years to live as I believe Cyrus died there in 1924.
Carroll Kimball

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful legacy Josephine left and the poem... well, I was in tears. I hope that such lovely things can be said for me once I have passed.

Thank you so much for sharing her diary.


bj said...

Well, I've not come across something this interesting to read in my entire life (and that's a long time...I am 70).
I can hardly wait to get started...
And, how blessed you are to have these journals....oh, how I would treasure something like that from my great, great grandmother...
oh, and I came over from PRAIRIE DREAMS blog....
good, good luck,

Anonymous said...

How awesome this is. You are touching many lives including mine, because of your posting.

Leila said...

Just discovered all your fantastic sites. Can't wait to read Josephine's diary. I really should be working right now..... but a little more of Herrick's blog won't hurt....

Unknown said...


Are you going to put the rest of Josephine's diary up? Just curious. :-D I have my grandma's diaries, too. They cover about 10-15 years and she wrote a line or two a day, usually. I have always wished I could be a faithful diarist...

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am one of Earl Jordan's daughters, he had 12 children.My name is Dorothy Jordan (Gall) I live in NY near Niagara Falls. I have enjoyed reading your diaries. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this first year. I found your site from a posting on PennyRaine.com. I hope you will be able to post Josephine's subsequent years soon. I enjoyed reading all the way through the first year so much that I did it in one sitting - when I should have been doing something else. Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting! I am glad to have come across it.

Two things I wanted to note from the comments--

1) I agree with the previous poster that G. apple pies might have been green apple pies--that is the first thing that occurred to me also. Like a green variety of apple, such as granny smith, or just tart/not ripe apples. I don't remember what time of year it was, but perhaps they are apples that didn't ripen and were going to spoil and could be sweetened to make them edible when baked in pie form? Just speculating! :-)

2) As to Josephine being sick a lot--one thing that I thought was odd was how she said it sometimes, that she couldn't really sit up, but generally after that felt better the next day or shortly thereafter. I noticed this around Jan. 6, and the same time a month after, and the same time a month after--I would suspect that this illness she refers to which prevented her from even sitting up might have been menstrual cramping or other related difficulties. Basing it on the age of her first daughter, who is around 20 at the time of the diary, and the information supplies by a commenter that her husband who was 44 at the time of the writing of the diary and would have been 22 at the age of marriage, I think one can presume that Josephine would be somewhere between 37 and 44 years of age herself at the time of writing, if she was between 15 and 22 at the time of her marriage--so still reproductive age.

Anonymous said...

tedulWhat a treasure. I do genealogy as a hobby and your diary tells me so much about the average farm woman's life style in the north during this period of our history.
What would our nation and our children be like if more women were as humble and worked at home as hard as yoiur grandmother?
The thing that is ironic to me...we still desire that our children grow up to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and thatis daily our prayer as it was hers.
"He will never see the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread."
Thank you for this treasure you hae shared,
Carolyn REynolds Bland

Anonymous said...

Fist time on your blog...hoping I can navigate my way to it again. Thoroughly enjoyable and a blessing. I have my grandfather's writings - have been praying and considering publishing them for the family...you are an inspiration.

Great reading,
North Carolina Friend

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the G. was for green apples?
I enjoyed the diary.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful thing to read. Thanks for posting.

Dalyn said...

what a find! It is so wonderful of you to publish this for all of us! Thank you so much! This is going to be most enjoyable. I only have stories and some pictures of distant relatives, what a gift you have in those notebooks. Makes me want to keep up on my own in the hopes that one day my decendants can read about my love of the Lord and His Word and creatures- I love anything to do with farming!

Lyric said...

As a new farmer's wife, a Christian, a blogger, and one who is learning about self sufficiency I believe this find to be a diamond.

Thank you, Mr. Kimball for sharing your family member's story. I have sojourned here from over 1,000 miles away and think I should keep a line-a-day diary for my daughters. Hopefully they would recognize the gem as I do your grandmom's.



Heather said...

Hi I’m Heather! Please email me when you get a chance! I have a question about your blog. HeatherVonsj(at)gmail(dot)com

Lisa said...

Mr. Kimball, We are distant cousins. My Great-great-great-grandmother would be your dear Josephine, her son Frank, my Great-great grandfather, his son Earl, my great-grandfather, his daughter Irene, (Lorraine's mother's sister) is my grandmother (thus making Lorraine my father's cousin, who is in fact, Pastor Ken of Connecticut, whom was previously mentioned. I am pleased to say my family continues to serve the Lord blessed beyond measure from the prayers of our dear Josephine. I am a children's pastor at a church in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and my children actively serving along side me. Thank you for posting this blog. I am extremely intrigued by the interesting blog. Thank you for sharing. :)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kimball, when the time is right, I would urge you to pass along your ancestor's diaries to the Maine Historical Society in Portland, Maine, or the Maine State Archives in Augusta for preservation. They are truly a valuable discovery that sheds light on an important yet relatively unknown time in Maine agricultural history.

Anonymous said...

Hi ...
I am a 40 yr YOUNG single mom of 2 FANTASTIC teenagers (son 18, daughter 16). I must admit that i HATED history back when i was in school. Funny how time changes a person, history now FASCINATES me!! I have VERY little time to spare in my life due to being the sole parent to my two children (their father left the state, N.J. 8 yrs ago and does not bother with our children). I actually found your blog through PINTEREST (my addiction:). Thank you sooo very much for taking the time out of your own busy life to post this intriguing & fascinating piece of history!! I am adopted (i met my parents when i was just 2 months shy of 9 yrs old...i never met my biological parents, only spoke with them by phone, two of my biological siblings met them). The people that adopted me have always been my "REAL PARENTS" in my mind and my heart. My mom has kept a running journal of every single day of life since i met her!! Your blog about Josephine's one-line-a-day has given me an epipheny, i will be making my "demands" (lol) to my mom that she must leave her journals in their entirety to ME after she is g*** (can never bring myself to verbalize nor write the word "gone" when referring to my either of my parents). Your blog has also inspired me to possibly try and chronicle my own day-to-day journal on my own blog (i recently started one at wordpress, user name is modernmom73).
Thanks again!
P.S. the couple of journal pages on this page look to be in near perfect condition, are you taking any steps to preserve them for your children?
Sherry (N.J.)

Unknown said...

Your Great Grandmother's faith is an inspiration for this old farmer down in South Alabama

Deb M said...

what an amazing insight into the past, thankyou so much for sharing this on line, Deb M, QLD Australia

Irene said...

This is cool!

Anonymous said...

Have you found the name of Josephine's husband? I found it in the 1900 census at FamilySearch.org. If my niece's account at Ancestry was current, I could probably find a lot more details. Apparently Josephine was born in Canada and entered the USA in 1880.


KimLogic said...

My Great Grandmother was the daughter of Frank P. Jordan, Cyrus and Josephines son. Making us distant cousins. This is all so interesting to me. Thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing this is really interesting to me. Love the way she spoke about everything always keeping faith in the lord! God bless you 😊

Isobe Ltin said...

You will find yourself putting the puzzle together.
meet and greet at Luton

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Dennis Bell said...

It's incredible to think how much travel has evolved since 1892! Nowadays, if I were time-traveling to Gatwick Airport, I'd definitely use Ezybook for Gatwick Airport Cheap Parking. It would save me time and money, making my journey much smoother compared to the 1892 farmer's wife's diary!

Anonymous said...

Herrick,the thing th. II love the historyat meant so much to me was her faith in Jesus,and that my grandmother, Gerty was also a believer,as well as thGrandpy and sweet Aunt Mary. And of course you,Herrick. Piet ,my husband thought that Jordan could be French as well as the name Josephine .

Calisto Asher said...

What a fascinating glimpse into the life of Josephine Jordan! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her experiences and adventures. Speaking of adventures, if you're ever planning a trip through Heathrow Terminal 3, consider utilizing the Express Parking Heathrow service for a seamless start to your journey. It's a fantastic way to ease the stress of airport navigation and ensure a smooth travel experience. Keep sharing these intriguing stories!