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Thu, Jan 27, 2022

A Diary for the New Year: 1908-1911

Some people, but not all people, celebrate the New Year by setting goals or trying something new. My goal for the year is to be more active. I am starting small by using a standing desk in my office. That’s a good reminder to stand up now. My name is Morgan Gates, and I am the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History Public Fellow. I am also a graduate student in Literature at UCSC. This year I have been working with the MAH on several projects, including Do You Know My Name?, an exhibit that is currently in the History gallery and online as a virtual exhibit. Both exhibits were inspired by a MAH publication also called Do You Know My Name?.The exhibits and the book introduce and tell the stories of Santa Cruzans who were not rich or famous but have stories to tell. I am continuing to learn the stories of Santa Cruzans through the MAH Archives.

No, that’s not a picture of me above. That’s Edward Prince from Boulder Creek. During the Christmas holiday of 1907, Edward received a diary. He made a tradition out of it for many years. From 1908-1911, when he was 11-16 years old, he kept up with his diary writing, although sometimes imperfectly. Edward tells part of his life story in his diaries, and his diaries tell us about Santa Cruz history.

Edward Prince Diary

Edward Prince Diary, January 1-2, 1911, Edward Prince Collection, MAH Archives. The first entry of 1911 reads: “I got this book today. My old one is all used up. This is my Sunday on duty. We had a good heavy earthquake yesterday morning at 4.12 oclock [sic]. I skated the old year out and the new year in last night. Pa came home tonight.”

Edward’s diary is observational. Each entry is a few sentences long. The entries record Edward’s daily activities, such as going to school, working, fishing, or playing. Edward also observed and recorded what it was like to live in Santa Cruz County over a hundred years ago. His diary is special because it allows us to see this history through the eyes of a person in their tween and teenage years. Those years, for anyone, are a unique time of social, bodily, and intellectual transformation. They capture his transformation from child to young adult. This is his very first week of entries in January of 1908:

  1. We worked on the house in the other lot.
  2. Leslie and I got some overhauls [overalls] and shoes. Papa went to Santa Cruz and came back.
  3. We finished the foundation of the house. It rained.
  4. I went to Sloans. Papa went to lodge. Mrs. [text obscured] came to see Mama and brought some persimmons.
  5. Mama got up and laid down on the lounge. Mrs. Maddox, Mrs. Newman, Mary Smith and Mrs. Gibson came to see mama.
  6. Mrs. Peery came to see mama. I got grandpa a rule.
  7. Mama came out on the lounge again. Grandma went up town. Papa went to lodge. I cut my thumb. Mrs. Baumgardner came to see mama.

Edward records the coming and going of his family and people in the community. While he did not record his feelings, his daily observations give a sense of things that he felt and thought about. Edward does not say it directly but something is going on with his mother. Many early entries in the 1908 diary from January to March focus on her well being. She spent February of 1908 in the hospital. Edward's attention to his mother suggests he is worried about her. In this way we get a sense of how Edward is feeling even though he doesn’t write his feelings down. We know that Edward was watching carefully. He sees a stream of women come to see her, check in on her, and bring her gifts. Because there are so many female visitors at once, I suspect she may have had a troubled or failed pregnancy or another women's issue. Again, the diary does not say. The diary shows, however, that Edward sees a vital community of women supporting each other through difficulty. Without Edward’s diary this community of support may not have been recorded.

A few months later that year Edward's mother became pregnant. Edward’s diary suggests that pregnancy was difficult. In the entry for August 10, 1909, Edward included the doctor’s order to his mother. He wrote, “Dr. Ceaser said mama had to be pretty dam still.” Those words had an impact on Edward. He was watching and listening very carefully when it came to his mother’s health. Curiously, Edward did not record the birth of his baby brother in January the next year. He does break from writing entries during this period. His absence suggests he had more important things to do that week. I imagine he was helping her and his family adjust.

I like how Edward's diary also records the familiar routines of everyday life. I also like how he often kept it simple. Some days in my life sound a lot like Edward’s.

September 1908

13 I was sick.

14 I went to school.

15 same

16 I went to school.

17 I went to school.

18 We had literary exercises at school. I got a book out of the library.

19 Leslie and I got some hockey sticks.

San Lorenzo River Postcard

San Lorenzo River Postcard, MAH Collections. After his family moved from Boulder Creek to downtown Santa Cruz, he wrote that he once caught 50 fish in a spot on the San Lorenzo.

There are also times when I wish he said more in his diary. In 1910, Edward’s family moved from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the City of Santa Cruz. Edward finished school and officially joined the workforce. Armed with a paycheck, Edward also develops a taste for Santa Cruz culture.

September 1910

12 I worked. Ma painted part of the kitchen and pantry. Leslie and I went to a moving picture show.

13 I worked. I worked hard today Had to dig a ditch by myself. Leslie went to school. Hot day.

14 It rained. I worked. Ma got some books out of the library. She got some paints for Leslie.

15 It rained. I worked. I went to the Grand theater in the evening.

16 I worked. Nothing stirring but the bread line.

What movie did he and his brother Leslie see on September 12? What did he see at the grand theater? In other entries he describes the places he would go, such as the Casino (now Cocoanut Grove), the Plunge (now Neptune’s Kingdom), and the wharf. Edward’s diary reminds me of things that change but also the things that stay the same. I have enjoyed all those places in my leisure time as well. Also, Edward mentions the breadline. He reminds us that the story of Santa Cruz in the twentieth century and beyond is a story of both luxury and poverty. The bread lines are still here.

Edward Prince Diary 1911

Edward Prince diary, 1911, Edward Prince Diary, January 2-6, 1911, Edward Prince Collection, MAH Archives. Edward records the everyday: “Ma got some sardines a can of chipped beef and two pkgde's [sic] of crackers for my lunch next Sunday,” and the extraordinary “A man pulled a knife on a clerk in the Peoples Bank because he wouldn't cash a bogus check.”

As Edward gets older, the entries in the diary become a bit longer, a bit more complicated as we would expect from a teenager. He talks about more things, yet he still withholds writing about his feelings. A young girl named Lila Olmsted begins to make frequent appearances in the diary. Edward takes her to movies. Spends time with her frequently. Edward and his family are preparing to move however, so he “bought a box of note paper and some violet ink to write to” her. I think that shows Edward to be sweet and considerate. And he did write to her. It also shows that as a young person he deals with the same kinds of feelings that many experience in their teenage years, and has to learn to navigate personal relationships in the way people do in their teen years.

Edward’s diary can be read through the MAH archives here. English language readers and learners of many ages will find his diaries accessible. Edward’s language in very rare instances reflects the language and attitudes about ethnic communities that were commonplace in his time. Many readers may find these instances offensive. While we do not endorse those uses of language or attitudes, they serve as an accurate reminder and record of the ways that even very young people are susceptible to cultural bias. Young readers, especially, should be given the opportunity to talk about this. This resource (“How to Use Children’s Books to Talk About Race and Racism”) is a good starting point. It offers many good questions and strategies for having a conversation with young readers and for increasing their exposure to diversity and history through reading. There are lots of other questions to ask about his diaries and more to learn. He records earthquakes, sporting events, elections, his spending habits, books he’s read, fish he’s caught, the kind of food he ate and more things of interest to readers of all kinds.

Edward Prince Diaries

Edward Prince Diaries, Edward Prince Collection, MAH Archives. Front covers of two of Edward’s diaries.

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