Mary Avery White journals
Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267
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Mary Avery was born to the Rev. Joseph Avery, a Congregationalist minister, and his wife Mary of Holden, Massachusetts, on September 12, 1778. She married Aaron White, a farmer and shopkeeper, in 1798 and settled in nearby Boylston, Massachusetts. Aaron and Mary Avery White had ten children, all of whom survived to adulthood.
In addition to fulfilling numerous domestic duties, Mary Avery White was an active member of her community. She attended Boylston’s Congregationalist church and was involved with many religious activities, including the Sabbath School, the Female Benevolent Society, the Maternal Association, and the Moral Reform Society. In 1815, she was a founding member of the Boylston Female Society for the Aid of Foreign Missions, a group of mostly conservative Congregationalist women. In the 1830s, White became a founding member of the local antislavery society. She viewed the abolition movement as an extension of her evangelical faith, further working towards the perfection of society. As Mary Babson Fuhrer notes, White “wrote a constitution, and attempted to assemble members to sew items for the annual Boston Antislavery Fair, to host traveling antislavery agents and attend their lectures, and to circulate petitions opposing slavery in the District of Columbia and in the annexation of Texas.” However, she faced strong resistance from many members of her community. Despite this opposition, she continued her antislavery efforts into the 1850s.
Mary Avery White died in Boylston, Massachusetts, in 1860.
Fuhrer, Mary Babson. A Crisis of Community: The Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014.Fuhrer, Mary Babson. Letters from the “Old Home Place”: Anxieties and Aspirations in Rural New England, 1836-1843, from the White Family Collection at Old Sturbridge Village. Boylston: Boylston Historical Society, 1997.University of Delaware. Library. Self works : diaries, scrapbooks, and other autobiographical efforts : catalog of an exhibition, August 19, 1997-December 18, 1997 : guide to selected sources. Newark, Del. : Special Collections, Hugh M. Morris Library, University of Delaware Library, 1997.Digital History Reader website, “How Did Abolitionism Lead to the Struggle for Women’s Rights?” (accessed on October 24, 2016) http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/us/mod04_women/evidence_detail_02.html Information derived from the collection.
These three manuscripts are volumes of a journal kept by Mary Avery White (1778-1860) of Boylston, Massachusetts. White wrote extensively about life in rural Massachusetts, including observations on the weather, notes about daily work and social visits, meditations on religion, and information about her involvement in various reform activities, including abolitionism and the temperance movement.
White created at least ten journal volumes during her lifetime, which were distributed amongst her ten children following her death. A notation at the start of the first volume (1805-1807) states that it went to “A. White,” probably her oldest son Aaron or her son Joseph Avery (called “Avery”). Volume 2 (1827-1835) first went to her daughter Elizabeth, but was eventually passed down to her son Francis’s son, Charles White. A notation at the start of Volume 3 (1852-1855) indicates that it was given to Mary Avery White by her son Isaac Davis White, but it is unclear which child inherited it after her death.
White started almost every daily entry with a notation about the weather, recording if it was pleasant, cold, or rainy. By the 1850s, she was using a thermometer to record the temperature. For instance, on March 22, 1852 (Volume 3), she observed that “the mercury” was at 24 degrees. White recorded a total eclipse of the sun on June 16, 1806 (Volume 1), noting that “the stars twinkled at noon day.” She frequently observed signs of the changing seasons, such as the date when peach blossoms began to appear on the trees or when the “frogs began to peep.”
The bulk of White’s journal focuses on the rhythms of life in her community in rural Massachusetts, especially daily work and social calls. White was a competent seamstress, cutting out and sewing pantaloons, shirts, and other items for her family. However, she frequently sent work out to other women, especially tow linen to be spun. She also sent her daughters out to work in other families, a pattern exemplified in Volume 2 through her daughter Eliza’s frequent movements between houses. White’s work followed a seasonal pattern. In the spring, she laundered the heavy winter woolens; by the fall, she was making applesauce, preserves, candles, and soaps. She does not appear to have traveled far from her home, but she made frequent trips to neighboring Holden and Worcester, Massachusetts. By the 1850s, she was taking the “express cars” on the railroad between Worcester and Boston.
Although White lacked the right to vote, she closely followed local politics. In all three volumes of her journal, she noted that she attended town meetings where the community voted for the governor, lieutenant governor, and representatives and senators that would represent them in the Massachusetts General Court. White recorded her disappointment in an entry for April 5, 1852, (Volume 3) when the town meeting failed to vote for a select school.
Sickness and death were frequent visitors to White’s community and often appeared in her journals. After noting that someone had died, White commemorated their passing with a prayer on the fragility of life and a meditation on her own sins. After recording the death of Mr. Harris’s son on February 24, 1805 (Volume 1), White prayed “Lord as thou art continually Admonishing me of the uncertainty of life give me grace improve it well.” During a bout of influenza in February 1855 (Volume 3), one of White’s children took over making daily entries in her journal for several weeks.
White was a deeply religious woman and a member of Boylston’s Congregationalist church. She attended meetings several times a week and recorded the themes of sermons preached. She frequently advocated “pure religion” and remained with the more conservative wing of her church when a liberal wing split off to form a Unitarian congregation. When the conservative pastor of her church, Reverend Samuel Russell, was accused of slander in 1830, White went to Worcester to attend the trial and testify on his behalf. She chronicled his futile efforts to keep the church together and noted when he requested dismission. White was involved in many societies associated with her church. She was a founding member of the Boylston Female Society for the Aid of Foreign Missions and attended Sabbath School and bible class meetings. She was also a member of the Boylston Maternal Society, which advocated for the proper upbringing and Christian education of local children.
White’s evangelical faith led her into other reform movements. She was attending temperance meetings in the community as early as 1830 (Volume 2). In 1832, the pastor of her church advocated for total abstinence from alcohol, leading some parishioners who were fond of drinking to seek another congregation. White continued to attend temperance meetings into the 1850s, noting in April 1853 (Volume 3) that her pastor advocated total abstention from tobacco as well as alcohol.
White also became a fierce proponent of the antislavery movement by the early 1830s. She attended an antislavery lecture on April 30, 1835 and in her journal asked that “the Lord soon prepare the way for the Emancipation of the Slaves.” She helped found the antislavery society in Boylston in 1836, although she received some pushback from the local community. Volume 3 shows that she continued her abolitionist efforts into the 1850s. In June 1852 she noted that her sewing circle met and read some of Stowe’sUncle Tom’s Cabin. On August 3, 1854, she donated a dollar to the cause of aiding fugitive slaves.
Volume 1 of White’s journal is folded and loosely handsewn with paper covers. The front cover is mostly missing. The journal begins on the inside of the front cover. It has 82 leaves of unlined paper, most of which feature handwritten text in black ink. There are 7 blank leaves at the end of the volume. The leaves are cut to slightly different sizes throughout.
Volume 2 is bound with brown leather over boards and retains traces of a border around the front and back covers. On the front cover there is a red leather label that reads “MARY WHITE” in gilt-stamped letters with a gold tooled border. The spine has a red leather label that reads “DIARY 1827 to 1835.” There is also a paper label on the spine that reads “Journal/of/Mary A. White/2 Sept 1827/31 Dec 1835.” The spine features several gilt decorations. There are plain paper pastedowns inside the front and back covers. The volume has 207 leaves of unlined paper with handwritten text in black ink.
Volume 3 of the journal is bound with marbled paper over boards. The spine reads “RECORDS” in gilt-stamped lettering. The pastedowns and flyleaves are also marbled paper. At the upper left-hand corner of the inside of the front cover there is a stationer’s ticket that reads “Manufactured By/John Marsh/No. 77 Washington St./Joy’s Building/Boston.” This volume has 123 leaves of faintly-lined blue paper with handwritten text in black ink. There is a letter between leaves 50 and 51 dated “Boylston March 25, 1849” and addressed “My Dear Son” in Mary Avery White’s handwriting. The back of the letter features a recipe for the treatment of cholera.
Item 0084: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0097
Processed and encoded by Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger, January 2017.
- Abolitionists--Massachusetts--History--19th century
- Antislavery movements--United States--History--19th century
- Women--United States--Diaries
- Climatology--Observations--History--19th century
- Temperance--United States--History--19th century
- Congregational churches--Massachusetts--History--19th century
- University of Delaware Library Special Collections
- Finding Aid Author
- University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
- Finding Aid Date
- 2017 January 9
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