The 1846-1888 Diaries of Patty Bartlett Sessions

Patty Bartlett Sessions 001

From the Foreword by Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and the Preface:                          Reading the diary of a woman is like visiting across the back fence on a summer afternoon.  While your wash dries on the line, and her garden awaits the seeds she is planting, you chat about the things that matter to each of you: your new carpet, her problem with the car, her daughter who is about to marry, your son who seems unable to find directions in his life, the neighbor whose husband recently died, and whether or not the town council will fix the potholes in the road this spring.  Of just such topics is a woman’s life filled; of such things she writes in her diary.  The events and circumstances, the concerns and achievements of a woman’s life are as worthy the attention of historians as are the doings of governments and corporations, generall the domain of men.  Public and private and male and female worlds overlap, but as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich observed in the introduction to her Pulitzer Prize study, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, there are areas of both which have not in the past been deemed of interest–the details of the day to day activities of men and women, for example, but especially the domestic affairs of women.  And, as Ulrich noted, “it is in the very dailiness, the exhaustive, repetitious dailiness, that the real power of Martha Ballard’s book lies.”

Patty Bartlett Session’s original diaries are in the LDS Church Archives in one archival box with five folders.  Each folder contains one or more of her well-worn and fading diaries and a small book filled with her accounts.  A sixth folder holds a few other notes and scraps on which she wrote notes.

She wrote with a pen dipped in handmade ink on then-scarce paper and for the most part, filled every fraction of every page.  The first small leather diary, was given to her by her daughter Sylvia at the beginning of the February exodus from Nauvoo.  The second is homemade, sewn together with broken thread and held together with a very long straight pin.  Many of the diaries that have been preserved are homemade.

Patty was 51 when her surviving diaries begin in 1846.  These diaries span four decades.  They are a treasure describing every day frontier life in the Salt Lake Valley.  I am interested in what she recorded and did because my 3rd Great Grandma, Elizabeth Degen Bushman was also a midwife at that same time in the near-by town of Lehi.  It thrills me to find records like these kept and preserved.  I get the feeling Patty understood the value of keeping records.  I hope to be like her, filling every fraction of every page with words that someday may speak to my posterity.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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