[This is the diary that my grandmother Miriam Florence Best Churchyard kept while she attended Mankato State Normal School (i.e. teachers' college), now Mankato State University, in 1911-1913. It provides a vivid picture of student boarding-house social life in that period, including quantities of doggerel poetry written for various events. It also reveals how mild flirtations and not-necessarily-serious courtships were conducted in the days before the one-couple "date" was really a recognized social custom (frequently, the gentleman "escorted" the lady home from a group event). She was not a voluminous or always very introspective diarist, so that not all the diary entries are of equal interest -- but when she does discuss her hopes and feelings she is very frank and honest. Feminists will probably especially enjoy the mock wedding ceremony, in which a group of unmarried young women work out their anxieties about the institution of marriage (and men) through parody.
26 July 1994 569 E1
The document which follows is the diary which my mother, Miriam Florence Best, kept during her college days. It starts with a formal, high-toned, declaration. But many of the entries which follow show a real sense of humor and keen observation -- often at her own expense. In this introduction I hope to present some background which will make the diary more enjoyable.
Miriam Best was born 28 May 1892 in Farmington, Minnesota. She grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from East High School there in 1910. Her course of study included Latin, art, history, and home economics. Some of her written assignments on art and history are still preserved. Her needlework samplers demonstrate the skill which later led to many blue ribbons at the Cochise County Fair.
Her family attended the Congregational Church. She was at one time president of the Christian Endeavor young people's group. [An image of some Christian Endeavor emblems is available.] The precepts of the Church caused her some discomfort in attending concerts and plays, as she several times notes [1st, 2nd]. She only reluctantly learned to play a game of cards when it was unavoidable. And thought that she had committed an unforgivable sin in learning to dance (though she didn't "feel badly" about it).
She loved music. In high school she was active in the girls' Glee Club. She sang in the choir and gave solo performances in the Church. In addition she was a good pianist. Many entries note musical activities. And at that time enjoying music meant singing or playing an instrument -- there is no mention of a gramophone or such device. For example, Thanksgiving Day, 1912, she mentions spending hours and hours at the piano with a friend.
She also enjoyed plays, both to act in and to attend. This was somewhat vocationally related, since children's dramas were part of the educational practice. Indeed, all through her life, she was deeply involved in children's theatrical productions.
Her sense of humor is manifest in many entries. She laughs at her cleaning the ice for following skaters and falling down stairs in January and May of 1913. And she notes when "a girl fainted but revived slowly after the young dentist held her in his arms awhile." The sliding entrance of young Bob Cooper, son of the College president, into his paternal home, in February 1913 provided much mirth.
Her family was not wealthy: how did she pay for the two years of college recorded here?
She took the year following high school graduation to work and earn money for her college expenses. One summer job was that of taking pictures of people at Minnehaha Park. Many people did not own a camera, but they would buy pictures taken of them in such scenic surroundings. A co-worker in this business was Ira Nolte, who will be discussed more later. Some of the money she borrowed from her father. She repayed this while she taught school, first in Jackson, MN, and then later in Oakland, CA. When she was clear of this debt she was free to marry.
The school which she attended was then called Mankato Normal School. It had a choice of 1, 2, or 3 year courses of studies in teacher preparation. Apparently it was housed in a single building. She enrolled in the 2 year course in September 1911. Why she chose Mankato when she lived within walking distance of the University of Minnesota I don't know. Probably one strong point was that it had good rail connections with Minneapolis.
The school had no student quarters, so she lived in boarding houses. Many of the other boarders were students at the Normal. But some were high school students who had exhausted the educational opportunities near their homes and were attending the city high school.
Boarding house food is eternally notorious for its quality, and many of the entries mention delicacies enjoyed elsewhere. A group of the girls called themselves the "Invincible Eaters." And on one occasion she expressed surprise that they managed to survive two "spreads" in a row. Hot "choclate" was an especial delight on many a cold Minnesota night.
She was elected president of her senior class and took part in the receiving line at the graduation banquet and reception. She was also president of the kindergarteners' sorority KKX. And, of course, many of the entries note her duties and some complaints received in the conduct of these offices.
The first entry describes a boarding house Christmas party from 1911. Then successive entries note the school activities through May 1912. A camping party in late August was the highlight of the summer -- complete with snakes and a mock wedding ceremony. She returned to Mankato in September 1912 for her final year of school, as both class and sorority president.
The final regular entry was for August 2, 1913, when she received her diploma. Apparently she was deficient one class which she took at the University of Minnesota in the summer.
She never again kept such a diary of her life experiences, so far as I know. She contributed many articles of children's literature and drama. She wrote a narrative and illustrated it with photos of a trip along the Apache Trail between Phoenix and Globe in the early days. She had an article published on her experiences in the "back to the land" movement during the Depression. But she never again kept such a personal day by day document.
The computer transcription of this is only an approximation to the original. She pasted in newspaper clippings: these are indented [HTML version: put in <blockquote> element -- H.C.]. Other items were pasted in: musical programs, playbills, etc. In particular, a little autograph booklet with a birch bark cover was pasted in. Indentation does not do justice to these inserts, but hopefully it does delineate her handwritten entries from this other material.
The diary was a vital expression of the moment -- she did not go back and correct it. So there are obvious problems. One could speculate on how to repair these problems, but I feel it is best to present the original as it is and without such conjectural corrections. So, misspellings (including some on the playbills) and other errors are carried through for the reader to grapple with. But I do wish she had named her visitor of January 27, 1913! She, as did many at that time, used the Chicago Tribune's simplified phonetic spellings for through and though - thru and tho.
And now to introduce the supposed prime topic of every young woman's diary -- MEN!
She had been in love with Ira Nolte, her colleague in park photography business, but somehow he changed, and she could not love the new person. He is mentioned in several of the entries, the most poignant being of June 28, 1912, when they were in a W.C.T.U. medal contest.
She had a crush on Roscoe Raub who figures in her first school year's entries. He took a position in Jackson, MN. And her first teaching position was there also. The diary has a mention of her daydreams on that subject.
The last dated entry in the diary, almost a year after the previous one, tells of her rejection of a proposal of marriage from Duane Goodner. He was an old friend, but she at time was in love with "John" (Jonasco?), but was not loved in turn.
Then a final, undated, entry tells of a diffident proposal by Harry, "straight and pure and clean" which she decided to reject also and then later changed her mind. Their love proved true despite her moving to Oakland, CA, and his moving to Raymondville, TX. He established himself in Douglas, AZ, and she joined him there. They were married on Christmas Day, 1916. Together they worked the future out thereafter.
[The HTML version of the diary has been split into three conveniently-sized pieces:]
[In the detailed table of contents below, I have added comments to some of the items, more or less arbitrarily picking out some details that happened to strike me personally.
"The bird doth sing alway
of thee day by day
and thou art sweet and young
'tis sad thou hast but one lung"]
"One drunken, besotted specimen of humanity cursed me and one fresh young man tried to flatter me on my good looks but otherwise my experiences were interesting and typical of life"
Little Nancy Etticoat
With a white petticoat
And a red nose;
She has no feet or hands,
The longer she stands
The shorter she grows
[This info is taken from my father's general family history. -- H.C]
Nelson Best, the son of John Best, Jr. and his wife, née Cornelia Best, was born in old Schoharie County, New York, on 24 June 1852 (Ref. 1). Both of his parents died while he was quite young and he was probably reared by his sister Miriam Best. He married Carrie Isabella McCluskey in Farmington, Minnesota, on 18 June 1891 (Ref. 3). He was employed as a salesman. At one time he sold soap. He sold windmills for a time: a gold lapel pin or brooch of a windmill dates from this period. Windmills were a very necessary appliance in the settling of the western plains. Thereafter he worked as a painter. He left Minnesota about 1920 to reside in Arizona. He died in Phoenix, Arizona, on 17 July 1933 and is buried in Greenwood Memorial Park in Phoenix.
Carrie Isabella McCluskey was a daughter of Thomas McCluskey and Hannah Bailey. She was born 5 August 1866 at Cottage Grove, Minnesota. She died 21 April 1939 in her residence at 1008 18th Avenue S. E. in Minneapolis. She is buried in Farmington, Minnesota.
This couple first lived in Farmington, Minnesota, where their elder daughter was born. Then they lived at 3124 Blaisdell Avenue South in Minneapolis. After 1908 they moved to 1030 16th Avenue South East, a few blocks away from the University of Minnesota. In 1920 she and her mother moved to 1008 18th Avenue S.E., and both of them died there. Carrie Best was fond of saying that she was of pure Scots ancestry, but since her mother's family is known to have lived in Ireland for several generations, this can not be proven.
Miriam Florence Best, the daughter of Nelson Best and Carrie Isabella McCluskey, was born in Farmington, Minnesota, on 28 May 1892. Her family moved to Minneapolis in her youth and she graduated from East High School in 1910. She matriculated 5 September 1911 in what is now Mankato State Teachers College, Mankato, Minnesota, for a two year course in elementary education. She graduated on 30 July 1913 and obtained a position in Jackson, Minnesota. She taught there for two years, and then accepted a position in the Oakland, California, school system. She married Harry Ludwig Churchyard in the Grace Episcopal Church in Douglas, Arizona on 25 December 1916. After marriage she taught in the Douglas schools and for many years was a drama coach for various juvenile and adult groups. She contributed several articles on the educational benefits of dramatics in the early grades. During the stay in the Vekol Valley she was the local newspaper correspondent. She died 23 July 1939 after a long siege of leukemia.
Harry Ludwig Churchyard, the son of Fred Churchyard and Clara Anna Nohl, was born in Fairmont, Minnesota, on 11 January 1893. He attended school through the eighth grade in a multiple-grade school house near his farm home. Because of his father's auto livery business, he had an early exposure to the care of the automobile.
In 1914 he accepted a position as a mechanic in a garage at Jackson, Minnesota. There he met Miriam Florence Best, a school teacher and his future wife. In the next year he accepted a position at the Ford agency in Brownsville, Texas, and in 1916 moved to Douglas, Arizona, in a similar position.
For twelve years he was employed by the Ford agency. Then he established his own business, but this was swept away by the depression. Following the national cry of "back to the land," they homesteaded in the Vekol Valley near Casa Grande, Arizona. This bleak and forbidding land did not offer the chance of profitable agricultural operations, so they moved back to Douglas in 1933. There they owned their home at 1424 13th Street on the (then) east edge of town. He worked in various commercial automotive garages until 1942 when he accepted a position with the State Highway Department maintenance garage, from which he retired.
Although he received only an average education, constant and extensive reading provided him with a well rounded background. Camping, hunting, and fishing were among his chief recreations. Marksmanship with rifle, gun, and pistol was also pursued. He died at the home of his daughter, Miriam B. Gundry, on 25 January 1974.
The following is taken from the Douglas Daily Dispatch edition of 25 July 1939:
Died on Sunday
Funeral services were conducted yesterday afternoon at 2 in the Presbyterian church for Mrs. Miriam Best Churchyard, aged 47 years, who died early Sunday morning after an illness of considerable length. Rev. H. A. Melville, pastor of the Presbyterian church, was in charge of the services. Burial was in Calvary cemetery and the bearers were H. G. Watson, Frank W. Fish, Ben Davis, Pat Calvert, Al Joss and Wendell A. Jones.
Mrs. Churchyard was born at Farmington, Minn., May 28, 1892, and was educated in her native state, being trained for a kindergarten teacher in Minneapolis. She then went to Oakland, Calif., where she was employed as a teacher until she came to Douglas to marry Harry L. Churchyard, whom she had known in their native state, Minnesota. The marriage ceremony was conducted by the late Rev. Edward W. Simonsen, rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal church.
Four children and the husband survive the deceased, the children being Fred, aged 17; Miriam, 15; Ada Ruth, 11; and Jimmie, 4. There is also a surviving sister, Mrs. O. S. Powell, of Minneapolis, Minn.
Mrs. Churchyard was a member of the Presbyterian church and always took an active part in the Sunday school and mission work. She had served as superintendent of the Sunday school.
The deceased took an active interest in dramatics and voice culture, being a teacher of speech art. She took a great interest in children's work and for two years, in the early period of the depression, she had charge of the girl's playground at the Fifteenth street park. She held keen interest on the part of the girls through story-telling and by presentation of small playlets suited to staging in the outdoors.
Due to her fine interest in the Christmas home decorations and through her guidance, entries of her children captured some of the prize money in the last three or four years, being decorations of outstanding merit.
At the funeral services yesterday, notwithstanding the death had occurred at a time which precluded a published notice of the fact, there was a large attendance of friends and neighbors, attesting the good esteem in which she had lived, and the casket rested amidst a great array of florals.