Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20

Edited by

Edited by




A Young Woman in the Midwest:

The Journal of Mary Sears, 1859-1860





Born in Greenwich, Massachusetts on March 31, 1838, and trained as a music teacher,

Mary E. Sears was twenty years old in the winter of 1859 when she began keeping a

journal of her daily thoughts and activities while emigrating West to join family mem-

bers in Ohio and Illinois. During the following two years she recorded a multitude of

experiences which span both distance and social class: they range from her trials as a

rural schoolteacher in Rochester, Ohio, to a tornado in the newly settled railroad town

of Amboy, Illinois; from the gala social whirl of antebellum Columbus, where she

toured the Statehouse and heard a speech by the Honorable Stephen A. Douglas, to

daily routine in a mud-chinked log cabin in Pana, Illinois, where hogs ran free in the

streets. Accounts of soapmaking, lectures on abolitionsim and spiritualism, Republi-

can meetings, "sugar eats," and other mundane affairs of the last century also appear

in the journal.

Yet the small pleasures of Mary's life were eclipsed by hardship and sorrow. Victim

of a weak constitution and chronic illness which led to her death in Amboy at the age

of twenty-five, only two years after the last journal entry, Mary found little respite amid

the drudgery of frontier life. Repeatedly she endured the shock of losing close friends

and relatives. Rendered in pencilled jottings whose careless penmanship itself suggests

inner turmoil, her gripping accounts of death bed scenes lend credence to the startling

mortality statistics of the nineteenth century. Still, like the village church bell tolling

the departure of a loved one, a sense of resignation broods over Mary's highly charged

descriptions of spiritual crises-a resignation born of her deep faith in a God who "or-

dereth all things aright and doeth all things well." Interesting, well written, and in the

last analysis emotionally stirring, the journal of Mary Sears offers present day readers

insight into the struggles of a sensitive, introspective, and compassionate young woman

striving to come to grips with the hardship of life in the nineteenth century.

The history of the journal itself is incomplete, though it apparently devolved to

Lucius Sears, Mary's younger brother, following her death on May 8, 1863. Lucius

eventually settled in Lansing, Michigan, and it was in his home more than a century af-

ter Mary's last entry that the journal ultimately surfaced.

In its entirety the journal runs to a length of one hundred nineteen pages; for this



Mr. Jones is Assistant Professor of English at Texas Tech University, and Mr. Pickering is Professor of

English at Michigan State University. The journal is in the possession of Professor Jones.