Texas Archival Resources Online


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Overview

Biographical Note

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Arrangement of the Diaries

Restrictions

Administrative Information

Description of Series

Series 1: January 1, 1857 - December 1, 1857.

Series 2: August 18, 1858 - December 8, 1858

Series 3: January 12, 1863 - September 12, 1863.

Series 4: January 1, 1864 - August 31, 1864, New Orleans, LA.

Texas Woman's University, the Woman's Collection

Clara Miller Dabney Diaries, 1857 - 1864

An Inventory to the Collection



Overview

Creator: Dabney, Clara Warrick Miller, 1845 - 1929.
Title: Clara Miller Dabney Diaries
Date: 1857 - 1864
Abstract: Self-reflective diaries of a New Orleans teenage girl focusing on her spiritual life and attempts to improve her moral character through recording her shortcomings written during the period of the Civil War.
Location: Mss. 847
Size: 4 volumes; handwritten.
Repository Texas Woman's University, the Woman's Collection

Biographical Note

Born in Kentucky, Clara and her family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, after her father contracted a fever and died. Clara lived with legal guardians for several years. After her marriage to James Dabney, she moved to Bonham, Texas.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

Written during her teenage years, the diaries serve as a confessional by which she seeks to improve her moral character through imploring God to give her the strength to overcome her sins. Daily life is described, but mainly as a way to assess her shortcomings. The diaries are not continuous, but the periods of time covered contain almost daily entries. An extensive trip to Quebec and the northeast United States with her guardians in vividly described in the 1858 diary. While the 1863 and 1864 diaries are written during the period of the Civil War, the war itself is not discussed. However, in the 1864 diary, after viewing a military display, she asks: “Heavenly Father, give me charity. Help me to love my enemies.” .

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Arrangement of the Diaries

Series 1: January 1, 1857-December 1, 1957
Series 2: August 18, 1858-December 8, 1858
Series 3: January 12, 1863-September 12, 1863
Series 4: January 1, 1864-August 31, 1864

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Restrictions

Access to Collection:

Researchers may access the Mamie Frances King Hansen Papers Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm in the Woman's Collection. The Woman's Collection is located on the second floor of the Blagg-Huey Library. All materials are viewed in the Catherine Merchant Reading Room, and photocopies are provided at the discretion of the Woman's Collection.

Publication and Copyright Statements:

Permission to publish materials must be obtained in writing from the Coordinator for Special Collections.

All responsibility for questions of copyright that may arise in copying, scanning, and use of material shall be assumed by the user.

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Administrative Information

Provenance

The diaries were kept in Clara Dabney’s family until her great-granddaughter, Carolyn Cauley Barry, donated them to the Woman’s Collection in 2008.

Processed by:

Ann Barton, 2007

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Detailed Description of the Collection

 

Series 1: January 1, 1857 - December 1, 1857.

The diary is a gift from her guardian who is only identified as “Pappy” and his wife, “Mammy.” Her own mother is in poor health most of the year and does not live in the same household as Clara who is now eleven. The purpose of keeping the journal appears to be to identify her shortcoming so that she will work to improve herself. She prays to God to help in her “struggle against my many faults and sins, and I beg that you will make me dutiful, kind, obedient, and keep me from every showing my temper.”
She recounts family get-togethers and plans to take music, Latin, and French lessons. They attend a black-face minstrel show, and she expresses surprise at seeing the performers back stage washing off their make-up. On April 18, she attends a Negro wedding but didn’t stay for dancing after the ceremony since “self denial is a great thing . . .”

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Series 2: August 18, 1858 - December 8, 1858

The diary begins on the steamer as Clara, Pappy, and Mammy are leaving Quebec. Clara recounts the unusual scenery on the river on going through the White Mountains. On August 20, she records how much she is looking forward to getting to Boston and hopefully a letter from her mother: “no one can imagine how very much I want to see her.” She saves plant specimens from the trip on the inside back cover of the diary.
In Boston, they stay at the Revere House where President Millard Fillmore and Miss Jennie Lind had stayed. She likes the people she meets and wants to be good “so that they will love me too, in return.” The journey continues through New England to Providence, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Harper’s Ferry, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville, Cairo, and Memphis. Clara worries that she is not being good enough and implores God to help her. After they return, her mother seems to be living at home.

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Series 3: January 12, 1863 - September 12, 1863.

Clara is now seventeen, and the tone of the entries becomes even more self-critical . She states: “the object of my life is to prepare for eternity and to assist others in their endeavors to do so.” Her faults include “want of confidence in Mother’s judgments.” She faithfully records whether she has gotten up in time for breakfast and whether she has gotten her mandatory five hours of piano practice in each day. She has apparently been criticized for talking too much and laughing during music lessons and asks for forgiveness. She also admonishes herself to not eat fat or fried foods. Forgiveness is asked for every attempt at light heartedness or spontaneity.
On February 15, she records: “I have tried to serve my God today. But I feel vile.” She begins during this period to copy some poems in French in the diary as well as the daily entries. On June 1, she explains she has been distraught over the death of “little Eugene” and hadn’t been writing in the diary: “In fact, I had almost forgotten how a journal assists me in the correction of faults until a grievous sin, committed yesterday afternoon, caused me to seek all means of escape (from the evils which so constantly beset me) in my power.” She also remarks that Pappy “left us 8 months ago.”

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Series 4: January 1, 1864 - August 31, 1864, New Orleans, LA.

Clara promises to start the New Year serving “My Heavenly Father” and elaborates that: “I have adopted the plan of keeping a journal because it seems the surest means of self examination.” Clara appears to be living at her grandmother’s, and her mother is living at the Jessup’s house. Clara is also corresponding with Pappy who is still away from the family.
The January 18 entry reports her mother arranges for her to live at a Mrs. Kernin’s during the week. Clara will help with the children for her board. She also lists more chores around the house that she performs such as tending the chickens and cleaning the lamps. Clara is still practicing the piano.
On January 24: “I feel very sad tonight. And I do not feel sure that I know the cause. My idea of it is that the troublous times convince me that this world cannot bestow happiness; and my sins separate between me and my God, the source of all true comfort.”
She often mentions her high regard for Mrs. Champlin whom she loves. On March 4 during a walk to Mrs. Norman’s, Clara observes: “I am sorry that I felt a great deal of indignation at the military display which every where met my gaze. Heavenly Father, give me charity. Help me to love my enemies.”
On March 15 she begins writing journal entries in French except on days when she is too emotionally upset by her behavior to express it in a foreign language such as May 1st when she hadn’t learned her Sunday School lesson before class and May 13 when she announces her decidsion to join the church.

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