Diaries. Diary



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Diaries. Diary

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Gertrude M. Cairns. Papers, 1845-1958.

  • US ARC River Falls Mss I
  • collection
  • 1845-1958

Family papers of Cairns, a resident of Ellsworth, Wisconsin. The bulk of the collection comprises Miss Cairns' diaries complete from 1903 through 1936, with fragments of a few earlier volumes; her precise records of weather conditions and her observations of birds, wild flowers, and garden plants; and the records, 1915-1956, of the Ellsworth Pioneer School Girls' Club, of which she served as secretary-treasurer and unofficial historian for many years. Her diaries chronicle not only her personal activities but also social and cultural life in Pierce County, Wis. Also present are notes taken by Cairns while a University of Wisconsin student enrolled in Frederick Jackson Turner's courses.
Papers of other members of the Cairns family are also in the collection. From 1845 to 1890 the correspondence is largely that of Miss Cairns' father, George W. Cairns, who came to Dane County, Wis., from New York State in 1849 and moved to Pierce County in 1853. Cairns had a variety of business and civic interests, serving at times as schoolteacher, clerk of the River Falls Academy, hotel keeper, and land agent. In county government he served as town clerk of Middleton in Dane County, and as justice of the peace, deputy clerk of the district court, and register of deeds in Pierce County. These activities are reflected in his correspondence, in fragmentary legal and governmental records relating to Middleton, 1852, and to Pierce County, 1855-1873, and in minutes of meetings he kept for the Middleton Lyceum in 1847, the River Falls Lyceum in 1855-56, and the River Falls Academy in 1858.
Among the family letters are several, 1850-52, written by George W.'s brother, A.W. Cairns, describing experiences in Panama and California as a participant in the California gold rush. From the mid-1880's to 1891 there are numerous letters to and from the Cairns children, William, Rollo, and Gertrude, while they attended high school at River Falls and the University at Madison. Diaries, 1855-1861, appear to have been written by Abbie S. Leavitt, who married George W. Cairns in 1866. A native of Maine, she came to Wisconsin in 1857, and in her diary she described her journey from New England, across northern Illinois, and up the Mississippi River to Prescott, where she resumed her teaching career begun in the East.