West family diaries

Collection 4546

(0.4 Linear feet ; 1 box (containing 22 volumes))

Summary Information

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
West family diaries
0.4 Linear feet ; 1 box (containing 22 volumes)
Finding aid prepared by Randi M. Kamine.
This collection consists of twenty-two diaries written by George W. West and his two daughters Lillian, (Lilyan, also Lily and “Sit”), the older of the two, and Mary Jane (Mamie, also Mayme). They span the years 1895 to 1919. George West was a dairy farmer in Ridley Heights, Chester County, Pennsylvania. His business was successful, and he and his family lived a comfortable middle-class life. A brief handwritten genealogy in the collection states that George West was married to Mary McCain. Their daughter, Lillian West, married John MacWatters in 1906, and he dies a few years later in 1911. Left a widow with children, she moved into the family home. Younger daughter Mary Jane (Mayme) West married Thomas Cochran in 1911. Her son David West Cochrane was born December 6, 1914. Another son was born shortly after. The West family went to Atlantic City or Cape May every summer when the girls were children. The earliest diary in the collection was kept by George (1890, 1895) and then picked up by Lillian in 1897. There are nine additional volumes for Lillian (1897-1902) and twelve for Mary Jane (1902-1904, 1906-1910, 1917, 1919). Most of the volumes are composition books. The girls wrote full entries detailing their activities and often pasted in newspaper clippings about the family.

Preferred citation

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], West family diaries (Collection 4546), Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Return to Table of Contents »

Administrative Information

Publication Information

 Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2023.

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Access restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Gift of Margaret Buchholz, 2004.

Accession number 2004.029.

Processing note

Volume 1 shows signs of mold and may be moldy. The collection has not been cleaned for mold, so people with heightened allergies may wish to use gloves or masks when accessing the collection.

Return to Table of Contents »

Controlled Access Headings


  • Diaries.

Geographic Name(s)

  • Pennsylvania--Social life and customs.

Personal Name(s)

  • Buchholz, Margaret.


  • Atlantic City (N.J.)
  • Cape May County (N.J.)
  • Children's diaries, American.
  • Diaries--20th century.

Return to Table of Contents »

Collection Inventory

Box Volume

George W. West and Lillian (Lily) West diary January 1895-July 1897 

Scope and content note

This diary was begun by George W. West. Lillian West took over the writing of the diary in January 1897. The section of the diary written by George West describes domestic as well as business issues. George’s narratives give a view of farm life in the late 19th century. West mentions buying items such as oats ($4.00), manure ($2.00), eggs by the crate ($5.70), and a "Sulkey Harrow" (plough $5.50). He worked his farm himself with some help, performing various tasks like “cutting wood and sorting potatoes all day.” George also recorded the weather daily , and he also kept track of sick family members and acquaintances, most notably during the winter. Frequent churchgoers, the family attended Episcopalian and Presbyterian events, and the children attended Sunday school.

1 1

Return to Table of Contents »

Lillian (Lily) West diaries 1897-1900 

Scope and content note

Lillian’s diaries cover details her everyday life. Her entries are light in tone and entertaining. Her earliest diaries (Volumes 2-3) reflect a carefree childhood. Other than sewing and shopping for her mother, Lily had little responsibility. She played the violin and the organ at neighbors’ homes and at church. She had many friends and was not shy about praising or criticizing them. A Christmastime entry in 1897 contains a list of presents she received, in which she noted: a silk umbrella, $12.00 in cash, sterling scissors and pencil, a black dress shirt, monogrammed paper, a book of poems, and drawings from New York. Lily also pasted newspaper clippings of various social events in some of her diaries. One mentions a party, complete with food and fireworks, for the "Credenta Club" that was held at Lily’s home on the fourth of July in 1899. Lily's eventual husband, John MacWatters, is also mentioned in the diaries, but they contain few details about him, and they all predate their 1906 marriage.

1 2-10

Return to Table of Contents »

Mary Jane (Mayme) diaries 1902-1919 

Scope and content note

Mary Jane (Mayme) J. West started her diaries in this collection when she was seventeen in 1902. Her last diary diary dates to 1919, and there is one undated diary attributed to her.

The first few diaries (Volumes 11-15) find her playing croquet, visiting with friends having pony cart rides, and keeping busy with other amusements, such as keeping track of weddings she attended. The family regualrly spent a month in August in Atlantic City, new Jersey. Various short news clippings indicate that they occasionally stayed at the resort's “fashionable” Hotel Rexford. A clipping in her 1902 diary (Volume 11) discusses her father's farm.

In 1906 (Volume 16), when Mayme was twenty-one years old, she made the first mention of her future husband, Thomas “TC” Cochrane, and he made regular appearances in her writing throughout. They married in April 1911, though there is no mention of the wedding in the volume that covers that year (Volume 18), from which a number of pages were torn out.

Mayme's diary writing became more mature as she grew older. She noted hobbies such as playing cards and quilted, and various outings, such as shopping "all day." She also attended lectures at the “Y" (esepcially noting one on Eugenics). In 1914 Mayme had a son, David, she describes the trials and tribulations of being a mother (Volume 18). She eventually had a second child named George.

The last of Mayme's dated diaries in the collection ends somberly. Throughout the diaries, especially the later ones, Mary complains of being very tired, often “dead tired.” In 1919 Mary’s complaints become more specifically about her “bowels” (Volume 21). She noted having a procedure, the details of which are vague, and subsequently learning that that she had cancer. In her final dated enter of April 22, 1919, she says she is feeling “better some," despite having felt "absolutely rotten” the day before.

1 11-22

Return to Table of Contents »