Matilda Baker diary

Biographical and Historical Notes

Matilda Baker was born in Pennsylvania on September 30, 1822. By 1857, the year she began her diary, she lived with Isabella Agnew on Walnut Street in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 1860 and 1870 federal censuses show Baker living with Agnew in Philadelphia, along with Mary A. McGraw, likely the “Mary Ann” mentioned in her diary.

Baker died on December 15, 1894, and was buried at Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia. At the time of her death, she still resided on Walnut Street.

Sources

Huston, James L. The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999.

The Great Comet, Rapidly Approaching, Will It Strike the Earth?. London: James Gilbert, 1857.

McElroy’s Philadelphia Directory for 1857. Philadelphia: Edward C. & John Biddle, 1857.

38th United States Congress, Session II, “An Act to Provide Ways and Means for the Support of the Government,” March 3, 1865 (accessed on November 1, 2016) http://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/38th-congress/session-2/c38s2ch77.pdf

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915 (accessed via. Ancestry.com on October 27, 2016)

1860 Federal Census (accessed via Ancestry.com on October 27, 2016)

1870 Federal Census (accessed via Ancestry.com on October 27, 2016)

“The Woodlands—History” (accessed November 1, 2016) http://woodlandsphila.org/history/

Information derived from the collection.

Scope and Contents

Matilda Baker of West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, kept this diary between May 1857 and March 1858, recording information about social visits, her work habits, and events taking place in Philadelphia. She also recorded information about railroad shares, bonds, and other financial investments held by herself and other women from 1854 to 1880.

Baker kept her diary between May 23, 1857, and March 21, 1858. She made entries daily apart from two gaps in August and September 1857 and January and February 1858. At the time of the diary’s creation, Baker resided with “Miss Agnew” and “Mary Ann” in West Philadelphia. She frequently visited the city to see friends and family, shop, and withdraw funds from the bank. Baker did a variety of work in the household, including washing, ironing, and working in the garden. However, she devoted most of her time to sewing garments for herself and other women. When a local woman demanded she alter a garment while she was dressing dolls for her mother, Baker observed that she seemed “wedded to the Thread & needle.”

In addition to routine occurrences, Baker also recorded several singular events. She noted that her singing school ended for the season on June 13, 1857, “which was the day that the comet was to strike the earth and destroy it.” This prediction had gained some traction in Europe, but did not seem to concern Baker. Following a gap in her diary, on September 26, 1857, she observed a “number of People on the streets making a rush on the Banks which have suspended specie payment.” Here, Baker witnessed the early effects of the Panic of 1857. Baker and Agnew attempted to withdraw funds from the bank on several occasions during the next month, but were unable to get any money. Her pastor preached a sermon in which he made “God the Author of all our financial difficulties under which we are laboring just now—as a chastisement.” However, Baker concluded that it was “a wickedness in man a love of gold in some and our covetous dispositions for which [we] must suffer.”

In addition to her diary, Baker used this volume to record her financial investments. Between 1854 and 1880, Baker held stock in the Pennsylvania Railroad; the Philadelphia, Germantown, & Norristown Railroad; the Minehill & Schuylkill Railroad; and the Harrisburg Railroad. She also held several treasury notes and Pennsylvania scrip certificates. Baker held stock and bond certificates for several other women, including Margaret Reid, Martha A. Whyte, and Isabella Agnew. The volume also contains a loose receipt for a piano that Baker purchased.

This volume has marbled paper covers and a detached spine. The edges of the book block are also marbled. The signatures are loosely sewn in. The volume contains white paper with horizontal blue lines. Some of the leaves also have vertical red lines that create columns, probably for account-keeping. The text is handwritten in black ink and pencil. The first several pages of the volume have tabs for an alphabetical index, but the page for “AB” is missing, suggesting it was torn out. Baked used the tab for “EF” to record the deaths of family members and “RS,” “TV,” and “WXYZ” to list railroad stock certificates and scrip she held. The volume contains 138 leaves, 50 of which have text.