Travel diaries have long been a popular form of self-expression, and can provide us with unique perspectives on cities in the past. The New-York Historical Society holds a number of these diaries within our manuscript collections, with several dating back to the 18th century. Mabel Newton Betticher is one diarist whose collection exists in our holdings. Between the years of 1903 and 1948, she maintained 56 travel diaries which she titled “Her Own Trip Book.”
Born on June 3, 1878, Mabel Newton Betticher was a school teacher in East Orange, New Jersey. Throughout her adulthood, she wrote a number of personal diaries and poetry books that reflected her religious beliefs, her love of nature, and her travels. A bulk of the diaries reflects her spiritual journey, making note of the sermons she attended and the Christian holidays she observed. Her earliest journals cover the journeys she made around New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. A frequent visitor to New York City, her collections of writings and ephemera take the researcher to the city of the early 20th century.
Betticher filled her diaries with hand-drawn maps, photographs, postcards, and pamphlets that she collected over the years. While some of the entries describe what she did during the trip, many are detailed notes about the buildings she saw and the historical sites she visited. These are typically accompanied by transcriptions of monuments and plaques she saw around the country including Harvard Square, Lexington and Concord, Morristown, Princeton, and New York City.
She was also an admirer of flowers and birds, having been taught to identify breeds of bird by a priest. Betticher eventually published a book titled Certain Birds of the Oranges in 1921. She enjoyed listing the birds she saw, both in nature and on her property. Nature and religion inspired her poetry, and she wrote a number of volumes of unpublished poems. Several of these poems are referenced in her diaries and connect to the places she visited.
With most of the diaries still intact, the collection is a wonderful source for learning about the Mid-Atlantic States during the 20th century!
This post is by Erin Weinman, Manuscript Reference Librarian.