Written Memories of Three Generations of Women (1915-1966)

Photograph of the Caley FamilyThe Caley Family Papers in Swem Library’s Special Collections consist of letters and diaries spanning almost seventy years and three generations of Caley female descendants.   From the 1940s through the 1960s , all three generations of women lived, with no male presence, under one roof or within close distance of one another in Sierra Madre, California.  The Caleys were  devoutly  religious, middle class white women who maintained extensive correspondence with numerous friends and family members. It appears as though none of them had employment outside the home during the last twenty to thirty years of life. They seem to have supported themselves with rental income and stock dividends.

The women did not comment on local, national or world events; the few exceptions being the Spanish Flu epidemic (1918-1920), national level elections (1952, 1960, 1964), the Kennedy assassination (1963) and Watts riots (1965).  Their entries and letters primarily show what occupied their days: cleaning, cooking, working, financial transactions, social activities, health concerns, deaths of family and friends and maintaining contact with distant family members. You can trace in the letters their proliferate spending and travel as well as the challenges of working as a female in Ohio through the 1920s followed by the frugalness of the 1930s at the onset of the Great Depression. The diaries reveal the conflicts and tensions between Nadine and her mother and aunt in the 1950s and 1960s. Nadine’s diary is especially personal in nature while Maybelle’s and Hilda’s entries track the day to day life of their existence. The diaries contain almost daily full page entries on the activities of the three women.  To give you an idea of the depth of information, Hilda has 8 diaries with 365 daily 5×8” pages of information.  This equals 2920 pages of information on how one of the widowed women in Sierra Madre spent her days between 1954-1966 and what she thought was important to note about her family’s activities.  Many of the letters and diaries cover the same time period so the researcher can discover what the individuals thought about the same situation within the family.  Hilda also kept many comments on which television shows she watched and what she liked (Ed Sullivan, Petticoat Junction, $64,000 Question).

Hilda Caley Noble's Diary Entry for July 12-13, 1965

Hilda Caley Noble’s Diary Entry for July 12-13, 1965

This collection provides a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in gender or women’s studies, the changing roles and perceptions of women between 1915 to the mid-1960s and how the different generations adjusted to these changes. The numerous letters from friends living around the United States provide insight into the issues the women thought were important.  The Caley Family Papers Finding Aid can be found at the embedded link or by searching for “Caley” at the homepage for Swem’s Special Collections Database.


Maybelle Caley Barker's Letters to Her Parents, 1920

Maybelle Caley Barker’s Letters to Her Parents, 1920

David L. Ward is a graduate student in the Department of History and a 2013-2014 Archives Apprentice in the Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library.

2 thoughts on “Written Memories of Three Generations of Women (1915-1966)

  1. Caley by Marriage, Maybell’s mom from Ohio, all the friends are actually sister and specially nieces including my grandmother, They diaries describe along with the many letters they kept the family histoty as Maybelle is a member of The Historical Society, even the trams, driver’s names, prices of food. The installation of sidewalks and phones, it also lets us know history of Ohio development. Maybelle married a cousin “Hawkins” from Ohio,the Caley house still stands and it is well preserved. My cousin and I had the pleasure to get copies of all diaries and letters.They has money, assets left by Mr. Caley. Nadine also married and had a son.

  2. This is fantastic! It’s great that every day life is just as important to research as the big events like the Kennedy Assassination and the Watts Riots.

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