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Historic Diaries: Emily Quiner, 1863

Sept. 27, 1863: Emily's Final Diary Entry

Editor's Note:

This very long entry (somewhat condensed here) speaks for itself. It occupies the final four pages in the manuscript diary, and we do not know if Emily ever started another. She continued attending classes and was among the first women to earn a degree at the University of Wisconsin. In 1869 she moved to Chicago to teach in the city's public schools. A decade later, she started life over again in Denver, Colorado, where she taught for another 25 years. She died at her sister's home in Chicago in 1919. Little more is known about her.


Emily's journal came to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1956 from John Temple Simpson of Houston, Texas. Its previous history is not known. It has often been cited by historians because Emily was a careful observer and a thoughtful writer. This online edition and its notes were prepared by Andrea Rottmann, a graduate intern from Berlin, Germany, as part of her work at the Wisconsin Historical Society during the summer of 2009.


View Emily's entire diary at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.


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[...] When I came home at noon, Nellie met me at the gate telling me that Pa had received our transportation papers. I was very glad to hear it at first, and went to work immediately to get my trunk packed ready to start. Pa was very unwilling that I should go, however, and after getting my things all ready and the time nearly at hand to start, I yielded to the persuasions of my friends and concluded to remain at home. Pa wants me to write for him on his history, and though it is very hard for me to give up going when I have thought and planned so much about it. I do not know but my duty lies in this direction. I could not go away to be gone so long, possibly never to return, and leave much hard feelings, so I felt he would have behind me. I went down at about nine o'clock in the evening after I had decided not to go, to tell the girls of my determination. Fannie & Ma went with me, we met them a little way from home, and went back with them. Fannie & Lou went to see if Miss Boardman would go in my place, she willingly consented, and said she would be ready at the time. Saw the girls finish packing, get ready and start in the omnibus for the depot. I felt so badly all the time that I could hardly keep the tears back and when they were really gone it seemed as if I could not bear it.


I cried all the way home and I would have given worlds almost to have been with them. I did not sleep much that night. It seemed as though I had almost committed a crime in not going. I shall never forgive myself, if it should prove that I was needed there, for not going. I am so miserable about it, I have always longed so much to be able to do something in this great struggle for the life of the nation and now that an opportunity offers, I have thrown it away. Yet God knows it was not for myself, I would willingly bear any amount of inconvenience or hardship knowing that it was in a good cause, and that it was worthy some pangs caused by this war, and I never knew so much real happiness in my life as I have experienced in the few weeks which I spent by the bedsides and ministering to the wants of the sick and dying in the Hospital. It is being deprived of this happiness, perhaps more than anything else, and the feeling that I was at last able to do something of actual good to my fellow men, that made the disappointment so keen, and now thinking of it when it is past and impossible for me to go it seems as though I could not bear it.


There is another thing which also adds to my sorrow which I must record in you faithful old friend, as being a part of my life and which I may wish to remember in the future, that is that the old sorrow pressing so sorely on my spirit for so long a time, seemed almost light when I was away, my mind being so fully occupied, and my sympathies so fully excited for others, I had little time or opportunity to think of myself. At home now in the comparative quiet of the life I lead, it comes back upon me with all the old pain and like the opening of an old wound, bleeds afresh. This more than any thing else makes me sad and heartsick now, and I think of it and of my disappointment so much that it seems sometimes as if I should go mad. I cannot help thinking of it, and tonight I believe I can say truly is the most miserable of my life. I am sad when I think that the last page of my journal should be made to chronicle such a fact.


It is time soon I shall bid you adieu, faithful friend, after having gone in your company for nearly two years and a half, laying you away among the relics of my dead past, no more to look upon your pages, save as reminders of what I have been as chronicled in you and what I shall be no more forever. Thirty months seems a short time, looking back upon them, but when I think of what I was then and what I have been in them and what I am now, they are not to be counted by days or months. God has prospered us greatly in these months. His blessings have not been few nor small, and although looking back on myself at that time I see a lighter heart, a more youthful face, lit with far more hope for the future and joy for the person then it would be possible to find in the one now bending over these pages, yet I am sure that were it possible I would not exchange the one for the other.


The discipline which contact with the world, rough though it may be, together with that chastening of the heart which sorrow gives, has I hope not been lost upon me, and now writing these last words of my life record as far as this book is concerned, I feel that if a sadder, I am also a wiser woman than when I began [...] Farewell my journal, thou hast chronicled many pleasant times, thou bearest on the pages the names of many friends dear to me in the past. Keep them sacredly. I give thee them in trust.

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