“May I learn many valuable lessons this year”

New Year's postcards, early 20th century

New Year’s postcards, early 20th century

Like all Americans, Kentuckians throughout history have responded to the arrival of each new year with a range of activities and emotions.  Their varied expressions of hope, excitement or trepidation can be found in some of the collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library.

On January 1, 1861, 20-year-old Bowling Green native Josie Underwood wrote in her diary of the splendid New Year’s ball she had attended in Memphis, Tennessee.  The spell of the evening was broken only once when, “like Banquo’s ghost,” the spectre of Southern secession entered the conversation–then, wrote pro-Union Josie, “we were all off like horses in a race.”  A year later, with the Civil War raging, Josie’s entry for December 31, 1861 mourned “the last night of this sad and trying most eventful year of my life–and our country’s life.  God grant us Peace before another shall end!”

After the war, hope returned.  While staying with relatives in Indiana, 14-year-old Mary Elizabeth Cosby wrote to her father in Muhlenberg County of the commotion surrounding the 1866 New Year’s celebrations.  “I never in all of my life heard such rin[g]ing of bells and firing of guns as there was at twelve o’clock that night,” she reported; even the local waterworks blew its whistle.

Much later, in Bowling Green, Mackie Smith had two reasons to celebrate the dawn of the year 1900: January 1 marked both a new century and her 20th birthday.  To commemorate this fresh beginning, she set out her lofty aims in the pages of her new journal.  “Little book,” she inscribed, “into thy pages shall I pour my joys and griefs for this coming year.  Keep thou the secrets I shall impart to thee. . . . Oh may I learn many valuable lessons this year. . . . Oh may the resolves and resolutions I make ever form a bright picture oh may it not fade and grow dim, but live and shed its undying lustre with matchless splendor.”

Click on the names to download finding aids for these collections.  For more collections relating to Christmas, New Year’s and other holidays, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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