In 1890, seventeen-year-old Jonnie McFarland of Bristow, Kentucky shared a hobby in common with many other young women: she kept an autograph book, a collection of signatures of girlfriends, siblings, visitors and beaux. In an age when good penmanship was considered not only a valuable skill but a sign of discipline, industriousness and upright character, autograph books were popular keepsakes. Not only did they provide a forum in which to display one’s fanciest script, they allowed contributors to show their imagination, artistic ability and literary wit with snippets of poetry, aphorisms, Latin phrases, drawings and sketches.
WKU’s Special Collections Library holds at least 50 autograph books, including that of Miss McFarland, in its collections. Contributors to Jonnie’s book often added words of affection or encouragement over their signatures; one even wrote a message using the dots and dashes of Morse code. Common to the scribes, however, was the wish to be remembered. “When the leaves of your album are yellow with age,” one wrote Jonnie, “and the name I write here is dim on the page / Still think of me kindly and do not forget / Wherever I am I love you yet.”
A finding aid for Jonnie McFarland’s autograph book can be downloaded here.
To view finding aids for some (but by no means all) of our autograph books, click here and type “autograph books” or “autograph albums” in the search box.