Reviving Margaret Boyd’s Memories: Celebrating Founders Day Exhibit

We hear about her life through Twitter, and we see her connection to Ohio University through Pinterest. But Margaret Boyd was born in 1845, so who is the source of all of this communication? The artifact that fuels Boyd’s social media presence, over a century after her passing, is her personal diary. On February 18th, in celebration of Ohio University’s Founders Day, Boyd’s diary will be displayed on the fourth floor of Alden Library.

Margaret Boyd, the first female graduate of Ohio University, class of 1873. (Photo: Ohio University Alumni Association)
Margaret Boyd, the first female graduate of Ohio University, class of 1873. (Photo: Ohio University Alumni Association)

As the first female graduate of Ohio University, the Libraries’ staff created an identity for Boyd through social media by sharing her daily musings from her senior year of 1873. The diary entries are uniquely revealing of a time when landline telegraph was the height of technology and digital computers only existed in one’s imagination. Her writings, however, remain relevant to the daily challenges and delights that students experience today.

“I sleep more than half the time today I feel sick & tired & dissipointed [sic].” Boyd wrote in her diary on December 13, 1873.

When Boyd joined Ohio University in 1868, the timing was perfect. Welcoming a female into the student body filled the needs of both the University and of women like Boyd.

Miriam Nelson, head of preservation at Ohio University Libraries, displays the nearly completed box she created to hold Boyd's 1873 diary. (Photo by Lauren Pond/Ohio University Libraries)
Miriam Nelson, head of preservation at Ohio University Libraries, displays the nearly completed box she created to hold Boyd’s 1873 diary.
(Photo by Lauren Pond/Ohio University Libraries)

“The institution needed to modernize as well as bring in funds,” said Doug McCabe, curator of manuscripts for Ohio University Libraries. “Womanhood wanted to transition from the Victorian tenets of gentleness, poise, and devotion to home and hearth, to the broader world of independence and professional fields.”

Her diary, like many other pieces in the Libraries’ archives and special collections, is fragile. The leather is worn, the hinges are breaking, and the ink is fading. Because the Libraries places importance on preserving its artifacts for the longevity of accessibility, the diary was taken in to receive specific preservative treatments.

As Head of Preservation Miriam Nelson explains it, the information in artifacts like this diary, is not contained solely in the writing. It also exists as a part of the physicalities, such as the wear of the leather and environmental elements that affect the book, for instance.

“Such things speak to the artifactual nature of the object and the personality of its owner, “ Nelson said. “Taking the possible importance of such evidence into account, the conservation of the diary becomes more about stabilization than restoration,” Nelson said.

Boyd and her diary represent essential parts of Ohio University’s history. Without Nelson’s specialized work and without funding for the preservation from the Office of the Provost, Boyd’s diary would be fraying, tearing and separating. The Ohio University Libraries extends a special thanks to the Provost’s office for helping to bring Boyd’s memories back to life.

To find out more about Boyd, read the series of news blog articles that examine the issues that came out of her diary.