[San Diego: 1909-1916]. Eight volumes, totaling 2,635 pages, and approximately 85,000 words, with individual daily entries ranging from a single line to an entire page. Six volumes octavo, final two volumes twelvemo, all matching "Date Book" annual diaries, uniformly bound in matching limp red cloth. Varying levels of rubbing, edge wear, and insect damage to cloth. Internally clean, with occasional related newspaper clippings pasted in. Very good. Item #3823
A prime example of "history from below," comprised of eight manuscript diaries recording the daily activities, observations, thoughts, and feelings of a young man living in San Diego for 2,635 of the 2,920 days that occurred from January 1, 1909 through December 31, 1916. Allen H. Wright was originally from Rome, New York, where he returns at least once in the time period covered by the present diaries, but the diaries otherwise wholly pertain to Wright’s life in San Diego over an eight-year period. During this time, Wright worked a variety of jobs such as shoe salesman, freelance journalist (with numerous specific mentions of article submissions mentioned here), and City Clerk of San Diego. Wright was married to Florence Wright, and the couple had two children - Allyn and Helen. Wright balanced his work life with family activities such as picnics, trips to the beach, visits to San Diego harbor (where they witness the arrival of Mexican, Japanese, and other ships), vacations across California, and more. He also kept busy socially, attending church and recording numerous instances of the meetings of his stamp club, the “Floating Society,” the New York State Society, the “Men’s Club,” and other organizations. In addition, Wright makes numerous mentions of visitations, letters received, and news from back home in New York and other places.
Considering Wright’s voluminous number of diary entries there are necessarily many thousands of subjects, events, names, and more covered by him. A very small sampling of entries from just the first diary relate a wide variety of experience, including: the robbery of the local library, Wright’s attendance at the local Congregational Church to witness the anniversary exercises of the Chinese and Japanese missions, the visit of a “young Mexican” to Wright’s house who asked to buy some flowers for the funeral of a baby, the details of a day spent at the Ringling Brothers circus and parade, the arrival of a copy of McCarthy’s “Lincoln’s Plan of Reconstruction” that Wright won from an Anderson Galleries book auction (and information on other books and autographs he buys, including California history works), and legions more.
Wright's life was relatively peaceful, with much content recorded here on daily activities, talks and sermons heard at his church (“I heard Rev. Madison C. Peters, the noted divine talk on what the Jew has done for American civilization”), and so forth, but naturally he also puts down his thoughts on some important and notable historical events. On April 15, 1912, Wright writes: "News came today of the wrecking of the great ocean liner 'Titanic' on her first trip from Southampton to New York." In April of the next year, Wright attended a lecture of the famed Arctic explorer Frederick Cook, who referred to Admiral Peary as “a liar, thief, and murderer,” as Cook claimed that “he himself has been cheated out of the honors which rightly belong to him as the true discoverer of the North Pole.” In January 1916, Wright “heard Upton Sinclair, the novelist and author of ‘The Jungle’ talk on ‘After the War,’ at the Open Forum. He is not an orator by any means, but is argumentative in his utterances. A much more youthful man than I expected to see. Some of his socialist brethren here differed with him.” Wright had attended a speech by Teddy Roosevelt the year before, also centered around World War I: "His main plea was for preparedness for war." The threat of the First World War was growing at that time, but the event comes off as rather remote in Wright's account of a mostly quiet life in Southern California.
Another military event which occurred very close to Wright’s home city was the Mexican Revolution, which he makes several mentions of in his diaries, beginning in August 1913: “Late tonight a special train brought in about 500 Mexican refugees from the frontier at El Paso, Texas and Nogales, Arizona who had been ordered here by the war department, under escort of U.S. troops. Col. Emilio Kosterlitsky [sic], head of the rurales, and Col. J.M. Reyes, of the regular Mexican army, are among those in the party.” Wright also notes further interactions with refugees, the landing of American troops in Vera Cruz in April 1914 (which he hopes won’t squelch a real estate deal for himself), the arrival of “over a thousand marines” set to train on North Island in July 1914, the attack on a garrison in Tijuana by “the Villa troops” in December 1914, and more.
Managing elections and oversight of voting was apparently a significant part of Wright's position as City Clerk. In a typical entry from November 1911, he reports "A total vote of 4380 was gotten out, including a large percentage of women, who thus had their first crack at the ballot." Earlier that same year, Wright mentions sending out “2200 sample ballots” and promises to “get off as many more tomorrow.” The next year, Wright reports that “for the first time in my voting experience I voted for the Democratic electors for president and for a Democrat (‘Billy’ Kettner of this city) for Congress.” Wright was also privy to details regarding local government and political maneuverings, as well as the economics of city development and various bond issues.
A voluminous manuscript record of "ordinary" life in Southern California in the first decade-and-a-half of the 20th century, with about 2,600 daily entries over the eight years covered, providing an opportunity for much deeper research into Wright’s time and place.