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Edith Dee’s

Autograph Book

Eadie’s autograph book features sixty entries and seventy-five people are mentioned. More than a third of items were of verses that were often adorned by pen/pencil or painted drawings. The poets included Burns, Kingsley, Longfellow, Tennison, Wordsworth, Shakespeare Alice Cary, Ella Wheeler Wilcox and MF Butts – although there were no Biblical quotations.

 

Another third of jottings were witty or droll which were also accompanied by drawings or paintings. Peculiar to the time and Eadie’s circle of friends, the significance of some of these is difficult to comprehend today.

 

The remainder of compositions were a mixed-bag of moralistic homilies to guide her through life, paintings, and photographs or drawings of local views. There were also two items of a political nature – relating to the suffragette movement and the ‘experiment’ with Japan in 1902.

 

Of special interest in the diary are two entries from a fellow student, Charlie Mills, who she was to marry – one of which is a pen drawing of a pretty girl and the inscription: ‘All the girls are lov-er-ly’.

 

Somewhat intriguingly there is also a contribution from an ‘AMs’. This is probably Archibald Mills, my grandfather’s brother. Was he a rival to Charlie for Eadie’s affections?

 

There are also verses from Eadie’s cousin, Ethel Maud Dee, and references to Bella Jeffries, who was a fellow student at Southampton. Bella attended Eadie’s wedding four years later, in 1909, and (together with her husband) was entertaining Charlie and Eadie when the census was taken in 1911.

 

There is a list of those featured in Eadie’s autograph book at this link: Contributors. Should you find that a family member is included, please do contact me using the Contact Page. Link: Contact Page.

The personal autograph book was the prized possession of young middle-class girls from the middle of the nineteenth century.

 

In it were recorded contributions from friends and family which were intended to be a reminder of their relationship. The autograph book is therefore a pointer to its owner’s life and activities while the item recorded reveals something of the contributor’s character – why was that particular entry selected? They reveal what the owner’s contemporaries found amusing or of interest at that time. The overall effect is to recreate the social world of the owner and the regard in which they were held.

 

The pages of autograph books were an opportunity to display creative talent and the confidence to put paintbrush or pen to paper where there was no room for error. The selected pieces of poetry point to a considerable degree of education.

 

My grandmother, Edith Annie Dee (Eadie), kept such a book from 1901 until 1912. The majority of entries were for the period when she attended Hartley University College at Southampton from the autumn of 1903 to 1905 – several of the contributors were described as ‘pupil teachers’ in the 1901 census. Later entries indicate that she was teaching at Daniel Street School, Hackney when she married in 1909.

Eadie’s autograph book and its title page

A group photograph of students at Hartley University College, Southampton 1905c. Charlie is the fourth student from the right in the rear row and Eadie is in the row in front, also fourth in from the right. Probably several of the contributors to Eadie’s autograph book are pictured here such as Bella Jeffries who is to Eadie’s right side.

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