Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Photo above: Olivia Tutwiler’s opening diary page in background; illustration of woman with good luck clover looking into a VPI mirror, from the 1919 volume of Virginia Polytechnic Institute yearbook ‘The Bugle.’
“In a little place like this every one knows everyones business and doesn’t seem to have anything else to talk about. That’s the only thing I don’t like about little towns.” 20 year old Olivia Camm ‘Dibbie’ Tutwiler comes off just a tad disingenuous in that particular Diary entry. Tutwiler, whose diary covers Jan 1, 1919 to March 4, 1919, seems to know everyone in Blacksburg, and writes relentlessly about what she knows.
“I do wish we weren’t in a nasty hotel where no one answers the phone and you all never find me.” Her family owns the hotel; has since 1904 when they moved into town and opened the Blacksburg Inn. Which goes a long way towards explaining why Olivia mentions no fewer than 94 different people in the course of her 64 pages of entries!
So this is not the diary of an isolated lonelyheart pining away in her room, although that’s part of the picture. Like history’s best diarists, Olivia Tutwiler paints a vivid picture not just of the young man who’s stolen her heart, but of her Blacksburg milieu of 1919. She touches on broad social issues of the day such as the spread of the Spanish Flu, and the impact of young men returning broken from the War to End All Wars. She offers her thoughts on social etiquette, and gossips about co-workers, students (she was a teacher), and suitors. And her calendar is crammed full of church attendance, a mid-winter dance, basketball games, her 20th birthday party, a boxing match, candy pulls, a Larkin Club party, and a Valentine’s Day party, offering up to modern readers a feel for what greased the social wheels of her class, in that era.
For one so young, she has a clear sense of human foibles. Well, except for her own.
So. 64 entries. Every one of them is addressed directly to “Dear Boy,” Olivia’s Love interest (he’s never named, no.) Perhaps she, realizing that her diary could be discovered by unwanted eyes, felt it best not to name him. On the other hand, her unfiltered flood of erotic gushings towards him suggests she planned to guard the diary tightly:
Jan 1 “Oh boy if you only knew how much I love you.”
Jan 13 “Boy dear what makes me want you all the time. I don’t believe an hour of the day goes by that I don’t think of you.” —and— “I love you so boy you must love me a little. I say you shouldn’t have made me love you or made me think you loved me.”
Jan 14 “Boy dear I do love you no matter if I do try to think I don’t.”
Jan 15 “I don’t see why I love you so very much. It would be better if I went to [the town of] Childress where I don’t have so much time to think and know I cant see you.”
Jan 27 “Do I love you or do I not? Some question and I can’t quite decide.”
Jan 29 “Do I still love you as much as I used to? My but I want you, only you never came and soon I’ll be gone away.”
Feb 4 “I want you so. Good-night.”
Feb 6 “Please dear boy love me, I want you oh so much dear dear heart–or is it only what you stand for now?”
Feb 7 “Boy I almost think I love you too much if just your touch gives me thrills all over.”
Feb 11 “Miss Palmer gave me some earrings tonight and I look so Gypsyish in them I must have a little of it in me. Oh boy I want you.”
Feb 27 “Boy dear, I want you so but whats the use. Im even getting almost afraid to go home. I just postively must not let you see that I care at all.”
And what about this hot young swain? Does he deserve the love/lust she showers on him? Let’s list out some of his attributes. 1)He hits her: “But my head ached so where you hit me.” 2) He gaslights her: “I cried because you always make me feel like I’m in the wrong.” 3) It’s not his fault: “So you really had intended asking me to the dances until after I said what I did, and now of course you couldn’t, and you’ve been trying to get me a date.” 4) He mistreats her around his friends: “I told [Bush] how I felt about everything and he thought I was right and it was dreadful the way all of you had been treating me.” 5) He sees other women: “You say you don’t reckon you love the Richmond girl any more than you do any other.” 6) He doesn’t extend himself to others when they’re not around him: “You don’t seem to like [your roommate] Dwight getting letters, and you getting none from home, but what more can you expect when you don’t write yourself?” 7) He lies to her: “Alice said you told Charlie that you were going to the dance and had a girl and you told me you couldn’t.” 8) He’s not brave enough to cut off a relationship he doesn’t want to be in: “Then you said good-bye like you wouldn’t see me again and still said you had something to tell me.” 9) He’s not particularly aware of her machinations: “And I went in the drug store just to see you, too. Foolish and crazy but you don’t know so what difference does it make?” 10) He’s in the ‘strong silent type’ mold: “You can be so nice and talk when you want to but you just don’t for some reason I can’t explain.”—and—”I just sent the note on anyway tho’ I didn’t know how such a quiet fellow as you would take to such a frivolous note.”—and—“How can I ever find out about anything the way you do? You absolutely won’t say anything and I can’t manipulate you so you will.” 11) He doesn’t show her love: “Now that I’ve seen you for so long it’s harder than it was before not to see you, and the worst part is you don’t care, and I sometimes think you never will.” 12) When he’s with her and friends, he gives them more attention: “When you came you fooled with Dick all the time so it didn’t do me much good.”
Olivia’s mother sees right through Dear Boy: “Mother hopes it will soon be over since you don’t care for me but you will someday, won’t you dear, if I just have faith enough and play my part well.” And so do her friends: “I read part of a letter Fred had from his girl and she said she wanted to see me and had something to tell me.” —and— “The other girls thought I was a fool to act the way I do and I must have it bad.”
So on the one hand we’ve got Olivia panting after Bad—er, DEAR, Boy. On the other we’ve got no less than NINE young men who’re doing everything they can to make her their own. She even tallies up her score of them on one of her diary pages. She also includes women friends in her tally, and her mother. The word ‘mother,’ btw, appears 28 times in Olivia’s diary entries—the word ’mamma’ twice–all in positive, warm tones. By contrast, the word ‘dad’ appears only 2 times (no ‘father,’ ‘daddy,’ ‘papa,’ etc). And dad references are 1) to the fact that he sleeps every afternoon, and 2) what room he sleeps in. Not much of a relationship there.
Opposite the bad boy we’ve got the nice, and assorted other, guys: “I like Fred. He’s awfully nice. Bobbie can be too when he likes. He’s surely polite.” Possibles, though unsure: “I sat on Hamps’ lap and Lida on the little back seat [of the car]. I’m not sure whether I should have done it or not. Well he kissed me good-bye. I told him not to but he did. I felt rather don’t any way and it was when I couldn’t make a fuss. But I didn’t kiss him and it was over in a hurry.” The clumsy guys: “The funniest thing happened. Got a letter from Bush and he wants him self a letter telling him how much I love him!” We know how all these will end. Says Olivia about one—but at the same time all—of them, “I like him alright but I won’t ever marry on a liking basis. It’ll have to be love and a strong one at that.”
Almost spoiler alert: she does mention the name of the man she eventually marries, but only twice in all these pages!
So how does it all end? Hey, we’re here to make history interesting, not to fill your ears with dusty dates. Hop on over to the link and soak up Olivia’s heartfelt musings, as they tumble by day over day: VT Special Collections and University Archives Online | Olivia Tutwiler Hill Diary, 1919 (Ms2016-004)
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