Our Institution Is Brick

[CHARLOTTE BOOTH is now attending high school in Omaha, Nebraska. Her entertaining diary, which she illustrated with tiny and delightful drawings, was kept before her twelfth birthday and during a period when she and her two sisters were living in an institutional home. It was written without the assistance of anyone and was her way of sharing with her mother, a dietitian, the things that seemed to her interesting or unusual. Incidentally, the matron she mentions has now been replaced. — THE EDITOR]

February 6. — Our institution is brick. It has four floors. We eat and hang our wraps in the basement there are five long tables and one for the matrons which has a table cloth. We are not alowed to talk at table or to make noise with our tin cups on first floor is matron’s room and the boys playroom and the girls playroom. These have lockers around the edge and a table in the middle we sit on the lockers and matron hits the table when we talk or lines us up and whops us. It is best to be on the end of the line.

February 7. — Our yard is very hard and has no grass. There is a high fence around. Outside the fence I can reach weeds which are interesting. Some of them have little flowers. I like to put one foot in a hole of the fence and hang onto it above my head. It leaves marks on my forhead. I hate the gate and would like to hit it with all my might.

February 9. — The bord met today. Everybody talks very much with their eyebrows raised and smiles with their lips very thin together and says to each other behind their hands. They always notice how tall you’v grown. Mr. Halm talks very much with his eyebrows and uses very big words and always folds his hands when he has said something. At table he choked on his coffee and covered his mouth with both of his hands and it ran down his sleeves and he got very red and looked around very quick and laughed kinda silly. Matron looked at me very stern.

February 13. — We played cops and robbers. Dorothy and I are robbers always. There are many big pipes and boxes and shoots and we hide in these. We like to climb on the water pipes. Cook says they will bust and much water will come out very fast and I hope this happens before I leave. We have wooden guns which we made of wood.

February 23. — Up stairs is the stock. It is a cubord with many square holes and two big doors and many many clothes. We wear long underware in winter and unonsuts in summer. They have supporters on them. Supporters are very interesting. They fasten with little rubber doornobs which leave bumps on your stockings. Matrons supporters are on a wide rubber belt which she wears to push her stoma k to somewhere else. It looks certainly to be to small. She also hangs her underware on the line. It is like winter but she has cut the legs off just below the nees so it wont show on her ankels. Cooks underware is dirty around the neck. We also have many red-checked ginam dresses. They have very high necks long sleeves and big buttons down the back We also have many black sateen bloomers.

March 11. — At sabeth school we learned a plsme. ‘I lift up mine eyes unto the hills.’

March 27. — It was Maryalices birthday she is 12 years old.

April 7. — We played ship in the wash tubs. We are sitting in corners now.

April 15. — My girl friend is now adopted. She has been my best friend since I gave her my name for her cricket. My crickets name is Creecree. He has just one hoper on which I tie a string. He has a house of little stones which I made and he must like it very much as I have to take it apart to get him out. We tried to have a cricket race in the kichen but they wouldnt go in a straight line and I got my dress dirty on the stove to get mine from behind and Dorothy broke a bole. Matron was very excited and screemed when she steped on one and it was very funny and we were very naughty because she was very excited.

April 18. — We fight very much here but we are not alowed to hit each other. Maryalice always gets the worst end of a fight but we always help each other. I can take care of myself mostly and can win against anybody here.

April 26. — I acedently scrached Hellen and she was just waiting to get something on me so she told matron and matron made her scrach me back till I have a big raw place on my arm.

May 1. — Today we got to take off our long underware. It feels very cool and free.

May 2. — We have a cat named Felix and when you swing him around by the tail he gets dizzy and knocks over the milk cans.

May 3. — In sabbeth school we learned a new song. ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for Himeech day.’

May 6. —Today a few of us took a ride down the clothes shoot it was much fun but matron was at the bottom sorting clothes. We had to stand for fifteen minutes holding our hands above our head.

May 10. — Margaret helped me put my braids up today. She does not pull. My Hair is too short and they stand strait out.

May 13. — We learned a nice song in school.

‘Upon a morning sunny
There sat a big brown bee
I’ll show you lots of honey
If you’ll just come with me
Buss, buss with me
Buss, buss with me.’

May 16. — Today we had our May dances and got very sunburned.

May 18. — Mama took us all to a mother and daughter bankquet. We were all very sunburned but we had very pretty dresses on with ruffels. The dresses are our own.

May 25. — Martha used Alices belt for a dog harness. Alice and Martha are mad at each other. Alice said ‘good nite everybody but Martha’ and we all took sides. When we heard matron we pretended we were asleep. Matron said ‘everybody that is snoring may come with me.’ She had us stand in the basement for a long time. It was very dark and very cold and looked much different than daytime.

May 29. — The cherries are red and nice and warm but we are not supposed to eat them. Supertendent. stood with her hands on her hips and scolded us very long and her feet were funny. She said we could not have any cherry pie. We told cook we hoped there were worms in them. We were set in corners. Every corner had someone in it and on the stairs and porches.

June 1. — Today we seeded many cherries. They were in the dish pan on the table and we all sat around. We each had a separate pan for seeds so matron could see how much we did. When we do this kind of work we tell each other stories which we make as we go along.

June 3. — We have a new girl. Her name is Jean. She is very dumb. We tied her to a table and made her drink water a long time. She had a stomach ache all day. At night we woke each other up and took our sheets and were gostes and scared her. The next thing we told her she was dead and she believed it and cried.

June 5. — A bird composition I wrote was put in the paper. Matron said I would get a big head. A boy on our street has one. It is full of water. He is also very dumb.

June 7. — We went to sabbeth school. Sabbeth school is where they tell you about people who go bearfoot and believe in angels and the men are fishers and the wemon arc poor widows.

June 12. — Today was wash day and the machine got cloged up and matron said ‘there is a pin in there and lots of lint’ and cook stuck her finger down and said ‘ouch’ then they took a screw out and worked on it till the water came all a sudden and very fast. Matron was on her nees and couldn’t get up and cook says ‘the buckets getting full wheres the stopper’ and they couldnt find it and they both got very excited and it was lots of fun.

June 15. — When we play store we scrap the white stuff between the bricks for powder and the bricks for rouge. Today a brick came out so we pretended we were wreckers and took out a lot of bricks.

June 16. — Today we are all sitting in corners again.

June 21. — We got a lot of baloons today and everybody is bloing up balloons. There is reading on them which looks like matron when you start and looks like cook when you finish. The house is full of them like gay bubbles and full of colors. Matron has a terrible time expecting another one to break all the time. It is fun from far off with a bean shooter.

June 24.

Spring Song’

A birch tree scattered here and there
A quiet stillness in the air
A reddish glow in the western sky
A bird on the branch of a tree near by.
A little girl on her knees bent
Is watching the bird, well content.

July 1. — Today is my birthday. I am 11 years old. I got two presents. I got a pair of silk pants. I shall not wear them because they are pretty. I also got a silver pencil. When you break the lead you twist the top and more comes. Matron says soon it will not come any more but I do not believe her.

To celebrate I was allowed to sit at the big girls table.

July 5. — Mama promised to come to see us today. I waited and waited but she didnt. Matron said a watched pot never boils. She often gets off the track like that.

July 6. — There are cockroches in our kitchen and bathroom and at night when you turn on the light they run in every direction. Some of them look two inches long and you can catch them by their whiskers and they kick all their legs.

July 8. — Today we had our work changed. I am glad. I have dusted the stairs for two years. On Saturdays I took the little rubber things off and scrubed them also the one in the hall. We all wax together and take turns at dishes and scrubbing the kitchen. Once a week cook sweeps the dirt out from behind the stove. It made matron nervous for me to dust the stairs head first.

July 11. — I lost my hat today and matron said dont come back without it so I walked all over the clifs and cried all day but my girl friend brot me some bread and I began to enjoy myself and forgot to even hunt until one of our kids came told me it was found and I was sorry it was.

July 13. — We like to swing very high standing up and see who can jump the fartherest. Matron says ‘why arnt we scared’ but why should we be. I am not afraid of anything except grown people and kids who do not belong to us.

July 14. — We had locker inspection. I found a navy button, a red cross feather and many needles. Matron gathered up and burned our guns which she always does.

July 18. — Today was bath day again. They start with the young uns first and put them to bed right after. Matron washes the girls in one bathroom and supertendent washes the boys in the other. Second matron helps sup. and the girl helps matron you undress just before you are next and she hurries you in the tub while the water runs in. She uses very little water which does not even cover my legs. When she is finished she gives us to the girl who drys us very fast and is very rough. She also washes our face neck and ears in the sink. While everybody is too busy bathing to punish us we have very much fun. As we go barefoot we must wash our feet every night. We sit around the edge of the tub with water up to our knees and take about an hour. If you are not careful someone will push you in which is fun to see.

July 23. — We have a girl who came from the Child Saving Institute. Her name is Alice. She said a wild bull chased her but she caught it by the horns and it took her right where she was going. Now you know thats just pure brag.

July 24. — My work now is making the beds with May L. in the lower dormitory. We get one on each side. We changed our own blankets with some others’ which were cleaner. We also put some pepper between the pillow slip and pillow on Alices bed who we dont like.

July 29. — Sometimes we all have to take our cups to matron and she puts epsim salts in them then we put water in and have to drink it It tastes very bad but if you let water run in a long time it hardly tastes atall.

August 2. — Today at church we saw the preachers new baby. A preacher is a very delicate person with the makins of an acter. They lean over and pat you on the head.

August 6. — Today we had cake and there were many little red ants in it. If nobody had paid any mind to them the cake would tast the same but matron said ‘heat it and they will run out’ but they didn’t and it was strange eating them cooked. Ants wear their belts to tight and look like cook with her apron on.

August 10. — I got my dress very wet and was crying because matron would be very excited about it but cook said go swing awhile so I did and it was dry very soon.

August 13. — Matron says I must go to bed every night before supper for a week because I was impudent. Impudent is when you talk when your mad. Matron is often impudent. Matron and cook are impudent to each other. Matron says she is to gentel to quarrel Cook dont care about being genteel and dont like hipocrits. Cooks belly hangs over her belt and her uniform pulls between the buttons. She is always wiping her face on her apron and her shoes are very slanty. Matron is skinny and her neck hangs. She stands with her feet very out and talks to second matron about supertendent. Second matron dont like to be called second matron She also gets very excited when we go in the coal bin to play.

August 16. — There are wild berry bushes back of the garage we found these and they wore very good. Matron would never have noticed if it hadn’t been for our pockets.

August 19. — I like the mornings very much. We wake up when Felix wants in. He mews at the window and we let him in and play with him till wo hear matron in the hall when we push him out and cover up quick. When it is very early there is streaks in the sky. Then the sun comes up like a red bright moon and is much larger than at noontime. The wind rolls up the clouds like blankets and blows them away. Everything is very clean.

August 23. — Matron and second matron were arguing if ‘when better fools were made the wemon will make them’ ment the wemon will be the fools or make them out of the men and cook said a married woman would never wonder and May asked matron if she didnt get cold sleeping alone and matron said ‘that will be enough out of you.’

September 2. — It has been raining much lately and school wall soon start.

September 4. — I like rain very much. It dances in the streets and makes a happy sound and has little colors like jools and leaves everything clean and young looking. I also like sunbeams. They make everything they shine on very interesting.

September 10. — We started school. I am in 5th grade now. Next year I will go upstairs. I like music art and arithmetic. I do not like history or geography I am bad in spelling. I can ask matron how to spell words when I want them though. It would be alright if we wernt taught to spell with sounds.

September 21. — We are now well started in school and gee do I feel rottener than heck.

September 23. — Our teacher this year is very strict rules but she dont make anybody obey them. She says ‘do you want to leave the room’ then later ‘Im going to send you right out’ later ‘somebody is going out in the hall purty soon ‘ and so on.

September 25. — We learned a dance in school today. I love to dance but we have to take off our shoes and when I have holes in my sox it makes me funny.

October 3. — Matrons father died and she is mad because now she hasnt anywhere to store her things.

October 6. — Everyone with bad colds is kept home from school. Every morning every body must line up and take a spoonful of medicine. There is a certain spoon which is washed at the end of the giving and is laid by the bottle. This medicine tastes very good but gives you a very bad stomach ache. It is called cas cara. If we cough we can stay home. We take scouring powder to bed with us which makes us sneeze.

October 9, — Somebody sent us a lot of gum and we all are chewing gum. Cook slams down on hers like she was cracking nuts in her teeth and never misses a chew even when she talks. At supper we stuck it behind our ears where we could find it again. I forgot mine was in my mouth and I dont know where it went. Matron took most of it to her nephew. May got hers in her hair in the night.

October 11. — I caught a fly and put him in a poweder box but he died. I like to catch flies right out of the air because it surprises every body and makes their eyes pop out. Flies wash their face like a cat then they clap their hands.

October 13. — Ruth wanted a tin can to play with and I wanted it and she pulled and I pulled and it cut my hands so I let go and it hit her in the face and she sat down hard. I was sent to bed and everyone went on a picnic. The house is very quiet and empty except for cook who is singing and ratteling down stairs.

October 15. — Some men came out to fix some wires. They have spurs on their shoes so they can climb just like monkeys. They left much melted metal and wire and tar. I made a nigger baby out of this and put it on the window sill and it melted and matron was very concerned.

October 17. — We found some good tin cans to put on our shoes. If you put them on right they will stay and wall make a lovely clang clang when you walk. Almost all of us have them on today so the yard is full of this sound.

October 21. — Worms were found in our cornmeal. Matron wanted cook to sift them out but cook said she wouldnt and there was a big argument and they forgot about worms and argued about each other. I, for one, do not want cornmeal with worms sifted out.

October 23. — We saw a soldier today. The navy suits are cuter. They are dark blue with squar collars and stripes between the elbow and wrist of the sleeves to keep the sailors from wiping their nose on the sleeve.

October 25. — Mama took us for a walk and when we got back in sight of the institution Frances sat down on the sidewalk and would not move and screemed and mama picked her up and took her pants down and spanked her good and a lady came along and said she must be murdering the child and she must quit but mama said shut up and spanked Frances some more.

October 27. — Matron was hunting for something and tooke everything out of her purse. I dont think she can ever get it all back tho her purse is very big and looks like a young suitcase. She encouraged herself the whole time.

November 1. — I have a new coat. It has a very wide and very thick hem and the pockets are on it. There is fur on the coller which stinks when it rains.

November 6. — Today they washed the clothes. The machine sings a little song which is alwys in time with the one you are singing. You can make it change it to. Cooks hangs them up and shakes them. When water is let out it makes a crooked river and flotes things down and runs over stones and around little hills.

November 8. — We found some kittens in the snow. They were in a cardbord box which was turned on its side. There was four babies and a mother cat. Three of them had their eyes shut and everyone of them was very bloody and crying. We wanted to bring them in but matron said no. They all died in the night and we buried them all in a row.

November 14. — We like to play in bed we are not alowed to talk so we just act. Your bed is your house and you can arrange your covers and pillows. Sometimes we play show. We use lipstick from matrons room and wipe it off on the covers when we hear someone. We use the covers for clothes and a flashlight for a spotlight. Matron says it has very poor batterys it hangs on a nail in the stairway.

November 18. — We have a new girl. We like her very much therefore we showed her how to open the store room padlock with a pin and good places in the house to hide her things.

November 22. — The windows are icy and have pictures of tropical forests and fairys and anything you want. Sometimes they steam but if you draw on them matron surprises you by taking hold of your ear.

November 23. — The snow has been piled by the curbing and is froze so we walk on it and are mountain climers all the way to school. Nobody has been going to school with us this fall.

November 26. — We have another new girl. We told her matron was Miss Spinster and cooks name is Miss Arbuckel. We keep around so we can hear when she will call them.

November 29. — It snowed some very soft snow which looks like silk cotton. We lay down in it and move our arms up and down which makes an angel in the snow when you get up.

December 1. — Matron says ‘Ill tell you a riddle’ to second matron ‘I am swift I am useful what am I.’ Second matron said ‘a lier’ cook laughed very hard till she looked at matron. She stopped very sudden.

December 3. — Today a man came to see supertendent who matron was telling cook about and cook tried hard to see him and matron didn’t think he was much because he looked too poor and my god was he homly.

December 5. — We are having much snow and it is quite cool. One might say even cold.

December 7. — It was very funny when the preacher lost his place in the Bible and had to hunt the scripture lesson. Matron leaned over and said ‘Ill take care of you when we get home young lady,’ and she did.

December 9. — We always wax on Wednesdays. When matron keeps going around to see another room waxed we run and slide on our polish clothes. We also sit on them and push each other around. It is more polished down the middle.

December 11 — We wear our overshoes fastened till we get to the top of the hill because matron wants them fastened we unfasten them then and let them flap because we girls are wearing them that way now.

December 14. — Virginia was scratching her head and everybody was scratching their head and matron said come here to me and she looked, then she looked at some others then she looked at second matron and they groaned. So now we get our heads warshed with something like cholorform and they comb us with a comb with teeth on both sides and very fine.

December 17. — The snow is very beautiful now. It shines in the sun like many little pin points and has blue and red in tiny spots which keep changing. It is very thick on top of the branches. It is also very crisp and makes a happy sound when you walk on it. Some places it will hold you without breaking. Walking on top is like being invisible.

December 19. — There are people our age who write letters and want to carry on a corespondence with some of us but nobody so far has answered any of them.

December 24. — Tomorrow is Cristmas. The Jews spell it Xmas. We have the house decorated with bells and red and green paper and some santy clauses which we made. The house looks very gay and expecting but red and green look rotten together. Some of us have already hung our stockings on our beds as after our prayers we cannot talk or play as we must ‘ponder’ them which we dont.

December 25.—Today is Cristmas. We all woke up very early. We are not alowed to get up before seven o’clock but we always talk and have a very good noisy time. We all had a handkerchief and an orange in our stocking. This afternoon some men came out and the one that was Santy Clause had us close our eyes and put a doll in arms. We each also get a pair of beads, a doll-sewing kit, a bottle of perfume and candy. Matron took a box and gathered up all the candy. We had a swell diner. We had turkey, mashpotatos, cramberys, gravy, and pudding and were allowed to have as much of each as we wanted and two glasses of milk apeace.

December 28. — The barber college came to cut our hair. One asked me if I liked it here and they all laughed when I said no. They also made much fun of the government to each other. One of them said it has made it out of fashion to make pockets. The gov. is very rich cause it can borrow and very poor cause it cant pay back.