A Day at a Time

edited and with an introduction by Margo Culley. The Feminist Press, $12.95. Ms. Gulley’s presentation of “The Diary Literature of American Women from 1764 to the Present” is primarily designed to illustrate the diversity of female activities, from farmbound toil to far-flung journey, and the literary skill of the diarists varies from high to non-existent. All of them, however, have something of value to offer concerning working conditions, or social customs, or prevailing opinions. Most of these well-chosen pieces are drawn from published books, and the reader who wishes to know more about Eliza Andrews, dodging around Georgia ahead of General Sherman, or Eslanda Robeson, examining the white man in Africa with a cool and canny eye, can track their work down. If the most recent diarists seem, on the whole, less interesting than their nineteenth-century predecessors, it is probably because their preoccupations (women’s rights, racism, lesbianism) are familiar, while Amelia Knight’s account of life on the Oregon Trail is old enough to seem new.