The Diary of Anna May Lindley Nelson

Nelson Diary Cover

Anna May Lindley was born circa 1870 on a farm six miles south of Urbana. Her parents were early pioneers of Philo Township and she resided in Champaign County until 1920. Between 1877 and 1909 she kept a dairy that now resides in the Champaign County Historical Archives.

Her diary is a 9 ½ x 8 inch, cloth and cardboard bound notebook with 276 pages. The cover as well as some of the pages toward the front of the notebook contain pasted magazine and newspaper clippings.

Nelson Diary Inside Collage

Anna’s diary is enjoyable to read. She begins with an entry about her childhood memories in September 1877. She writes about school, social activities, and family members. Sadly, she lost two siblings in two months when she was about ten years old.

As she becomes a teenager, Anna chronicles her gentlemen callers. She receives a proposal from one around the age of fourteen, but decides instead to go to college. Below is a transcription of her handwritten thoughts on the matter.

Sept 1884

My people say I can go to College if I will give up Millard, they think it is all for my good. M. asked me to elope (think of it) with him. I told him I knew nothing of housework, how to run a house I mean, so he would not like me but he said he did not want a housekeeper but a wife to love. He also said he would love the best in life and the most noble for my sake to be a help to me through my life and that I should have all the joy, pleasure and love that he could give “God help him” he said. I told him to wait and maybe I would love him after I had been away and had a chance in the world, but he said when I saw others I would forget and that if I gave him up it would be almost death to him as he had never loved anyone else so well he begged me so hard. I hardly knew what to say.

Nelson Diary Inside Collage and Writing

Instead of marrying Millard, Anna attends the University of Illinois while living with her aunt and uncle. She writes about college activities and her artwork.

Oct. ~ 1884

Here I am at the U. of I. Music and art. I board at Uncle D’s. We go down on an excursion to Tolono to see J.G. Blaine (for President.)


Sept. 1887

I have made a figure piece that is the finest work I have ever done—a sad beautiful girl by the sea—in the moonlight. I had no copy to go by.

Years after her first proposal, Anna has experienced more of the world and met multiple men to consider for marriage. On Sunday, April 7, 1889 she is asked by Urbana jeweler John R. Nelson. 

J.N. and J.M. came—a lovely day. J. asked me to be his wife. He said I was the only one he had loved enough to ask to be his wife, loves me best of all in the world, and all he has to work for. I do love him well enough to marry him, much and much better and differently than any of the others. We are so happy. ~~~~~~~~~~ We love each other so well and passionately.

John and Anna were married June 4, 1890 and had three children: Roselyn, Marguerite, and Orville. In 1920, they moved to Hollywood, California where Anna died eleven years later.

The dairy of Anna May Lindley Nelson is one of 32 written by 18 authors in our Champaign County Diaries Collection. All of these diaries were written by Champaign County residents between 1857-1958. Their content includes notes on weather conditions, business transactions, travel notes, and records of daily activities. They are accessible to the public to use within the Archives. Each journal offers an individual account of local and family history. Not only do they contain names, dates, and events, but they also paint a picture of what life was really like in the past. This aspect makes them especially interesting to read. If you would like to read a diary from our collection yourself, simply visit the Archives and ask to do so. The authors are listed below. 

Samuel Mandeville, Arthur O. Howell, Carrie D. Markle Davis, Louisa Pierce, Lemira H. Howell, Peter Mogensen, Anna May Lindley Nelson, Julia F. Burnham, Lillie Partlow Sale, Audie Wilborne, Thusenelda Gross Martin, Thomas Henry Trevett, Wellington Reid Townley, Izeyl Marie Brown French, Anna Etta Busey Cruser, Rex L. Brown, and two unknown authors.

A Few Champaign County Diaries









An assortment of diaries from our collection.


Archives Assistant