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Rena Bestervelt Henshaw Diary

Identifier: RH-A-4083

Scope and Contents

The diary was written by Rena Bestervelt Henshaw (1903-1988) who was married to John H. Henshaw (1902-1994.) They had three children: Fred, Linda and Margaret. They got married on November 26, 1926. John H. Henshaw worked as a draftsman from Brown Co. and was a carpenter once he retired in 1966.

In 1955, Margaret Henshaw (1939-2014) was diagnosed with polio, which at the time was a devastating disease which had symptoms of paralysis and could be fatal. Margaret’s mother, Rena Bestervelt Henshaw, decided to detail her daughter’s multiyear battle of polio by creating a diary. When she was first diagnosed in 1955, Margaret spent her first 16 weeks in the hospital, the beginning entries of the diary were normally: The weather of that day, reports from the hospital, thanks, thoughts and prayers from friends and family.

April 12, 1955 was different because this was the day that Margaret was released from the hospital and was allowed to go home. Most entries that followed April 12 were again, the weather of the day, details of how the day went and caring for Margaret.

Margaret Henshaw, (1939-2014) lived in the Kalamazoo area and she worked with the Catholic Family Services for 23 as an accountant and for 13 years she had worked with the Girl Scouts of Kalamazoo. She was married to her first husband, G. Wendel Swain and then to her second husband, Walter Heath.

Found within the diary were newspaper clippings that were around the time of Margaret’s diagnosis and they would have reports of her progress, thanks-you-notes from friends and family. There was also letters written to the Henshaw family by friends, family, and neighbors.

This date book gives the reader the opportunity to see into the life of someone who is caring for someone with Polio and the struggles of the caretaker and the patient in the home.


  • Creation: 1955



1 Volumes ; The size of the dairy is 5” x 9”

Language of Materials



This collection is composed of diary from 1955 written by Rena Bestervelt Henshaw, newspaper clippings, and smaller diary pages also from 1955. The diary is based on the life if Margaret Henshaw who was diagnosed with polio. The Henshaw family was from Galesburg, Michigan and Margaret Henshaw received treatment in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Physical Description

The collection amounts to .25 cubic feet and is composed of a diary from 1955 which details the life of Margaret Henshaw from that year, who was diagnosed with polio in 1955. The size of the dairy is 5” x 9” the diary is in fair shape, the pages have no tears but they do have stains and discoloration throughout the diary. The cover of the diary is titled date book and is in poor condition, the spine is disconnected from the pages of the diary. The next item in the collection is newspaper clippings. The clippings are in decent shape with no tears however there is discoloration of some of the clippings. The diary was written in pen.

Found in the diary are notebook size entries which were spaced out in the date book, the size of these entries were: 4” x 7”, 5” x 6” and 5” x 8”. The entries are in good condition, there are no tears or folds however there is discoloration on the pages. The entries were written in pen and they were continuations from the diary when Rena had run out of room and those notes were scattered throughout the diary.


This diary was purchased with funds from the Starring Endowment.

Rena Bestervelt Henshaw Diary Finding Aid
Ian Daly
April 19, 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections Repository

Charles C. and Lynn L. Zhang Legacy Collections Center
1650 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5307 US
(269) 387-8490