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Otis M. Southworth Collection

Identifier: RH-A-4335

Scope and Contents

This collection contains diaries kept by Otis Monroe Southworth (b. 1861- d. 1940) of Benton Harbor, Michigan for the years 1902-1923. In addition to his diaries are a notebook kept by his son Grover during 1918, a 1922 Diary kept by his other son, Walter, plus items and photocopies of newspaper clippings that were within the volumes.

In these diaries, Otis captured not only his present, but memories and thoughts of his wife Clara L., his children, and what they did for fun as well as chores. His words give insight into the work and homelife of a politically active Socialist and union man. Events outside of Otis’ day-to-day life are rarely mentioned, instead the volumes are filled with local information, his work, his friends and family, and his thoughts. Receiving catalog orders from Sears and Roebuck and other companies were also documented. Prices paid for materials and labor at work and for personal food and supplies are sometimes included. Also covered are the lectures by authors, preachers, and spiritualists that he and Clara attended and games of Pedro played with their friends. Christmas and New Year’s Eve were important events, but other holidays are rarely mentioned. Travel for business and pleasure is chronicled faithfully. The town he is in, if it is not Benton Harbor, is almost always written on the top of the page.

He mentions the weather conditions daily, but temperatures only if they are extremely warm or cold. Otherwise, he makes note of rain, fair, cool, etc. Sometimes he mentions how the weather affected his work, such as it being too cold to build chimneys. He notes birthday and Christmas gifts, union activities, visits and dinners with friends and coworkers, and he often writes about visits, letters, and other activities with his Uncle Albert. He notes time spent with his family on his days off and speaks of the chickens, fruit trees, and berries they own. Other things mentioned about his family and towns people/community include important events such as Anniversaries, birthdays, deaths, funerals, illnesses, holiday events (such as participation in Labor Day parades), and accidents. He faithfully mentions the anniversary of his sister’s and father’s deaths as well as birthdays of his family and himself.

Some examples of typical entries are:

February 22, 1902: “got plans for Pearl Grange School House to figure on.” October 8, 1902: “Grover + Walter went nutting got several Quarts of hickory nuts.” March 19, 1908 (after nearly a year away from home): “Home by 3 P.M. find family well. So glad to meet.” December 24, 1918: “The Happyest [sic] day of our Lives to see Grover safe home.” In addition to Otis’ diaries, there is a 1918 notebook that Grover had during his military service, and a 1922 diary kept by Walter.


  • Creation: 1902-1923


Biographical / Historical

Otis Monroe Southworth was born May 27, 1861, in St. Joseph, Michigan and died December 30, 1940, in Venice, California. This collection of diaries spans the years 1902-1923 during which he and his family lived in Benton Harbor, Michigan and Niles, Michigan.

Otis was a bricklayer and mason who worked on the Carnegie library in Niles, Buildings for the weekly Socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, in Girard, Kansas, and other buildings throughout Michigan and in other states such as Texas and California. He often built chimneys, cisterns, burial vaults, walls, and porch piers for members of the community.

He was a member of the Bricklayers Union, the Elks Club, and the Socialist Party. As a prominent area Socialist, renowned figures in the party, such as Mother Jones (Irish-born schoolteacher and dressmaker Mary G. Jones who became a union organizer, and activist. She was baptized in 1837 and died November 30, 1930), would stay with him and Clara while visiting the area. Otis was active in organizing workers to join unions and the Socialist Party and often wrote letters to newspapers and acquaintances on those topics. He also contributed to trade journals such as the American Builder and spoke at the 48th Convention of Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers’ International Union of America in 1922. He was once mentioned in Wilshire magazine for the number of subscriptions he sold and received a reward of $15.00. In February 1924 Otis organized his friends to serve out the 30-day jail sentence of attorney Walter M. Nelson who was being held in contempt of court over withholding the location of individuals related to a suit filed against the House of David. Otis and his friends were unable to convince the judge to let them each stay one night in exchange for letting Nelson return home to Detroit. Otis also ran as the Socialist candidate for Congress in 1908, although he did not write about his campaign.

Otis married Clara Louise Duvall (1868-1924) on September 7, 1886. They had four children: Ada May (1887-1976). Grover C. (1889-1973), Walter Albert (189-1969), and Velva Rosalia (AKA Babe) (1894-1966). After Clara Louise died in 1924, Otis moved to Los Angeles, California, and married Clara Amelia Riggs on July 14, 1925.


.75 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Kay Miller, the great granddaughter of Otis M. Southworth.

Physical Description

This collection amounts to .75 cubic feet and consists of 21 diaries kept by Otis Monroe Southworth, which cover the years 1902-1923, a notebook owned by his son Grover during 1918, a 1922 by his son Walter, and a folder of items and photocopies of newspaper clippings taken from the diaries.

Each diary covers one year, with the year labeled in the upper right-hand corner of the item with masking tape. Most diaries are Standard Diary no. 135 measuring 3” x 4¾” and ¾” thick, and bound in red or black leather with a tab closure on the front and pocket on the inside of the back cover. The diary for 1904 is a Standard Diary measuring 3” x 6” and ¾” thick, with a brown cloth cover trimmed in red leather and the year written directly on the front. The volume for 1914 is an Excelsior Diary measuring 3” x 5” and is ¾” thick, bound in black cloth, and features a tab closure.

Most diaries show minimal wear with only small tears and moderate scuffing on the covers, but notably, diaries that were on the road with him for months at a time for work show more wear and tear. For example, the tab closure for the 1918 volume is broken off and tucked into the back cover. The 1907 diary is worn more than most due to traveling for most of the year. Someone attempted to repair a tear in the tab closer with clear tape. There is a small hole by the tape. The 1903 diary has a bore hole on the edge of the flap that covers bare edge of book, but there is no damage to the pages.

The entries are written in script in a variety of inks and sometimes pencil. Sometimes the pencil has smudged. Some entries, mainly while traveling, appear to have been recorded with carbon paper as if the original copy was sent home in a letter. Readability of the pages varies and it is probable that not all entries were recorded by Otis as the penmanship can go from small, clear, easy to read words to large imprecise loops. The entries made by possible carbon copy can be especially difficult to read as the text is darker and can be seen through the other side of the page.

Sometimes an entry is made on the wrong date, when this happens, he corrects it by crossing the printed date out and either handwrites or stamps the actual date of entry beside it.

Grover’s notebook is 2½” x 4½” is ¼” thick, bound in red leather. The front cover is embossed with “The Prudential Insurance Company of America and the back cover shows the company logo. There is minimal wear on the edges and spine. The inside of the spine has some cracking and some pages are missing. The pages are written in pencil, but smearing is minimal, and the text is legible.

Walter’s diary is 2¾” x 5¾” is ¼” thick and is bound in red leather. The words “Diary and Cash Account” are embossed on the front cover in script. There are minor scratches on the covering and light wear on the corners. Most entries are script written in ink and are legible but takes some work to decipher the handwriting.

Otis M. Southworth Collection finding aid
Stephanie Chapman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

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