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Martha Farnsworth

Portrait of Martha Farnsworth

Diarist, 1867-1924

The cool waters of "Oo-la-la" camp in Paxico beckoned Martha Farnsworth each summer. There she found relief from the oppressive, pre-air-conditioned days of the 1910s and 1920s. For Martha, camp was a joyous conclusion to summer and an opportunity to share time with the "adopted" boys of her Sunday school class. Martha's spirited account of their adventures opens a window into the past.

Sunday, August 30, 1914 I awakened early this morning, or rather, did I go to sleep at all last night? For the boys were all so hilariously happy, scarcely anyone slept. A bunch of them got up at 11:30 P.M. and went fishing. . .

The Farnsworth diaries and scrapbooks provide a glimpse at life in Topeka during the Victorian and Edwardian ages. Martha began writing in 1882 at the age of 14 and continued until 1922.

Martha Van Orsdol was born in Iowa in 1867. Her mother died when she was three and her father quickly remarried. The family soon moved to Prairie Grove in Republic County. Martha's strained relationship with her stepmother prompted her move to Topeka in 1887 where she lived for the rest of her life.

An early marriage ended in misery for Martha because of her husband's cruelness, alcoholism, and ill health. Her only child died at six months after a brief illness. Martha's husband died the following year.

By contrast, Martha's marriage to Fred Farnsworth brought much happiness. As Martha continued to yearn for children, she enjoyed the students in her Sunday school class.

Necessity drove many of Martha's summer activities as it did her contemporaries. Cleaning, canning, and ironing were frequently noted in Martha's diaries.

Monday, September 2, 1895 I bought a half bu. [bushel] of nice Peaches for 30 cents and he gave me a half a Bushel.

Tuesday, September 3, 1895 Canning Peaches for a change.

Wednesday, September 4, 1895 Made Peach Preserve, Spiced Peaches and chili sauce, and so very tired, nearly fainted this evening; now have 195 qts. Of canned fruit, beside dried apples, Peaches, and Corn and my Jellies.

Thursday, September 5 Canned Tomatoes all forenoon.

Martha's sense of civic duty led her to become involved in the suffrage and temperance movements of the day and to join numerous social clubs. One of these organizations was the Good Government Club. When a group of "Socialists" (Martha referred to as anarchists) challenged the club's constitution, Martha celebrated their sound defeat. As a result of this experience, the juvenile court judge asked Martha to temporarily house an abused 16-year-old girl.

Martha proudly participated when women were given the vote in state elections and used the occasion to impose her sense of order at the polls.

Tuesday, August 4, 1914 Hot all day-and Election Day (Primary). Big ironing-thro' with my part, before 10 o'clock. Left Freda [her niece] to do hers, while I went to Vote. Stopped for Mrs. H. D. Larimer, but she wouldn't go. I walked down to Hartsack voting precinct, and cast my first State vote--reproved a couple of young women Voters, for both going into one Booth, and "called down" the Judges for negligence, in allowing it, then came home. . .

Martha FarnsworthWhen Martha's students presented her with a camera, she discovered the joy of photography. She filled scrapbooks with whimsical images and documented her adventures.

Monday, August 31 . . .no tent for me, when there is such joy in being out in the blessed open, and looking up thro' the foliage of the trees and watching the stars come out and then see the great Golden Harvest Moon rise out of the dark and go up and up into the myriad twinkling stars in the velvet blue of night and one by one put out their light with its own shining glory. And we are taking a good many pictures of our Camp too.

Martha died in 1924 at the age of 57 of an unknown cause. Her life can be discovered through the diaries and scrapbooks in the Farnsworth Collection at the Kansas Historical Society. Her diary was edited and published as Plains Woman: The Diary of Martha Farnsworth, 1882-1922, also available at the Historical Society.

Women's Vote

The 1912 Kansas legislature placed the woman suffrage resolution on the ballot by two-thirds vote of both houses. The measure also had the support of the governor, Chief Justice, state officials, and other prominent men. Kansas male voters on November 5, 1912 made the state the seventh in the Union where women could vote equally with men, nearly eight years before the 19th amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote nationally.

More diary entries

Entry: Farnsworth, Martha

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: August 2004

Date Modified: May 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.