THE MEMPHIS DIARY OF IDA B. WELLS by Ida B. Wells

THE MEMPHIS DIARY OF IDA B. WELLS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The diaries of the youthful Ida B. Wells (18621931), the most powerful figure in the crusade against lynching. Started at age 24, this diary, published here for the first time in its entirety, is an exploration of a young woman's growth and development. It is also the diary of a black woman whose later political activism and journalism had impact on American history. In unguarded prose, edited by DeCosta-Willis (African-American Studies/Univ. of Maryland; Erotique Noire/Black Erotica, not reviewed), Wells documents the many details of her life in the then-booming town of Memphis: her frustration with teaching; her struggle to support her family (orphaned at 16, she was left with her aunt to care for five younger siblings); her desire to write and remain true to her ideals of self. She agonizes over bills, spends too much on clothing, and receives an abundance of ``gentleman callers.'' At 25, she is the sole unmarried female teacher in her school, and while she longs for love she is also unconventional in her career aspirations and her lack of interest in marriage. Wells's diary, covering the period 18851887, is remarkable as it is one of the few diaries of an African-American woman from the late 19th century. DeCosta-Willis provides context and additional information. She also includes a few brief travel journals, excerpts of a later diary, and Wells's first published journalism, which is especially noteworthy because in some of the articles Wells specifically challenges the social construction of black women in America. She examines the stigma of ``immorality'' and counters that ``there are among us mothers, wives and maidens who have attained a true, noble, and refining womanhood.'' In her foreword, Mary Helen Washington provides a literary context for the diary and Dorothy Sterling's afterword satisfies the reader's curiosity to know more about the woman Wells became. A meticulously edited contribution to the study of American women's diaries and late-19th-century women's and black history.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8070-7064-5
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994