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Country Girl in Town and Back: A Journal of Transitions in Jennings County in the Late 1890s

From The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections, Spring/Summer 2019. To receive Connections twice a year, join IHS  and enjoy this and other member benefits. Back issues of Connections are available through the Basile History Market.

Featured image:
Years after losing the presidential elections of 1896 and 1900, William Jennings Bryan was still drawing huge crowds. Having unsuccessfully run for president twice, he took to the podium again for a new candidate. He is pictured here speaking to a group in Brookville, Indiana, in 1904 on behalf of Alton B. Parker, the Democratic presidential candidate. Parker would run but lose to the highly popular Theodore Roose- velt later that year. Bryan himself would stand for election once more in 1908 but again fail to win the presidency. He is known best for his “Cross of Gold” speech, delivered at the National Democratic Convention in 1896. He is also credited with starting the practice of campaigning across the length of the entire country at a time when it was customary to receive one’s constituents at home—where speeches were made. (Ben Winans Glass Plate Collection, P 0468, Indiana Historical Society)

At the age of twenty, Ella M. Hole began a journal headed on the inside title page “June 1883. Butlerville, Ind.”(1) In the opening pages, she entered a few addresses along with a suppository recipe from a Mrs. Child. But it was not until thirteen years later that she began to write regular entries in this journal.

Ella was born on April 10, 1863, the youngest of six children.(2) Her parents, Joseph and Esther (Pyle) Hole, relocated from Columbiana County, Ohio, to southeastern Indiana within a few years after their marriage in 1846. Settling in Jennings County in the early 1850s, the two raised their family on a farm near the small town of Butlerville. Joseph is listed as a farmer and beekeeper in an 1884 Jennings County atlas.(3) Due to a lack of sources, little is known about the family and how they fared in their first few decades in southern Indiana. We do know, however, that the latter part of the 1800s brought a series of changes to the family. The three oldest children: Henry (b. ca. 1849), Evelyn (b. ca. 1852), and Elizabeth “Lizzie” (b. ca. 1855) were no longer in the household in the 1880 census. At that time, only the three younger children: Charles (b. ca. 1857), Linda (b. ca. 1862), and Ella were living with their parents. From an article in the North Vernon, Indiana, Plain Dealer, we know that Ella attended a teachers institute in August 1886. Her father, Joseph, died in April 1887, and her mother, Esther, died in December 1898. By 1900 both Ella and Lizzie had pursued jobs as schoolteachers.(4)

Our first intimate glimpse into Ella’s life begins on October 1, 1896, when she begins writing in the journal again. Her entries, although not daily and often short on details, give us an idea of how she lived her life and what was important to her. While few personal comments or opinions are recorded, we can still detect what was important to her by the way she reports each event, the amount of time she devotes to each subject, and what she chooses to omit. For example, in her first entry, she writes: “Mother, Lizzie and I moved to Butlerville on the 17 of Sept—leaving Charlie in charge of the farm. We live in [a] property belonging to heirs of Mrs. A. M. Hole.”

What Ella doesn’t mention in this entry is that this move was the beginning of a new life for her, her sister, and her mother. Her brother Charlie’s marriage to Sarah “Sallie” Ryan, only two days before, most likely had prompted this relocation to town.(5) Having been raised on a farm, Ella was starting a new chapter in life. There is no mention of Ella’s feelings toward this change. In fact, she reports it matter-of-factly and without any betrayal of emotion, be it sadness, homesickness, or excitement.

However, the reader can detect a sense of responsibility that seeps off the page in this first journal entry. She is named as the head of the household in the census four years later, and, indeed, Ella—even though she was the younger sister—seems to have taken on many responsibilities of running the household for her mother and sister once they moved.(6) The first and foremost thought on her mind was their financial situation. Directly after she mentions the house they have rented from a possible relative, Ella records that they “pay rent of $4.00 per mo” which comes out of the $38.85 per month that she makes from her teaching job. From the beginning, she kept a careful eye on money made and money spent. A week later on October 8, she reports that she spent $1.25 buying materials for and paying a Shelby Childs to stain a new cupboard that she had acquired. Fortunately, the expense was worth the cost as she reports that the work was satisfactory. Then on November 17, she gives a breakdown of the quarterly payments made to the preacher’s salary: $1.00 for herself and 50 cents for her mother and Lizzie.

It is possible that Ella had kept the money records for her family for quite some time. Through the entries written in 1896 to 1897, she shows herself able to handle the family’s money and to maneuver the increasingly difficult financial climate of the day. The Panic of 1893, which negatively affected the stock market, caused numerous bankruptcies across the United States and inflated the unemployment rate to more than twenty percent. In 1896 an economic depression still affected the country and would continue to do so until the end of 1897. The economic unrest likely caused many people, including Ella, to be more watchful over their finances.(7) In a journal entry, Ella remarks on the shaky stock venture in which she had invested $4.00, and she expresses her hopes for better times in the future with the upcoming presidential election.

On January 26, 1897, she notes that she “received [a] money order from C. W. [Manpin] for five dollars to be applied on a note of fifty dollars which I hold against him. [She] also wrote him asking for the full amount which was due Feb. 1, 1896,” the previous year. This entry suggests that Ella had been in charge of the family’s money for more than just a few months and was familiar with past dealings and decisions.

Another indication of Ella’s constant financial awareness is the section of pages at the back of her journal in which she records each purchase made during the first year the family lived in Butlerville. Organized chronologically, the entries describe each item purchased, including its cost, and the amounts are then totaled at the end to reveal how much the family spent. While such a record is likely not uncommon, the fact that the list was recorded in the same journal as Ella’s more personal entries lends a deeper meaning and level of importance to the journal. For just as she cared about her family’s finances, she also cared about social issues and personal relationships.

Ella clearly had interests beyond household matters, and her journal shows there were plenty of ways for Ella to spend her free time, which undoubtedly increased once she moved to town. She records spending a great deal of the fall of 1896 following the upcoming presidential election. Only four days after expressing the hope that the country’s, and as a result her family’s, financial state would improve after the election, she notes that she and Lizzie attended a Republican rally in North Vernon.(8) Over the next several weeks, she attended a number of other meetings and speeches given all the way up to Election Day. According to Ella, the election was shaping up to be a spectacular showdown between Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan, advocate for adopting the silver standard, and Republican William McKinley, who campaigned to keep the gold.9

On November 2, one day before the election and after attending another speech with her mother, Ella reports, “Republicans are enthusiastic and hopeful. This closes the greatest campaign since the war—one pursued with the greatest energy by the two great parties.” She then sums up, a little disdainfully, in part what made this election a resounding showpiece: “Bryan stumped the country from west to the east in the interest of silver. McKinley remained at home and received and spoke for . . . gold . . . to the delegation[s] . . . who came to visit him.” Nevertheless, on November 4 she records the Republican’s golden victory, which was announced early that morning. More complete returns are reported by her the following day. McKinley’s inauguration is noted on March 4, 1897, which suggests Ella sustained interest in the election process as well as in the country’s general welfare.

“After three days[’] vacation on account of voting in [the] school house,” school resumed its normal classes for Ella on November 5, 1896. We do not know when or where Ella began teaching. As mentioned above, Ella had attended a teacher’s institute in Vernon, Indiana, the week of August 18, 1886, when she was twenty-three. The first official documentation available that lists her occupation as teacher is the 1900 federal census, which also shows that her sister Lizzie was a teacher. In her first entry on October 1, Ella writes that “I am teaching in the school here.” It is difficult to know if she is stating a long-established fact or if she had recently acquired this job. The 1886 clipping indicates that she was associated with the township teachers’ institute from at least that time. Township teachers’ institutes provided a network for teachers, but more importantly served as a means of professional development. Although the quality of such instruction varied from township to township, monthly meetings were required by state law in the late 1800s.10

Ella seems to have enjoyed the work of teaching and capably managed the challenges and traditions that came with it. On January 27, she reports that “the school house roof caught fire from [a] defective flue . . . [but] was extinguished without much trouble.” The next month, with a teacher’s pride, she writes that “the pupils of the three rooms in school united in exercises in honor of Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays. . . . It was a fine day and a large number of patrons and friends were present.”(11)

Ella’s journal witnesses that there were many opportunities to involve herself fully in the community of Butlerville and the surrounding area. Judging from the intimacy with which her many friends and activities are mentioned, it is reasonable to state that she had a wide circle of them before she moved to town. Since we have no documentation to compare her former life to the one recorded in her journal, we cannot say for sure how her social life changed with her move in fall 1896. But during her first year in town, she kept busy entertaining, visiting, and being involved in the lives of those around her. Within the first few months Ella attended a masquerade party, had a friend stay the night, and enjoyed dinner with a number of friends. The coming of winter brought skating parties on the creek (when it was cold enough) and performances to attend in town.(12)

Ella also was deeply involved in her local churches, as it appears that she attended not only the Methodist Episcopal Church in town but also the Baptist church, and other denominations, on occasion. In fact, according to her journal much of her time was taken up by participation and involvement in the Methodist and Baptist churches, particularly in preparing the music for various services and revival meetings. The days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas were particularly filled with planning meetings and practices for special holiday services. While this may have been a way to stay involved in the community or even just to keep busy, the number of times she mentions these activities shows a genuine interest in and devotion to this work.

Ensconced in their house in town, Ella, her mother, and Lizzie made semi-regular trips back to the farm to visit Charlie and his wife. The farm seems to have been relatively close to town as Ella makes several references to day trips there. The girls’ older brother, Henry, and his wife, Stella, also lived nearby and Ella makes note of their visits into town.(13) The family also came together to mark holidays and important occasions. On November 26, which happened to be Thanksgiving, Ella writes, “This is the fiftieth anniversary of Mother[’]s wedding and we and Henrie’s family spent the day with Charlie at the farm. . . . A bountiful dinner with turkey was eaten and enjoyed by all. Mother and I went to father[’]s grave in the afternoon.”

But underneath the surface of this new life, surrounded by friends and a seemingly never-ending string of activities, Ella, her mother, and her sister were still adjusting. Perhaps Lizzie had a more difficult time of it, as Ella often mentions that on visits to the farm Lizzie stayed overnight.(14) Likewise, while Ella did her best to remain busy with teaching or friends, occasional signs of her own homesickness slip into her journal entries. Perhaps the most telling example is her entry on Christmas Day when she writes, “This is the first Christmas day that I ever spent away from home. . . . Henrie and Charlie spent the day with their wives[’] folks.” Sounding a little lonely, and possibly feeling strange at not being in the center of a family Christmas as she was used to, this event might have brought into perspective all the changes of the previous few months. Happily, the three women spent the day with friends, eating and playing games, and then celebrating with family a few days later.(15)

Ella’s mind was often fixed on the family farm well into the new year. She frequently comments on the weather, as in an April 20, 1897, journal entry, in which she remarks that the weather is “too cool and wet yet for farmer[’]s work.” This entry reveals the mindset of a farmgirl; although living in town, she was still evaluating the weather from a planter’s point of view.

When Ella’s mother passed away at the end of 1898, Ella and Lizzie jointly inherited almost twenty-nine acres of land. The 1900 federal census for Ella Hole that shows the sisters residing together shows them in Campbell Township, Jennings County, but not in any particular town. Ella owned her house free and clear. This and subsequent census records suggest that the young women moved into a house on the land their mother left to them.(16) In May 1902 Ella married Landon M. Kibler in Jennings County. They had two children: Kirk (b. ca. 1904) and Florence (b. ca. 1906). Landon, Ella, and Kirk apparently lived in Campbell Township, Jennings County, for the remainder of Ella’s seventy-eight years. The 1910 census lists Landon as a farmer with a mortgaged farm, and a farm laborer boards in his household. By this point if not before, Ella is no longer teaching. The 1930 census lists Landon as a farmer and Kirk as a farm laborer in their household. By 1940, however, Landon was 83 and Ella was 76. Kirk and a lodger were working the farm, which Landon owned. The Kibler family was receiving income from the farm but not wages. These census records suggest that Ella may have been able to move back to part of the farmland where she grew up. Charlie and Henry would have been neighbors. Like most female teachers of her time, she quit working when she got married and stayed home, raising the children, and in this case, no doubt helping to run the farm.(17)

Another intriguing news clipping gives a glimpse of Ella in March 1940. Titled “Fairmount Club Meeting,” it mentions Ella and her daughter Florence. Ella played the xylophone for the club’s opening song “The Star Spangled Banner.” Florence Kibler, who was living in Chicago at that time, had bought the xylophone for the club. The article also states that “a poem was composed and dedicated to the club by Mrs. Ella Kibler, who will soon be seventy-seven years of age.” Ella (Hole) Kibler died in July 1941.18 Although her journal spans only the length of seven months, it covers a pivotal time in her life.

Through her short journal entries, Ella reveals much about her personality, her values, and the joys and sorrows of her life in late nineteenth-century Indiana.


1. Collection of photocopies of manuscript items from Paul Carr on Jennings County, Indiana, 1883–1941, made available to the Indiana Historical Society, hereafter referred to as Paul Carr Jen¬nings County Collection. The collection contains an assortment of newspaper clippings, letters, and Ella M. Hole’s journal. A 2011 Online Connections article, published by the Indiana Histori¬cal Society Press, includes a Hole family tree created using the genealogical sources provided by Carr. Genealogical information presented in this article was found in Carr’s materials and in the Online Connections article unless otherwise noted. Additional sources are cited as supplementary evidence. The primary docu¬ment used in this article is the journal of Ella M. Hole, hereafter referred to as “Ella M. Hole Journal.” For the Hole family tree, see Karen M. Wood and K. L. Combs, “Hole Family Tree Created from Manuscript Items from Campbell Township, Jennings County, Indiana,” Online Connections (2011),
2. Certificate of Death for Mrs. Mary Ella Kibler, Butlerville, Jennings County, Indiana, July 13, 1941, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis, in “Death Certificates, 1899–2011,”
3. Joseph Hole and Ester M. Pyle, Marriage Record, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, in “Marriages, 1829–1846, Quaker Meeting Records,” Call no. MR-O-0007,; James M. Lathrop and J. H. Summers, An Atlas of Jennings County, Indiana, from Actual Surveys (Philadelphia: D. I. Clark, 1884), 47; Esther M. Hole, Probate Record, Will Records, Indiana, Circuit Court (Jennings County),; 1850 U.S. Census for Joseph Hole, Unity, Columbiana County, Ohio, roll M432_669, page 75B, image 155,; 1860 U.S. Census for Joseph Hale, Campbell Township, Jennings County, Indiana, roll M653_271, page 29, Family History Library film 803271, Ances¬; 1880 U.S. Census for Joseph Hole, Campbell Township, Jennings County, Indiana, roll 288, page 319C, Jo¬seph Hole’s occupation is recorded as farmer in the 1880 census.
4. 1880 U.S. Census for Joseph Hole; “Fairmount Items,” Plain Dealer (North Vernon, Indiana), August 18, 1886; Obituary for Joseph H. Hole,” Plain Dealer, May 11, 1887; Joseph H. Hole, Butlerville, Jen¬nings County, Indiana,; Obituary for Esther M.Pyle, December 21, 1898, Butlerville, Indiana (from newspaper clipping with no title, ca. December 1898); 1900 U.S. Census for Ella Hole, Campbell Township, Jennings County, Indiana, FHL microfilm 1240379, page 1,
5. Charles T. Hole, Marriage Record, “Indiana, Marriages, 1810–2001,”
6. 1900 U.S. Census for Ella Hole.
7. “Panic of 1893,” Ohio History Central,, accessed March 8, 2019; Ella M. Hole Journal entry for October 20, 1896.
8. Ella M. Hole Journal entries for October 20 and October 24, 1896.
9. For more information on the 1896 presidential election, see “United States Presidential Election of 1896,” Encyclopedia Britannica,
10. “Fairmount Items”; 1900 U.S. Census for Ella Hole; Richard G. Boone, History of Education in Indiana (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1892), 399–401.
11. Ella M. Hole Journal entry for February 19, 1897.
12. Ella M. Hole Journal entries for October 12, October 15, and November 22, 1896; January 1 and January 29, 1897.
13. Ella M. Hole Journal entry for February 25, 1897.
14. See for example Ella M. Hole Journal entries for October 28 and November 2, 1896.
15. Ella M. Hole Journal entry for December 25 and December 29, 1896.
16. Esther M. Hole, Probate Record; 1900 U.S. Census for Ella Hole.
17. Marriage Record for Ella Hole, “Marriages, 1810–2011,” FamilySearch, 2013, available in “Indiana, Marriages, 1810–2001,”; 1910 U.S. Census for Ella M. [H/K]ibler, Campbell Township, Jennings County, Indiana, FHL microfilm 1374372, roll T624_359, page 11A,; 1930 U.S. Census for Ella Kibler, Campbell Township, Jennings County, Indiana, FHL microfilm 2340329, page 48,; 1940 U.S. Census for Ella Kibler, Campbell Township, Jennings County, Indiana, roll m-t0627-01058, page 9B,
18. “Fairmount Club Meeting,” unknown newspaper, ca. March 1940; Certificate of Death for Mrs. Mary Ella Kibler; Paul Carr Jennings County Collection.

Natalie Burriss earned her master’s degree in library and informa¬tion science from Indiana University–Purdue University, India¬napolis, in 2013. She currently works for the Indianapolis Public Library and does editorial work for the Indiana Historical Society Press.

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