The Missing Diaries

On March 24th, 1924, Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard delivered a dedication to the new library building on the University of Wyoming campus. Her eight-page speech recalled the history and growth of the library from a three-book pyramid to a 55,000 book collection and closed by advocating for murals of Wyoming history to be painted on its walls. At the beginning of her speech, Dr. Hebard gave her audience and future historians one tantalizing detail, “I find in referring to my diary under the date of February 24th, 1891 that I had made an entry in red ink, as follows: “A wonderful red letter day for me, a welcome to Laramie, the hospitality of a charming home, an introduction to the University.” How little I ever dreamed that these three events were to shape my life and help make for me a career.” [1]

Yes, Dr. Hebard kept a diary. Unfortunately, this diary or possible diaries are nowhere to be found in the 87 boxes that make up her collection at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. So, where are they?

The first possibility that I must face is that Dr. Hebard destroyed them before she died. In 1934 when doctors told her that she only had months to live, she made her first will. Undergoing several operations to remove her cancer, while continuing to work, write, and teach, Dr. Hebard would live for two more years and make two codicils to her will, the last being in April 1936. [2] For two years, Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard considered her life’s work and legacy. That spring of 1936, she wrote letters to Wyoming State Flag  Designer, Verna Keays Keyes, and women who she marched alongside in the fight for woman suffrage. She reminisced and celebrated their accomplishments together. Coupled with the codicil made on her will that same spring, one gets the sense that she was wrapping up her business. On October 11, 1936, Dr. Hebard passed away.

If Dr. Hebard destroyed her diaries, it likely would have been during that spring of 1936. Her motivations for doing so are endless– but the one that stands out to me is the possibility that there were aspects of her life she considered too precious and personal to share. Undoubtedly, Dr. Hebard would have been aware of the historic significance of her diaries. She rescued many a pioneer diary from obscurity and she knew of her own peculiar placement in Wyoming and women’s history. To destroy something that would be of future use to historians and give first-person descriptions of Wyoming’s transition to statehood would have been extremely out of character for Dr. Hebard. Historian Mike Mackey and others who have accused Dr. Hebard of myth-building and outright “lying,” might conclude that she could have destroyed her diaries for the nefarious purpose of covering something up, such as a manipulation of evidence. Historian Virginia Scharff may argue that if  Dr. Hebard destroyed the diaries, it could have been to hide a romantic and physical relationship with Dr. Wergeland. Without the diaries, her possible motivations are merely speculations–as is the conjecture that she could have destroyed them. [3]

The far more optimistic possibility, which I take delight in considering is that her diaries survived her lifetime, still existing on October 12, 1936. When I first read her dedication speech and realized that her diaries were missing from her collection, I looked to her family. While Dr. Hebard and her sister Alice never married– her brothers Frederic and Lockwood did. I held out hope for possible nieces or nephews with no luck– both brothers marrying later in life and remaining childless. With no close familial descendant, I looked to Dr. Hebard’s will and probate records held at the Wyoming State Archives. The Doctor’s Inn, the home she built with Dr. Wergeland in 1905, went to two women, Ida Jane Moen and Mary E. Marks, with everything inside going to Moen.

1945 University of Wyoming Yearbook
1945 University of Wyoming Yearbook

With all of her “personal effects of every kind and character” willed to Ida J. Moen, it is possible that Moen would be the first person to handle Dr. Hebard’s diaries in 1936. [ibid] At the time, she served as the personal secretary to the president of the University of Wyoming and was known as one of  Dr. Hebard’s closest friends. One of the earliest mentions of her name in the records, that I have discovered so far, is as a witness to Dr. Wergeland‘s 1914 will. It is possible that she first met both women of the Doctor’s Inn while she was a student at the university, if not when she graduated and took her first job there in 1905 working for Professor Nelson. Moen was born in Laramie on June 27, 1889, and died in Laramie on August 15, 1962. Besides the few years she worked in Salt Lake City and the summers she spent in Colorado, Moen stayed and worked in Laramie her entire life. Her parents immigrated from Norway, opening another possibility for how she met and grew to be so close to Hebard and Wergeland. Moen grew up singing hymns and recitations for the Scandinavian Church in Laramie, later becoming an active member in the Methodist Church, serving as secretary, vice president, and teaching Sunday School. She was much beloved by students of the university and even found herself serving some time in Dr. Hebard’s old role as secretary to the Board of Trustees. Also like Dr. Hebard, Moen never married. Before I can ask where the diaries might have gone after Moen, I must consider if there is evidence she had them and if she would have kept them.

Dr. Hebard’s probate records offer a wealth of information, particularly the appraisal of her home, which listed out each room and its contents. Could she have kept her diaries in the steamer trunk or on the bookshelves located in screened-in porch for her back bedroom? Perhaps in the back bedroom chest of drawers with her revolver and cologne bottles? The den, with its oak table and the complete works of Dr. Hebard, also presents itself as a likely home to the coveted documents. Likelier still, perhaps they sat in the file cabinet at her office in Old Main at the University. A 1937 spring edition of the school newspaper, “The Branding Iron,” reported, “Dr. Hebard kept personal files of letters, pictures, diaries, and variety of unknown documents in her Old Main (University) office.  Miss Ida Moen, secretary to the President, and one of Dr. Hebard’s closest friends, reports that no one knows what these files contain. Even Dr. Hebard’s private secretary was not allowed to go through them. “Undoubtedly there is a mass of invaluable material in those files.” Miss Moen said, “but Dr. Hebard was extremely careful with them and it will probably be nearly a year before we will know exactly what they contain.” Miss Marks hopes to eventually get the files into the library and give, someone the task of cataloging the material in them. One of Dr. Hebard’s most prized possessions was the diary of John Hunton, a frontiersman directly connected with Fort Laramie on the Oregon Trail. Her own personal diaries are not in these files.” (My emphasis) [4]

There are two ways to read that last line. The first, that her personal diaries were not among the paperwork she kept privately guarded in her University office. The second is to read “these files” in reference to the files Mary E. Marks wished to have cataloged at the University Library. Whether the diaries were in her university office or not, I find myself wondering why the article would make mention of her personal diaries at all if they did not exist? Dr. Hebard’s probate records do show that on November 20, 1936, Mary E. Marks was paid $100 to assemble and classify Dr. Hebard’s historical collection for appraisal and donation to the University of  Wyoming. It is possible that during this process Mary E. Marks handled Dr. Hebard’s diaries and made the decision not to donate them. Serving in Dr. Hebard’s old position, as university librarian, Mary E. Marks took an active role in handling the university’s acquisition. If not at the university library, perhaps the diaries stayed with the university librarian? Unlike Moen, I am unsure if Marks was born in Wyoming or stayed much longer after her last appearance in the 1951 City Directory. [5] She and Moen, both unmarried women, lived just 7 doors apart at the first apartment building in Laramie on 9th street known as Sprucellyn Apartments and later the Knight Apartments. After 1951, I do not know if she died, moved, or married and if she did whether she took Hebard’s diaries with her.

More likely though, the diaries would have stayed with the woman they were willed to, Ida J. Moen. Much like the first possibility I had to face, I must also consider that Moen destroyed the diaries. Much like Hebard, speculations on her possible motivations for such an action are only limited by imagination. As Executrix of Dr. Hebard’s will, she was the first person to decide what was important and what wasn’t between Dr. Hebard’s death and her final discharge of the estate two years later in October 1938. The house emptied much more quickly in 1936, with the estate paying John Prahl $57 to be a caretaker at the Doctor’s Inn from October 15th (just four days after Dr. Hebard’s death) to December 10th while the home was still full of possessions. By December 11th and 18th, with the house now empty, George J. Morgan took a wage of $3.32 for the “Final Hauling and Cleaning of Ash pit preparatory to closing house.” [6] If the diaries were in Dr. Hebard’s home when she passed, they likely only stayed there for another two months at most as Moen disposed of old furniture or clothing.

University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Accession Number 167, Box 5, Negative Number 10398.
Ida J. Moen sits working at her desk with a university student. March 1923. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Accession Number 167, Box 5, Negative Number 10398.

If Moen destroyed the diary, it could have been the product of an extremely efficient personality. I know Dr. Hebard to be an antiquarian, collecting and producing over 44.3 cubic feet of archival material in her collection alone. It makes sense that she would keep her diaries. I don’t know Moen’s personality– she could have been someone who didn’t believe in keeping old paperwork and mementos. Her desk as the university certainly looks well-ordered and efficient, with nothing unnecessary. She also could have destroyed the diaries out of friendship. Perhaps Mackey or Scharff’s interpretations of Hebard’s life are correct, and Moen destroyed the diaries to protect Hebard’s legacy. Or, maybe, just maybe, she kept the diaries.

Unlike Dr. Hebard, Moen had two nephews after her sister married Frank G. Day on July 5, 1913, according to the announcement placed by their mother, Ingeborg (Uthi) Moen, in the Laramie Republican. The couple would have two sons, Richard (1917) and Kenneth (1919), and moved in and out of Wyoming to Indiana and possibly Colorado before Frank Garfield Day passed away in Laramie on August 16, 1935. Four years later, their sons, Ida Moen’s nephews, attended the University of Wyoming and a City Directory has them living at 318 South 10th Street– The Doctor’s Inn. [7] Richard, unfortunately, died in service to his country during World War Two, but Kenneth married and possibly had children. Would Ida J. Moen have given Dr. Hebard’s diaries to her sister? Her sister is the only family listed on her death record, living then on Garfield in Laramie. [8] Could the diary have ended up with her nephew and his family? Would they have kept them or did they end up in an antique store somewhere? Or, like Dr. Hebard would Ida Moen have passed them on to another unmarried woman she called a close friend?

I am holding out hope and sticking to unlikely optimism as I continue my search. Much like Dr. Hebard, this search of mine is never done alone. The archivists and librarians I have had the pleasure of working with have been creative, thoughtful thinkers who have expanded my research and understanding with their enthusiasm and knowledge of their collections. With the friendly help of archivists at the University of Wyoming and the State Archives getting me this far, I am now reaching out to the people of Wyoming. Do you know where Dr. Hebard’s diaries are? Please reach out to me if you think you have my next lead. I appreciate any and all help along this journey and look forward to collaborating. Still searching.

[1] “Dedication of the New Library Building, March 24, 1924”, Box 62, Folder 14, Grace Raymond Hebard Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

[2] Grace Raymond Hebard Estate Probate 1710, Albany County Probate Records, Wyoming State Archives

[3] I base these speculations on Mike Mackey’s interpretation of Dr. Hebard in, “Inventing History in the American West” and Virginia Scharff’s in her chapter on Dr, Hebard in “Twenty Thousand Roads.”

[4] “Hebard Room in Library Will Be One of Most Interesting Spots to Semi-Centennial Visitors,” Branding Iron v. 42 no. 27 May 13, 1937, page 9, Wyoming Newspapers, Wyoming State Library

[5] Page 134, Laramie, Wyoming, City Directory 1951, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Operations, Inc., Provo, UT 2011.

[6] Grace Raymond Hebard Estate Probate 1710, Albany County Probate Records, Wyoming State Archives

[7] Page 52, Laramie, Wyoming, City Directory 1939, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Operations, Inc., Provo, UT 2011.

[8] Ida J. Moen Death Certificate 1962-1568, Albany County Probate Records, Wyoming State Archives

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