M980.204.1 | Diary of Henriette Dessaulles

Diary of Henriette Dessaulles
1874, 19th century
Ink on paper
21 x 14 cm
Gift of Mme Suzanne Morin Raymond
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Diary (4)
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Keys to History

Henriette Dessaulles (1860-1946), a young girl from a well-to-do family from Saint-Hyacinthe, kept this private journal from 1874 to 1881. The journal provides valuable testimony of private life in the 19th century. One passage penned by Henriette at the age of 15 tells us, for example, about the very different daily realities experienced by people in different social classes:

[October 23, 1875] Rosalie, our little seamstress, (...) is always alone in the sewing room and yesterday (...), as I was skipping past her, she said, :You're looking quite pale, mamzelle Henriette, "are you tired?" "I'm more frustrated, Rosalie!" "And with what?" "Oh with myself, I suppose!" "But you're very fortunate, mamzelle!" "Me fortunate?" "But of course! You have good parents, everything you could ever want, you're rich, you live in a fine house, you have people waiting on you hand and foot, you have a good education! Not many people are as fortunate as you." I didn't reply immediately, for what could I say to her? "And you, Rosalie, I asked finally, "aren't you fortunate?" "Please excuse me, mamzelle, she replied, "I'm quite content with my fate." "You live with you're family?" "No, they're all dead. I rent a small room where I live all alone, but not for long since I work here every day from seven in the morning til seven at night. When I leave here in the evening I go to the church to pray, and go straight to bed when I get home because I have to be up at five in the morning!" "And Sundays?" "I spend a lot of time in church and, from time to time, I write to my nephew who is a vicar in the United States." "And you're content like this?" "Yes, I perform my duties as best I can for the Good Lord, and I know that He will do the same for me.

After the death in 1897 of her husband, Maurice Saint-Jacques, whom she had married 16 years earlier, Henriette Dessaulles became a graphologist, published essays, tales and short stories and wrote articles for several newspapers. In fact she would become the first major woman of letters in her area.

  • What

    Only some of the notebooks of Henriette Dessaulles' private journal have come down to us. Henriette may have recopied her journal after her husband's death and, in the process, got rid of two of the notebooks, namely, those running from July 1878 to June 1879 and from October 1879 to July 1880. The McCord has four of her notebooks.

  • Where

    When Henriette was writing this journal, her father was the mayor of the city of Saint-Hyacinthe where the family lived in a large house that came with a gardener, a coachman, a cook, a seamstress and maids.

  • When

    This private journal begins with Henriette Dessaulles' entry into the convent at the age of 14. Her final entries correspond to the time of her marriage at the age of 21.

  • Who

    After the death of her husband, Henriette Dessaulles wrote almost 3 000 articles under six different pseudonyms for a number of magazines and newspapers including Le Journal de Françoise, Le Canada, La Femme, Le courrier de Montmagny, Le Devoir, Le Nationaliste, La Bonne Parole, La Revue Moderne and La Renaissance.