Like Dorry Shaw, Mary Bethia Roberts’ name underwent a transformation. Mary was shortened to May by neighbors, and then changed to Mae at her christening. During her teen years she was called Mae by her family and friends.
Mae was born July 16, 1869 in Minnesota. She moved to a homestead farm one mile from Devils Lake with her family on May 17, 1884, the day of the first entry in her diary. Her father, Albert, was already on the claim, but the train brought Mae with her mother, Isabella McKinley Roberts, baby sister, and younger brother Roy. Her Persian cat traveled with them in a basket.
The Roberts farm was one mile from Devils Lake which gave Mae and her family the opportunity to participate in many urban events such as Odd Fellows Lodge meetings, dances, and other social and political events. Mae, however, was happy to work in the fields with her father and brothers and ride the prairies on horseback enjoying the wildflowers and birds.
In the summer of 1885, she took the teachers’ examination in order to take a school twenty miles south of her family’s home for three months. She was not quite sixteen. She returned to Devils Lake after her school closed and resumed to her own schooling.
On April 5, 1887, she began to write the series of examinations which would give her the Teacher’s certificate, third class. This certificate allowed her to teach grade school at Sweetwater (four miles from home) for 12 months. Of the twelve who took the exam with her, she was the only one who passed. In the back of her diary, Mae kept a record of her expenditures. During the two months copied here, she purchased silk embroidery floss (10c), 2 yards of Spanish lace (22c), a pair of “fine shoes” ($4.00), 2 yards of blue ribbon (30c), a knit undershirt (90c), 5 skeins of yarn (75c), and 5 yards of white ribbon (60c).
In October 1888, Mae traveled to Grand Forks to study at the University of North Dakota. She enjoyed her studies, but she got into trouble at the university when she and friends took a buggy ride to East Grand Forks. The Minnesota city was off-limits to UND students because of its bars and bad reputation. She was disciplined by the UND president for breaking the rules. There are few entries in the diary after January 1889.
Occasionally Mae writes a line or two in a kind of code. She apparently feared that someone might read her diary, but when she donated the diary to the State Historical Society of North Dakota she did not mention the code or offer a means for translating it. The editor has copied some of the coded lines into the transcript. The editor chose 10 pages from the diary covering two months to transcribe. These are typical entries for this time in her life.
Mae Roberts’ diary is a small, dark red patterned book with a brass clasp. It is too fragile to handle carelessly, so these entries are transcribed rather than digitized in the original.
Source: SHSND MSS 20068 Mae Roberts Jensen Diary
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