Charles S. Whitney's Diary : A Nineteenth Century Salt Lake City Teenager
Godfrey, Kenneth W.
Journal of Mormon History
Salt Lake City, UT
Mormon History Association
Adolescent diaries and journals provide a unique perspective on history, although, so far, they have been little studied. Charles S. Whitney, a typical nineteenth-century teenager, kept a sporadic diary between 1881 and 1884. The struggles he dealt with are similar to the struggles faced by today's youth. Charles frequently struggled with his self image, being both easily depressed and easily elated. He spent most of his time socializing with his friends at parties, talking, singing, playing cards and pool. He was particularly sensitive to what the girls of his age thought about him. Charles was enrolled in the Deseret Acadamy for two years, but he did not enjoy or excel in his school work. He was employed for a short time as a bookkeeper at a furniture shop. His ambition was for the theater, but his mother, Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, would not give her permission for him to join a traveling acting company. During moments of depression, Charles turned to alcohol and tobacco. Despite efforts to stop both habits, he was easily influenced by his peers and in the summer of 1883 went on frequent binges. His diary entries reflect a sense of disappointment in himself for his failure to keep the Word of Wisdom. Charles's diary entries detail his church attendance without discussing any deep feelings about religion, although he does often express a love of God and family. In the fall of 1883, Charles went to Arizona with his uncle to find better employment. He stayed there until after his father's death at the end of the following year. His behavior seems to have improved during his stay in Arizona. His diary ends before he returned home; so, his feelings during the year and a half between his father's death and his own death are undocumented. Charles died at the age of twenty-one from a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner's inquest ruled his death a suicide, but his mother was convinced that it was an accident