Skip to main content

Wordin, Helen "Nellie" Caroline, Diary, 1858-1893

 Item — Box: B-001552, Folder: 3

Scope and Contents

Consists of a manuscript diary spanning forty-five years in the life of Helen "Nellie" Caroline Wordin (1842- ), an educated, single white woman living in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the 19th century who attended school in Petersburg, Virginia, during the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Wordin began keeping the diary when she was fifteen years old, with early entries documenting school, Congregationalist church activities, social calls with other girls, work with the Ladies Missionary Society, attendance at lectures and debates, music lessons, and visits to neighboring towns. She also references signficant events, including the execution of John Brown, the transmission of the first transatlantic telegram from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan, and the appearance of Donati's comet. The entries from 1860 and 1861 cover Wordin's time in the South leading up to and during the first month of the Civil War. She recounts her journey by steamer from New York, landing in Norfolk, Virginia, on October 8th, 1860. Entries from this time period reference her studies of Latin and Greek and social and leisure activities while living in Petersburg, Virginia. She also comments on enslaved children she encounters at a tour of a tobacco plantation and describes "secession talk at the table in the evening." Wordin records major events such as the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, the secession of South Carolina, the formation of the Confederate States of America, the Battle of Fort Sumter, and the Baltimore riot of 1861. Shortly after, she describes her travels home in late April 1861, mentioning her passenger ship being stopped and examined by soldiers, as well as a trip she made to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before returning home to Connecticut. The rest of the diary covers Wordin's later life in Bridgeport, including details of her relationships with several suitors, family members, and friends; the deaths of her parents and the illness of her sister; and her efforts to defend her father's will in court.

The early entries come every few days, but over the years, Wordin wrote less frequently, often summarizing events that had occurred over the course of several months. The first fifty-three pages cover the period from 1858 to the end of the Civil War in 1865, picking up again in 1871, after which Wordin covers most years of her life in four to six pages, until stopping abruptly in 1893.


  • Creation: 1858-1893

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Biographical / Historical

Helen Caroline Wordin, also known as Nellie, was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1842. Her father, Nathaniel Sherwood Wordin, operated a successful Bridgeport drugstore that her grandfather had founded in 1808. Along with her brother, Nathaniel Eugene "Gene" Wordin, Nellie Wordin was sent to Petersburg, Virginia, in October 1860, where she studied Latin and Greek before returning home after the outbreak of the American Civil War. She contined to live in her family home in Bridgeport with family members until at least 1910. Despite having several suitors, Wordin chose not to marry.


1 folder

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English