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Diary of George G. Needham

Identifier: MSS 0097-Item 0054

Scope and Content Note

This five-volume private diary documents the life of New York City resident George G. Needham who began the diary at age thirteen and kept it until he was twenty-two. The diaries contain accounts of Needham's life at home, in school as an adolescent, continue through his teenage years, and end shortly after he graduated from the New York Ophthalmic School and Hospital in February 1864. He recounted business at his parents' store, church, his friends, relatives, travels, and other domestic affairs. The entries give a description of the everyday life and physical geography of New York in the mid-nineteenth century.

George Needham began this diary at age thirteen where he recounted his days as a less-than-stellar student and son of a merchant. As an adolescent, he spent much of his time practicing music (presumably violin), loitering around the Harlem railroad depot, and helping with the family business. He frequently expressed disappointment with "bad lessons" and failed school assignments, and pledges to do better. He noted that he did not spend his time well and roamed around town or "stayed in the house laying around" rather than studying or practicing music. His family took frequent trips to nearby locations such as Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Upstate New York which he described in the diaries. He also described interactions with his various family members and friends, visits to his parents' store, church, and outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing trips (mostly taken with "Charley," apparently his brother).

As a teenager, Needham noted school activities (at which he eventually begins to improve), frequent outings with friends and family, and major events of the day, such as the election of 1860 where he waited at the local Republican headquarters for the results to come in. He rarely discussed the outbreak of the American Civil War directly, but wrote of touring army encampments and forts, as well as listening to "patriotic sermons" from his pastor. Being scientifically inclined, Needham enrolled in the New York Ophthalmic School and Hospital. During his time at the school, he wrote about lectures attended, dissections performed, and the various subjects he was assigned to study. While attending school, Needham worked in his family's factory, which manufactured hand grenades for the government. He recounted the New York Draft Riots of July 1863, during which his family and business were targeted by the rioters because of their connection to the war industry. He detailed a clash between the army and rioters near the family's house during which howitzers were fired (blank), costing the family several panes of glass. His family and their business remained unhurt, but the neighborhood suffered damage.

Needham graduated as valedictorian from the New York Ophthalmic School and Hospital on February 29, 1863. The program for the graduation ceremony (during which he gave the valedictory address) has been bound into the volume. The last page of the fifth volume indicates that the diary is continued in volume six. The location of this volume and any subsequent volumes is unknown. There are also photographs of two unidentified men laid into the last volume.

The five volumes of Needham's diary are copies made at a later date and bound with a leather spine and decorative tooling on the covers. The spine and cover is sloughing off most of the volumes and in some the pages are loose and detached from the binding.


  • Creation: 1855 April 19-1864 July 24


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

George G. Needham was born May 2, 1842, presumably in New York, New York. His family business partially involved the creation of hand grenades for the United States government. He had at least two siblings, Charley and Ella. He attended the New York Ophthalmic School and Hospital from which he graduated in February 1864.

Information derived from the collection.


5 volume ; 21 cm


This five-volume private diary documents the life of New York City resident George G. Needham, who began the diary at age thirteen and kept it until he was twenty-two, giving a description of the everyday life and physical geography of New York in the mid-nineteenth century.


Purchase, 1955.

Related Materials in this Repository

This item forms part of MSS 0097 Diaries, Journals, and Ships' Logs collection.

Publication Note

University of Delaware. Library. Self works : diaries, scrapbooks, and other autobiographical efforts : catalog of an exhibition, August 19, 1997-December 18, 1997 : guide to selected sources. Newark, Del. : Special Collections, Hugh M. Morris Library, University of Delaware Library, 1997.

Shelving Summary

  1. Item 0054: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0097

OCLC Number


Processed and encoded by Evan Echols, August 2009.

Diary of George G. Needham
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2009 August 26
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

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