Sharing ancestor's diaries of life in Blacksburg in the 1800s

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) -- March is Women's History Month, when women, past and present, are celebrated and commemorated.

One such woman, is Rosanna Croy Dawson, a Blacksburg resident who was born in 1822 and died just after the turn of the century.

Now, her story has captured the attention of her great-great-granddaughter, through the diaries she kept of day-to-day life in 19th century Blacksburg.

"I'm actually seventh generation back on Rosanna's side," Blacksburg resident, Joann Sutphin said. "[She] is my second great-grandmother."

Sutphin explained that her family's lineage can be traced back to William and Rosanna Croy Dawson. They were the first of her family to call the New River Valley home.

"This is the Rosanna and William Dawson house at the corner of Wharton and Roanoke Street in Blacksburg," she said holding up an old black and white photograph.

Sutphin also has Dawson's handwritten journals.

"[She] kept diaries of day to day events in Blacksburg," Sutphin explained. "The customs of the day, the foods that she cooked, the things she grew in her garden."

She chuckled at the oddities captured in the diaries such as unusual terms like "callithumpian" and "pounding" for newlyweds. Dawson also recorded meticulous details that would rival the newspaper like marriages, births, and deaths.

Sutphin recently brought the collection of her ancestor's diaries and pictures to Special Collections at Virginia Tech.

"The exciting thing about this collection is that it actually deals with a women's business," Kira Dietz, acquisitions and processing archivist at Virginia Tech, said.

After Dawson's husband died, she worked at her youngest daughter's dressmaking business that was run out of their home on Roanoke Street.

"Rosanna kept books for the business and actually recorded the names of the women who sewed," Sutphin explained.

Dawson also kept track of the garments they worked on, how long they worked, and what they were paid.

"To see basically women running a business like this and managing it from beginning to end, is not something you would see very often," Dietz said.

However, Sutphin doesn't believe they intended to be any sort of trailblazer for women.

"I don't think they knew they were paving the way. They were just trying to live and survive," she said.

Virginia Tech's Special Collections is looking to digitize, archive, and preserve the diaries and photographs for the public to see and enjoy.

"Our land-grant mission is to connect people to original materials," Dietz said.

For Sutphin, she wants her family's history to inspire other families to connect to theirs.

"I'm hoping that maybe if this is seen locally, that there are other people in the area that have things in their attics that think are not important, but they certainly could be," she said.

It's been more than 100 years since Rosanna Dawson wrote in her diaries. The seemingly inconsequential recordings of daily life in the late 1800s are now priceless treasures to the granddaughter she never knew.

"I think she's very interesting," Sutphin smiled. "I would have liked to have known her."