Diary of Mary Johanna Wild, Brookline MA, Introduction

Introduction: Mary & Charles Wild and the Origins of the Diary Project

Mary Johanna (Rhodes) Wild was born in North Providence, Rhode Island, on February 7, 1799. In 1820 she married Charles Wild, an 1814 graduate of Harvard College who had earned a medical degree in March 1818. They built a house in Brookline on the south side of Washington Street at the base of Aspinwall Hill, near where Charles had been boarding with a widow, Susanna Croft. (The widow gave him two acres of land on which to build his home.)

Wild House, 1868
The Wild House. The 1844 map at left shows the property, outlined in red, given to Charles Wild by the Widow Croft (or Craft). The photo at right shows the house as seen from Washingotn Street in 1868, after it had been sold by the Wild family and extensively redesigned. There are no known photos of the house as it looked when owned by the Wild family. The house, redesigned again in 1925 and renovated in 2016, still stands on Weybridge Road. Source: Digital Commonwealth

Dr. William Aspinwall, the town's principal physician (and the man for whom Aspinwall Hill is named), was gradually winding down his own medical practice at that time -- he died in 1823 -- and Wild soon took over as the leading physician in town.

The Wilds had nine children, six of whom -- three sons and three daughters -- survived past infancy. By January 1851, when Mary's diary begins, only the two younger sons, Edward, then 25, and Walter, then 14, were living with their parents. Charles William Wild, the oldest child, was out West. The Wild's three daughters -- Susan, Laura, and Mary -- were all married and living, respectively, in Philadelphia, Framingham, and Providence.

While I had written extensively about the house and about Charles Wild and his second son, Edward -- Edward was also a doctor and later a Union general in the Civil War -- I knew far less about Mary and the women in the family.

In 2016 I learned that Mary's diary had been added to the collections of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College. I photographed, transcribed, and began annotating the diary.

Wild Diary
A two-page spread from the Mary Johanna Wild diary, as photographed at Boston College in 2016

In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I recruited local volunteers for a crowdsourcing project aimed at producing better transcriptions than I had been able to make. (BC had since digitized the diary, making it much more readable.) This project builds on the transcriptions of those volunteers and continued research into the family and the people and events described in the diary. (Pop-up annotations are indicated by in icon. Clicking on the icon again -- or on the pop-up itself -- will close the pop-up.)

-- Ken Liss, December 2020
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