At times like these when the world can seem like a dark, confusing place, it becomes important to find a little joy here and there so that we can keep on going. Something that has personally lifted my spirits recently is a little gem of a book that my colleague Sky brought back from the California Book Fair shortly before book fairs started to get cancelled. It is a “Chap Record”, a form of journal designed specially for a lady to keep organised notes on all of the men she meets; a concept summarised wonderfully by the snappy verse printed on its opening pages:
“Behold herein, all nice and neat,
A record of the men I meet.
Among them all perhaps, there be –
Who knows? – the ‘not impossible’ He.”
Each entry has space for the man’s name, the date and place, and the lady’s opinion on him. This particular Chap Record belonged to Gertrude L. Beebe (born in 1893 in Brooklyn) who started writing in it in 1910 when she was around 17 and kept doing so until 1917 when she was around 24. Gertrude rather prolifically filled in 55 single sided pages and recorded a whopping 162 men, many of whom she met at a huge variety of parties and holidays (such as a “Japanese Party at Helen Francis’” and “Addis Wilmot’s Halloween Party”) across Brooklyn, Newark, and Baltimore to name just a few.
It soon becomes clear which particular attributes Gertrude was paying attention to in a man, with her always commenting on their height; almost always noting whether they were dark or fair; and often noting if they were ‘jolly’, ‘good fun’, ‘quiet’, or ‘lively’; as well as commenting on their dancing and piano playing prowess. She seemed to have a particular soft spot for a handsome pair of eyes and an attractive voice, with those that she found pleasing earning the description of ‘dandy’. She didn’t tend to dwell too long on the men she she didn’t like, instead signing their entries off with the almost quality-control-style repetition of “nothing to rave about”, though she clearly took a particular dislike to a man known only as “-?” who Gertrude states was:
“Short – not very good looking – horrid. Only saw him for five minutes.”
It seems that she marked her favorite men with a little “C” symbol in the corner of their entries, as with Carl Smith’s entry, which reads:
“Perfectly stunning chap. Tall and very dark with beautiful eyes. Rather quiet and dances dandy. Quite an independent chap.”
In 1916-17, though, she dropped this method, and instead took to the after-note: “I am terribly fond of… [lucky man’s name here]”. One of the last few entries, one Fred Fraser, is even lauded as “a peach of a fellow”. The volume is a truly wonderful record of a wealthy young woman’s social life in early 20th century New York and beyond, and is an absorbing read in itself, the short notes revealing much more about its unexpectedly relatable writer than its subjects. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh as I made my way through the 162 entries, transported for a few moments to another time and another world.
The journal is happily accompanied by two photographs of the society beauty, which seem to radiate with happiness and vitality. One is a glamorous headshot, the other a photograph of Gertrude in a surprisingly fashionable fancy dress owl costume, possibly at Addis Wilmot’s aforementioned Halloween party.
This fascinating journal is, considering its age and how long Gertrude kept it for, in excellent condition, and provides an incredible historical glance atromance and dating, as well as being a very welcome, uplifting, and resoundingly humorous diversion. Unfortunately we have not been able to find out what happened to Gertrude or if she ever married, but I like to imagine that the reason she stopped writing in 1917 is that she did eventually find her “‘not impossible’ He”.