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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Mary Jane Parsons papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1935
Creator: Parsons, Mary Jane (1842-1938)
Extent: 1.00 linear inch.
Collection Number: IWA0517
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Reflections on her pioneer life from Rochester, New York to Dakota City, Iowa.

Arrangement: One folder, shelved in SCVF.

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 896) were donated by Carl Parsons in 2003.

Preferred Citation: Mary Jane Parsons papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Mary Jane Higgens was born in 1842 in Rochester, New York, the daughter of Sydney Higgens and Francis Roberts. Following the death of her father in 1843, Higgens lived with her grandparents, moving to Wisconsin with them when she wasstill a young child while her mother remained in New York. When her grandparents decided to return permanently to New York, Higgens chose to stay with her aunt and uncle in Palmyra, Wisconsin and never saw her mother or grandparents again.

In 1861 Mary Jane Higgens married Byron Parsons and the couple set up housekeeping in a one-room loghouse that had previously belonged to Byron's parents. They had four children: George Leonard, William Sydney, Alfred Norris and adopted daughter Maude May. In 1864, when their first child wastwo years old, Byron Parsons went to fight in the Civil War. Parsons recalls in her memoir, "I told Byronwhen he went to the war, 'If you ever come home alive, we are going to pull for the west.' He got home in July 1865 andin September we were on the road for Iowa." In 1866 the Parsons purchased an 80-acrefarm in Springvale near Dakota City, Iowa and built a slab shanty. Four years later they built a two-story stone house where they lived, farmed and raised their family. Byron Parsons died in 1915. Mary Jane Parsons died in 1938 at the age of ninety-six.

The Mary Jane Parsons papers date from 1935 and measure 1 linear inch. The papers consistprimarily of the 178-page memoir of Mary Jane Parsons, "The Patchwork Quilt: Memoirs of the Pioneer Life of Mary Jane (Mrs. Byron) Parsons, 1842-1938, as told to Myrtle Parsons, 1935." Also included is a genealogy, a family tree and color copies of early photographs of the homestead.

The memoir of Mary Jane Parsons describes such day-to-day aspects of pioneer life as how to make a cord bed, the number of geese required to make a feather bed, how to dry and spin wool, how to gather and cook sugar down, and the methods for making candles, cheese and soap. Parsons reveals her knowledge of farming through her intricate description of plows, the handling of horse teams, pitching bundles and husking corn. She vividly recalls the Civil War camp in Wisconsin where she visited her husband before his unit was sent to active duty and the journey west by covered wagon undertaken by the Parsons family from 1865 to 1866. She describes the intricacies of daily life on the homestead as well as the blizzards, cyclones, fires and fierce summer storms of the prairie. She contemplates the many people she came in contact with including the Indians who lived nearby, travelers passing through, and visiting Gypsies and tramps. Mary Jane Parsons' memoir closes with her reflections on fifty years of marriage.

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  • Series 1: BIOGRAPHICAL
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  • Mary Jane Parsons