Geeking Out on The Doris Diaries

Damn!! I’m beginning to rebel. I crave adventures. I want to live. Not merely exist. -Doris Bailey Murphy, age 17

One thing you may not know about me, at least through this blog, is that I am a bonafide history detective. (In fact, at one point I almost got to work as a researcher on History Detectives.) When presented with a historical question or problem, my brain can instantly achieve laser focus and not let up for hours. Days, even. This skill has been put to use on scads of educational projects, from Bridging World History to the Muhammad Ali Center. My favorite historical topics are social history (studying traditionally marginalized groups, such as women) and local history.

Meaning it was either fate that I discovered The Doris Diaries, or editor Julia Park Tracey’s worst nightmare.

Twitter suggested I follow @TheDorisDiaries one evening, and soon I was engrossed in short quotes from the diaries of Doris Bailey Murphy, a 17 year old girl who lived here in Portland in the 1920s. When she died, a lifetime’s worth of diaries were entrusted to her great-niece, Julia Park Tracey. When I discovered the feed was advance publicity for I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen 1925-1926, I was chomping at the bit to read the entire book. Doris has totally captivated my imagination.

Readers are introduced to a spunky teen in this volume. The daughter of a well-off Portland architect, Doris regularly skips school, bangs up the family’s car, and goes necking with a string of boys. She curses. Eventually she is plucked out of Lincoln High School for a more structured religious school, St. Helens Hall (now Oregon Episcopal School). Come summer she is wrangling at a dude ranch in Central Oregon, where she rescues a horse near death and sneaks into off-limits buildings. Naturally she keeps adding to a long list of infatuations which are enumerated and ranked in her diary.

One mystery man haunts these entries: Micky. He is the handsome classmate that Doris mentions again and again, melodramatically imagining his fate after he is expelled from Lincoln High School, and sighing wistfully over his whereabouts:

I’m never going to kiss another boy. I’m going to have nothing more to do with them, because I’ve discovered the only one. He is my aim in life. I shall keep my lips fresh and clean only for him, and SOMEDAY he’ll come back. -May 11, 1926

[Ed. note: five days later, on May 16, Doris was kissing another crush, Jack Hibbard, in the back seat of a car.]

One thing is lacking in the book: a confirmed photo of Micky. A mystery! Naturally then, at 5:00am I started hunting down an archive that would have a 1925 Lincoln High School yearbook. Surely it would have a photo of Micky, right? And this history detective could help close a case! Archives aren’t open before sunrise on Sunday though, but Ebay was—I found the listing linked above, shared it with the author, and shortly after receiving her enthusiastic response, noticed the listing is now sold. 🙂

While the diaries mostly revolve around Doris’ love life, a number of place references are sprinkled throughout. Doris regularly visits her best friend who lives in Oak Grove. She swims at The Oaks (now Oaks Park) and notices the traffic congestion due to the opening of the Hollywood Theater. Doris even visited my alma mater, Milwaukie High School, on April 12, 1926! That was when the main building was just one year old.

This volume only covers about a year and a half of Doris’ life, but I’m hooked. It sounds like she only got more interesting as she matured. Eventually Doris went to Reed College—my friendly neighborhood institution of higher learning. True to Reed form, she shocked the community by interviewing prostitutes for her thesis work, and graduated in 1938. Later she became involved with labor union issues and eventually married famous Wobbly Joe Murphy. Two years before her death she wrote a memoir, Love and Labor. (Reed ran a profile in their magazine with a photo!) Mature Doris was just as spunky as her younger self, known for owning a pair of condom earrings and being “blunt, interested to the point of intrusiveness” among her family. After an amazing life, Doris died in 2011 at age 101.

Julia Park Tracey will be presenting The Doris Diaries at History Pub on October 15th. Help me cheer her on that evening at Kennedy School from 7-9:30pm!

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4 Comments

Filed under books, history

4 responses to “Geeking Out on The Doris Diaries

  1. Aw! Thanks, Heather! I went right to eBay and bought that yearbook — I can’t wait to see who’s in it. 🙂

    • One thing I didn’t notice until this afternoon is that it’s a 1924-1925 rather than 1925-1926. If that yearbook ends up being disappointing at all, know that I am still slightly on the hunt. I know MHS has an extensive yearbook archive, and I suspect Lincoln does too. Will let you know if I find any more gems, and feel free to shout out if you need any in-town sleuthing. I’m really good at what I do!

      • I’m slightly disadvantaged by being several hundred miles away and not familiar with the turf, so I appreciate your info so much. I had focused so much on Doris and her own family that I wasn’t thinking as much about her friends, and have only come to realize how attractive and mysterious Micky and his pals have become. Good on you for your sleuthing, sister geek!

  2. Pingback: Giveaway! Two Tickets to The Doris Diaries Release Party and Film Screening | bookish

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