The other day my wife came home from visiting local thrift stores with an interesting item. She purchased what appeared to be the journal of a person named George H. Zimmerman (1889-1946) and I, being me, needed to learn more.
How George H. Zimmerman’s journal for the year 1912 ended up in a Tuscarawas County thrift store in 2023 is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps the small, red leather journal was handed down in the family to someone who was living in Tuscarawas County recently, or perhaps it was simply donated with a pile of other unknown material by a complete stranger. Regardless, the journal provides an interesting snapshot of one year in the life of a young man in 1912 in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
George was born in 1889 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania and was the son of Charles F. Zimmerman (1855-1932) and Elizabeth Coleman (1854-1949). The Zimmerman family lived at first in the town of Berlin before moving north to the town of Stoyestown. The family was a large one, with George having seven siblings, and all worked on their parents’ successful farm when not attending school in nearby Stoyestown. After completing his local schooling, George enrolled at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio to continue his education. It is while attending ONU in 1912 that he wrote this journal.
The journal is mostly an accounting of how George spent each day as opposed to him writing about his personal feelings and emotions, though there are entries where he does so. To get to school, George took the train from Stoyestown to Johnstown, Pennsylvania and from there to Pittsburgh where he boarded another train that took him to Ada, Ohio. Once in Ada he made his way to his boarding house on Main Street where he joined his housemates. The house that George lived in was called Sneary House and was located on the 400 block of Main Street.
What one learns by reading the journal is what life was like for a student living on the Ohio Northern University campus in the early 1910s. When he was not attending classes George often spent time going on walks, oftentimes for hours, playing cards or dominoes with housemates, going to the “pictures”, and just sitting around being bored and depressed (like any good college student!). There are, of course, mentions of young ladies that George socialized with during the course of the year, though for most only their first names are given. The diary also has a mystery; an entry written in what appears to be code.
During the fall and winter months George attended the university’s and local high school’s football games, went ice skating, and to the movies. In the spring he went for bicycle rides with friends, long walks, and attended baseball games. During the summer he worked on his father and neighbors’ farms and travelled the county earning money selling books. 1912 was also the year that he began to grow his mustache. While there is no evidence that George graduated from Ohio Northern University, it is known that he transferred to Ohio State University’s Medical College shortly after 1912. The journal does mention that he submitted an application somewhere but does not mention where.
While attending the Ohio State University Medical College, George met a local nurse working at Grant Hospital named Mildred McKeever (1896-1984) and the two married in June 1915. Their first child was born a year later and George graduated from Ohio University Medical School in 1917. George set up his first practice in the small town of Belle Valley in Noble County, Ohio but eventually made his way to the larger community of Caldwell in the same county. George and Mildred had four children during their marriage, three sons and a daughter. Their oldest son died tragically in 1934 after being hit in the head during a high school basketball game.
George and Mildred continued to live in Caldwell where he had established an office on the town’s main street. The couples’ daughter had gone on to be a nurse and was working as the Head Technician at Zanesville, Ohio’s Bethesda Hospital. One Sunday in early October 1934, the Zimmerman family attended church in the morning and then went on a picnic in the afternoon. That evening George decided to go to the office to catch up on some work but he never came home. He suffered a heart attack while at the office and died that evening. He was buried next to his son in Olive Cemetery in Caldwell. Because someone donated his journal to the thrift store, I was able to get a glimpse of his life as a young man in Ohio.
George H. Zimmerman’s journal is being donated to the Heterick Memorial Library Archives at Ohio Northern University to be included in their ONU Student Voices collection.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2023.