Seventy-eight years ago, a 13-year-old girl wrote of visiting her parents’ family in Clay Center, Kan., trips taken from their home in Kansas City.

Sunday, Jan. 22, 1933:

Had dinner up at (uncles) Henry and Newt’s. Twenty of us altogether. Took pictures. Left at noon. Got home at 7 o’clock p.m.

Seventy-eight years ago, a 13-year-old girl wrote of visiting her parents’ family in Clay Center, Kan., trips taken from their home in Kansas City.

Born Feb. 9, 1920, Ruth Catherine McKenzie was the only child of Hector and Agnes McKenzie. Hector worked as a carpenter, and when the Great Depression set in, he became a day laborer.

Ruth chronicles the days when her father found work. Her mother traded part of a sack of flour for some oranges during the winter.

She kept the diaries consistently for a decade, chronicling first-hand the struggles of daily life during the Great Depression and the onset of World War II. It was a simpler time, void of computers, online social media and the Internet.

The young girl grew up, and her daily dispatches stopped when she married in 1943. Still, she passed her love for writing along to her oldest child, Fran, who is determined to keep the tales of nearly 80 years ago alive through her daily blog. In less than one month since its creation, the site (www.DaughteroftheGreatDepression.blogspot.com) has received page views from citizens of the United States, Australia, Canada, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Israel, South Korea and Singapore.

“They’re just a wonderful story of what daily life was like during the Depression and the lead-up to World War II,” says Fran, a professional writer who lives in Lakewood area of Lee’s Summit. “They are just of wonderful historical value, in my opinion. It’s so much fun to find out these little tidbits that were going on in history or even in the world at the same time she’s living her life right here in Kansas City. I just love it.”

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Monday, Jan. 16, 1933:

Mother washed and baked bread. Ironed my gym suit. I had swimming today at school. Sure had a lot of fun.

The entries are short, with just a few sentences each day. Ruth maintained textbook-perfect cursive handwriting, sometimes in a brown ink and others just in pencil.

As Ruth got older – just shortly before she married Edmund F. McCoy – she wrote some of her entries in shorthand.

“Well, I took shorthand,” says Fran, throwing her head back and laughing deeply.

The books are worn with torn pages and their spines are falling apart. They were gifts to Ruth. Fran handles the books gingerly, their fragile pages almost as wispy as tissue paper.   

Ruth kept her diaries from 1933 until 1943. She chronicled her courtship with Edmund and how they dated on and off and maintained relationships with other people.

They married five years after their initial meeting and had three children – Fran, Jim and Mary. Fran proudly shows the black-and-white photograph of the first house her parents bought, which is still standing at 11415 E. 13th St. S. in Independence. Fran attended kindergarten and first grade in Independence and then moved to Kansas City.   

Ruth worked as a secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor and later for the U.S. General Services Administration. Fran’s father served in the U.S. Air Force and also worked in construction.

Fran always knew of her mother’s diaries, since she allowed her three children to read them. It was a treat, considering Ruth was a quiet, soft-spoken, private person, Fran says. 

Ruth was a soldier of her time, like so many who lived during the Great Depression, Fran says. Ruth wrote of putting cardboard in her shoes, temporarily mending their holes, and going on to school.

“My mother was one of those unheralded soldiers where she just soldiered on,” Fran says. “She is reflective of a generation that did that, not just my mother alone, but a generation that soldiered on through a lot of hardships – and then found some measure of prosperity after the war.”

They came back from “something that was long and hard,” Fran says, describing those who lived during the Great Depression and World War II, “but they found their happiness where they could.”

Ruth still made time to listen to the music of the time and to see all of the movies. The tone of the diaries always remained “very upbeat,” Fran says.

“They set a fabulous example for us today ’cause everybody’s struggling somehow, someway, with this economy – very few people are not,” Fran says.

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July 16, 1938:

Red-letter day in my life.

Ruth had met “Eddie” F. McCoy, the man she would marry five years later, during a dance at the Pla-Mor Ballroom in Kansas City.

“I was surprised how long my parents went together,” Fran says of one of the more revealing elements contained within the diaries. “You always think of your parents as old, but my mother was 54 when my dad died, and that seemed old to me. But, of course, now I’m going to be 64, and it was like, ‘My mother was young, and my dad was young.’ You don’t think about them as young.”

Fran kept the cards and letters that her parents sent during Edmund’s time in the U.S. Air Force.

 She wrote of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, when the Great Depression was at its height and Roosevelt spoke the now-famous words “... the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Ruth wrote vignettes, telling tales of growing up, casting stories about her Aunt Minnie, who smoked. Every so often, Ruth references circumstances following the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany.

Fran has transcribed her mother’s original diaries and has put them in notebook form for family preservation. She started her daily blog for members of the public so they may gain more information about the time period.

“She was a writer,” Fran says matter of factly, defending her mother’s craft.

A mother’s love inspired her daughter’s real career, her true passion in life.

“She was my biggest supporter,” Fran says. “Everybody had a box (in which) she saved important things for them. She saved all my writings. I was looking at after she died, and I didn’t realize how I had been writing stories my whole life. I didn’t realize it.”

Ruth had attended a creative writing critique group, and she inspired Fran to join in. When Fran crafted her own books and started selling them, her mother was the first person Fran told.

After a stint as a professional court reporter, Fran began writing full time in the mid-1970s. She sold articles to newspapers and magazines before she sold her first book, “When Last We Loved,” in 1981. Published a year later, the book served as the launch book for Silhouette Desire Books, a line that still exists.

Fran, who will turn 64 next month, has published 11 novels, most of which are romance novels. This fall, the first book in a series inspired by the Great Depression era will be published in hardcover.

“The Talk of the Town” is a love story “but it’s also a story of redemption and forgiveness,” Fran says. She used the song “Town Without Pity” as inspiration for the book’s plot and title, and Fran plans to draw from other period song titles for future books in the series.

Set in the fictional town of Blue Ridge, Mo., during 1933, “The Talk of the Town” tells the story of Roxie Mitchell and her attraction to Luke Bauer, the underdog she cannot resist. Fran described the era as “a time of terrible hardship, uncommon strength and dreams of a better day.”

Of course, the book is dedicated to Ruth.

Though her writing didn’t completely cease, Ruth eventually concluded her diaries when she started a new chapter in her still-young life.

On Dec. 24, 1943, Ruth concluded her decade of diary-keeping, simply writing, “Married!”

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The year was 1975. Ruth was still young, at 55, though she was left a widow after 32 years of marriage. Edmund died at 58 due to complications of asbestosis.  

Her writing continued on a typewriter in poetry about widowhood. In “Widow’s Cry,” Ruth writes of a simpler time when love was new and held endless possibilities, with death or older age showing no threats:

Memory, fail me not.

Return the youthful innocence, guilelessness and trust.

Make all things bright and untarnished as they once seemed.

Let me love again without restraint.


Now, reality mars my dreams.

Age lines disguise where beauty reigned.

My eyes evade the empty chair.


Let me behold with splendor.

Make my world all right again.

Before Ruth’s death, Fran told her that her greatest gift was teaching her and her siblings how to get along.

“She never had a prejudiced word to say about anybody,” Fran says.

Ruth was the woman whom everybody claimed as their best friend, Fran says.

But after meeting Mary Frances Walker Campbell in 1938, Ruth gained a “best-best friend.” Ruth referred to Mary as “M.F.” or “The Kid” in her diary, since Mary was several years younger than Ruth.

Fran remained close to her mother’s lifelong friend until Mary’s death this past Sunday at age 88. Like Ruth, Campbell had lived her remaining years at Monterey Park Nursing Center in Independence.

The diaries allow Fran to continue relearning about her mother, nearly 11 years after her death.

“I loved my mother. I talked to my mother every day,” Fran says. “I don’t think my mother and I ever had a big fight. Even when I used to be in Europe, I’d call her up, just to see how she was doing.”  

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When Ruth Catherine McKenzie McCoy died on July 15, 2000, at age 80, Fran turned to the diaries, using the exact words Ruth had written at a young age when her own mother had died.

Mother died today. She is happy now, and it is (selfish of me to not want her to be.) All I hope is that I see (her) again, someday, sometime, in heaven.

“They so described what I was feeling,” Fran says of her mother’s words toward her own mother, written decades earlier. “How she felt about her mother, I felt about my mother. We had a wonderful mother. We really did.”