For the last three years, a UA professor has transcribed and researched a multivolume diary that spans five decades of the life of Mary Eileen Murphy Walsh, and her husband, Paddy, who made Bisbee and later Tucson their home after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the early 1900s.
Judy Temple, a professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the Department of English, is seeking those who knew the Walshes as part of her research for a book about the couple, based on the diary.
“I would love to have more information about the Walshes from people who remembered them, people who had interactions with them,” Temple said.
The journal, which begins in 1913 when the Walshes were married, is housed at the Arizona Historical Society. It was sealed for 25 years after Walsh’s death in 1964 because of its “sensitivity about still-living people,” including many prominent Tucsonans, Temple said.
“Mim” Walsh’s diary documents her daily life, local and national events, her longing to return to Ireland, her desire and failure to become a published writer, and her staunch devotion to her Catholic faith.
“She’s in constant contact with her Irish family … one relative says she’s in exile in the United States and yet she and her husband chose to come to the United States so it’s an interesting tension between having to leave Ireland for his health and yet longing perpetually for Ireland,” Temple said.
Walsh and her accountant husband were well known in academic social circles. They attended events and parties with UA faculty . Friends frequently brought visitors to meet the Walshes, including writer Sherwood Anderson and his wife, with whom the Walshes became good friends .
Despite their popularity, the Walshes did not quite fit in with their friends who were of a different socioeconomic status, which was another issue detailed in Walsh’s writings, Temple said.
For example, while many of their faculty friends spent their summers in California, the Walshes could only visit California in the fall when it was less expensive and only for a week or two.
“I think there was a lot of resentment with the idea that they did not have the economic ease or long summer vacations that their friends did,” Temple said.
After her husband’s death in 1963, Walsh’s writings changed from diary entries to letters — 293 in total — written to her husband on his office stationery.
“They were extremely, deeply moving,” Temple said. “They’re a wonderful record of mourning and loss of mobility and independence and faith. They were just fabulously beautiful.”
Shortly before her death at 83, Walsh gave her diary to her close friend Yndia Smalley Moore , who was a past director of the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society.
Based on Walsh’s care in labeling her journals and the public knowledge of the diary — several people would ask Walsh to look up the date or information about a particular event in her diary for example — it’s clear that she was writing the diary with an audience in mind, Temple said.
Walsh, however, did keep some secrets.
“Diarists have this fascinating negotiation between private and public,” Temple said. “Every diarist that I have studied uses codes to hide things.”
One symbol that kept appearing in Walsh’s writings is a symbol that Temple has yet to decipher. She said it resembles an ancient symbol for copper.
“At one point it looked like it might be coding her reproductive cycle, but it reoccurs when she goes back, at age 70, to (visit) Ireland so I’m totally mystified at this point.”