Dear Diary…

Family Papers Tell Story of Depression Era Ohio

What was it like to be a student at Ohio State University in the 1930s? What was life like in small-town Ohio at that time? A diary recently acquired by the Ohio Historical Society sheds some light on these questions.

Excerpt from Jacob E. Zint's diary describing life at OSU.

Kept by Jacob E. Zint, a native of Wapakoneta, it’s written in a college composition book, with chemistry notes at the beginning followed by entries describing life at Ohio State from Oct. 19 through Nov. 24, 1931. Many of Zint’s college experiences are similar to those of present-day students. He eats at the Ohio Union, watches football games, sees movies and writes that he’ll need “supernatural help” to pass calculus. He frequently mentions “Art” and “Kerm,” his older brothers Arthur and Kermit.

Jacob E. Zint pictured with seven of his brothers and sisters.

One Family’s Story
Jacob was the seventh of 10 children. At home in Wapakoneta, the Zint family had formed their own orchestra. To earn money in Columbus, Jacob and his brothers played music at clubs and fraternity parties and he continued playing in bands after returning to Wapakoneta. His diary resumes on Nov. 7, 1933, with the statement “Election day. Prohibition repealed.” Entries continue nearly every day until Sept. 3, 1935. Jacob writes about the weather, family activities and his hobby building and operating radios. He frequently describes hunting, fishing and gardening, things that were probably helpful in feeding a large family. In the spring of 1934, he and his brothers began preparing to open a bar called The Dale. (Operating bars was a family tradition, as their father, Jacob, had operated a saloon.) They opened to a crowd on Saturday, June 20, 1934, and business was going strong when the diary ends.

Interior of the saloon operated by the diarist's father in 1906.

Jacob Zint’s diary joins other Zint family records in the society’s archives. Fred Zint Jr., Jacob’s nephew, assisted the society in acquiring Jacob’s diary and also donated papers of his parents, Fred and Pearl Olson Zint. Fred Sr. was the oldest son in the Zint family and worked as a Vaudeville performer. He met his wife in 1920 while they were both singing in the chorus of the comic opera Robin Hood and they were married in 1921. In 1923, they joined the Shannon Players, a company headquartered in Wapakoneta, staying with them until 1924. Fred and Pearl continued their show business careers as a duo until 1927, then gave up full-time show business to have children. Fred went into banking, but he and Pearl occasionally performed in amateur productions. Their papers include contracts, correspondence, media clippings, theater programs and song lyrics from Vaudeville days. Photos in the collection depict the Zint family, including the Zint Family Orchestra, Jacob Zint’s saloon and the family home in Wapakoneta.

More Family Memorabilia in Society’s Collections
A variety of items in the society’s museum collections from the Zint family illustrate their work and daily life in the early 20th century. Personal items of Fred and Pearl Olson Zint include cosmetic supplies from her days as a theatrical performer; costumes they wore on stage and other clothing and accessories; the steamer trunk she traveled with as an actress; and baby items for their two children. Fred Jr. also donated items from his own childhood, such as a toy automobile; a safety patrol belt; a math exercise book; his pencil case; and an elf costume his mother made him for a grade school Christmas play.

Taken as a group, family collections like the Zints’ tell charming stories of the past that are in many ways strikingly familiar to us in the present. See Jacob Zint’s diary (VOL 1560) and the Fred and Pearl Zint Papers (MSS 1138 AV) in the Archives/Library reading room at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus. Interested in donating materials to the Ohio Historical Society history collections? Contact collections@ohiohistory.org.

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