Anyone out there know Pitman shorthand?

Mary Davies in 1891, aged 19

Mary Davies in 1891, aged 19

When my great-grandmother, Mary Davies, was 20 years old, she took a trip to Wales with her cousin to visit relatives. It was 1892, she was petite and pretty, and the Welsh boys flocked to pay court to two exotic American girls.

Mary kept a diary of her adventures, which consisted mainly of sleeping till 11 a.m. and then writing letters for hours (“We were writing a good part of the day & went in the evening to post the letters.”); visits to neighbors (“One peculiarity we have noticed is, no one has asked us to take off our wraps, & all places we go to we sit with them on.”); and long walks along the country roads with other young people (“Altogether we walked about three miles & a half & felt very proud, even tho’ we were tired, but a good night’s rest fixed us up all right.”)

At thirteen, when I first read the diary, I couldn’t figure out why Mary and her friends were constantly taking walks. I’m now realizing that rural lanes were the ideal setting for flirtation, romance, and perhaps the occasional kiss.

Having promised Mr. Bevan to go walking with him we all started out at seven o’clock up Swansea road & across the marsh to the old Church. It was a beautiful evening & walking along beside the river we would throw sticks & stones in for Mr. Bevan’s dog Nero to swim after. Mr. Matthias caught up with us…The moon came out bright & full & we had a delightful stroll home, with a package of sweets to munch on.

Mary was a proper Victorian girl, so if kissing was involved, she didn’t mention it. However, there are places in the diary where a possible kiss is implied.

In the evening Mr. Matthias & Mr. Bevan came, & we all started for a walk….It turned out to be a beautiful evening & the road selected was a lovely, a true lovers lane, with many little curves & turns. We did not get home until eleven o’clock, & although we had walked at least five miles it did not seem that long.

Following this passage are two tantalizing sentences in shorthand.

mary shorthand scrap3Mary had worked as a stenographer at George W. Crane Publishing in Topeka, Kansas, for several years. In those days, the prevalent system of stenography had been invented by an Englishman, Sir Isaac Pitman. By the mid-20th century, Pitman shorthand was largely replaced in the U.S. by the Gregg system. Thus I have not succeeded in finding anyone who can translate the five brief shorthand passages scattered through Mary’s diary.

I doubt that their contents are especially racy. But if anyone out there knows Pitman shorthand and would like to take a crack at translation, I’m dying to know what Mary wrote. Email me at

Read more about Mary in this older blog post.

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7 Responses to Anyone out there know Pitman shorthand?

  1. risabeeisme says:

    You can find Pitman shorthand dictionaries on line – hope that helps!

    • visnow77 says:

      Risa, there’s quite a lot about Pitman shorthand online, but the process is not a simple word-to-word translation. It’s a complex language, which I tried to learn from a book a couple of years ago, just to translate the diary entries. After three weeks of studying, I still could not get anywhere with the translation process. I need someone who really knows it! But thanks–

      • risabeeisme says:

        Well, good luck, then! Maybe post your request in additional places – like Craig’s list, Facebook, etc? Someone must know someone who knows! and have you checked with business schools? Maybe some old teacher still exists…

  2. visnow77 says:

    Good ideas! I did try FB. I’m realizing I need to go to the British–I think Pitman lasted longer there. Actually, Gillian and her mother were working on it, since they both used to know some form of Pitman, but then her mother got sick again. Business schools, brilliant!

  3. Deborah says:

    Violet, I would try asking around at senior centers. Also, perhaps post a query via a teachers’ union

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