For more than 50 years, Westerville resident Lucinda Lenore Merriss Cornell wrote faithfully in her diaries, chronicling her daily life.

For more than 50 years, Westerville resident Lucinda Lenore Merriss Cornell wrote faithfully in her diaries, chronicling her daily life.

More than 100 years later, Otterbein scholars are using those diaries to inspire research projects on daily life during the Civil War, definitions of beauty and a host of other topics.

The 56 volumes of diaries, which were donated to Otterbein College by Merriss Cornell's descendents in 1994, were written between 1855 and 1911, and detail everything from selling corn at local markets to a visit by Abraham Lincoln to Columbus.

For the past four years, the college has issued grants for research projects on the diaries.

Associate professor and sociology chair Heidi Ballard, who helps administer the grant, said the diaries are valuable to many areas of study because they provide a detailed description of daily life for an average woman during the late 19th century.

"History is so often defined in terms of the elite and the exceptional and what their life experiences were. Those are the things that are typically recorded and preserved," Ballard said. "To have the typical, daily women's perspective who lived in Westerville during the Civil War era - that's special archival information of what a common woman's life was like."

The diaries extend beyond use as a tool for women's studies or history projects, Ballard said, because they offer a cultural link to the late 19th century.

Past research projects on the diaries have included a discussion of the transition of women's journals from shared journals to private diaries and a study of how standards of beauty evolved in the 19th century.

Two separate grants were awarded this spring. One project will compare the writings of Merriss Cornell to the writings of two other women during the same era. A second project will create works of art based on modern Westerville and the places Merriss Cornell discusses in her journals.

"It's taken a while for people to realize that these diaries exist and these awards exist and it's important and they can be used in their work," Ballard said. "There are really creative ways to integrate these diaries into research."

After 13 years working at Otterbein, Claire Parsons, an English major studying creative writing, said she just learned about the diaries and the grant this year. She was intrigued by Merriss Cornell's detailed writings.

"I just find it amazing that someone can write such a prolific amount - to continually go at it, day after day," Parsons said. "Every day, she wrote in it, whether it was just about going to the store or whether she sold a certain amount of corn. She wrote in it every day."

Parsons has located two other regional diaries, one from Tennessee and the other from Washington, D.C., that she plans to study in order to be able to compare and contrast those writings with what Merriss Cornell wrote.

"I'm hoping I almost come up with a conversation, or at least a snapshot of three different women at the same time," Parsons said. "I'm hoping to see how much they compare or contrast with one another."

From finding out she earned the grant in March, Parsons has one year to finalize her project. It will be presented publicly during next year's Bread and Roses ceremony, an annual event held in May to recognize the outstanding women at Otterbein.

Parsons said she wants to use her research findings to create a multimedia storytelling experience about the women, using historical photos, dramatic readings of the diaries and music from the time period.

The hard part of her research will be staying focused, Parsons said. When she read about Merriss Cornell's experience shaking Abraham Lincoln's hand when he visited Columbus, she said she found herself at the Ohio Historical Society, researching and looking at photos of that visit.

Her work, so far, has taught her about all that's available for those who are interested in studying local history.

"I don't think residents really know there are so many resources out there," she said. "The public library has wonderful pictures available to you and documents, and so does the historical society.

"It's just been amazing finding out how much information is out there," Parsons said. "It's going to be a challenge, but it's going to be a lot of fun."

As more grants are issued and projects are publicized, Ballard said she hopes more people become aware, like Parsons, of all of the opportunities Otterbein provides and the role it has played throughout Westerville's history.

"As more attention is called to the diaries, Otterbein's own historic role as an institution comes into sharper focus, too," Ballard said. "Otterbein is a jewel in the crown of Westerville."