Alice Gilman sits with her son, Buster, somewhere between 1938 to the early 40s. Contributed / Buster Gilman

If you keep up with the Windham Historical Society on Facebook, then you are well acquainted with Alice Gilman. If you don’t follow the page, however, allow me to introduce her to you. Alice Gilman was a housewife living in the Newhall section of town during the days of the Great Depression. For the past two years, the society has been following her life through her diaries from the years 1937 and 1938.

From her journals we have learned that she and her husband Lloyd, whom she affectionately refers to as Gillie, share their home with their children from previous marriages. They also have a boy of their own named Buster who, in 1938, had just turned 5 years old.

Gilman’s diary entries show us a simple life with a lot of hard work. Since families at that time had little money to spare, most tasks had to be done by family members. For example, Gilman can be found painting windows and hauling wood in addition to her daily household chores.

Some of Alice Gilman’s hooked rugs. She sold these to help with family income. Her son Buster is on the right. Contributed / Buster Gilman

Her recollection of Feb. 22, 1938, is an example of a typical day. She wrote: “Sunshining. Temperature at noon was 38. Done week’s washing, threw 2/3 of a cord of pine tops down the cellar. Worked on a rug this evening.”

Gilman really enjoyed hooking rugs and according to Buster, who is now 91, she sold them to help with the family income, as well. Others have memories of rugs being all over her kitchen. The lively colors must have been something to behold.

She seemed to like bringing color into the world. Many days, we hear about the variety of flowers she’s planting. Pinks, pansies, roses, cockscomb, marigolds and more adorned her gardens. With money being a luxury at the time, a colorful vase of posies probably went a long way in brightening up a day.


Buster also recalled that Gilman planted vegetables in some of her garden beds. Cucumbers, tomatoes, corn and squash were some she cultivated in the summertime. In the fall, she would can and pickle her vegetables along with an assortment of fruits. She also made her fair share of jams and jellies. All this would be enjoyed over the long winter. In addition, the family raised chickens for their eggs and meat. All these things helped her keep the family healthy while helping to stretch the weekly budget, too.

Haley Pal, a Windham resident and active member of the Windham Historical Society, can be contacted at

Although the finer things were not common in Gilman’s life, she seemed to make do very well with what she had. She enjoyed the occasional trip into town, going for rides in the country or going out for an ice cream cone on a summer’s night. Sometimes she and Gillie would treat themselves to some fried clams from a stand in North Windham and she was always happy to receive callers or make calls on her friends.

Though her circumstances were modest, I think Gilman believed her life was rich in many ways. She had a loving husband and children who were helpful to her and generous with their time. Whether cleaning the house or the fish they brought home from a trip to the lake, the kids did their part to support the family.

An example of a friend motto, or decorated plaques with sentiments on them, popular in the 1920s and 30s. Haley Pal / For Lakes Region Weekly

And at the heart of that family was their mom. To show their appreciation on Mother’s Day, her children stopped by to bring her gifts. In 1938, she wrote, “It’s Mother’s Day. Sunshining with a temperature of 64. Kenneth give me a box of candy and called in the afternoon. Alice give me a plant … Helen give me a plant and a friend motto.” These were all inexpensive gifts, but I’m sure they were treasured by Alice Gilman, a woman who understood what riches really are.

If you would like to learn more about Alice Gilman and her life, follow the Windham Maine Historical Society page on Facebook. Diary entries are posted every day.

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