9 Famous People Who Kept Journals

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Have you ever wondered what’s written on the pages of a famous person’s journal?

In this post, you’ll be able to see some example pages from the notebooks of nine famous people who kept journals. These individuals lived in different eras and worked in different fields.

But their preserved notebooks recorded their thoughts. They allow us a glimpse into their lives and provide context for some of the most significant moments in history.

People have been writing in journals for more than a thousand years. One of the earliest recorded works that was akin to a diary was that of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, ruler of Rome in the second century AD!

But what is it, exactly, that compels us to keep diaries and journals?

The Benefits of Keeping a Journal

There are a host of benefits we can get from keeping a journal. These positive effects prompt us to grab a notebook and scribble down our ideas.

Some benefits include:

  • Helps reduce stress – Health experts agree that writing down your thoughts helps lower blood pressure and promotes proper functioning of the liver.
  • Sharpens memory – The hand–brain coordination required to write in your journal stimulates cognitive function.
  • Encourages achievement of goals – Journaling primes your brain to categorize things you write as important, prompting you to be more receptive to opportunities that bring fulfillment of your goals.
  • Improves mood – In addition to helping reduce stress, journaling improves well-being and promotes happiness.
  • Cultivates mindfulness – Journaling allows you to be in a state of mindfulness. It is easier to experience bliss while you’re immersed in writing your thoughts on paper.
  • Promotes good habits – You have to set aside time for journal writing, and this in itself is an exercise in discipline. A good habit can flow into other areas of your life. You may be pleasantly surprised at how this manifest.

Read on to check out some journals kept by history’s most famous people. We hope they inspire you to keep a journal yourself.

Famous People Who Kept Journals

1. Leonardo da Vinci

leonardo da vinci | prolific diarists | famous writers journals

via MWW

If there is one word used to describe Leonardo da Vinci, it is genius. He was well known as a master painter, architect, sculptor, and inventor, and his ideas were way ahead of their time.

Many of his surviving works are currently displayed in prestigious museums and galleries all over the world.

In his lifetime, da Vinci kept notes about his ideas, inventions, and studies. Today, an estimated 7,000 pages from those journals survive.

The image featured here is a two-page spread from da Vinci's Codex Leicester. The 72-page journal was purchased by Bill Gates in 1994.

2. Frida Kahlo

frida kahlo | famous journals to read | famous diarists

via Open Culture

Frida Kahlo was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. She was best known for her vibrant and uncompromising self-portraits. Frida’s works of art often had themes of death, human anatomy, and personal identity. Her diaries recorded her dreams and thoughts, and there are also poems found within the pages.

Frida’s diaries also served as her sketchbooks, which she used for some of her illustrations. See the example above, painted in brilliant colors.

3. Marie Curie

marie curie | famous explorers journals | famous journal writers

via Science Alert

Marie Curie was known as the “Mother of Modern Physics.” She and her husband, Pierre Curie, discovered polonium and radium. For this discovery and her research on radioactivity, Marie Curie became a two-time Nobel Peace Prize awardee.

This sample page from her journal details the research she did on the theory of radioactivity. This journal, along with several of her other personal effects, are recognized as national treasures.

The nature of her work caused Marie Curie’s body and personal belongings to become radioactive. She was also known to keep fragments of radioactive material in her pocket.

Marie Curie died from a type of anemia brought about by exposure to the radioactive elements she worked on. To prevent contamination, she was buried in a lead-lined coffin.

Her journals, although available for perusal, can only be viewed by someone wearing protective gear who has signed a liability waiver. The journals can be found in the Bibliotheque National in Paris, kept in lead-lined boxes.

4. Anne Frank

anne frank | journal keepers | prolific diarists

via Smithsonian Magazine

Anne Frank is one of the most-discussed personalities from World War II. She gained fame posthumously, after the discovery and publication of her diary. It is said to have changed how the world looked at war.

Anne Frank was a Jewish teenager living in Amsterdam, Netherlands, when World War II broke out. She and her family hid from the Gestapo in a secret room in the building where Otto Frank, Anne’s father, worked.

After a few years spent hiding, the family was captured by the Gestapo. Anne and her sister were sent to Auschwitz. Unfortunately, Anne passed away a few months before Allied Forces liberated Auschwitz. Otto Frank was the lone survivor of the family.

Anne Frank’s diary was discovered in the building where they hid. It was given to Otto Frank, who published his daughter’s chronicles of their life in hiding. 

5. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

mark twain (samuel clemens) | famous diarists | famous journals in the world

via EndPaper (The Paperblanks Blog)

Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, is the author who introduced us to Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer and allowed us to share in their adventures.

Mark Twain was a known journal-keeper during his lifetime, and favored pocket notebooks. He often started a new journal for every trip he took. He jotted down ideas, inspiration, and thoughts for upcoming stories.

Journals can tell us a lot about their keepers’ personalities. The above example is a names list for a story’s character. In this case, we catch a glimpse the humorous side of Mark Twain. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read a story of somebody named “Diphtheria Marsh” or “Dysentery Briggs?”

6. Charles Darwin

charles darwin | famous journal writers | historical diaries and journals

via The Genealogical World of Phylogenic Networks

Charles Darwin introduced the world to the theory of natural selection, and his notebooks allow us a glimpse into how he processed his ideas.

In this sample page taken from one of his field journals, we see Charles Darwin’s depiction of a tree. This tree is meant to represent the genealogy of a particular species.

7. Emilié Davies

emilié davis | famous journals in the world | famous explorers journals

via Villanova University Falvey Memorial Library

Emilié Davis lived in Philadelphia during the United States’ Civil War. During this period of unrest in the country, she kept a diary and recorded the events that transpired and affected her life as a free African-American woman.

Her written account paints a vivid picture of the lives of black people during this period in history. Davis recorded her daily activities, her feelings about the Battle of Gettysburg, and what happened during the Emancipation Proclamation. Her diaries even captured the emotional landscape of the country during and after President Lincoln’s death.

8. Lewis Carroll

lewis carroll | historical diaries and journals | journal keepers

via The Morgan Library and Museum

Charles Dodgson, an English writer who went by the pen name Lewis Carroll, gave the world Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He was said to have been a diarist since he was 10 years old.

Several of the diaries from his adult years survived. The above example shows his diary entry from the first time he shared the story about the adventures of his well-beloved character, Alice.

9. Thomas Edison

thomas edison | famous writers journals | famous journals to read

via The Thomas Edison Papers

Many of us wonder if famous people live their lives differently than we do. However, Thomas Edison’s diary demonstrates that this may not be the case.

In the summer of 1885, the great inventor was on a vacation, and during that time he kept a diary.

The entries were devoid of scientific topics. Instead, the diary recorded mundane events. 

In the sample above, we can read that Edison was fretting about his smoking habit—of how it had deformed his upper lip into a Havana curl, and how he detested the “nicotinny” feeling it gave him.

This goes to show that a great inventor like Edison also had ordinary troubles to contend with, just like the rest of us.

Final Thoughts on Famous People Who Kept Journals

Journaling is a great practice to adopt. It does not require much effort, and has numerous benefits for our health and well-being.

We hope that these examples of famous people who kept journals inspire you to become a journal keeper as well.

One of the easiest journals to start is a gratitude journal. Take a few minutes to watch the video below on how you can use gratitude apps to make it easier for you.

And if you're looking for more resources, you can check out to help you get started with a journaling habit:

Finally, if you don’t know the “right” way to journal, then check out this seven-step process for building a journaling habit that sticks.

historical diaries and journals | prolific diarists | famous explorers journals