Posts Tagged ‘Letters’

Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College: From 1913

This folio was written by the president of Western Reserve College near the turn of the twentieth century from the perspective of a college administrator and a father sending his daughter to college. Though it was written slightly after the time period I am studying, it reflects the sentiments of those living at the time who were aware of the college experience for women from perspectives of both college faculty and parent. This letter reflects the fears and hopes for women going to college, and offers advice on boys (avoid them), keeping one’s health, making friends, one’s position in the community, and maintaining religious observances. It also discusses areas that are viewed by the author as different for women than for men, such as the belief that “college women are inclined to have an undue appreciation of the intellectual values and an undue depreciation of the ethical values,” which seems the opposite of views held in the preceding century where women were seen as more “naturally moral” than men but intellectually inferior (19). This father does offer specific advice, too, on the importance of handwriting, advising his daughter to avoid “illegibility and uncouthness,” and reminding her that “it is important that your writing should be easy to read and pleasant to look at” (69-70). Overall, this letter was interesting as it “updates” the views that society had about women going to college at the beginning of the twentieth century, and even mentions the historic changes of the women’s college which “has ceased to be a nunnery; it has become a community” (59-60). The author mentions that his wife was educated at Vassar, one of the sister schools of Mt. Holyoke, and has always assumed that her daughters would attend college, thus showing an attitude of continuity and continuing educational opportunities for women who were the offspring of former college (women) graduates. Though not directly related to the time period I am studying, Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College reflects back to those times and shows how the generation of college women from the nineteenth century influenced perceptions of women attending college for subsequent generations of Americans.

Work Cited:

Thwing, Charles Franklin. Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College.  New York: The Platt & Peck Co., 1913. Print.

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The Letters of Jane and Jennie Williams, 1862-1867

The Letters of Jane and Jennie Williams, 1862-1867This lengthy series of letters were written mostly by Jane, but partially by Jennie, Williams during the years of 1862 through 1867. They are addressed primarily to “Dear Brother Roger,” ostensibly a younger brother who was, given the content of the letters, also working on academic studies and came from a family that did not live all that far away from Western in Paddy’s Run, about four miles west of Ross, Ohio. In these letters, Jane offers insights into the composition pedagogy at Western, mentioning the time spent working on this writing, as well as “special assignments” given by Miss Peabody where students are asked to compose a letter rather than a regular assignment. She also mentions that compositions are orally recited each week and that feedback/criticism is offered by other students; specific assignment topics, and a newspaper “called the Kailiedscope which was composed of pieces written by the girls in the first division of compositions” are also mentioned (November 27, 1863). Jane also discusses a composition assignment where they were asked “to write a letter to our little brothers about 12 or 13 years old, and tell him how to write compositions,” which is an interesting meta-cognitive reflective piece that was unfortunately not included in this collection (September 23, 1863).  Also evident from these letters is the amount of domestic work expected from the students; as time goes on, Jane complains more and more of exhaustion and it is clear that her health begins to suffer by the end of the letters.

These letters offer significant insight into the type of personal correspondence conducted by

"Dear Brother Roger"

the women at Western, as well as offering information about the composition requirements, assignments, and practices that were utilized. Also apparent is the sheer amount of writing that was regularly enacted at this time – there is often mention of a number of letters written, as well as criticisms toward the receiver if he has been negligent in his own letter writing duties. This type of writing appears much less regulated that that found in Adda Collier’s journal, the audience for which was the faculty at Western, rather than the more intimate rhetorical situation of letters sent to family members. The views expressed in student letters are often different than accounts of the school offered by faculty in their Letters to Holyoke, a difference that is important to the areas I am researching in this project.

Work Cited:

“Williams, Jane & Jennie. Letters. 1862-1867.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Original Copies and Typed Transcriptions.

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 Journal/Composition Assignments by Adda Collier, 1876 – 1877

This set of thirteen journal entries by Adda Collier appear to be composition assignments that were written between September of 1876 and April of 1877. The two distinguishing features that lead me to assume that these are composition assignments are 1) there are times written on the more complete writings, all of which designate “3 hours,” the time that students were required to spend on their weekly composition assignments and 2) the titles seem to indicate the prompt, either assigned or suggested, given to the students for the assignment.

As substantiated in the Composition Assignment found in the Section Book, students were required to write thirty lines of prose in three hours – no more, and no less – each week. The more substantial pieces found in Collier’s journal note that three hours were taken to complete each piece; these pieces are comprised of about four hundred twenty to four hundred fifty words each, which likely correlates to the thirty (handwritten) lines required for the assignment. They take up approximately one and a quarter typed (transcribed) pages, and one (“Dear Friend”) is reminiscent of the Letters Theme mentioned by Jane Williams in her letters to her brother, Roger. The other titles of entries appear to be prompts or suggestions given by an outside source, as Collier often seems to have little to say about the topic and repeats and/or contradicts herself, which implies that the topic may not have been self-selected.

I’ve chosen these journal entries to use in this project as they are the only direct sample of class assignments from Western I have found from this time period that were not essay prize winners from later in the century. Additionally, this gives some examples of drafts (possibly) not used as final compositions, attempts at writing, possible true free writing in some instances (there are some subjectless pieces that do not include times), as well as historically, culturally, and personally intriguing insights into the thought processes of Collier.

Work Cited:

“Journal of Adda Collier 1876-1877.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Transcribed Print Copy.

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“Letter to Lena from Emma Robins: February 26, 1882”

In this letter, there is evidence of how the women at the Seminary perceived their living space and education, as Emma asks, “Well Lena how did you get along after I came away? Did you get to liking the place, or prison as you called it, any better than you did the first session?” The homesickness referred to in this letter reflects the repeated occurrence of this emotional angst that the instructors likewise mention in their own writing (See: Letters to Mt. Holyoke 1856) and is contrasted to the experience of women at the Normal School to which Emma has transferred. According to her, “Cora never wrote one whether the girls generally had gotten over their homesickness or not. The Normal girls here don’t get homesick very often. Most of themand the gentlemen too, have a good time socially and intellectually.” The austere, women-only, strict conditions of the Western Women’s

Students on the Steps of Peabody Hall, 1877

Seminary are compared to the more relaxed, co-educational system of the Normal Schools where Emma claims she has more “liberty… [and] can go when and where I wish to and study what I please, talk to the gentlemen all I want to do etc. etc.” According to Emma, the one advantage to the Seminary education is that, at the Normal School, students are required “to pass written examinations in all their studies twice a term.” Emma also relates that she heard that of two girls being expelled (also mentioned in “Letters to Holyoke” by faculty) but is not surprised, “since the Principle [Miss Peabody] and teachers are so very strict.”

Though Emma does not designate which specific Normal School she is now attending, she does mention trying to decide if she wants to spend the summer in Illinois or Indiana, indicating that she is likely still somewhere near one or both of these states. This correlation and comparison between types of education available for middle class women at this time leads me to situate this letter and contrasting educational styles with that described by Lindblom, Banks, and Quay in their article “Mid-Nineteenth-Century Writing Instruction at Illinois State Normal University” and Kathryn Fitzgerald’s “A Rediscovered Tradition: European Pedagogy and Composition in Nineteenth Century Midwestern Normal Schools.” From the records perused at Western, it can be determined that there was a similar “intense concentration on correctness” as that found by Lindblom, et al, as well as the “rather severe work ethic among the teachers and students” (105, 107). From letters (See: “A Letter from Miss Mattie Cope”) it seems that the amount of domestic, religious, and academic work required of the women at Western was arduous, tiring, and almost physically impossible to accomplish; composition requirements are also specifically mentioned as part of this.

At the same time, according to the student (Emma) who has experienced both the Seminary training and life at the Normal school, there is some credence to the claim that attention was paid to the “interest in a subject as a starting point for effective learning” (Fitzgerald). Emma’s claim to more intellectual and social freedom at the Normal school speaks to the possibility that a student’s interests were taken into account and that more choices for courses of study were offered to students at the Normal schools than to those at the Women’s Seminary.

Works Cited:

Fitzgerald, Kathryn. “A Rediscovered Tradition: European Pedagogy and Composition in Nineteenth Century Midwestern Normal Schools.” 2nd Ed. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2001. 171-192. Print.

“Letter to Lena from Emma Robins: February 26, 1882.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Print Copies.

Lindblom,  Kenneth, William Banks, and Rise Quay. “Mid-Nineteenth-Century Writing Instruction at Illinois State Normal University.” Local Histories: Reading the Archives of Composition. Ed. Donahue and Moon. Pittsburg, PA: U Pittsburg P, 2007. Print.

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