The School Ma’am


My great-grandmother Francina Smith had a literary bent.  She wrote occasional poetry on traditional Victorian themes—death, religion, and the like.  She also, however, wrote some flowery, but witty letters in response to items she read in the Saturday Evening Post.  These letters were not published in  the Post, but in more local papers, including the Toledo Blade (still in existence) which was widely circulated in Kansas.  She had been a school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and relates her experience:

Written for the Saturday Evening Post

You Dear, Darling Old Post:

I love you more than ever—if that is possible—since I find we are permitted to come to you with our troubles.  And as Uncle Aaron would say, “I accordingly avail myself of the opportunity.”

I know it must be dreadful to be a “Reminder” and be “mistooken” for all sorts of people; I infer from Observation that it is inconvenient to be ”too little;” I have no doubt that it is discouraging to be “too big”; and to be “too thick,” or “too thin”—like sorghum molasses—may not be blissful; but I am persuaded that not one of my dear sisters (“in distress”) who have written so pathetically of their several grievances ever taught “deestrict” school and “boarded round.”

I have.

I say it not with an air of boasting, but rather with an humble and contrite spirit. Teaching may be, as some learned person has remarked, “a high and mighty calling.”  But when it comes to “boarding round,” it’s calling rather frequently, and on all manner of people.”

Just think of being circulated through a whole neighborhood like an interesting pamphlet, or an itinerant brass kettle.  To have no abiding place.  To go Jones’s tonight, and get black looks and receive admonitory hints in reference to keeping “our Johnny” in at recess.”   And have to sleep alone in a lonesome room at the end of the porch.  Couldn’t complain last night, however, as my bed was in Brown’s family room, and I had two of the children for bedfellows. One night to be chilled in Smith’s barnlike chamber, and feel little icy imps scampering up and down your back, until you think it would.be pleasant to be roasted alive a la wild “Injun,” but change your mind next night when Mrs. Green undertakes it in her little bed-room with a big fire and a mountain of bed-clothes.

To be regaled on every known edible from pot-pie to “water-million preserves.”  Variety may be the spice of life, but one cannot be expected to subsist on spice.

And when you alight, as you frequently will, at a congenial fireside, you dare not spend more than the allotted time, or it will be reported that you are “struck” with the “hired hand,” or, the hopeful heir to the said fireside, so you can only “take up your staff and travel on.”

And when your own real loves comes over to see how you are prospering, and to bring the last “Post” and “Lady’s Friend,” and a letter from Sis, and —well, on consideration I presume the foregoing will be considered sufficient excuse for his coming, so I need not reveal anything further.  But, to have all of the old ladies catechizing you concerning him; and the little boys making remarks about his having eye-brows on his upper lip; all of which you must bear with smiling composure.  You know why.  There is nothing under the sun a poor “lone, lorn” woman in the country can do but teach school (or get married) and she must be very meek and conciliatory if she gets to do that—which includes the phrase in parenthesis.

I might write much more—but if you are not yet convinced, there is a school “out on the pike,” [for] which you can secure an application, and have the opportunity of “trying it on” ”boarding around” and all.

“Walking for your supper,

Miles of up-hill road;

Whaling little urchins

With an oaken rule,

Bless me! Ain’t it pleasant,

Teaching district school.”

Anicnarf

[Francina spelled backwards]

 

 

Salleretes Anyone?

On the outside of a sheet of paper with notes giving common English expressions, such as “Good Morning,” along with their German equivalents my great-great gradmother wrote recipes in Old German for ginger snap cookies and gingerbread. This was in the day before our modern baking powder.  So what was used in its place for leavening?  “Salleretes” or more properly Saleratus—aerated salt—made by exposing a carbonate substance to CO2. It was produced domestically from the middle of the 19thcentury.  The recipes, or receipts as they were called in those days, are rather sketchy, the assumption being made that the cook would already be familiar with what to do with the ingredients.

A teacup of molasses, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of butter, half a cup of warm water.

Melt the butter with a small teaspoon of “Salleretes” and make it quite thin. Then a large spoonful of ginger and make the dough stiff and put it in the mold.  [Most likely a cast iron cookie mold].

 

White ginger bread!  [white because it is made with white flour]

A cup of flour, a cup of butter, 1 1/2 cups molasses, a cup of milk, a big spoonful of “Saleretes”, a small spoonful of ginger, two eggs!

 

Quote

Duke's Secret

 

We tend to look back at the Victorian era and stereotype the woman as squeamish about bodily functions and sex.  Now meet my great-aunt Lulu, a lively chatterbox and lover of the romance novels of the day.  In my blog from last October, Emails Are Not Letters,   you met her then financé John.  Now two children and many years into their marriage, Lulu had not been feeling well so went to spend time with her family.  From there she writes to John in answer to two letters he has sent her.  The excerpts from this letter are not for the squeamish.

Note that the Banana Musk mentioned is a musk mellon which has a banana Flavor.  Turpentine oil, despite its toxicity, has a long history of medicinal use.  The safe mentioned was a pie safe.

                                                                                                                        Sept. 3rd, 1901                                                                                                                        Bigelow, Kans.

My Darling Boy!

John, forgive me for not writing sooner, you will won’t you when you get my letter & find I did not get yours until so late in the week?  I know you would be disappointed, but could not help it as things were.

It is rather warm here & very dry. Everybody is busy haying and cutting for days.  I went up town yesterday morning after some Med for Ma. She got ready to go along and company came so she had to stay at home.  I drove up by myself or rather the boys & I.  They drove for me most of the time. . . .

When I went down after Ma’s Medicine at Hollinger he looked at the boys & said they both needed something for worms. So I got him to fix me up some for them as Henry I know is troubled with them.  Hollinger says 2 or 3 passed from him the last two weeks. He [Hollinger] says that was what caused them [her sons] to have the spell of Diarrhea last week and the week before.

Gladys, them [Maynard and Henry] and I are siting out in the shade of the maples. Pa just brought me your letters and, Oh John, how I wish you were here or I was there. Twouldn’t matter which but will try and content myself with writing. . . .[I have] an Idea some of my undsclothes [underclothes] stuffed would be a much cooler bed fellow than I while it is so awful warm.

Am glad you thought of your truant [herself] on her birthday anyway. And you ask why I left Maynard.  [Lulu presumably told John she had left Maynard with someone else for a time.] I know I am cranky and cross with them but I love the little darlings just the same & when they are sick or don’t feel well I forget Self but I am growing stronger every day.  I know but can’t believe I was very bad sick.

Some way there will be time after I come home to finish the Log Cabin before cold weather & if I don’t come in time to eat Watermelen [Watermelon] with you, it is my fault. I think a 25 lb melon wouldn’t go wanting for someone to eat it if I was there.  Do hope you can get a good price for what you have to sell.

I don’t know whether any of the folks will come down [to her and John’s home in Missouri when] I do or not.  Lousa talks some of going if I don’t start to[o] soon. If they don’t, don’t you worry about me getting along with the children as I can do that all OK. I know the time seems long enough to me so it must be oh so long to you, but I am living in hopes of the near future now. . . .

Yes, I’ll come home “some day” and you must make the cobbler [fruit cobbler] to[o], will you alright?  You would not surprise me much if I were to wake & find you here some night as I often wake up & think am at home & reach over & feel for you & then. . . .

Mrs. Belisle surely has a tremendous big foot or bottom so you say.  I always thought she had a small foot so wore a small shoe. Anyway perhaps I haven’t got as large a foot as I’ve always thought I had for I think I am larger than she & don’t wear quite as large a shoe. . . .

The mass [of flowers at the farm] must be pretty. Those flowers you sent over fresh & nice yet.  Am glad you got that peach to eat.  Must have been nice from the size.  Do hope that apple will hang on until I get home as I want to see it. . . .

Wish I had a piece of a Bananna Musk to eat but when they get ripe, eat a piece for me.

Now, John, I’ll tell you exactly when & what day I’ll bid farewell to KS.  I start, o my darling boy, Thurs. Sept. 26th. . . .

Now for your second letter.  My Dearest boy, I know just how you felt when you got no letter but what can I say more than I am so sorry & when I think of you there all alone I can’t help but cry you no.  My darling boy, you do not deserve any such treatment as you are getting for the men are very few, very few, that would be this patient, ever bearing Husband you have been.  I hope you have got my letter by this time [referring to a previous letter she sent] & will send this so you will get it on the regular day.

Wed. morn. 4th.  Well I give Henry his Med. Yesterday & just before going to bed it had taken effect.  Gave 3 powders 3 hrs apart, then oil & a few drops of turpentine & has been 7 worms almost as large as a lead pencil & fully 10 inches long come from him. So I guess the Medicine was pretty good.

So you have burnt all of your old letters [apparently both to her and other former girlfriends].  Don’t you remember you told me I could read them but never found the time.  I burnt a good share of mine before we were married but I cared nothing for them and I believe there were some of yours at least that you thought a good deal of and ought to of kept them.  Any how I’ll keep those scraps for the sake of the letters you’ve written me on them & in the memory of others for you.  Will that do? . . .

I have read & read & reread your letters & will have to read them again before I put them away.  So you have me all pictured out how I’ll look? Well, I hope you won’t be disappointed & as to my having my teeth fixed, John, I was perfectly astonished, not that is unlike you to want them fixed, but thought I had been expense enough to you already this summer.  Nevertheless, I thank you many, many times for thinking of it and will go & see what will cost, but can’t promise whether I’ll have it done or not.  Am afraid twill take more than you think for [it].

Am so glad you bought that safe.  Have wanted one so long but would rather of had one of your own make.  Perhaps it is selfish of me to be so but I think more of anything you make than to buy it. It costs you lots of hard work I know to make anything of that hard wood, but it is made by your own dear hands. I would like to slip in there some Sunday & watch you awhile if I could, but am afraid if I got that near I couldn’t watch you long.

Does any of the neighbors ever call on you except when they want to borrow or eat watermelon?  Has Mrs. Patrick bought or sent that “Duke’s Secret” home? I read a book the last week called “Dick’s Sweetheart or the Duchess.”  Is something similar to the “Duke” but more of a sad story. Some parts made me think of you so much would have to quit reading. . . .

So my beloved I hope this will reach you by Sat. & give you ½ even as much pleasure as it does me to read yours & don’t work to[o] hard, John, for you know you aren’t able to stand so much hard work & where’s the benefit if you was yourself out at hard work as anything else as life is so short we ought to enjoy it a little as we go along & you could if you had agreed[able] helpmeet [helpmate, meaning herself]. Well, John, Good Bye for this time. I shall seal this with kisses from your Babies & Wife again.

Oh, John, Good By for a few days that seem months.

L. me

 

 

How Do Old Family Letters Survive?

The flip answer is of course “very carefully.” But there is truth in that answer. If you think about it for a minute, for a family letter to even be written there had to be at least two people who were separated by enough distance to require written communication and who in fact wanted to communicate with each other. Today we routinely text or phone friends that we may actually be with shortly. Not so in the past.

This fact has led to some frustration in my research on Montgomery Ward.  He was never separated from his wife or daughter and not much given to writing personal letters in the first place.  So far I have only encountered one sent to a niece during a trip he and his wife took to Europe. It is a delightful, chatty letter revealing a great interest in seeing the sights and affection for this niece. I hope there are more such letters in the bowels of the Chicago History Museum.

Secondly, the people who are the recipients of the letters have to want to preserve them. My great-uncle John and his wife-to-be Lulu kept their letters to each other, but discussed in these self-same letters burning other letters to former love interests. These have obviously been lost to history.

Thirdly, once the original recipients have died, their survivors have to want to preserve them. Here as the letters pass down the generations are points where many are thrown out. Poor storage with possible insect, water and fire damage also take their toll.

So chances are that whatever survives is somewhat piecemeal. Of the hundreds of family letters which I have inherited I only have the (almost) complete correspondence between my grandfather Louis and grandmother Pearl in their courting days. So in this instance I can trace how they responded to each other’s feelings and concerns.

In other instances I unfortunately cannot. In writing Coming to Amerika,on which I am working now, I have letters of my great-great uncle Friedrich in Terryville, Connecticut to his relatives on the Plains of Kansas, but I do not have their responses. No one in Terryville saved the letters. The relatives in Kansas saved his even though they were written in Old German which they could not read. My grandfather Louis and my father saved them out of emotional attachment in the case of the former and an interest in genealogy in the latter. They have now been translated and once the book is finished, the letters and other documents will be donated to academic institutions to make sure they are preserved for the future.