Sample Documents: Jane Addams to Vallie Beck, 1876 Mar. 30 and Apr. 2, 1876 May 1
Jane Addams to Vallie Beck
In 1876, the sixteen-year-old Jane Addams began to correspond regularly with her friend Vallie Beck. Beck was born in Fort Madison, Iowa, in 1860. She was the only living daughter of Joseph Marcus Beck (1823-93), an attorney who became Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, and Clara C. Rinehart Beck (1833-85). Jane Addams and Vallie Beck addressed one another as "cousin" because they shared distant relatives in Pennsylvania. Their teenage correspondence extended for a five year period until 1881. In their letter writing, Jane and Vallie shared news about social and domestic life, their family members, and their opinions on books.
Jane Addams enjoyed reading. When she and her stepbrother George Haldeman missed the wedding of her brother John Weber Addams to Laura Shoemaker on 16 March 1876 because they were home with mumps, they read to pass the time. She described their reaction to Charles Dickens's Pickwick Papers. "Pickwick made us laugh which operation was very painful, and almost every thing else seemed dry." Going on she pronounced: "Speaking of Miss Alcotts 'Eight Cousins' I like it, but not nearly so well as some of her former works, I have read and re-read 'Little Women' and it never seems to grow old.” She spoke of Oliver Optic, and went on to say "I am also on probation from that light kind of reading at present, and I suppose am singing my feeble praises for about the last time."1
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Cedarville Ill Mar. 30 [and Apr. 2] '76
My dear Cousin
I am enjoying a quiet afternoon sandwiching "Martin Chuzzlewit"2 and letters up in my room; Pa and Ma are visiting Sister Mary at Winnebago, George has a young friend spending his vacation with him, and so I am "left alone in my glory."3 I am ever so much obliged to you for your kind invitation, but am sorry to add it is impossible for me to accept. I hav'ent the least doubt but that I should have the nicest kind of a time and
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would not miss the "gay,"4 for I cannot number dancing among my accomplishments, and my knowledge of "cards" is very limited indeed. But as I have a number of friends in Iowa including my sister and an uncle,5 it may be in "the far distant future, etc.["]
We all expect to go east about the first of May,6 and between now and then I suppose will find time really is fleeting, especially when fully occupied. But as Cedarville is east of you and consequently nearer the great magnet, I should be delighted if you could find it convenient to pay us a visit, I could safely promise
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you picnicing, boating, horse back rides and so forth, but nothing very far out of that line, for you know "we are six miles from a lemon."7
I have often heard Alice speak of Miss Jessie Hubbard,8 and have met her when visiting at Rockford; she and her sister used to seem to me, to be the spice of the institution.
At that point I concluded to read awhile and continued to do so until the tea bell rang.
You asked if I understood working on Turkish toweling,9 I think I do in theory, although I have never worked on it. Alice had a
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beautiful toilet set made of it; given to her for a wedding present by one of the Rockford girls, I studied it quite a while and think I can do it. I cannot tell wether Tadie 10 had reference to Geo. or Harry as being good chess players as both of them play very nicely.
I think I can sympathize with you in regard to "standard authors" especially "history" for if they were all as interesting as Dickens I think I could really enjoy them but possibly I have not been "worked up" to that fine and appreciative point.
I have read
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things when I get started, I now have an arrangement with Pa, that I am to read a certain amount of history first, and the rest of the day can read "standard" that is a little more interesting.11
Please do not think I wish to appear learned, or any thing of that sort, but I think you will understand me.
Pa and Ma unite with me in sending kindest regards to the family. Yours very Truely
ALS (Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Supp.; JAPM, 1:179-87; JAP, 1:137-39).
1. References are to Louisa May Alcott’s novel Eight Cousins, published in 1875, and Little Women, initially published in two volumes between 1868 and 1869. Oliver Optic was the pseudonym of William Taylor Adams (1822-97), a Boston writer and school teacher who produced many juvenile books and stories for magazines, including the Young America Abroad series. He edited Oliver Optic's Magazine for Boys and Girls from 1867 to 1875. Quotations are from Jane Addams to Vallie Beck, 16 Mar. 1876, Swarthmore College Peace Collection; JAPM, 1:175.
2. Charles Dickens's The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit was published in serial form from Jan. 1843 to July 1844, and as a book in 1844.
3. Apparently a paraphrase of a line: "But we left him alone with his glory" from stanza eight of Irish poet and priest Charles Wolfe's (1791-1823), best known work, “Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna,” written in 1816, and first published anonymously in the Newry Telegraph in Ireland in 1817.
4. A party for young men and women.
5. Jane’s sister Alice lived with her husband Harry Haldeman in Fontanelle, Iowa. Uncle George Weber, Jr., brother of Jane Addams’s mother Sarah, his wife, Maria Hoffeditz Weber, and their children lived in Blairstown, Iowa.
6. The Addams family planned to visit the Centennial Exposition and relatives in Philadelphia, Pa.
7. A reference to Mary Abigail Dodge (Gail Hamilton)’s 1874 novel Twelve Miles from a Lemon. Cedarville was six miles north of Freeport.
8. Alice’s schoolmate friend Jessie F. Hubbard of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, attended Rockford Female Seminary for several years, first as a preparatory student and then as a student in the Conservatory of Music. She graduated from the seminary with a diploma in music in 1876.
9. A handwork embroidery technique.
10. Sarah “Tadie” Soule, a friend of Jane Addams’s who was the eldest daughter of Capt. Joseph T. and Frances Fensley Soule. By the early 1880s, the Soule family was living in the Pacific Northwest, where they were prominent merchants and investors in lumber and shipping.
11. Among the other works by Dickens that Jane had read were The Pickwick Papers (1837), The Old Curiosity Shop (1840), Barnaby Rudge (1841), and Bleak House (1853).
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Cedarville [Ill.] May 1 '76
Dear Cousin Vallie
Please continue to call me Jennie or any thing that pleases you, do not think I mean "to stand aloof on my dignity" or any thing of that sort, I am simply Jennie at home, although I usually sign myself Jane-
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-if it is one of the homelist in the catalogue.
I don't believe the old addage is always true, and am not at all afraid to become familiar,1 and so most willingly accept your kind permission to address you as Vallie, for I like you ever so much and dislike to be so formal.
I was almost astounded to hear any thing about Vassar2 that was not highly complimentry, for I had a floating idea in my mind that it was one of the schools that was just about perfect.
I have read about it and have met several people who have personal knowledge of the institution and they all praised it highly, but "There are many men of many minds."
We hardly expect to start on our trip untill the middle of the month. We will not remain in Philadelphia but a part of the time.3
We had quite an adventure quite adventure4 the other afternoon, Susie Hostetter a niece of Ma's about my age
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was visiting us, and she, Geo and myself took a boat-ride,5 there was a real high wind when we started, and were soon struck with the brilliant idea of sailing at our ease, instead of having the labor of rowing, two saplings were made stand duty as masts, whilst a water proof was hoisted in lieu of a sail, it certainly did not look "white and gustling" but never the less we were on our way rejoicing even being so daring as to breathe the hope that we might ship-wreck on the rocks or some thing of the sort, just to relieve the monotany of plain sailing you know. George did the steering and not knowing exactly how to manage it, run us against the cliff with a good deal of force as preface
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from which pleasant situation it took us about half an hour to relieve ourselves. I was pilot and called out to Geo. that there was a stump ahead, he, in his frantic efforts to avoid it, run straight into it, giving the boat such a jar that it threw me (who was standing up to ajust the sail) off of my feet and half way out the boat, they with thier united exertions managed to save me, and after examining
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my hair and finding it had not turned gray, concluded I would recover from my fright in due course of time, and we proceeded to run into a snag and from thence into the opposite shore with a bang!! After this we went for about half a mile without difficulty, the wind grew higher and it sailed just splendidly.
But in making some changes one of our oars fell over board, and in trying to rescue it and not looking where we were going to, found ourselves floated high and dry on a mud bank.
This was a desperate situation, for we had not thought of the going home ward, we could not possibly get off with one oar and the wind was blowing a perfect gale. After our first laugh had subsided we looked blankly at one another, George waded into the mire half knee deep and tried to shove us off, which was a failure. We finely abonded the boat and gain[ed] the shore, walked around to where we lost the oar, and with the aid of trees and hard work, bore it off in triumph. We went back to the boat and rowed
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it home. Sue and I walked, feeling decidedly cheap, may be wet feet had some damping effect upon our spirits. Arrived at home found we had been gone just four hours and a half.
Please excuse me for not answering before, but we have had a great deal of company lately and have been quite busy "I will try to be good and not do so anymore."
All send kind regards. Yours etc
ALS (Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Supp.; JAPM, 1:189-94; JAP, 1:140-41).
1. Jane may be referring to Maxim 640 of Publillius Syrus repeated by Shakespeare and Aesop: "Familiarity breeds contempt."
2. Vallie Beck's letter to Jane Addams, apparently with a criticism of Vassar, is not extant. Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., opened in 1865, set a new standard for women’s colleges in the United States. It boasted an excellent and trained faculty, modern buildings and equipment, and stringent requirements for entrance and graduation that were similar to those of male schools. Jane Addams knew other young women who went to Vassar or Smith College, and she long held an ambition to attend one of these schools herself.
3. The Addams family did go east during the summer of 1876. They joined in a family reunion in Philadelphia in conjunction with traveling to attend the Centennial. Among the displays in the Centennial Women’s Pavilion were special exhibits on women’s higher education, including ones from Smith, Wellesley, and Mt. Holyoke in Massachusetts, as well as from two schools Jane Addams eventually attended, Rockford Female Seminary and the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.
4. The words “quite adventure” are lined through.
5. George Haldeman, Susan Hostetter, and Jane Addams were sailing on the Addams's millpond on Cedar Creek.