Letters in the Attic

Excerpts from or discussion about the letters in the attic that I'm slowly making my way through.

MIT class of 1920: A gift in my email

image This image is a gift, one I received in an email. My cousin sent it to me a couple of weeks back. Subject line: “Grandma Joe* Graduation Photo.” She went to MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology – and graduated in 1920.

I have Grandma’s letters that she received when she was at MIT, and one or two photos from that time, but this unexpected one is a beaut.

click to enlarge

[Welcome, BoingBoingers & followers of @Xeni!
Stats about early MIT below; or maybe you’d be interested in a foto essay of my other, non-techy Grandma and her 1924 climb of Mt Rainier when she was 23 years old.]

Of the 40 people in this photo, Florence, also known as Flossie (upper right)—is the only woman. The photo arrived in email all by itself. The only clues were the file name and the subject line. Other than knowing that Flossie graduated from MIT in 1920, I don’t know much else about this photo. But one good gift leads ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 10, 2009 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal HistoryPhotographs
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Great Grandma’s 1918 Flu letter mentioning Vicks VapoRub makes it into the News-Record

Greensboro News-Record recounts the history of Vicks VapoRub in the 1918 flu epidemic, and I and my great-grandmother get a mention. Vick’s VapoRub was invented in Greensboro, North Carolina.

A coupla years I came across a letter my Great Grandma Fannie wrote to her daughters Florence and Doris during the 1918 flu epidemic. I was captivated both by mentions of the flu (the letter was written during December, 1918) and tickled by the description of Vick’s VapoRub. You can read the whole thing here and see a page of the letter, and the clippings from the newspaper article, which I transcribed.

Last week, I was contacted by Donald W Patterson from the News-Record, and we spoke briefly about the Billings Gazette article and the letter and my thoughts. I told him more of what I knew, that Great Grandma Fannie wrote her daughters weekly. No, I didn’t know if there were more ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 29, 2009 in • HistoryLetters in the Attic
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72 years ago: Thanksgiving from Denver

I’ve dipped into the letters to my grandmother again. Here are excerpts from a letter postmarked November 26, 1936. It was written Thankgiving night, during the Great Depression. My great Grandmother just arrived in Denver on a bus, and wrote her daughter. Background: Sometime before this, my great Grandmother divvied up the bills with her husband, said, “Here’s your half,” took hers and wandered to other places, supporting herself by teaching school. This letter is on Taos stationery, but it was sent from Denver, Colorado. The long paragraph about half-way through is a snapshot of economical eateries, free Thanksgiving dinners and oh, the crowds! So, for a Thanksgiving in an economic downturn, here’s a little Depression-era color for you.

. . . . .

Dover Hotel, 1744 Glenarm
Denver, Colorado
Thanksgiving evening.

Dear Flossie,

And now are you surprised I resigned my job in Taos last Friday, at the close of my month, went to Albuquerque that night on the bus and the next night took the bus up here.

The in-laws returned for the winter and three women were just one too many, and I was the one. They wanted me to stay but it was too hard on my ego. And I decided I could earn anywhere as much as I was getting there. For some time this city has been drawing me. So in Albuquerque I got a manicure, my eyebrows shaped, and subtracted three more years. That makes you a co-ed, but don’t complain as long as I do not put you ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 26, 2008 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal History
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“Burn that letter I sent”—83 years later, I’m glad she disobeyed

I’ve spent today delving into the letters in the attic. After reading a few from 1917 (and doing my normal note-taking and free-writing about them), I sorted through other stacks of letters. Separated a bunch (1921-1925) into piles by year. Found some written in spring of 1925– a few months before my grandparents got married. Jackpot! Motherlode! Mother’s Mother’s Mother’s weary load, it was. Mama’s (Fannie’s) reaction to news of her daughter’s engagement. Which take different forms over five or so letters as the unwelcome news settles in. But the Jackpot letter was the one in which my great-grandmother describes to her daughter her own marriage to Ben.

She said, I thought I might write this story in a letter for you to read after I am dead. But then she thinks the better of it, in light of young women who make mistakes and say, If I only knew! If only my mother told me. So she wrote that letter. And today I read it.

Dear web reader, what a tease I am! I’m not going to dish all the dirt. But there’s dirt. It’s juicy. It’s filled with a recounting of disappointments, mostly of the checkered path of my great-grandfather’s so-called career. He went from job to job, and not in a good way. There’s some moral failing, too. Over two generations. And near moral failures. It’s frank. As Fannie said, I want to wipe the slate clean.

There’s ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 20, 2008 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal History
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Billings, Montana—History by Mystery

imageI didn’t set out to just up and explore factoids of Billings, Montana, where my grandmother grew up. No, it sort of seeped in on me gradual.

First, I’ve been reading those letters from time to time (and describing my research methods). There’s a whole slew of them written from Billings. The news and tidbits (and clippings) has driven me to find out more about Billings, Montana. The letters drive the research, and the research informs the letters.

My great-grandmother in Billings wrote to her two daughters, Florence and Doris, in Boston. Florence is my grandmother, Doris my great aunt. I have Florence’s collection of letters. But the photos you see here are from Doris’s scrapbook. The fetching young woman with the 10-gallon hat is Doris. She was a horsewoman and a painter.

Panorama of Billings. 1915. Click to enlarge


Both girls were born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but their Papa got work that vaguely had to do with the railroad. They lived first in Minneapolis, and then in Billings, Montana. By the time the correspondence with the girls began, no mention was made of the railroad, but the occasional letter ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 01, 2008 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal History
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How I might keep track of a bunch of old letters

I have a bunch of family letters. The letters in the attic from this site. I wish to set up some sort of systematic way of digitizing them. This post is an articulation of a possible scheme for doing so. It’s not even a proof of concept, it’s just the concept– a plan of action thinking through what I’d like to try to do.

Scan all those letters? I am a masochist. But if I want to scan them all and somehow make sense of them digitally, that makes me a systematic  masochist.

The letters are mostly to my grandmother. Some are to my grandfather from his sister and parents. But they’re basically the attic-box correspondence with their family. My great-grandmother wrote her daughter weekly. In addition to the news of doings from home and her teahing jobs, the dispensing of advice and how to cook this or that, my great-grandmother’s letters include fascinating details such as prices for objects, newspaper clippings, and a prodigious dose of nagging “Why don’t you write me?”, and more.

When dealing with ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 18, 2006 in • DigitalityLetters in the AtticPersonal History
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