Ellen Tucker Emerson Letters, 1863-1865

Ellen Tucker Emerson Letters, 1863-1865

(Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street, 2010), 366 page(s)

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Abstract / Summary

Ellen Tucker Emerson (1839-1909) was the eldest surviving child of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Lidian Jackson Emerson (1802-1892).

This collection contains one hundred letters all written by Ellen Tucker Emerson to family and friends. The majority of the letters (45) were written to her sister Edith (1841-1928), who spent twelve months in New York undergoing the water-cure. Eleven letters were written to her brother Edward (1844-1930), who was often away at Harvard College, twelve to her cousin John Haven Emerson (1840- ), and seven to her father. The remainder were to friends and other relatives.

Most of the letters were written from Concord, Massachusetts, and in lively prose detail Ellen’s life in the Emerson household and in the wider Concord community. The family was firmly based in Concord from which town Ralph Waldo Emerson traveled widely lecturing and Ellen made occasional visits to friends and relatives in Boston, Canton, Naushon, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Newport, Rhode Island. Ellen writes of: her visits to “Aunt Ripley” [Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley (1793-1867)] at the Manse where Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Sanborn are boarding for part of 1864; her Dante studies with “Aunt Lizzie” [Elizabeth Hoar (1814-1878)]; and her labors with Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne (1809-1871), Una Hawthorne (1844-1877), and Julian Hawthorne (1846-1934) in behalf of “Mrs. Mann’s fair”. She describes skating on Walden Pond [14 January 1863], visiting Edward’s newly decorated room at Harvard [6 January 1863], attending Anna Ward’s wedding at the Catholic Chapel [30 January 1863], listening to Mr. Alcott and her mother discuss education [8 January 1864], and monitoring the behavior of her “daughter”, Edith Davidson, her ward for several years.

The Civil War, the ever-present background, was for Ellen a spur to patriotic action. She attends the Soldier’s Aid sewing circle and works on fundraising fairs and balls. Emotionally she was most concerned with the well-being of her cousin Charles Emerson (1841- ) who served on the staff of General Nathaniel Banks. William “Wilky” James (1842-1910), a friend of her brother’s and a frequent visitor, was wounded during the attack of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment on Battery Wagner. She was particularly distressed by the deaths of Col. Charles Russell Lowell (1835-1864) and Concord’s own hometown hero, Col. George Lincoln Prescott (1829-1864), whose funeral she describes at length [1 September 1864].

These letters are an important addition to the two volume Letters of Ellen Tucker Emerson, edited by Edith E. W. Gregg (Kent State University Press, 1982), filling gaps in 1863, 1864, and January of 1865. It seems probable that the pencil markings on the letters—“go on” and “omit” were made by Ellen’s nephew, Edward Waldo Forbes (1873-1969). According to Edith Gregg, he marked up transcripts for possible publication but in this case it must have been the originals which were not available to her.

Field of Interest
Letters and Diaries
Content Type
Page Count
Publication Year
Alexander Street
Place Published / Released
Alexandria, VA
Letters and Diaries, History, Daily Life, Domestic life

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