As is commonly stated, letter writing is a lost art. When you look at the Carlsbad History Room’s collection of letters from the Shipley family, it really becomes evident! We have hundreds of letters by them, their friends and relatives, which span the years 1886-1972. They were avid letter writers! The Shipley’s themselves traveled quite a bit. Mr. Alexander Hamilton Shipley traveled from 1886 until his death in 1925 almost exclusively in apparently vain attempts to improve his health. His wife, Julia Shipley, traveled with or visited her husband and friends. Florence was generally at home, and later in San Diego for school (Academy of Our Lady of Peace). The letters outside the immediate family come mainly from the East Coast. Mrs. Wingendorf was Julia Shipley’s mother. Both Mr. and Mrs. Shipley had quite a few siblings, as indicated in various letter references. There are so many interesting and note-worthy aspects to the collection. Each person would find that certain themes, etc. stand out to them. For this column, I will focus on a few topics that stood out to me in a perusal of just a few dozen letters: health, vocabulary and phrases, books, and general tidbits.
With the early letters, a common theme is the discussion of health and illness. Mr. Shipley was frequently ill, which was why they had come to California from his work at the U.S. Consulate in New Zealand in the first place. He had his stomach “washed out” more than once, took quinine, was “put on” creosote, etc. Most of his travel seems to be to various health spas and sanatoriums.
William Seelbach, Julia’s nephew by her sister Lisette, died of Bright’s disease after he got diphtheria. (May 13, 1894) Lisette’s baby died two weeks, but her two eldest did not get it.
The sanatoriums that Mr. Shipley visited fed him well! In 1896, one meal consisted of: raw oysters, soup, steak, mutton, vegetables and three kinds of desserts with cream! The next day’s dinner was fresh caught fish, soup, spinach, cauliflower, celery, brown bread, cream and two kinds of desserts.
Meanwhile, Julia Shipley apparently found Carlsbad “dull” and traveled to Pasadena to see friends.
Mr. Shipley’s sister, Emma, suffering from buzzing and ringing sounds in her head was treated with electricity, which sometimes helped and sometimes did not. (Letter from Emma Shipley to Julia, dated December 27, 1913) Other illnesses mentioned over the years by various people (and sufferers): typhoid fever, grippe, pneumonia, neuralgia, small pox and lumbago.
Vocabulary and phrases:
The vocabulary and the style of writing used about 100 years ago can make one wonder…how will vocabulary and writing change in another hundred years? Especially in the late 19th c. letters, they used words like: “ere” for before, and “recompense”. Even words that we use today were written or spelled differently, e.g. “to-morrow”, “to-night”, “after-noon”, “good-night”, “postal-card”, “to-day”, and inclose (for enclose). A friend referring to Julia’s health and recent illness hopes that she has not lost too much avoirdupois (meaning weight). (Letter dated August 23, 1900) In a letter dated February 19, 1912, Florence’s aunt, Mary Derickson used the words: “publick”, “thy” and “thee.”
A common opener in the letters is the following: “Yours of the 7th inst. came to hand yesterday many thanks for the same”. The translation of this English sentence for a 21st c. reader is: Your letter dated the 7th of this month arrived yesterday. The same sentiment was also written, “Your favor of the 24th came…” (Letter dated February 2, 1894) The abbreviation “inst.” was used to mean “in the same month” More information about this term can be found at this Society of American Archivists’ link:
Accessed Oct. 4, 2011
While most people are aware of the use of the German long s, which looks like an f in cursive, in colonial period writing, there were two instances in the 1912 Shipley letters where the word “Miss” was written “Mifs”!
Books and reading:
The Shipley’s were avid readers. Mrs. Shipley’s mother’s and sisters’ letters are full of titles bought, sent and yet to be found per Julia’s requests. They bought the books in New York City from E.P. Dutton, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Dillinghams, and Lovington’s NY Book Exchange. What subjects and titles did they read? What do their choices say about them, and society in general at that time? Which titles are still available? These are some questions that come to my mind when I look over this list. Some of the books her mother purchased for her:
Prince of India, 1893 ($1.74) - The full title is: The prince of India, or, Why Constantinople fell by Lew Wallace, published in 1893 by Harper.
The Zigzag series
Hanging of the Crane, and other poems of the home by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1893
The Old Garden, and other verses, 1893 – children’s poetry
Picturesque Venice, in “paste board covers”
The Life of Christ
The Gallery of Bidá Engravings; containing one hundred descriptive scenes and themes from the life of Jesus by Alexandre Bida
A French dictionary by Spiers & Surenne’s
Chambers’ Encyclopaedia, “cloth bound but very poor paper, and the print so fine that it blurs the eyes to look at it.” (Letter dated December 19, 1893)
Greene’s History of the English People, “poor in binding and paper, but pretty fair print” (letter dated December 19, 1893)
Cooper’s Works, 16 volumes for $13.98 in part calf skin – “That is the back and corners the other is board” (Assuming James Fenimore Cooper)
Irving’s Works - “containing the life of Washington, eight volumes” (from Bloomingdale Bros. Holiday Book Sale page). Her sister Helena found that Bloomingdales has misadvertised the books. When she asked about it, she was told: “’O! [sic] We have them better bound, etc. but they are higher priced’”
The set Hawthorne, but “not cloth bound fair print but poor paper” (letter dated December 19, 1893)
The Little Women series, 89 cents each
Topsys and Turveys by Peter S. Newell, 1893- a children book
Book of Pets
Romeo and Juliet
The Waverly novels, bound in part calf skin
Chatterbox – a book for Florence
Unknown to History: a story of the captivity of Mary of Scotland by Charlotte M. Yonge - Florence received this book as a gift from an aunt in 1896.
Some of the magazines and newspapers the family read and sent to one another: Review of Reviews, Pearson’s, National, Overland, Everbody’s, National, Atlantic, Frank Leslie’s, the San Diego Weekly Union and the Advocate.
Julia Shipley had borrowed the book, Janice Meredith, which Florence assured her that the owner, Mrs. Exton, insisted she keep as long as she need to. (Letter dated April 19, 1900) Janice Meredith by Paul Leicester Ford was published in 1899. It’s a juvenile historical fiction book about the American Revolution.
In 1893-94, Mrs. Wingendorf wrote to Julia often from New York with news about her brothers’ employment struggles because of the 1893 Panic. usgennet.org/usa/topic/preservation/epochs/vol10/pg73.htm
Accessed Oct. 28, 2011
December 1, 1893: “The stores are putting on their holiday dress, but I do not think that it will be a Happy Christmas for the majority of people; as the times are too hard.”
In 1894, her mother moved and asked that Julia send her letters to her son-in-law, J.W.Lacher, Esq. c/o Lord & Taylor, at Grand & Christie [sic] Sts [sic], N.Y.C. As you may remember, Lord & Taylor was a department store.
From a letter dated February of the same year, her mother and her sisters, Helena and Lena (and their husbands) had found a house in Belleville, NJ “situated on very high ground near the Passaic River.” The house had seven rooms “for which by paying a certain amount every month just as much as we like, but not less than $10 per month and interest on principal the house is ours to own the cost of same is $2000 with a lot 35 feet wide and 145 ft. deep…” They were going to grow vegetables. The down payment was $150 with 6% interest to be paid every six months.
“I enclose a slip that was in to-day’s paper, about, the tramps in San Diego. I sincerely hope that you will not encounter any of them in that metropolis when you go there, it must be very bad to have such quantities of them there; they are perfect wretches.” (Letter from Florence to her parents, dated December 2, 1895)
Florence’s cousin, Fred Seelbach, wrote a number of letters to his Aunt Julia in 1900. He wanted to be an artist and had just finished 8th grade in June of the year. He illustrated several letters – a sample of which is included in the images for the column.
In a letter to her mother while she was away at school in San Diego, Florence talks about how excited she is to see Paderewski perform. (Dated April 15, 1900) Later in the year, she laments that her Thanksgiving dinner at school did not include Plum Pudding. (Letter dated Dec. 2, 1900)
The Shipley’s usually sent berries, violets, figs, oranges and orange blossoms; and nuts through the post for holiday gifts. In 1900, Mr. and Mrs. Shipley spent the winter in Escondido. After discussing the weather at her school in San Diego, Florence said that she supposed “that things are lovely in the country” and asked “How does Escondido look?” (Letter dated December 2, 1900) Julia Shipley sent a package to her mother using the “Wells, Fargo, & Co.’s Express”. (Letter dated December 4, 1900)
Mrs. Shipley’s sister, also named Florence, who was at one time living in Canada, mentions in a letter that “the people don’t seem to like people from the states.” (Dated April 5, 1912)
“The cost of living is so high now that we just manage to make ends meet but not put a cent away for a rainy day for the wages do not go up with the rest.” (Letter from Julia Shipley’s sister, Helena Gray. Dated October 9, 1912)
Many people lament that their families aren’t that close, geographically as well as personally. It appears from this comment, that at least Julia’s sister felt the same in 1912: “…I am sorry to say our family are queer each one for him or herself more like strangers than relatives.” (Letter from Julia Shipley’s sister, Helena, dated October 25)
“…a little bag I have just finished making, I hope you will find it useful to carry purse and handkerchief when on shopping or calling trips…” (Letter to Florence Shipley from Eleanor G. Sharp, dated October 18, 1912) The phrase “to carry purse” seems to refer to carry money, rather than the way we use more commonly use the word purse today.
1912 Banking: “…only $50 can be drawn at one time and none can be taken again until 30 days after.”
A 1921 postmark reminded letter writers to “address your mail to street and number”
The family nicknames between Florence and her father were: “Codger Doodle” for Florence and “Poppy Doodle” for Mr. Shipley. These nicknames were sometimes still used to when Florence was an adult. Florence was often referred to as Florrie by other relatives. Mr. Shipley’s sister Lizzie called him Hammy, as his middle name was Hamilton.
In later years, Florence returned to Carlsbad from her Pala ranch after her husband, Hugh Magee, died, to take care of her mother. Julia Shipley died in 1943. Florence continued to live in her family home until her own death in 1974.
The Shipley Letter Collection is a marvelous treasure for our archive. The sheer number of letters and the span of time that they cover really capture the sensibility of the family and the time. As I have mentioned in other columns, there are so many topics to learn about just from looking at these letters (e.g. the stationery, the envelopes, the handwriting) and reading them. Would we have this priceless collection if they had been emails?
The Shipley Letter Collection, 1886-1972
worldcat.org (Access to over 10,000 library catalogs combined – used for additional information on the books)