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Writing Through the Decades: "The Ladies Letter Writer"(1900s)

One of the best parts of 2021 has been the Writing Through the Decades series. Last month for July we looked at a 1940 mail-order letter writing guide and in February we explored a World War I guide on Love Letters. For August we're taking a look at "The Ladies Letter Writer" from the 1900s. Not our first from the turn of the Century but stay tuned for some interesting insights into history from this handy little volume.

Often we struggle to date these Letter Writing Guides as they were written to be templates repurposed and republished for many editions. You'll note further down that this edition has been compiled "from the best previous works on the subject with considerable new additions, hints on style etc. etc.". Basically, they turned in a paper from last semester but changed a few of the paragraphs around and BAM! Mom's Letter Writing Guide from the 1890s is now the new and improved, young ladies letter writer for the 20th Century broad!

Thankfully this volumes previous owner, Carol Schoper, had the good heart to leave us a marginalia.

Building off this fine, tiny detail we can then look at the title page with a bit more a critical eye. Isn't this fun? I think it's fun! Wheeeeee spending a Sunday deep diving into the history of a 108 year old book. I digress.

"The John C. Winston Co."

Clearly the question of "Who is this for?" is answered everywhere we look. "For the Use of Ladies" or "The Ladies Letter Writer". What about "Who made this?" Well that would be the team behind "International Press" or "The John C. Winston Co." in Philadelphia. This makes for a welcome difference to the esteemed Frederick Warne & Co. who published the guides featured for March, April, and June.

The John C. Winston Co. of Philadelphia was in business from 1884 to 1960. John C. Winston was a law-student turned entrepreneur who founded the publishers. For those of you who may recall I am originally from Pennsylvania so in the process of my research to learn that the Winston Co. publishers building still stands was a great discovery!

But back to our Ladies Letter the time John C. Winston died in 1920 the publishing house was churning out over 600 different types of Bibles and over thousands of independent projects -- like encyclopedias and guides. Which means that our 1913 edition of the Ladies Letter Writer likely once was stored in this very building photographed above!

"From a Lady in New York..."

As mentioned previously here in this blog and in others before it these types of letter writing guides can get a bit monotonous after a time as they are often times the same one repurposed every decade or so. I however find these monthly dives into the history interesting for the subjects alone of the proposed letters! Like here we have suggested template "From a Lady in New York to the mistress of a Boarding-school, respecting her daughters".

In another life when I have time to sit down and write the fiction novel I know is in my heart somewhere, these letter writing guides will provide inspiration I am sure. Nowadays we don't use nearly this much discretion in word choice or formality in style when replying to an email to a friend or to a Plumber. And we certainly don't publish guides any longer than a blog post about how to write either of those templates, that's for sure.

"Bear, Bare, Bier, Beer..."

The recommendations are always for highly convoluted situations which seem outdated to us now in the 21st Century and were likely on their way to being so in the 20th. However, if one thing was useful for the "modern" woman from this antique tome for me it was the Supplementary Appendix.

I am particularly partial to "Be, Bee": "Bee, the name of an insect; Be is used in every other instance". I'll "be" thinking of that one for some time to come for sure.

Get in Touch.

It is a a-shame to know that the glory age of the letter writing guide was in the early 20th Century. There are some which kick around post-WW2 but they really had their hay-day in the height of civility and the height of hair. Still, we're lucky to have them to hand on this day in age so we can imagine what drove the letter writers who are featured here on the archive. It certainly helps!

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