The Johanna Gleeson collection is made up of 29 letters that Gleeson received from family members and friends after emigrating from County Cork, Ireland, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, around 1877. Her most frequent correspondents were her friend Mary Anne Murphy, who reported social and political news from Kilnarovanagh, Ireland, and her cousin and future husband Michael Gleeson, who commented on his life and work in California and Colorado.
Mary Anne Murphy wrote 12 letters about her life in Kilnarovanagh, where she often interacted with Johanna's aunt. She reported local news such as births, marriages, and deaths, and sometimes listed the names of others who were planning to emigrate to the United States. In her later letters, she occasionally discussed her desire to emigrate. Murphy also expressed concern for Johanna after hearing of a flood in Philadelphia, and complained of one particularly cold winter. Her letter of June 20, 1881, concerns political turmoil, the possibility of war, and conflicts between Irish landlords and tenants.
Michael Gleeson wrote 6 letters to Johanna Gleeson, commenting on his experiences in the western United States. While living in Davisville, California, he provided news of an acquaintance's efforts to find work in California and Arizona and mentioned his own travels. After moving to Denver in 1880, he described the effects of a railroad accident he suffered while working as a brakeman, which resulted in a below-ankle amputation of one of his legs. Gleeson received treatment and financial compensation for his injury and later discussed his work as a railroad clerk, which occasionally involved meeting with other immigrants.
The remaining 11 letters from family and friends concern the writers' lives in Ireland and the United States. Gleeson's sister Maggie and several female cousins wrote about their lives in North America, often sharing news of other immigrants' travels; her brother requested an address for "Denny" and information about travel fares. Gleeson's friend Kate Shea provided updates from her home in Ireland. Another acquaintance, Celia Day, provided Gleeson news of the Newbold family after Gleeson moved from Philadelphia to Denver.