The Bigelow papers consist of thirty letters, almost all of which were written by Lydia S. Bigelow Hathaway (1822-1850) to her sister Elisa Wales Bigelow Page (1815-1883) between 1839 and 1850. The earliest letters date from when Lydia was a seventeen year old student in Petersham, Mass., and and the correspondence continues irregularly into her married life in Lynn and Worcester, up to the year of her death in 1850. The letters are entirely personal in nature, covering a range of domestic and family topics.
The primary value of the collection is the portrait it provides of a young woman's life in mid-nineteenth-century New England, revolving around the varied regions of the domestic sphere. Cotillions, dressmaking, romance, church meetings, visiting, songfests, and pasttimes are the main subjects of Lydia's letters, all of which are discussed in her lively and entertaining prose. In one sense, her letters from school are disappointing, in that there is scant mention of her actual schooling, but on balance the letters present a fine depiction of the maturation of a young New Englander into her adult role as wife and mother.
Of special interest are Lydia's description of the financial depression at Templeton, Mass., following an industrial collapse in 1843 (letter 22) and her account of her bankruptcy in 1848, when her husband's business venture disintegrated, carrying with it several investors' money (letters 25-28). The last two items in the collection are a letter from Lydia's father to her mother, written on the day of Lydia's death, March 31, 1850; and one item from San Francisco, 1889, concerning Lydia's son and daughter in law.