Talcott family papers  1823-1951 (bulk 1823-1908)
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of 312 items:

217 letters, largely to and from the Talcott family;

69 school essays, mostly written by Martha and Sarah Talcott at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary;

2 engravings, of John B. Talcott.

24 miscellaneous items, including the Last Will and Testament of Amelia Talcott, items relating to the family business, and a detailed biographical sketch of John Talcott and his descendants.

Although much of the correspondence concerns the domestic life of the extended Talcott family, twenty-seven of the letters relate to the Talcott women’s education, and the lives and careers of fellow students. Martha Goodrich Robbins (later Talcott) received some level of schooling in the 1820s. In a letter of September 18, 1823, her brother Chauncey gives his view of the subject: "When you are down on your hands and knees, dressed in old tow cloth, weeding onions, it will be of but little service to you to know what are the fashions in New York, or how many parts of speech there are, or whether the earth is round or flat as a toad. It will not make the weeds come up any faster." In spite of this, two of Martha’s daughters attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

One undated letter fragment, from a Mt. Holyoke instructor, Grace Stanton, to Sarah Talcott, describes in detail the reaction of a new student (Sarah Talcott) upon arrival at Mt. Holyoke -- how homesickness and the strangeness of her surroundings were soon transformed into affection and then love for the beautiful landscape, dedicated teachers and schoolmates. A letter (unsigned, dated May 1862) updates the class on current happenings in the lives of several of the women who graduated from Mt. Holyoke, some of whom were actively teaching, others who had married and were raising families, and several who were ill or taking care of ailing family members.

Another letter provides a description of a school mistress as imagined by Mt. Holyoke graduate Mary Perry, and reveals something of the bond that unites these women: "We, who are set apart from the rest of Eve's daughters as the 'Eddicators' of Papa's hopefuls and Mama's darlings. Who are neither married, nor given in marriage, whose black alpaca dresses always bear about a sprinkle of chalk dust -- whose second finger on the right bears the indelible ink stain, whose voices are always pitched on the sharps and minor keys, as being more euphonious to the sensitive ear -- weep for us...every step, motion and breath bespeaks her profession, stern, stiff, staid, prim & precise schoolmistress. This is a picture of our sisterhood, myself included, if the Fates so decree. I whisper amen, and Echo brings back the same word." (June 7, 1870, Lizzie L. to Mattie)

Religion was a strong influence at Mt. Holyoke and often appeared in the letters of its graduates. Mary Mclean wrote to Sarah Talcott, that "there are many who have learned 'the better way' within those hallowed walls, and have gone out from there with hearts devoted to the service of Christ, and vast, vast is the influence they are now exerting in this world of ours." (November 26, 1852) Another Mt. Holyoke classmate, deterred by ill health from pursuing a teaching career, resigned herself to passive endurance: "I doubt not, however, that I have a lesson to learn that could be learned in no other way; may God grant to be my instructor in this matter." (Mary Fitch to Sarah Talcott, December 21, 1858) Two undated letters refer to a prayer association, of which Martha Talcott is a member, formed of mothers and children in search of divine protection in the face of the ever-present threat of serious illness and early death.

The school essays reveal the thoughts of intelligent mid-nineteenth century young women on subjects of historic, religious, moral, and scientific interest, as well as descriptions of contemporary events. Many are mature reflections, written by Martha and Sarah Talcott in their late teens and twenties.

Only scattered references mention the family business, the Civil War, or other political or economic issues of the period. Domestic matters carry the day: family visits, illness and death, poultry reports, and the making of molasses candy (Martha Talcott school essay, March 3, 1866), to mention a few.

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