Electa wrote most of the letters (105 out of 127), 34 of which she wrote between 1850 and 1853, and 71 between 1874 and 1895. Other members of the family wrote the rest of the letters -- her son Daniel Higgins, his wife Amanda, his second wife Mary, her daughter Clarinda, and several of Electa's grandchildren. Many letters also contain entries by Electa and her children or grandchildren.
The collection can be divided into two parts chronologically and thematically. Those which date from July 24, 1850, to February 13, 1853, were written by Electa from Avon, Maine, to Daniel in California. The letters that date from August 11, 1872 to July 21, 1895 were written primarily by Electa to Clarinda, while the former lived in Red Wing, Minnesota, with her son Daniel and his family, and the latter in Strong, Maine. The two sets of letters illustrate two distinct phases in Electa's life. From 1850 to 1853, she had a very active role as the sole manager of both her household and the farm. She was also the Postmistress for Avon, a position Daniel had held before leaving for California. Their financial situation was her main concern, but she also wrote her husband about the management of the farm, and about their children's health and activities. Concerned about their many debts, she frequently requested money, giving details of her purchases and the sale of livestock and agricultural products from their farm: "I can get along if they do not call upon me for debts...how I wish you could send me a $1000 to pay all we are a owing" (January 1, 1851). Fortunately Electa was able to procure an income for herself, as she did not receive money from Daniel on a regular basis.
The letters from 1874 to 1895 reveal a more passive side of Electa, as her responsibilities were few, especially as she got older and more fragile. Nevertheless, she managed to provide Clarinda with detailed updates on Daniel's farming business and the activities of the family and neighbors. She took great care to describe her new home and the town of Red Wing, as well as her disapproval for her son and daughter-in-law's lax and indulgent parenting style. To a lesser degree, she also described her own activities, which mainly entailed looking after her grandchildren, sewing, and making dresses. Indeed, sewing, knitting, and dressmaking were activities that consumed much of the time of many women in the family. Several letters to Clarinda were accompanied by fabric samples of the material that they had used to make dresses. Electa also mentioned a considerable number of young female relatives and friends who had learned the dressmaking trade and found jobs in shops.
The Towle family was comprised of many hardworking men and women, who, whether seeking fortune in California, establishing themselves in new territories, or maintaining family order and business during difficult times, always managed to preserve family bonds. Their letters are filled with concern and affection, as exemplified by Electa's dedication to communicate with those who were far away but close in heart.