Twenty-four of the twenty-seven letters in this collection are from Elizabeth Barras to her parents while she was a student at the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, between 1838 and 1840. The collection provides insight into the life of a schoolgirl enrolled in a private academy during this time period and illustrates the formal nature of her relationship with her parents. John Kummer, headmaster at the Seminary, wrote the other three letters in the collection to John B. Barras, detailing Elizabeth's progress. Although none of the letters specifically indicate that Elizabeth was having any problems in school, the collection ends with a letter from Kummer requesting that Elizabeth be removed from the seminary.
In her letters home, Elizabeth made only brief references to her school work, which included classes in music, drawing, French, ribbon work, and German. On one occasion she did mention a school trip to a paper mill that she found particularly interesting: "I never knew before they separated the pages according to their colors, but I learned that they divided the white into one portion, the blue into another; and also the blue next to the white made up the best paper." (1839 March 26). She spent some time describing her daily routine -- "we rise at a quarter to six" -- and discussed both the number of girls in the school and the large dormitory rooms where they slept. Elizabeth wrote, "I also expect that I shall be very much afraid to sleep alone when I come home, as where I sleep there are between 60 & 70 girls, that is in the upper one, & in the lower room there are only between 40 & 50 girls on account of its being much smaller. We have at present 102 borders, besides 8 day schoolers & 38 town girls making in the school 148." (1839 January 13).
The majority of Elizabeth's letters to her parents were quite formal and were usually composed of a list of items that she wanted her parents to include in their next package to her. In her letters, Elizabeth never failed to thank her parents for their packages, but she requested on several occasions that her parents send her more sweetmeats and less fruit. Even then, she was polite: "The next box you send me, you will please not send me much fruit." (1838 October 1).
It is only in the first letter of the collection that Elizabeth mentioned that she was homesick: "I was only homesick once, and that was the first evening about an hour." (1838 April 23). Elizabeth never indicated that she was unhappy at school but she did write in several of her letters that she would like her parents to visit more often and to stay for a longer duration. She expressed disappointment when she was not allowed to go home for Easter. Elizabeth wrote, "I was agreeably surprised in the reception of a box and a letter from you last Thursday, dated the 20th, which you gave me great joy to hear that I had your permission to come home and spend the Easter holiday. It was quite unexpected, I never dreamed of such a thing as going home; but my joy was of short duration for on Friday morning I heard that it was against the rules of the school" (1838 March 15).
The letters from headmaster John Kummer provided the Barras parents with reports of their daughter's progress. A list of expenses for Elizabeth's schooling was included in one of these letters and gives a detailed account of the amount of spending money that Elizabeth was allowed, the price of each class the she took and cost of board and tuition: "Balance due: $42.81" (1839 January 17). At this time, the headmaster noted, "Miss Elizabeth is well, and has recommenced her studies with renewed energy, and I trust her endeavours will be crowned with success." (1839 January 17). His last letter, however, suggested that Elizabeth may have been a difficult student. Kummer wrote, "I am extremely sorry to inform you that your daughter's conduct, not withstanding your kind admonitions, still continues to disturb our peace and comfort" (1840 February 17). He went on to say, with finality, "I am therefore compelled, against my most sanguine hopes, and most ardent wishes, to solicit a speedy removal."