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Blackwell, Antoinette Brown.

Archive of Correspondence of the first ordained woman minister in America.


Blackwell Family Correspondence:
Extraordinary Trove of Letters from Elizabeth, Anna, Henry and Samuel
preivously unknown
Blackwell, Elizabeth. Anna, Henry Browne, and Samuel. Family correspondence. 1837-1852. (#4656137)
29 letters, 101 pages.
Together with:
Blackwell, Antoinette Brown. Family Correspondence. 1825-1921. (#4655712)
An historically significant archive of correspondence - unpublished and heretofore untapped by scholars - by Elizabeth Blackwell, her sister Anna (poet and journalist, the eldest of the Blackwell siblings), and their brother Henry Browne Blackwell (social reformer, editor, and entrepreneur, and future husband of Lucy Stone), along with a couple of family friends. Nearly all the letters are to their brother Samuel Blackwell - future husband of Antoinette Brown (the first American woman to be ordained a Protestant minister) - with occasional letters to each other and to their parents.
The twenty-nine letters total, filling 101 manuscript pages, break down as follows (all to Samuel unless otherwise noted):
  • Elizabeth, 12 ALS to Samuel.
Of Mr. and Dr. Dickson:
"He thinks my desire of obtaining a thorough scientific education quite feasible, that the plan of teaching hard all summer with preparatory reading, and studying hard all winter, a good one, as I've no money, will mark out a course of reading, lend me books, and do everything in his power to aid - asked me where I would practice? I told him in Cincinnati or Boston. He said that was right, it must not be in a city where everything was stereotyped such as Charleston or Philadelphia, and Boston he thinks the centre of civilization of the whole world, where he would have been long ago, if it were not for the climate. // When we finished the conversation, my head burned with pleasure, I felt it to be the first step gained, and an all important one, for his medical library is a remarkably fine one, his knowledge and experience great, his reputation high and he can give me valuable introductions in Boston, and I believe in Paris.
Now my way is plain. He must respect me as a promising student, as well as an intelligent young lady, and then I know all his influence will be most kindly used for me."
Of her studies:
"I am impatient to begin my studies in real earnest. Sometimes a medical fit seizes me, and then the slow process of teaching seems intolerable to me, but two or three thousand dollars I must and will get before I begin"
"I was deeply engaged in studying the formation of teeth from Papillary Pulp, when your pleasant letter arrived, and it effectually drove away my studiousness for the afternoon and carried me home on a visit to our busy hills."
"I am studying slowly and steadily according to my capacity, and begin to take a deeper interest in the subject than I thought possible. I have always hitherto glanced at the material world with slight superficial regard, and passing it by, as without interest to me, have turned to the spiritual world as alone worthy of deep study. I now begin to see the short sightedness of such a view, and realize that there are wonders enclosed in this visible world, peculiarly fitted to the engrossing objects of study to us, while we remain connected with it. It seems to me that there is nothing dead in this great universe, that the Mighty Power that is connected with the soul, enters equally into everything, wh we only trace the relationship. I want to find out the soul of matter, & I trace out the wonderful nervous fibres of the body, with the same interest that I once sought for the links that united the finite with the infinite. I have had visions of curious theories already twinkling at me from the darkness of my ignorance, and I am eager to advance with more rapid steps, in the boundless fields, that open before me. Teaching seems a sad waste of time, but there is no help for it."
"Though I think to live in a Quaker family in Philadelphia, would be the strictest kind of boarding school, but I will welcome it as the happiest home if it brings me nearer my end - you see I tell you all the chances I hear of, all my enquiries and expectations, because these hopes and fears constitute a great part of my life, and a glimpse at that is what a letter should strive to convey, but I feel a little hesitation sometimes at sending you so many doubts and immature plans when you have so many cares and perplexities of your own to attend to."
Of her time in Geneva:
"People still gossip freely, report my intended marriage, if an unlucky student happen to walk home with me, and still consider me a sort of eccentric monster."
Of her thesis, and Commencement:
"The 23rd of January is Commencement Day. I think I shall bear my part respectably, though without much show, which is not in my nature. The Professors, intend to publish my thesis in the February number of the Buffalo Medical Journal, partly to give a little notoriety the College, partly to be an introduction to me abroad. I disliked the notoriety of the thing, as the thesis is quite an ordinary student's composition (on Ship Fever) but they said it would do me credit and pressed the matter, so I complied."
Of her siblings, at various times and various ways, including repeated mentions over time of their Annual; and in one instance of their financial situation:
"I cannot say I rejoice, at the location of our family mansion. It seems a little coming down, after Mrs. Vail's large house. Still, beggars must not be choosers and I know any unpleasant association will vanish after the first visit."
Of, for instance, her sister Emily:
"However, I think she never was deficient in that way, and we must set her down on the talkative side of the house, to which division you and I certainly do not belong. If I were her, I would not give too much time to music; one's facility does not increase in proportion to the additional time given. This I know from experience, and I consider three hours daily well directed practice, a large allowance. Emily does not anticipate, I presume being more than a respectable musician. [She] must shine in other ways, and it will be a great pity if she neglect the studies for which she has particular capacity."
Of the Du Pres; of Mrs. Gove;
Multiple mentions of Emma Willard, including this first brief one:
"Who do you think is going to visit Mrs. Du Pre? No less a person than Mrs. Emma Willard, the famous Trojan. The girls, I do believe, teachers too, tremble in expectation."
As well as a lengthy account of Willard's discussion with "a young physician" and her work, A Treatise on the Motive Powers that Produce the Circulation of the Blood:
"I mentioned Mrs. [Emma] Willard's visit in one of my letters. I did not know till nearly the close of her short stay, that she was a pretender to medical knowledge. We had a very amusing scene one evening…. She said that for fourteen years the idea had haunted her night and day, she had conversed with physicians and attended dissections and made experiments and finally she thought that she had made a discovery, upon which she had written a book which was now in the hands of Wiley and Putnam, who would shortly lay it before the public. [A Treatise on the Motive Powers that Produce the Circulation of the Blood] She then proceeded in some measure to develop her idea, to the astonished youth, who as soon as he had recovered himself, began to raise objections, to which she was eager to reply, and as both were great talkers, the war of words became fast and furious…. I fear however that the book will not add to Mrs. Willard's reputation for from my observation, I should judge her, not very profound though possessed of much varied information, and a grand discovery by her, is not very probable, on a subject to which intelligent men have devoted their whole lives."
Of marriage and business:
"next to a marriage, partnership, a business one, must be of the most importance"
She writes of her time in Asheville, Charleston, and Aiken:
"I expect to become a real Demosthenes after listening to a few more such speeches," and "The dearth which prevails through this district and farther South, is driving the poor white settlers in every direction, literally in search of food"
"I have been in to a few of the recitations but they are by no means brilliant, and I think a comparison with the northern girls would be by no means favorable to their Southern sisters. I am really amused at the eating powers the girls sometimes display."
"The number of fat, rosy little children in the city has struck me, and I believe if the habits of the people were not so exceedingly irrational, as to exercise, &c, that the early pledge of health would be redeemed in after life."
[See also letter dated November 22, 1846]
Of Abolition, slavery, religion:
"I was aware of his opinions on Slavery. I think them a sad error, particularly in a young man. We are placed in this world, in my opinion, to develop our natures, to grow, for this purpose freedom is an essential condition…. As no one can grow for another, as each one by his own experience and the use of every opportunity that suits his individual nature, in this God-created earth, ought to advance ever to the noble ideal of perfect manhood - so I consider him as the greatest traitor to humanity, who dares in any way to interfere with this God-given freedom, for progress, or ventures to undertake a responsibility, that can only be fulfilled by each individual for himself. This deep sense of responsibility, that a human being must feel that he alone, of all beings in Heaven or Earth, must work out his own elevation under the eye of the great Father, seems to me to give a dignity, an energy, a hope, that makes life truly noble. All force destroys this sense of manliness, is ignobling, degrading. Love alone controls without rendering servile. It is this which justifies parental authority, for the obedience of love is ennobling and without it, control becomes tyranny, and the child unmanned, a slave."
"I am glad you find Mr. Andrews such an intelligent companion. I should like to see the execution of his historical idea though I do not think facts will bear him out. I don't think it is Christ's appearance in the world that is of much consequence, but the acting out of his ideas, the reception of his life into ours which has as yet hardly begun to take place. I think the Christian world as essentially heathen as the world Jesus so sternly rebuked, and though the Messiah may have come, his reign has yet to begin. So to me, the great central fact is yet wanting."
"I feel sometimes too as if I did not know how to regard our family, in its present peculiar development, for if that very unpleasant Presbyterian church is going to enfold you all in its hard arms, I shall be left alone in the world for Calvinism is more replant to me every day and with those who sincerely adopt it, I cannot have much sympathy. How Marianne, Henry and Ellen can attend those very nauseous prayer meetings, I cannot tell; the very atmosphere is disagreeable in the extreme to me, and the deplorable errors, unworthy views of life, and sickly sentimentalism displayed by the brethren who engage, pricks every healthy nerve in one's body. I could bear all this stuff in Mother and you, being in some measure accustomed to it, Mother being of a delicately sentimental turn naturally, and you having the good sense, never to obtrude your unfortunate feelings, but to think that the others, with whom I have sympathized so much, should so fall, is truly deplorable. It is not that I regret their being occupied with religious contemplations. Religion is the highest, the deepest part of our nature, the centre of all things, and profound research or feeling on any subject must enter that region, and claim kindred with the unseen spiritual world, but Presbyterianism, Calvinisim, orthodox Christianity, is totally opposed to religion, and I am deeply sorrow [sic] that they should be searching for jewels in the valley of the shadow of death, and under the guidance of those spectre like people (Drs. B., S. &c) who have grown pale and blind from long residence there."
"In your views of the Bible, I cannot sympathize. From an attentive perusal of it, I should not consider it to be the miraculous book which its zealous followers pronounce it. If the book simply does not impress me with this fact, I cannot take it on their word, and the cartload of dissertations, antiquities, &c constituting evidences, it is out of my power to go through with. A wise old physician says, "the science of Medicine has been more injured, by the multitude of false facts, than false theories", and I believe false facts to be just as abundant, in explanations of the Bible, as in any other department. The labour requisite to prove or disprove all the evidence, and the satisfaction of a thinking being, would be immense, and out of the power of most, and yet this book is of vital importance, and fully inspired." (for more see further in letter of August 2, 1846)
Of feminism:
"Did you notice a manly little article on Woman's function in the Harbinger of the 10th ? It was in answer to a remonstrance of Anna's at Women's being excluded from the executive of the American Union. I was fearful they might publish her address, as she hoped, and so the vexed question of Women's rights might through a stone of discord into the Association cause, so felt the greatest relief at this noble little piece which settles the matter so wisely. I am sure it must come from Mr. Channing's pen, from its justice and delicacy; he is the only person I have ever heard speak on that subject, without grating my feelings and making me blush with mortification. //  Did you notice a manly little article on Woman's function in the Harbinger of the 10th ? It was in answer to a remonstrance of Anna's at Women's being excluded from the executive of the American Union. I was fearful they might publish her address, as she hoped, and so the vexed question of Women's rights might through a stone of discord into the Association cause, so felt the greatest relief at this noble little piece which settles the matter so wisely. I am sure it must come from Mr. Channing's pen, from its justice and delicacy; he is the only person I have ever heard speak on that subject, without grating my feelings and making me blush with mortification."
Of the Association Movement:
"The great object of all religious souls, the raising fallen humanity, but to the association movement alone, I now look with hope, as the only method of affecting the race and making a grand religious faith the moving spring of actual life…. I long intensely to do something for this great work, and only wish I could see clearly in what way I may be most useful. If, by continuing in the South and gaining a little money, I should continue this living martyrdom with joy, but I sometimes doubt as to this being the wisest plan, however time will show."
Of letter writing:
"I am always delighted to get your letters, but it is so much pleasanter to receive than to answer them, that I expect you to write two or three to my one, so don't be surprised at not receiving a reply to each of your communications but write on, all the quicker, till you get one. I only write on Sundays, and sometimes I feel lazy or stupid, or I get hold of an interesting novel, or divert myself with stocking mending and reflections, which prevents my performing my weekly part & so I have to wait for another week."
"Did Mrs. Lyle ever get a letter I wrote her some 2 or 3 moths ago? Give my best love to her when you see her. But to all at home give only My wishes, for I think they treat me abominably. If Mother did not stand in that relationship to me, I would wish that she might dream every night that old Moses was dosing her with calomel. But if the others don't write to me, I will wish that Marian may be without help for a fortnight, that Henry may quarrel with Mr. Ellis, and Emily never get a letter from Anna or news of Mr. Brisbane, Ellen's hair refuse to curl and a constant pimple take possession of the tip of her nose, Howy may be thrashed by every boy in the school, and Washy lose every argument he attempts ... So let all beware how they provoke me too far. Now remember, my dear brother, our arrangement about your three letters to my one, and believe me, yrs ever, E."
Of her "link to the literary world, and various readings;
  • Anna, four ALS.
Writes of her sister "Bessie" - Elizabeth; mentions her brother's educational opportunities (or lack thereof); Abolition and Slavery; the idea of moving west and opening a school run by her family; William Channing; Brook Farm; various readings and translations, including her work on Fourier; her siblings, including Elizabeth:
"What a noble creature E.[Elizabeth] is; she wrote us two beautiful letters, on her arrival in her new home, but though the situation is a pleasant one, I fear the people are too simple, and the school too limited to give her a satisfactory salary."
Her financial straits and employment opportunities: "In our exchequer we have about 64 cent of borrowed money, but I trust to raise a small breeze of some 10 or 20 dollars by selling songs to the Columbian Magazine, who has offered me $ 10 a piece for original music for its pages."
  • Anna and Emily, one each but sent together, 1845.
Emily writes of Elizabeth:
"I supposed you have had letters from Elizabeth long before this. I wish you could see those which she has sent us. We were very much amused by her descriptions of the simple way in which they live at Asheville, and especially by her recount of her first appearance at church, where the congregation were so struck by the elegance of her dress and the surprising splendor of her white bonnet, that they all remained standing in their pews until she had walked out."
  • Henry Browne Blackwell to Samuel, five ALS to Samuel and one ALS to Elizabeth.
Of the Woman Movement (to Elizabeth):
"I see you have written a letter to the Woman Convention which is published by the Tribune - short, sensible, and eminently non-committal, in which last, I think you are right. Altho I am fully imbued with their doctrine, bloomers not excepted, you cannot safely identify yourself with them, as the want of good common sense gumption which often marks their proceedings would render you liable to be placed in false position. In fact they have almost succeeded in getting you into one, in this instance, owing to Miss Hunt's [Harriott Hunt] following up the reading of your letter and her own remarks by a string of unwise resolutions reflecting upon Harvard, Geneva and Cleveland Schools, thereby as it [five words] were doing what they can to put the passive resistance of those schools to the new idea, into an active and antagonistical position, in mere self defense. I think Miss Hunt must lack judgment."
  • Uncle Charles Lane to each child, 1839.
  • Stephen Gower, their father's business partner, to Mrs. Blackwell with a letter to Mr. Blackwell, 1839.
  • Missionary preacher and family friend A. Jones, two ALS, 1847-48.

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