Primary Sources & Lesson Plans
This letter, part of a lifelong correspondence between Rebecca Gratz and her childhood friend Maria Fenno, reflects many important facets of society in the early nineteenth century. Life in the young American nation was exciting. Filled with optimism, many Americans of this era realized that they were involved in an experiment of great promise. The most immediate concerns of young women of affluence, such as Gratz, were family and social relations, as shown by Gratzs reports of her own activities and her inquiries about the health and happiness of her friend.
Yet despite their privileged world, even the wealthy could not escape the instability caused by disease and other dangers. Fenno had lost both her parents in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1798, and Gratzs concerns for her friends health betray the fragility of life in this period. Gratz later became involved in much more than the personal relations of family and friends that filled the lives of most of the women of her status. Her exposure to the problems faced by Maria and others provided the impetus for a lifetime of work on behalf of orphans and other unfortunates of her time.
For more information on this letter and the life of Rebecca Gratz, go to JWAs Women of Valor exhibit.
1. What type of information does Gratz report to her friend and what information does she seek in return?
2. What aspects of this letter are similar to correspondence between friends today? What aspects are specific to the time period?
3. How did the fragility of life in this time period affect personal relationships?
4. How would this letter have been different if it had been written from one man to another?
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