Female Friendship on the Frontier
The elegant mustard-yellow cover of The Ladies' Letter Writer (187-?) is telling of the propriety that lies within its pages. This etiquette handbook provides templates for correspondence on a comprehensive variety of occasions. That it was published in London and circulated in Texas indicates the influence of British social forms on settler communities in 19th-century Texas.
This excerpt from The Ladies' Letter Writer, titled "An Invitation from a Lady recently married," provides a template for a letter of invitation for a visit to the home of a newly married couple. The tone of the model letter is affectionate and gently teasing: "My Dearest Edith, I have now been married six months, and not one little visit have you paid me yet! Do come and spend a fortnight with us... I wish you to come and judge for yourself if I have not every cause to be a happy woman. I have been so spoilt lately that I cannot bear a disappointment; so do not refuse my request."
This letter, addressed to Johnson from a friend named Dora, was posted before either woman was married, but it includes an invitation to visit that echoes the jaunty tone of the model invitation template in The Ladies' Letter Writer:"oh! how lonesome I am. I guess I'd like to see Miss Lizzie and have a nice talk and a big hearty laugh about 'good old times'... Lizzie come and we'll go around fall in love, flirt and I'll talk for you and you do the same for me and we'll get married before any body knows it but ourselves." While Dora's letter echoes the light-hearted girlishness of the letter template, it also bears witness to the hardships of life on the Texas frontier. "I expect you knew both the ladies Ms Love + Miss Crow are both dead several others have died but you knew them not. Also another Emma Hamilton died very suddenly with colic."
This "shaking salve" recipe was posted to Lizzie Johnson in the mail, suggesting that correspondence on the frontier had a practical as well as a social function. This salve may have been a remedy for injury or illness. Including such ingredients as beeswax, mutton tallow, and oil of tansy, the recipe provides a peek at the natural resources available on the Texas frontier.
Like many letters in the Johnson Family Papers, this letter arrived in an intricately embossed envelope. The letter opens with an equally intricate introduction, in accordance with the social forms modeled in The Ladies' Letter Writer above. "Dear, sweet Lizzie. Language fails to portray the pleasure afforded by the perusal of your precious letter; it seems so much like your darling self talking. Would that I could hear your loved voice as in days of yore." The letter reports on a "fish fry at "Johnson's Lake--a beautiful body of water 5 miles long. Found a great many mustang grapes + huckle-berries. We have made a little wine." The letter also registers the beginning of the Civil War; the writer laments that "so dark a cloud would bespread the Political horizon of our beloved country. Several companies from near here have left for war."
This merry letter from a pupil of Johnson's, presumably written when Johnson was teaching in the Austin area, includes loose stamps and two swatches of brown printed patterned fabric. Written during the summer vacation, the pupil expresses how much she misses Johnson, and offers some updates on family and friends. "Alice is nearly talking can say a great many things, she is a very sweet baby. Miss Lizzie we will have some nice Peaches by the time school commences, which I hope you be a participater in, we have a quantity of Watermelons."
This letter addressed to Lizzie Johnson from a female cousin named Mollie Ellen (?) includes two enclosures. A tiny scrap of paper reads, "Don't I look smart?" Perhaps this was a reference to popular culture, or a common expression of the day. Also enclosed is a swatch of striped, woven fabric. Johnson and her cousin may have exchanged fabric swatches in the process of having dresses made. The letter itself describes local social life and recent marriages, and reports on a visit with a fortune-teller. "Cousin Lizzie, I had my fortune told last night... Just as I wished, it said I was to marry a dark hair + eyed man."