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Letters to Clara Alricks, 1863
Primary editor: Joyce Messner; assistant editor: MaryAlice Bitts

The Letters

In 1863, Clara (Callie) Bull Alricks was fifteen years old and the fourth living child of Herman and Mary Elder Kerr Alricks. As befitting a young lady of upper middle class Harrisburg society, she attended a finishing school in Troy, New York. Letters passed between Callie and her family and friends, carrying all the fashion news, gossip, and parental instruction that any girl at boarding school could want.

The world surrounding Clara was neither simple nor static. Gettysburg had become a battlefield with horrendous losses on both sides. Polish Russians started the January Revolution while civil war broke out in Afghanistan.(1) Stephen Foster wrote "Beautiful Dreamer" as Manet painted "Le Dejeuner sur 1 ' Herbe" and joined the Salon de Refuses to start the new age of modern art. Jules Verne published his first science fiction novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, while French photographer A. F. Nadar made his first ascent for aerial photography in his own balloon, "Le Geant". (2) And, in a liberating stroke for homemakers everywhere, Ebenezer Butterick invented the first paper dress pattern to be sold in the United States.(3)

Closer to home, soldiers were being boarded with families in Harrisburg, providing them with comforts away from the battle-field horrors. Political parties were starting to hold rallies in anticipation of the Presidential election to be held in fall of 1864. And the upper and middle class as of Harrisburg continued their living as though nothing had really changed in the world around them.

Social life was governed by the Victorian premise that by educating and occupying young adults with structured activities, they would grow up to be responsible, moralistic and productive adults. Rigid codes of etiquette were strictly followed by parents and offspring alike. Church socials reinforced the church's tenets over the young adults' behavior by providing a means for them to meet and mingle -- but only under chaste, chaperoned conditions. Engaging in such activities as hymn sings and helping the less fortunate of society and war allowed the youth to come into contact with each other and the world at large under the supervision of controlling adults.

Buggy rides not only allowed the young men to show ability to control their animals but, also ability to purchase and train the best horses. Skating parties were a natural part of winter's activities. Wealthier families, afraid their children might skate on unsafe ice or mingle with the lower class, "subscribed" or donated money to promote skating under supervision.

Dinner parties were an important part of the social scene and demonstrated the giver's ability to correctly interpret the many etiquette guidelines of Victorian life. The Buehler party mentioned in Mary McCormick's letter would have been considered formal. An invitation to the party would have necessitated a written R.S.V.P. from the guest and would have stimulated an immediate bonanza for area dressmakers and haberdashers as attenders needed to secure suitable attire. Formal parties called for elaborate costumes; the more opulent the host/hostess' attire, the better. A woman was required to wear a dress of rich material in a subdued color grey, blue or black with the appropriate touches of jewelry or lace. (4) Men were expected to wear light-colored kid gloves, and light trousers with a dark dress coat. (5) If dressing seemed to be filled with potential hazards to the unwary, consuming the meal added to the stress level. In addition to knowing how to handle the multitude of dishes, glassware, and flatware, one was expected to be a brilliant conversationalist. A typical menu for formal parties contained eight courses that might include the following: Oysters on the Half Shell, Mock Turtle Soup, Lobster Farcis, Fillet of Beef with Mushroom Sauce, Croquettes, Green Peas, Jelly Pickles, Pickled Peaches, French Salad, Lemon Pie, Iced Cream, Nut Cake, Oranges, Grapes, Figs, Candy and Coffee. (6) No wonder the national pastime of typical Victorian was indigestion.

Smaller informal parties were given for the young adults. Teas were held in the front parlor where the youth engaged in pastimes as card playing, album viewing, lantern shows, and piano playing while consuming a variety of foods: tea, cocoa, cold roast beef sandwiches, crumpets, cream cakes, and White Mountain cake with preserved strawberries. (7) Gentlemen's suppers were also the rage. Hosted in private homes, they offered the male youth an opportunity to indulge in casual business horse talk. (away from the to be women), and {?] Thought excluded form the gathering, the women of the house would supply the repast: Oyster on the Half Shell, Sweetbreads in Tomato Sauce, boiled Sardines on Toast Deviled Chicken, Mayonnaise of Salmon, Welsh Rarebit, Charlotte Russe, Ice Cream, Cake and Coffee. (8)

Clara would have been learning all these Victorian refinements at the Troy Female Seminary. While traditional female education would have included home management, dancing etiquette and needlework, this school provided more. Troy Female Seminary, founded in 1820 by Emma Hart Willard, also taught women social studies, geography, mathematics and health awareness. Emma Willard believed women had "female intelligence" and she stressed the need for young women to "become a 'companion' to men and not an inanimate satellite". (9) In addition to her own textbooks, Willard emphasizes the importance of physical activity for healthful bodies. Over a thirty-year period, the Seminary, prepared more then 200 young women form all walks of life to fill the ranks of teachers needed for public education. (10)

Who was Clara Bull Alricks? We know she was born in 1848, the eighth of ten children born to Herman and Mary Alricks. According to the Harrisburg Cemetery records, five of the children did not survive the first year of life. Mary Alricks died in 1857 and left Herman, a lawyer, with five children to near Clara's first home was at 23 Front Street where her father had his office, but some time during the 1860's he rented the house and boarded with Mrs. McClure at 60 Market Street. Family letters reveal a fifteen-year-old with her own ideas about dress and home fashions. Being a young woman of such definite opinions, it is not surprising that she would have chosen the Troy Female Seminary for her finishing school. Her closest circle of friends included Mary Kerr, Rachel Pollock, Ellie Forster and, at times, Jennie Boas. (11)

All these young ladies were from the main line families of Harrisburg. With the large families on her mother's side, and the intermarriage into the McCormick family, she had plenty of family members to keep her abreast of local news at home while she attended school. Information about her later life is murky. Materials found in Manuscript, group # 466, reveal that her younger sister, Martha, never married while her older sister, Mary, married James McCormick, continuing the McCormick line at least another generation. Brother William Alricks would become a bander and Hamilton would become a Civil Engineer. No references in Harrisburg City directories (1880-1890) list her as living in the area. No obituary was found, but a listing in the Harrisburg Cemetery records states she died in Scranton, Pennsylvania on October 2, 1933 at the age of eighty-seven.

Editorial Translations, Work and Identification
Twelve letters comprise the packet: Eight from her father, two from her older sister, Mary McCormick, one from her younger sister, Martha, and one from a girlfriend, Jennie Boas. For the most part, it was not difficult to decipher the correspondents' handwriting. Sometimes the ink was smeared or damaged by holes. This was noted within the translation. I replaced dashes that were used to separate sentenced with periods. Ampersands were replaced with the word "and". Apostrophies were added to make the reading of the letter easier. Capital letters, when used , (not necessarily in the beginning of sentences), were very ornate. Sentence structure sometimes rambled but was kept the same as the original. Paragraph and misspelled words were retained . I have come to the conclusion after reading other letters in Manuscript #MG466, that rules of punctuation were only finalized in the late 1800s since all used their own system of dashes, dots and squiggles for punctuation. Such words as "today" and "everybody" were written as two distinct words.

Family records sometimes contradicted each other as to whether there were issues of marriages as in the case of cousin Alex Thompson. When this occurred, I chose the safest route and declared the person not identified. Several female cousins bore the same name (i.e., Mary Kerr), at which point I listed all the possible permutations. Nicknames and gentlemen callers, unless found in other family letters, were not identified.

The Letters:

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks 9/14, 1863
("In writing a letter you should not use the word "very" so often."}

From Jennie E. Boas to Clara Alricks, 10/12, 1863 ("You can't imagine how much we miss you.")

From Mary McCormick to Clara Alricks, 11/11, 1863 ("Their last performance that I heard of was their distinguishing themselves throwing corn and behaving like boys generally on Halloween...")

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks, 12/14, 1863 ("The boys have behaved well and have become men & men of business habits, which would not be the case if I were rich -- probably.")

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks, 12/18, 1863 ("I enclose a small bill of Einstein (1) which provoked me today. I had forbid any one of the family dealing at that store.")

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks11/19, 1863 ("This morning I enclosed $25...")

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks, 12/22, 1863 ("I am sending you a Christmas gift...I have not heard from you yet about the small bill of Einstein's. If you said anything to me about it, I have totally forgotten-but my memory has failed so much of late that I forget what happened a month ago.")

From Mary McCormick to Clara Alricks, 11/27, 1863 ("I can't imagine what kind of furs you could get for your money. Nothing decent looking I should think")

From Herman to Clara, 11/19, 1863, (I just heard Fanny Berghaus was married to Captain McConkey...All the friends, I think, opposed except her mother.")

From Martha Alricks to Clara Alricks, 12/1, 1863 ("You said that we had forgotten to put your hoop plaid skirt in but we forgot it.")

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks, 12/2 1863 ("The town is as full of frivolity as ever. So we old fogies think.")

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks, 12/8, 1863 ("In these letters he says nothing about guerillas or an attack on Memphis.")

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks, 12/9, 1863 ("I see none but negroes about the house. They peep into our windows at night from the balcony - & every morning almost")

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks, 12/18, 1863 ("I did not dream that I owed any Jew.")

From Herman Alricks to Clara Alricks, 1222, 1863 ("I am sending you a Christmas gift...I have not heard from you yet about the small bill of Einstein's. If you said anything to me about it, I have totally forgotten-but my memory has failed so much of late that I forget what happened a month ago.")

  • Alrich, William H. Uncle Levi and the Alrich (Alricks) Family Genealogy. by the author, April 1985.
  • Barney, William L. The Passage of the Republic. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1987.
  • Bate, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-6. Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
  • Boyd, William H. Boys's Business Directory of Adams, Bucks, Chester, Dauphin, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Lancaster, Montgomery, and York, Pennsylvania,1860. Philadelphia: N.E. Corner and 6 Minor Street, 1860.
  • Draper, Stacy, curator of Rensselaer County Historical Society, Troy, New York. Interviewed by author 11, April 1993.
  • Eggert, Gerald G. Harrisburg Industrializes. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.
  • Egle, William. Egle Book of Pennsylvania Genealogy: Scotch-Irish and German Families, Hamilton Family. Harrisburg: Lane S. Hart, Printer and Binder, 1886.
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  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Bintage Books, 1963.
  • Garrett, Elizabeth Donaghy. At Home: The American Family 1750-1879. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 1990.
    • Genealogical Family Manuscript Charts::
      Alricks Family
      Boas Family
      Buehler Family
      Cameron/McCormick Family
      Forster Family
      Hamilton Family
      Kerr/Wilson Family
  • Gopsill, James., pub. Gopsill's Directory of Lancaster, Harrisburg, Lebanon and York, 1863-64. Jersey City: John H. Lyon, Printer, 1863.
  • Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History of People and Events. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1975.
  • Johnson, Allen and Dumas Malone, eds. Dictionary of American Biography: Vol. III. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958.
  • Kelker, Luther Reily. History of Dauphin County Pennsylvania with Genealogical Memoirs: Vol. III. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1907.
  • Phelps, Stephen. "The Indomitable Emma Willard" The Conservationist (March-April 1979): 17-19.
  • Schuessler, Raymond. "The woman who proved female intelligence". N.R.T.A. Journal (November-December 1977): 9-11.
  • Urdang, Laurence, ed. The Timetable of American History. New York: Simon And Schuster, Inc., 1981.
  • Williams, Susan. Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.
  • Yarwood, Doreen. The Encyclopedia of World Costume. New York: Bonanza Books, 1986.

This online project is a joint venture between Penn State University and The Historical Society of Dauphin County, where the McCormick Family Papers are kept.

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