Seeking always to present himself as a proper and gentlemanly correspondent, Luther Carpenter of Smiths Grove, Kentucky weighed his words carefully when he wrote in July, 1861 to his future wife Sallie Duncan about attending a picnic in Chalybeate Springs.
“We had a very genteel company,” he assured her, before which young ladies “with their delicate hands spread the snow white cloths under the tall and spreading oaks, and poured thereon basketfuls of dainty luxuries.” When someone brought out a fiddle, he declined to dance, preferring instead “a nice promenade with the ladies. I enjoyed myself hugely,” he confessed, even though he had thought of Sallie often and wished she was there.
Fast forward to July, 1890, when Luther and Sallie’s 20-year-old daughter Annie May received a free-wheeling account from her friend Jennie Amos of a “selfish picnic” on a creek near Erin, Tennessee. Why selfish? Because, Jennie slyly noted, it was “just the women folks, understand.” Although her group dressed primly in shirtwaists, upon arriving at the picnic site “we took off our corsets. We had everything to make us comfortable,” Jennie sighed, “and old dresses to go in bathing.”
Unfortunately, their paradise was soon invaded by “two town dudes just to play a joke on us.” The girls were angry at first, but well enough acquainted with them not to care “if we did look like the devil,” and at the end of the day even rode with them back to town sans corsets. Nevertheless, Jennie observed, “we would have had a better time without them.”
These letters describing two generations of picnicking are part of the Carpenter Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here to access a finding aid. For other collections about Kentucky families, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.