I have got a secret to tell you — now listen — don’t let Janie take Jim Otter for I love him myself — get her to keep putting him off till I get home — then I will marry him.
Sallie is coming to Bollinggreen to go to school . . . I will be very glad for then I will have somebody to pester.
There has been a big meeting going on in town . . . I like to got God but I was afraid that I would have to quit dancing.
Jennie I am so fat that [I] hardley can see out of my eyes.
Jennie if you tell any one or let any one see this I will never tell you any thing.
If these letters are any indication, Eliza Jane “Jennie” Smith (1845-1876) of Smiths Grove, Kentucky was the kind of girl in which her friends at Smiths Grove Academy and at Science Hill School in Shelbyville liked to confide. The Civil War was simmering around them — one of them was planning to visit Shelbyville unless there is danger of the Rebels tearing up the Railroad — but they preferred to fill their letters with news and gossip that kept Jennie apprised of their own doings and those of others in their circle, whether liked or not. Wish you would kill that Ellen Shobe, wrote the girl with her sights on Jim Otter. I don’t love her one speck.
Jennie herself was more circumspect when communicating with her parents. She had finished sewing a new dress, she wrote from Science Hill, and was anxious for them to visit during her exams. But she warned that they could expect no more letters before she returned home: I will give you my reasons some other time. Just to think in 4 weeks I will be free to write and say what I please. Too many prying eyes in the halls of academe, perhaps? In any event, her grrl-friends were probably salivating at the prospect of that summer’s exchange of letters.
Jennie Smith’s correspondence is in the Rasdall Family Papers, available in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here to download a finding aid. For other family collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.