Nicole Wetenkamp
American Literature I
Digital Document Assignment

I discovered my document on the website that was provided to us on your (Professor Marshall) faculty website. This was extremely useful, especially since I knew I wanted to analyze a document in letter form. The website that was used under our selection provided was This site is an “Online Archival Collection” from the “Special Collections Library” at Duke University. This collection credits certain individuals for the work they did contributing to this “project”. These individuals are cited directly on the website as:
Lydia Boyd: scanning and transcription
Elizabeth Dunn: subject expertise and proofreading
Paolo Mangiafico: project coordination; scanning, web page design and coding, background notes.
It is not noted whether or not these individuals were students, professors, or librarians. It did not state specifically what their affiliation with the University is. It appears that the official title of this site ( is simply, “Emma Spaulding Bryan Letters”.

When I arrived at the website, the first thing I intended to look for, before the content, was the reliability of the source. It is extremely important to understand where the information for an assignment like this is coming from. Directly underneath the title, on the main page of the website, it informs that this archival is part of a collection at Duke University. The website then details a series of links with information such as the dates of these letters, information on Emma and her husband, and further knowledge the site has acquired to provide for their readers. The site is repeatedly referred to as a “project”, which appears to have taken place in October of 1997. In the letters on the website, the creators have posted both typed interpretations of the letters, as well as scanned original copies. The idea of interpretation seems somewhat unofficial; however, in a section provided by the authors of this website titled “About the Digitized Version of this Collection”, they clarify that “Transcriptions were made from the originals, and retain the original misspellings and punctuation. In some cases there are words or sections that we found illegible, and marked with brackets and ellipses; where possible we supplied our best guess.” In the actual letters, this website provides readers with a legibly typed version as well as an original version scanned onto the website. The authors also encourage readers to inform the authors if they believe there has been a misinterpretation of words from the original document. On the same page where the text is provided, the website has also posted a smaller version of the original in the upper right-hand corner. I believe that this is an important element of the website because it intrigues the readers to acknowledge the original document. The sample letter in the upper corner is actually a link to an enlarged full version of Emma’s authentic handwritten letter, even a double size for clarity. The idea of writing a letter seems so foreign to us now that even before you look at the original text, it already seems obscure.

The actual paper that Emma has written on is a much different color that the clean, fresh white paper we are accustomed to. Instead of lines, it appears to have a graph pattern on it with no margins. Emma has dated it, and the first letter was dated July 25, 1878. Emma also wrote the city she was in at the time she wrote each letter. Before we even read the letters, we can assume that Emma travels frequently to include this detail. There are stains on the background of the paper, but it’s most likely unknown whether they were on there at the time of her writing, or if they have been acquired over the years before the project was done by Duke. The text wraps up along the left side and back to the top in which she signs it. It is most likely that paper was not a disposable item like it is today, and its availability may have been quite scarce. The handwriting is pretty difficult to read, but all the vocabulary is familiar. In some cases this semester, when we were given documents similar to this one that consisted of original handwriting, it was not the legibility that was that most difficult part of decoding the writing, it was the words themselves. One of the major attributes is these letters were written in 1873, which is fairly recent when compared with works we’ve read that date back to the 15th century. Judging from Emma’s handwriting along with the presentation and appearance of the letter, I immediately can tell she was well educated. Her handwriting is in all cursive, and the letters are set up in somewhat of an orderly fashion. The first letter is just under 700 words long, and the website provides the four pages that Bryant wrote, and each page is available in an enlarged version. The actual paper that was used for each letter varies; in the second letter, Bryant’s paper is lined, similar to the format we see today on traditional notebook paper. Despite the relatively legible handwriting and familiar vocabulary, I am extremely grateful that the text is provided in a typed version as well.
The scriptorium website provides ten letters written by Bryant to her husband, John, between July 25, 1873 and August 19, 1873. The website supplies a section titled “About the Letters”, in which the authors give a brief overview of the context of the ten letters; where they were written, to whom they were written, and the general content of the series of letters as a whole. It explains that Emma wrote these letters throughout her visits with family in either Illinois or Ohio, to her husband who “tended to his political affairs in Georgia”.
The first letter was written by Emma in Cleveland. She begins by explaining why she could not send a picture of their baby daughter, Alice, but Alice was afraid of the camera and they were unable to get a shot. She goes on to relay that Alice is in good health. After briefly discussing their daughter, Emma begins to explain her “prolonged stay here”. She introduces the doctor visits which are consistently discussed throughout the letters. This one specifically details her first visit to the doctor for (what is described and quoted in the “About the Letters” section as) “‘uterine difficulties’”. Emma informs her husband that she will be staying in a “boarding place” close to her doctor’s home and feels confident that with treatment over the summer she can recover from her disease. The letter does take a suspicious turn when she informs her husband that she “had a very pleasant ride . . . with Dr. Sanders,” and after her appointment she was invited to join him while he visited his other patients. It is clear in her tone and language that she is not defensive about the personal time she spends with her doctor outside of their appointments, and even refers to it as “quite a treat”. She continues on to tell her husband that she attends her appointments twice a day, however, she immediately closes the letter by stating, “I wish you were with me daily and I do very much hope to be quite well and strong when you see me at Christmas”. It could be implied that she may feel a bit regretful for spending any additional time with another man, but I feel that her intentions are true and at least she’s being honest with him. It’s not like news traveled fast back then, and I’m sure that if she had an ulterior motive with her doctor, she would not feel inclined to inform her husband of their personal time spent together. Although we are not provided with her husband’s response letters, we see a development in Emma’s letters in which she is defending herself of accusations made by her husband regarding her relationship with her doctor. Ironically, the last thing she writes to her husband in this first letter is, “Please destroy this letter because I do not think it wise to keep letters that speak of disease of a intimate nature”. So much for that.

Emma’s second letter to her husband was written the following day on July 26. She informs her husband of some friends that have either passed away or are in ill-health. She tells John that she is upset about her separation from their daughter while she is in treatment, and the time is passing slowly without her company. In the final paragraph of the letter, she tells her husband that in addition to her car ride with her doctor the previous day, she also took one that evening at 4:00, reiterating that it was “a real treat”. The language and tone of this letter seem to be very neutral. The information she gives is written in a very matter-of-fact, frank style. The first two letters seem to have a very basic function: they provide her husband with information. Emma seems to be making a very valid attempt to keep her husband up-to-date with what’s going on in her life; it seems as though she’s trying to keep things as routine as usual, despite the long distance between them. I think it’s very admirable that she is being as efficient as she is in keeping her husband posted on their life.
In the third letter, Emma’s tone and language are also neutral, and there are no signs that he has received her letters yet in Georgia, or that she is responding to any he has written her. This letter was dated on July 30th, and is a bit shorter than the first two. It briefly explains that Emma will return to their daughter and may stop in Chicago to visit an artist she has been recommended to. It appears that she wishes to paint this summer and is seeking instruction from this artist in Chicago. She mentions that she intends to stop by the doctor’s office for some medicine and wishes for her husband to find a syringe that should help them out. What I realized in this letter that I enjoyed was that Emma seems to be pursuing what she wants to do, and is not putting her life on hold because her husband is not around. From what I’ve read, it seemed to have been common for women’s ambitions to be non-existent, or revolving around the lives of their husbands. The fact that Emma wants to visit Chicago strictly for painting is refreshing to read coming from a woman.
In the original documentation of the fourth letter, there are two red “X” marks on either side of Emma’s opening “My Darling Hubbie”. In the section “About the Letters” on the website, the authors state that “Many of Emma's letters from this period have markings in red pencil, presumably made by John to highlight the sections of her letters that he found suspicious”. The fourth letter, written on July 31, is a response to a telegraph that Emma apparently received from John. Emma begins the letter by stating that this method of correspondence (telegraph) “is both public and expensive”. Immediately, I can sympathize with her anger since she was clear in her first letter that the subjects they are dealing with are “intimate” and clearly something she wished to keep privately between the two of them. In this letter we are also introduced to the idea that John has reacted in some suspicious nature. Emma responds to his reactions: “there must have been some terrible earthquake in your mind or at least a severe shock of some kind to produce two such peremptory telegrams as we have been in receipt of”. She also asks whether or not he has considered that she was in a lot of danger in that hospital, and could have been “suddenly cut off by cholera”. Emma was irritated to return home to such a hostile telegram from her husband. However, despite the anger and hurt she feels from her husband she says, “I am strongly inclined to be vexed but will try to suspend judgment until I receive your explanation”. Emma is responding to her husband without overreacting, possibly under the assumption that there is more to his story, and leaving him room to rectify the situation without her responding irrationally, the way he has. In the second part of her letter, Emma actually seems to be regarding herself in high-standards and praises the efforts she has put in to make herself better, since it seems that her husband does not feel inclined to do so; “I think that it is quite wonderful that I have preserved as much strength as I have”. She continues in the same fashion she has in the previous letters; she details the treatment process and her plans for more traveling, including Chicago, and signs off “With loving kisses”. One of the most interesting aspects of this series of letters is that we are not provided with the letters from her husband. There is only one side to this story, and we can only humbly presume that the interpretation of them is correct. I admire Emma’s assertive nature and her level-mindedness when it comes to her defense. She does not overreact, as I assume she has learned in her husband’s letters that it will not help their cause. The content of the second half of the letter appears that she is continuing to make a forceful attempt to keep the nature of these letters “normal”. She is eager to continue a civil relationship with her husband through these allegations.

The fifth letter was written on both the 1st and 2nd of August in Wakeman. She is responding now to two telegrams from him that “vexed” her. She begins by reiterating the fact that she is upset by his previous telegram and that if she had the money, she would head to Savannah for an explanation in person from him. She seems more upset in this letter than the preceding letter. Between her expressions of hurt “I may not write again until I receive an explanation of these telegrams which I trust will be very soon”, she intermittently details the health condition of their daughter. Again, I feel that this is her attempt at “normalcy.” Her tone is assertive in this letter as well, and she seems determined to remain candid about her feelings toward her husband. “I love you a little this morning notwithstanding all your abuse by telegraph - are you willing to be forgiven?” She is even confident enough to turn the blame of the matter on him, and maintains that he should be apologetic, and she is essentially, awaiting a letter of regret from him. This letter also contains the red marks believed to have been done by John. They are located on either side of this sentence: “If you had any possible objections to my making the trip to Cleveland why did you not make them known when I asked your opinion upon the matter some weeks [...] ago?” (the bracket dictates where there was difficulty in translation). If the meanings of the red “X” marks are assumed accurate, John clearly disagreed with this statement. Maybe he had expressed opposition to this idea unbeknownst to her, or he vindictively feels that she has ignored his request. “I have not time to write more now and scarce feel like it if I had the time. I most heartily wish that I could be with you now if only for the space of one hour”. Emma writes this in the closing of August 1st. Her tone reflects her forthrightness, and willingness to prove that she will do as she pleases when she “feel(s) like it”.

The sixth letter was written on the 3rd of August, also in Wakeman. Although in her previous letter she intended not to write until she has heard from him, she recalls that she has also promised to write every day, and intends to keep that promise “I am keeping my resolution not to write just as I am apt to keep such resolution in writing every day”. She mentions the weather and that their daughter is beginning to talk; this letter seems awkward and unnaturally plagued by a lack of emotion. It is not until the last few lines of the letter that Emma admits to feeling “really unhappy”. After which, Emma is surprised that he “would be so [...] as to object to my receiving needed medical treatment from a physician under whose care your sister has been for nearly three years”. In the original document, there are red marks on either side of that quote. Emma is adamant about remaining on a level of normality with her husband. She insists that their relationship will continue this way and writes that she “will try to say nothing and think nothing until I receive an explanation of your extraordinary course”.

The seventh letter is when I assume Emma received his explanation, and she is clearly unhappy with it. She feels “grossly insulted” by her husband and orders him to not write her again or expect a letter from her.

Do not dare to write me again, or expect ever to receive another line from me until you can assure me of your unlimited confidence in me and feel sincerely repentant for the terrible things you have said to me. I have never lived with you on other terms than those of the most perfect love and trust and equality. I never intend to live with you on other terms. I love you and I hope to be your true wife for time and eternity but I cannot (God helping me) will not) cast my womanhood from me. I trust you fully in spite of circumstances if need be -- ?I will receive nothing less in return.

Her seventh letter was short, and the quote given above consists of the majority of this letter. There was no heading or introduction with “My Darling Husband” or loving closing and signature from Emma as there was in previous letters she wrote to John.

On the 7th and 8th of August, Emma wrote what appears to be an 18 page letter. Of those 18 pages, only five were left unmarked by the red “X” marks supposedly done by her husband. Throughout these letters, Emma is defending herself of his accusations and recalling specific times when she was in need of a doctor’s assistance, and John’s negligence on the matter. This letter truly shows Emma’s heart and determination to be respected by her husband and treated with the same compassion she shows him. I was surprised reading this letter since we commonly associate women to have been seemingly subordinate to men until the mid-nineteen hundreds; while these letters were written with such conviction in 1873. I felt this quote from August 7th really displays Emma’s courage, spirit, and modern mind-set:

[I] have received medical treatment precisely the same as thousands of pure women have done and are doing and my husband repays my full trust in him by torturing himself with the vilest suspicions of me -- even incling to the opinion that I am "ruined" or at the very least, injured -- panic! Taunts me with leaving my baby for a few days in care of her Grandma and aunty! Morally raises the lash over me and says "now will you obey? will you be my inferior, my obedient child?" To him I answer Never -- I will be your true loving wife, your companion and equal in every and the fullest sense -- the mother of your children -- nothing less and nothing else.

It was the letters from August 6th, 7th, and 8th that intrigued me to do my report on this digital document. I became a bona-fide fan of Emma Spaulding Bryant and knew immediately that this was what I wished to work on. I was pleased to see that under the faculty web-site provided to us there was a section labeled “Focus: Women”. This was extremely helpful for me when I was limiting my options. I have always been interested in women in literature, and their presence (or lack there-of) in our survey course canons. I’ve been taking full-time classes in College since 2003; I have taken a variety of English classes, all of which have had a very limited selection for women authors, or focus on women’s attitudes. We have generally been taught in our standard classroom formats that there is a very specific role women played in earlier times, a role that consisted of attending to their husbands. Rarely are we given the chance to see a woman’s determination and courage to speak her mind the way Emma displays throughout these letters. It really makes me wonder what type of influence this has had on modern women. If we are not taught by our teachers and parents growing up that women are capable to achieve whatever they desire or think how they wish, the text books certainly will not give that message. I understand that there are staples in American History we are expected, as scholarly individuals, to read and accept- most of which are written by men. However, I believe the way that women have been depicted to children and students throughout their lives in the literature assigned by schools has supported the idea of inequality in history. I know equality is something that women are still today trying to achieve, but I also think it would be beneficial to add documents similar to the Emma Spaulding Bryant letters to give students a different perspective of women, and something for women in those classes to be proud of. It is also important to consider that this document consists solely of letters. When Emma Bryant was writing these to her husband in 1873, I am sure she hadn’t intended for anyone else to read them, especially since most contain details about very delicate and intimate subjects that she had insisted her husband not share with others.

Other than the timeframe in which these letters were written (1873), this digital document is relevant to our course because it focuses on writing done by a woman. In our syllabus for the course, Dr. Marshall outlined that we were expected to draw comparisons between the styles of men and women. I think Emma’s letters give a very fresh perspective into the lives of women and the scrutiny they were put under by their husbands and their society to live up to the demands of their environment. I also think these letters serve as a very interesting document considering that we are only given those written by Emma, and therefore must make connections for what John may have written. It could have been a well-developed assignment to compare and contrast Emma’s attitude with Abigail Adams’ attitude in her letters to her husband. Both women seem to have had a contemporary approach in communicating with their husband. I also think that these letters could have been associated with other letters we have read throughout the course. I think it is crucial to consider the historical credibility these letters have, and whether or not they could be considered literature.

It was surprising to see that these letters had been taken seriously by an accredited college; and members of Duke University were willing to create such an outstanding website to document these letters and consider them important enough to spend the time translating these hand-written pages to legible text-style documents. The website was very user-friendly. I appreciated that the creators of this website (previously listed) acknowledged the fact that there are mistakes that could have been made, and many of their thoughts on the document (the red “X” marks) were assumptions they are not positive about. The authors also noted in their website that readers are encouraged to make suggestions or corrections where they believed an error was made. The website was easy to navigate, even for someone who is as technologically illiterate as me. I was especially pleased with the fact that each of the original letters had been scanned onto the website for the readers to observe themselves. I would definitely recommend this document to a future student; because of the convenience and the content. I really enjoyed this assignment. (I apologize for getting carried away in length!)