1835: Samantha Emeline Rhodes to Amos Sprague Rhodes

This interesting and rare letter was written by Samantha Emeline Rhodes (1819-1865) to her brother Amos Sprague Rhodes (1816-1882). They were the children of Silas Rhodes (1792-1849) and Patience Sprague (1793-1866). At the time the letter was written, Samantha was attending a ladies seminary in Warren, Rhode Island – some 30 miles south of her parents home in West Wrentham, Massachusetts.

Although she does not mention it by name, Samantha was attending the Warren Female Seminary – a boarding school for young ladies established in Warren, Rhode Island in 1834.  The instructors of that institution included Robert Allen Coffin, principal and teacher in the classical and philosophical departments; Mrs. Coffin, teacher of drawing, painting, and ornamental needlework; Miss Mary Ann Reed, teacher in the historical and descriptive department; Miss Julia Arms, teacher of French and mathematics; Miss Adeline Croode, teacher of music.

A course catalog from the period reads:

The course of study is intended to be systematic, liberal, and thorough; systematic, based on the laws of the human mind; liberal, giving access to varied sources of knowledge and aiming at the development and improvement of all the mental powers; and at thorough training of the mind to habits of careful investigation, accurate reasoning, and patient, persevering research. The recitations are not the mechanical repetition of a set of words previously committed to memory, but the free expression of thought and feeling on the part of both teachers and scholars. Nor are the pupils confined to the lessons contained in their books. They are encouraged to seek for knowledge in the operations of nature and in the exhibitions of human character, and to apply the principles of science to the occurrences of life. The religious influence exerted in the school is intended to be positive and efficient, but not sectarian.

The catalogue of the year 1836 shows a membership of 116, of which 44 were pursuing the regular course of three years. A larger proportion of students were coming from neighboring States, particularly from Massachusetts. Three came from Vermont and 2 from Georgia. The boarding house in connection with the seminary had accommodations for 30.  Source: History of higher education in Rhode Island, Issue 18, by William Howe Tolman.

The Warren Female Seminary was run by Robert Allen Coffin (1801-1877). He was the first student registered for admission to Amherst College at its opening in 1821. He served in the Massachusetts Legislature in 1856-7; and he was the brother of James H. Coffin, meteorologist of the Smithsonian Institution.

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[Addressed to Mr. Amos S. Rhodes, West Wrentham, Massachusetts]

Warren, [Rhode Island]
October 29, 1835

Dear Brother,

I again resume my pen for the purpose of directing a few lines to you. I assure you I felt disappointed on seeing the state of the weather such this morning that I could not expect a visit from you today. Having anticipated it with much pleasure but I soon recollected that we were all liable to disappointments, and that this was but small in comparison with some we experience. I also thought that next Saturday would soon come when, if nothing prevents, I shall expect to see you. I received your kind epistle Oct 16th with much pleasure and was happy to hear you were in the enjoyment of good health. My health is also very good. But the breakfast bell is just going to ring, therefore, I must lay aside my pen till after breakfast (which consisted of white bread and butter, & sweet potatoes).

I had no sooner taken my seat than Mr. Coffin came to me an presented me with a piece of glass on which was an etching made by covering it with wax and then take a needle and prick it through the wax and make the letter you wish, and supply a gentle heat over Fluoric acid, and it will be left so distinct as to be read without any difficulty. We had a Chemical lecture last night in Mr. Coffin’s laboratory, which is in the cellar. The subjects were Chlorine, Iodine, and Fluoric Acid. Mr. Coffin has just called at my door with some Chlorine for me to see the colour, which is greenish yellow. Last night I with two other ladies assisted him in preparing his Chlorine, and Fluoric Acid before the lecture. He asked me if I should like to taste some Sulphuric Acid as it then was pure. I told him I should rather not, but one of the ladies thought she should like to, so when Mr. Coffin turned his back, she dipped her finger in and put some in her mouth, which was so strong as to cause her face to be very red and her eyes to run water. As it happened, she did not take enough to hurt her, but I think it will learn her in future to ask advice before she takes any thing more from a Chemist’s laboratory. He then put a drop or two in a glass half full of water and we tasted it, which was very sour after being weakened so much – much sourer than any vinegar I ever tasted. His lectures are very interesting, they consist entirely of experiments. I think of you every time we have one and feel to regret that you are not here to school. If you were, you could come to the lectures. There are several gentlemen – two or three older than Father – I should think. But I will leave the lectures for the present for I don’t know but I have wearied your patience already. But as I feel very much interested in them, I think you will the same.

I have finished one piece of painting and have begun to draw another. I devote one hour per day to it. I have written one composition. The subject was history of a drop of water. I covered more than two sides of paper. I wrote on it, not to read in school, but notwithstanding, it was read but the name was not called so no one knew whose it was. I don’t know what subject to take next. If you think of any good ones, please write them.

Two weeks ago to day, I was invited to call on a lady from Barrington, about half a mile from here. I accepted the invitation and went together with five others. I had a very pleasant time, was treated very politely. We had plenty of fruit and when we came away we had as much as we could bring given us. Last Saturday I was invited to call on a lady in the village and went. Miss Ide went with me.

Scarcely a day passes without some one’s calling to see some of the scholars. Every time I hear the door bell I hope it is some [one] come to see me. Miss Smith, my roommate, has had a box of victuals and fruit sent her by the stage. Miss Sayler has sent for her things and is not able to return. I have had a letter from Miss Whitney and have written to her. You must tell ____ Elizer _____ and all the girls to write and send by you. You may bring my hood and my gingham apron to make and I should like some cotton for a pair of undersleeves [and] also some cloth to make them of. Tell Mother if she has any sewing for me to do, to send it for I have some time.

I don’t think of anything more to write which will interest or amuse you, therefore, I must hasten to close. Give my respects to all the folks. Tell Harriet she must write. Tell Mother she must send a piece of her cloak, and something to eat. Tell Father I am much obliged to him for writing in your letter. And tell Father and Mother both that I don’t know how I shall repay them for their kindness to me in providing me with the means of obtaining [an education], but hope that they will never have cause to regret it, but at the close of the term will see that improvement which will enable them to say that they think their money has not been wasted. Miss Arms says when she was studying, her parents thought it was money lost, but they don’t think so now. But I have written much longer than I intended. Do excuse me, and overlook all imperfections and errors. If any thing should prevent your coming next Saturday, please to write and inform me. Write often do.

This from your unworthy but sincere friend, — S. E. Rhodes

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