1839: Elizabeth Bright Haven to Robert Manwaring Haven

This long and interesting letter was composed by Miss Elizabeth (“Libby”) Bright Haven (1819-1842), the daughter of Philemon Haven (1769-1819) and Frances (“Fanny”) Manwaring (b. 1776) of Norwich, New London Co., Connecticut. It was written to her brother, Robert Manwaring Haven (b. 1808), who married Adelia Clark in April 1840. Unfortunately, Libby died in 1842, just three years after writing this letter.

Libby begins her letter with a summary of her two-day stagecoach ride from Norwich, Connecticut to South Hadley, Massachusetts with an overnight stop in Hartford. Her reason for traveling to South Hadley is revealed as she vividly describes her “winter quarters” — that being the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary started by Miss Mary Mason Lyon in 1837. The letter provides fascinating detail about the seminary building and the daily regimen of the 120 young ladies attending school there in 1839.

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[Addressed to Mr. Robert M. Haven, Norwich Town, Conn.]

South Hadley [Massachusetts]
Oct. 28th 1839

I have just finished a letter to Mother & [brother] Henry and as I have a little more time before tea, I determined to begin one to you, though I know not when it will be finished for it is almost an impossible thing to get a moment’s time to one’s self here. I wonder if you have heard from home since I have been here. If I only knew that you had, I would not write over again all that I have sent to them. I had a very pleasant journey on though we were very much crowded for room all the way in the stage.

Colchester, Connecticut 1839

After we passed Colchester [Connecticut], I watched to see if I could remember any place which we traveled through 10 years ago. I wanted to look for the house in Glastonbury where we stayed, but I was not on the right side of the carriage for it. It was dark when we reached Hartford & dark when we left, as we started at ½ past 4 in the morning. Then our route was different until we reached Springfield [Massachusetts] & then I came to one place of which I had a vivid recollection. Do you remember the river which we rode through? As I crossed the bridge I knew the place & on this side not a single thing looked changed. I always thought the hill which we rode down was steep but it looked to me now almost perpendicular; and there was that little house by the side of the hill & river, just as it was 10 years ago. But on the opposite side the appearance is totally changed. A manufacturing village has “sprung up” there in 5 years & grown more in that time than any other place in the United States. This was the only spot through my whole route that I could distinctly remember, though once I thought we were passing the place where “the old house” fell down – interesting place.

Mount Holyoke Female Seminary

Well, Robby, here I am fixed in winter quarters as it regards the house, though not quite yet settled in my room – but I shall be this week. My studies are not yet arranged because I am not yet through all the examinations which take 4 or 5 weeks. I have a room on the second story with 2 room mates. I am glad I am not in the 5th or 6th stories for it tires me to go up & down so many stairs. We have only 4 pairs to go down now for wood & water, but they are short flights – equal only to 2 common ones.

There are now about 120 pupils, about 20 more than have ever been received before. We each have to work an hour a day, & on washing day 2 hours. My domestic work is to wash dishes ½ an hour after breakfast & after dinner. It is not very hard, it it? Saturday is our washing day & what would you say, my dear brother, to see me standing over a wash-tub at 4 o’clock in the morning? Would you not think I was following in the steps of our mother? We only have to wash our own clothes in one water & it does not take more than an hour. Miss Lyon is a terrible driver & hurrier. There is no standing still where she is. Why Mother could not hold a candle to her in this respect.

Miss Mary Lyon

Thursday, Oct. 21st. I began this, my dear brother, on Monday & intended to have finished it the next day, but I found no time until now. It is about 5 o’clock & I have just returned from a little walk & as we do not have tea until ½ past 5, I can finish this, I think. Do you know we have to get up at 5 o’clock every morning? Don’t you think it is too early for winter — Sunday mornings & all? Sometimes I am so sleepy that it seems as though I could not rise when the bell rings 10 minutes before 5. But another bell rings at 5 & if we are not up then we have to give an account for being tardy. I get so sleepy in the evening that I can’t study, but Miss Lyon is willing we should go to bed as early as we choose. We are not allowed to sit up after ½ past 9 & I don’t know who would want to after getting up at 5. There are 5 teachers beside Miss Lyon. Our building is finely situated & a nice house. One story, which is on a level with the ground containing the kitchen, dining-hall, wash room, bake room, store rooms, &c, is called the basement & is not reckoned a story. Then comes the parlor story which is entered from the street. This contains the parlor & school room, reading room, & Miss Lyon’s rooms. In the second, third, & fourth stories are the rooms of the young ladies. Mine is on the second on the north west corner of the house & they say the coldest in this house. Our teachers are very pleasant indeed & the young ladies seem to be so far as I know them.

Map of South Hadley

Well Robert, what do you think of me? Are you saying, “I guess Libby wishes she was at home.” If so, you are mistaken. I am not homesick at all & have not been but once. Then I felt really sick & I wished myself at home, but I soon got over it. It is true, I sometimes wish I could get into Mother’s closet & get something which I want to eat, & it is generally a crust of brown bread which I want; we have very little here & I really long for it. By the way, I have told you nothing about our living here, but I will a little & the rest you will hear from home. We always have meat once a day & usually at noon. But ironing days when we are much engaged, we generally have meat in the morning & milk or something which can be quickly prepared at noon. After our meat or milk, we always have a pie or pudding. Of course they are not rich, but they are good & we who eat breakfast at 6 & study all the forenoon have generally an appetite keen enough to relish them. For breakfast we usually have something warm – either rice or hominy, or toast or mashed potato or something of the kind, & for tea, bread & butter & gingerbread or some plain cake. Sabbath noon we have nothing but bread & butter & pie. Our dining room is very large with 7 tables in it & 18 or 19 sit at each. I should like to have you come here and go around. It would be quite a curiosity to you.

I had a letter from home yesterday & they mentioned having heard from you a short time since. What are your plans for the winter? Have you come to any decision? I shall stay in Norwich or go South or West! Shall you be married this winter or be traveling in this region? Do write me & let me know all about you. And tell me all the news you can think of. Give my love to all Norwich friends if I have any there who would take the trouble to inquire after me. It is dark & I must stop. Good night. Yours truly, — Elizabeth B. Haven

I shall send this tomorrow & it will reach Norwich Saturday. So if you want a letter – do you – go to the Office & get it Sat. night. Give my love to Aunt D., if she is there.

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