As my student assistant, Sophia Durand, began the physical processing of the 131 letters in the Leon Simon collection (1915-1916, 1918), she noticed something intriguing. Leon Simon addressed each letter to his future wife, Esther Ellen Umanski, differently. Until they made official plans to marry, she was “My Dear Nellie.” But once the date was set, Simon became creative and effusive, his word choices sometimes questionable as endearments.
Romantics everywhere tend to be sugary in their pet phrases. Simon was no different, perhaps just more over-the-top. He addressed his letters to: My essence of honeycomb, My exquisite Peach Melba, My lump of sweetness,My peachiest apricot, My succulent meringue, My belovedest mimosa, My jujubious confection, My sweet Sugar plum(p).
As you can already tell, Simon was quite fond of food and cooking. Other highlights in the letters include My stewed apricot, My eversweet parsnip, My most succulent kipper, My pickled herring (You know how I love them!), My pickledest onion (=on’y ‘n =only one), My own dumpling, My coo (k) ing dove, My rapturous codfish, My toasted crumpet, and–my personal favorite–My incandescent soup-tureen.
Occasionally, Simon sought to be reassuring about his odd turns of phrase. On October 20, 1915, he wrote to Nellie, who was studying German, “My most exquisite Stumpfenbach, (Don’t worry about the meaning of this; it is a term of endearment invented for the occasion & means nothing at all except that all recognized terms of endearment are hopelessly inadequate)…” A Duke German professor says that he was unwittingly referring to a city in Bavaria.
So, if on this Valentine’s Day your terms of affection seem stale, why not borrow one coined by Simon: My adorable whelk, My kitchy-kooish boo-woo, My jokaceous blue bottle, My bilingual Scaramouche, My unique joy, My tender flamingo, My early paradise, My copious ink-pot, My imperative necessity, My darlingpetangelanddelightallrolledintoone. Perhaps you and your loved one will then share in one of his closings, a “Quintessence of hugs & kisses ad lib.”
Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Original Cataloger.
Elna Spaulding is a central figure in the materials that Duke has digitized for the Content, Context, and Capacity Grant. The records of the Women-in-Action for the Prevention of Violence and Its Causes, an organization that Mrs. Spaulding founded and led from 1968 until 1974, are available now. In addition, all of Mrs. Spaulding’s personal papers have been digitized and will shortly become available for viewing.
In anticipation of both the publication of Elna Spaulding’s myriad professional accomplishments and Valentine’s Day, this month’s update focuses on the personal connections underlying the accomplished careers of Elna and Asa Spaulding. In the years prior to their wedding on June 24, 1933, Asa Spaulding and Elna Bridgeforth corresponded regularly. The following two quotes are from letters that Mr. Spaulding sent to Miss Bridgeforth:
“I would not put you out of my life if I could, and I could if I would…Do you know the song: ‘I wouldn’t change you for the World.’ The words are quite significant.” (December 30, 1931)
“As I start out upon the first day of a New Year it is with thoughts of you and with [a] heart full of thanksgiving for what the past year has meant to us and with much anticipation as to what lies before us. I wish I might look into the future and see.” (January 1, 1932)
Unfortunately, we do not have Elna Bridgeforth’s replies, but we know that she kept a rose that Asa gave her with one of these letters (pictured here) throughout her life. We encourage readers to peruse the correspondence between the future Mr. and Mrs. Spaulding to gain a unique look into one of the most influential couples in the modern history of Durham. You may even find inspiration for a Valentine’s Day note of your own.
Post contributed by Josh Hager, CCC Project Graduate Assistant.
While this Valentine’s Day might result in many short love notes being traded via smartphones and Facebook walls, sweethearts sometimes used a different method in the early 20th century: the telegram. Ella Fountain Keesler Pratt, a Duke employee for almost thirty years (1956-1984), was the recipient of several sugar-coated missives delivered by Western Union in the 1930s. These are a few of the loveliest love letters, found while processing Ella’s papers.
Ms. Pratt eventually married Lanier “Lanny” Pratt in 1938; he attended graduate classes and then taught at Duke University until his death in 1956. He must have said something right!
Post contributed by Rosemary K. J. Davis, Drill Intern, University Archives.
On April 17, 1909, Frederick Augustus Grant Cowper married Mary Octavine Thompson. Frederick became Professor of Romance Languages at Trinity College (now Duke University), while Mary (who earned a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Chicago) became a suffragette, helping to organize the North Carolina League of Women Voters in 1920. Both Frederick’s and Mary’s papers reside in the Rubenstein Library.
While on their honeymoon in New Hampshire, the Cowpers took many photographs they placed in an album they titled “Photographs of their Wedding Journey.” In honor of Valentine’s Day, here is my favorite photograph and caption:
Post contributed by Kim Sims, Technical Services Archivist for Duke University Archives.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University