By Aaron Welborn
While we were thinking about the topic of “Love in the Library,” we consulted the collections of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library for a little historical inspiration—and discovered some real gems. Here’s a selection of honeyed words from the archives.
Odessa Massey: “Remember I am thinking about you a lot”
A 2013 native of Wilson Mills, North Carolina, Clara Odessa Massey was an undergraduate at Duke from 1924 to 1928. Among her many extracurricular activities, Odessa (as she was known) had an active social and dating life. She received multiple reprimands from the Women’s Student Government Association for failing to report dates with men. Among the items preserved in her college scrapbook are numerous courtship letters, including one from a certain “Duck,” who writes: “I’ve just been out walking in the moonlight. The moon is so pretty. I’d give anything in world to have a date with you tonight, but it seems as though I can’t get one.” Odessa didn’t keep all of the letters she received (and she received a lot), but she often cut and pasted her correspondents’ closing lines and signatures in her scrapbook. Looking through the pages, one notices a trend: “Please remember that I really and truly love you,” “With heaping love,” “Remember I am thinking of you a lot,” “Lots of love,” and so on.
Isabelle Ingram: Advice for the Tongue-Tied
“There are many different kinds of letters to be mastered, but all agree that the love-letter—one that will express concisely, delicately, and in an acceptable manner the deepest impulses of the heart—is the most difficult and hazardous.” So says Isabelle Ingram in her preface to Love Letters: Containing the Etiquette of Introduction,Courtship and Proposals: Also a Large Number of New and Original Letters to Be Used as Models for Any Style of Love Letter (1925). The book contains advice for the lovesick correspondent, but it also provides a number of ready-made letters for various romantic situations, which tongue-tied paramours are invited to pass off as their own. To cite just one example: “You know, Lottie, we have always been the best of friends, and I don’t want it to be different now that I am away at college. Probably we are too young to make any definite promises, at least it would not be manly for me to bind you to any such, but I want you to know that from just consulting my own state of feeling, I belong to you, and shall always love you.”
Can’t [Stop] Thinking of You [Stop]: Love on the Wire
A native of Greenwood, Mississippi, Ella Fountain Keesler Pratt (1914-2008) worked at Duke for almost thirty years. She was hired in 1956 to help develop an arts program for the Student Union, a task at which she excelled. She was responsible for bringing world-famous performers like Itzhak Perlman and Leontyne Price to campus. In time, she also became a vital member of the Durham arts scene and paved the way for the American Dance Festival’s relocation to Durham. In 1938, Ella married her sweetheart, Lanier “Lanny” W. Pratt, a graduate student at Duke who eventually went on to teach in the Classics department here. But during her courting days, Ella was the recipient of several sugar-coated missives delivered by Western Union—the text messages of their day—which are preserved in her papers in the Duke University Archives.