Spaulding family letters – how life was like in the 1800’s

My source for my research on the history of family life in Western Wisconsin is a primary source.  It is letters that are written be Ellen Spaulding who moved to Eau Claire who wrote letters to family which were in New York.  I selected this source because I was very interested to look at person letter that were written about their journey and what the family went through.  The letters are written in the time span from 1870 to 1887.

I believe the letters provide a very intimate rhetorical distance with the reader because the letters are very personal.  Ellen, who is the author of these letters, probably did not think that people would be reading her letters in 2014 that were written in the 1800’s.  The purpose for writing these  letters was to keep in contact with her family who lived in New York.  However, the audience switches to students because the letters were saved and put into our University’s archive  selection.  These letters help with students doing research, like myself, on the history of family life in Wisconsin.  They talk about hard times that the family faced including illnesses including the mumps and money issues to buy land and start a farm.  Ellen’s husband worked for a lumber company and he provided all of their income, which was not very much.  Also the letters in general provide common ground because they moved to Eau Claire and I live in Eau Claire.  From her letters, she talks about how beautiful the land is and I can agree with her completely.

The sources content consists of all letters.  They first start out as Ellen writing about them struggling with money to buy a farm, then saying how her husband is working for a lumber company.  Her daily routine is mostly tending her garden, knitting, and cooking.  Which was typical for a woman to do back then.  She also talks a lot about the different plants she planted, and that she wishes her family would write more often.  For starting a farm, it was very cheap a cow was $100, a calf was $25, and a pig was $10.  This is very different from what people pay now days!  For fun, they had dances on the weekends in a large Music Hall.  I thought this was pretty interesting because today, that is typically not what families do.  They either go to the movies, or out to dinner.  Later in her letters, she talks about how many schools had to be closed down because of illnesses going around.  Some of the illnesses included diphtheria, measles, chicken pox, and scarlet fever.  Ellen died between 1880-1885 with an unknown cause of death.  The rest of the letters are between a few different family members talking about their kids and school, farming, and the weather.  To me, these were not that important because they were very confusing to follow.

I found the source interesting to read because you got a good feel to what life was like back then.  Things were cheap, but for what people were getting paid, it was sometimes hard to make a living.  It also was difficult dealing with the sickness because they did not have the technology and medicine advancements to cure people.  I was a little disappointed that most of the letters just consisted of her daily life of planting flowers and asking her mother and father to send her more things and write more.  I feel like she was a child that was left out from the rest of her family.  It was still interesting to learn about all of the family relations, but after many letters it got a little boring.

I learned that life back then was not easy, you had to work for many things in life that you wanted.  Money was tight and people always did the best they could with providing themselves with only the bare minimum of needs.  Although, it was nice that they had a relaxing life as well.  They didn’t live a life as we do today with always being on the go.  Sunday’s were often relaxing and a family day.    I think that the Spaulding family had a pretty good life, they were not very rich but they were not poor either.  They had what they needed, they were happy and stayed very healthy.  From here, I would like to more about the lumbering business in Eau Claire because I know that was one of the biggest industries here.  I also would like to look into what other families faced instead of just one family. I had a general idea about the life of farming families before I read these letters, but the letters gave me much more information in detail about what they went through.  I still have questions though about the lumbering industry, and what the children did to help around the farm.  I think that looking at the children’s life is also important and interesting.




This is a picture of a typical family in the 1800’s.  It shows that families back then had large families so that they had lots of help on the farm to help the family prosper.

1 thought on “Spaulding family letters – how life was like in the 1800’s

  1. I like that you include a visual, it makes it easier to relate to and seem more realistic. Personally for me history isn’t very easy to relate to and when pictures are included it seems more real. I think the letters sound very interesting and how the schools shut down because of the diseases. Best of luck researching.

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