Gossip So Good, Maria C. Broadus Had To Share It Twice
    by Brittany Acors

In an 1852 letter to her Aunt Mary Jane Harrison, Maria C. Broadus shares life updates of family and friends: Mrs. Stevens and Mrs. McGuffey are feeling better, Grandma’s health is improving thanks to the fair weather, Mamma is going to visit her sister in a carriage that Mr. Rives is driving. Broadus writes that her grandmother is “a good deal disturbed that Old Coly has been sold;” if she had been home, she would have paid to keep him. Broadus also begs for news of Aunt Caroline’s recent trip, requests that the cellar be filled with produce, and says that her grandmother is just waiting for Mr. Rhodes to take a trip so she can tag along and return home. The most intriguing news is that a new professor and his wife have just arrived at the University. John Lawrence Smith, a UVA alum, served as a Chemistry professor only from 1852-1853, and was well-known for his medical studies in Europe and mineral research in Turkey. Everyone expected his wife, the “belle of Louisville,” to be too fine a lady for their humble town, but “on the contrary, she is very simple and easy in her manners and I hope we shall find her a pleasant neighbor.”

The updates were just so exciting… she had to write them again.

On a separate sheet of paper, Broadus repeats the information she has just shared, at times nearly word-for-word. The dateline and salute are the same, Grandma is still waiting on Mr. Rhodes to return her home and “a good deal disturbed” at the sale of Old Coly, the family still wants to hear about Aunt Caroline’s trip, the cellar still needs to be filled, and the “apprehension” about the new professor’s wife still reaches the resolution that “she seems to be very ready to make acquaintance and is easy in her manners.” Why would Broadus write the same letter twice, dated the same, and presumably send them together, since both documents now reside in University of Virginia’s Special Collections?

At the end of the first iteration of the letter is a postscript: “P.S. I must apologize for writing the same thing over twice as I wrote the letter at different times and forgot I had mentioned it before.” It seems likely that, just as people now plan what they are going to say on a phone call, Maria C. Broadus had pre-written this letter in her head, wrote it down once, got distracted with other affairs, and wrote it out again. This little peek into everyday life in antebellum Virginia proves that even as times change, people will always be forgetful and anxious about correspondence, no matter the format.


Letter from Maria C. Broadus to Mary Jane Harrison, October 18, 1852