Love in an Envelope: A Courtship in the American West

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This collection of letters, between Leroy Carpenter, of Greeley, Colorado, and Martha Bennett, of DeWitt, Iowa, covers from January 1871 to April 1872, and provides a first-hand look at American life—home, church, and work—not to mention courtship rituals, of the time. Leroy met Martha before he left Iowa to stake a claim in Colorado, then wooed her with plain language and honest thoughts. Martha, a teacher, responded in kind: simply and honestly, with just a smattering of flirting. These letters were written by a demographic we haven’t heard much from: Leroy and Martha are not from the privileged, highly-educated class, but are instead plain-spoken, hard-working individuals whose writing reflects their lives (they even write about the difficulty of finding lined notepaper). Composition, spelling, and punctuation take a back seat to the couple’s thoughts about everyday activities, housekeeping preferences, and town gossip. The editors did a great service both in not sprucing up the letters and in providing supplemental information about the Bennett and Carpenter families. The textual notes supply necessary context to fill in gaps in readers’ knowledge, making this a great way to learn about rural life in Victorian America.


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