Emma Spaulding Bryant Letters
An On-line Archival Collection
Special Collections Library, Duke University
Emma Bryant's letters
Each of the following letters has been scanned and transcribed. By following the dated links below you will be presented with a transcript of the letter from that date as well as links to images of each page of the letter in two magnifications.
About the letters
Emma Spaulding Bryant wrote these ten letters to her husband, John Emory Bryant, in the summer of 1873. They recount Emma's activities during that summer when she and her daughter, Alice, were visiting relatives in Illinois and Ohio while her husband tended to his political affairs in Georgia.
In particular, the letters describe Emma's visits to a doctor in Cleveland for "uterine difficulties" that had been ailing her for some time. Although we do not have her husband's letters to her from this period, it appears that he accused her of adultery with the doctor and berated her for not being obedient to him. Many of Emma's letters from this period have markings in red pencil, presumably made by John to highlight the sections of her letters that he found suspicious. Emma's responses to John's accusations are indignant, and she rebuts each of his points eloquently and emphatically.
Because these letters are unusually frank for this time period, they reveal much about the relationships between husbands and wives in this era, and shed light on medical practices that were often kept private.
About Emma and John Bryant
Emma Spaulding met John Bryant in 1860 in Maine, where she was his pupil in one of the "subscription schools" he taught to earn money for his own education. John Bryant served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and during a leave of absence from his military duties in 1864 they were married. After the war John moved to Georgia to join the Freedmen's Bureau, supporting the cause of freed slaves by setting up schools, providing them with land, and giving legal assistance. He began a political career in the Republican party there, and edited a series of newspapers that promoted his political causes. Emma joined him in Georgia in 1866 and aided him in his work, including filling in as editor of his newspapers during his absences. John travelled often to support his political ambitions, and frequently left Emma to fend for herself with neither money nor companionship in difficult times, including through two pregnancies that ended in miscarriage. In 1871, once again with her husband absent, she gave birth to a daughter, Emma Alice Bryant, and herself travelled often to spend time with family and friends in the North to escape from her isolation in Georgia. John held a number of important posts in the Georgia Republican party and Reconstruction governments there, but was often in conflict with others within his party. He eventually gave up Georgia politics and moved to New York in the late 1880s, where he established a business selling bonds and mortgages and was active in the national Union League. Emma and Alice did not move to New York with John but instead went to Tennessee, where Emma took a position teaching mathematics at East Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens while Alice studied there. The family was reunited after Alice's graduation, and they lived together in Mount Vernon, New York, where John and Emma ran a Methodist mission. John died of cancer in 1900, and Emma died at Alice's home the following year.
The following sources were invaluable in putting together this on-line archive, and are an excellent source of further information on Emma Spaulding Bryant and John Emory Bryant:
Other collections of John Emory Bryant's papers are held in the Maine State Archives in Augusta, Maine, and in the American Missionary Association Archives, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Emma Spaulding Bryant's letters are found in the John Emory Bryant Papers at the Duke University Special Collections Library. This collection contains correspondence, published writings, and other papers relating to John Bryant's Civil War service with the 8th Maine Volunteers, his activities as agent of the Freedmen's Bureau and leader of the Negro Republicans in Georgia, and his interest in temperance and the Methodist Church. It also contains many letters from Emma Spaulding Bryant and two volumes of journals kept by her, as well as an autobiographical sketch by their daughter Alice.
For information about how you can use other items in this collection, please contact the library's research services.
You can find out more about the Duke University Special Collections Library and its collections from the Special Collections Library home page. To find out about other materials in the Duke University Library system, you can search the Duke Libraries on-line catalog or contact the Special Collections Library reference desk.
Images and texts on these web pages are intended for research and educational use only. Please read our statement on use and reproduction for further information on how to receive permission to reproduce an item or how to cite it.
Transcriptions were made from the originals, and retain the original misspellings and punctuation. In some cases there are words or sections that we found illegible, and marked with brackets and ellipses; where possible we supplied our best guess. If in your study of these letters you can make out some of the sections we missed or correct any mistakes, please send us a note and we will be happy to add your contributions (and give you credit, of course!).
Thanks to John A. Vitale for providing assistance with some text that we were unable to decipher!
These papers were scanned with Sharp JX-330 and Agfa Arcus II color flatbed scanners with Adobe Photoshop on a PowerMacintosh 7600/200. The "double size" images are 24-bit 150dpi JPEGs and the "full size" ones are 72dpi JPEGs.