Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 30 [March 1869]

Date: March 30, 1869

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00638

Source: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: The annotation, "1869 Feb or March [Not?] March," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Natalie Raabe

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

tuesday 301

My dear walt

i have just received your letter i was very glad to hear from you it seemed quite long since i had a letter i am glad you have got rid of your cold it has stuck too you pretty long i was glad to get the letter and glad to have what it contained to tell the thruth Edd2 and i have had to live pretty saving when george went away3 he dident leave me any and i hadent very much and i had the washing to pay for out off it so i told edd last night he should have bread and coffee to day but i gess we shant starve every thing is so dear butter 65 cents per lb i dont get much of it meat is cheaper and i like it better i dont know whether georg will come home this week or not he thought he would when he wen[t?] away if he could leave) i am pretty well only last sunday morning i hurt my knee i catched my foot and struck my knee and it got so lame in the coarse of the day i could hardly walk it is a little better at present but is very stiff i thought i was glad george was gone for i couldent hardly doo any thing when i was entirely still it dident hurt me much but i tryed to walk and it hurt me so i had to sit still but i think it will be better soon i have been trying to get things straighened4 up a little prepa[tory?] to moving when my knee was so lame i thought what would i doo if i was so i couldent walk but i can walk quite smart to day if i keep my knee strait it hurts me so to bend it) i suppose we shall have to go as soon as the house is in any kind of condition5 if george comes home i shall get him to have one of the stoves put up to get the wall perfectly dry i dont regret leaving this house when the cellar is open i can smell the dampness up stairs if the door is open they have every kind of stuff down there and the rats has dug so the water comes in every rain i told mrs steers6 they ought to open the doors every clear day but she is very much engaged making money to think of any thing she is clever to me but they want the rooms i suppose its natural enoughf i have the music marm and the daughter to practice and all) i have had no corresspondence at all only your s dear Walt so i havent heard from any body only as you say you have had a letter from jeff7 i should think as matty is so smart they would keep house)8 you remember Walt i always said if Grant9 got to be presedent i hoped he wouldent disappoint his party but i dont know i hope he wont but i suppose time will tell)

good bie walter dear

i felt sorry to see so many females discharged11


1. This letter dates to March 30, 1869. Richard Maurice Bucke's date for this letter is somewhat ambiguous. After assigning the date February or March 1869, he then added a phrase "Not[?] March," though his word "Not" is unclear. All dates that Edwin Haviland Miller assigned in February or March 1869 are associated with other letters (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367), so Miller may not have assigned a date for this letter. Bucke's month March can be confirmed on the basis of numerous contextual consistencies. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote in her own hand the day of the week Tuesday and the calendar date "30," and she wrote that some activities are "prepa[tory?] to moving." She moved from 1149 Atlantic Avenue to 71 Portland Avenue at the end of April 1869 (see her April 25–27?, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). The letter is consistent also with Walt's recent receipt of his brother Thomas Jefferson Whitman's March 25, 1869 letter on his family's housing situation in St. Louis (presumably reported to Louisa by Walt in a letter not extant) and with the mass dismissal of female clerks in the Treasury Department at the end of March 1869. [back]

2. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]

3. In her March 15, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote that George Washington Whitman (1829–1901), Walt's brother, "expects he will have to go to the foundry." George was going to the R. D. Wood Foundry in Camden, New Jersey, to inspect the "new main" for Moses Lane, chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works. George was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. He enlisted in the Union Army 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with a partner known only as Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman originally wrote "straighed" and then canceled the "d" by writing an "n" over it when she resumed writing, producing "straighened." [back]

5. George Washington Whitman was building a house that he would share with his mother Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and brother Edward. Louisa reported regularly on the progress of George's house since he commenced building it (see her December 15–19, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). The house was located at 71 Portland Avenue, and Louisa moved into George's house at the end of April (see her April 25–27?, 1869 letter to Walt). [back]

6. Margret Steers, her husband Thomas Steers (1826–1869), and their four children Thomas (b. 1853), Caroline (b. 1857), Louisa (b. 1862), and Margret (b. 1865) moved into the Atlantic Avenue building in November 1868. Thomas Steers operated a bakery, and his wife, who would become a close friend of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, continued the business when he died in January 1869. After Thomas Steers' sudden death, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman replied to an early 1869 letter from Louisa (not extant) with concern that "Mr. Steers' death had quite an effect on you." George Washington Whitman sold a property to Margaret Steers in January 1871, and the property had title trouble with regard to unpaid assessments (see Mattie Whitman's February? 1869 letter to Louisa in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 67; Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 4, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman; "Died," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 22, 1869, 3; United States Census, 1870. New York, Brooklyn Ward 7, Kings, District 1; and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's January 3–24?, 1871 letter to Walt). [back]

7. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's March 25, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 136–139). Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

8. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman. According to Jeff's March 25, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman, Mattie and Jeff initially settled in a hotel in January, moved to a boarding house on Pine Street in March, departed after a week to another boarding house, and would seek a more permanent place. Mattie and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. Jeff moved to St. Louis in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

9. Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) was elected President of the United States in 1868 as the candidate of the Republican party. This letter was written very early in his first term. Grant was the most successful and highest ranking Union general of the Civil War. As commander of the Army of the Potomac, he accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. He served two consecutive terms as president. [back]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)." [back]

11. The postscript is in the right margin of the page. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman refers to the widespread layoffs in the Treasury Department. The Printing Bureau planned to terminate seventy female and fifteen male employees at the end of the March. In the Government Printing Office, seventy-five "females" were discharged from the folding room. An unstated number of "females" were discharged from the bindery. The dismissals were to come "from the least efficient and most obnoxious, politically, of the employe[e]s" (see "Washington: The Contest Between the Senate and the House on the Tenure-of-Office Bill—Great Reduction of the Clerical Force in the Departments—Discharge of Female Clerks," New York Times, March 28, 1869, 1). The discharge of Treasury Department employees was followed by Louisa in part because Walt Whitman's close friend William D. O'Connor served there. A week later Walt reported that his "situation in the office continues the same" and that "William is still in the Treasury Dep't" (see Walt's April 7, 1869 letter to Abby H. Price). [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.