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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 24 February 1873

My dear dear Mother

Since Matties death I could not write you before—there were many things I had to do and as I knew you had been advised of it by telegraph on the evening of the 19th I felt as if it would be better to wait until I could feel a little like writing to you

The circumstances attending her death are quite impressive—Over two weeks before it the Dr. told me that I might expect her death at any moment—that her lungs were in immediate liability to rupture and that each breath she drew was a risk, that I must not leave her alone a moment  On Tuesday she seemed to feel a little more like her old self—though suffering much pain from the fact that the right lung had been pierced by the gathering and the air in breathing would gather between the parts and remain—her right side and breast were very much enlarged from this cause—the pain was intense from the cancer and a few days before her death the old spinal trouble came back to her1—yet with all this, dear Mother, did she keep up to the last—not a murmer escaped her  she was cheerful to a degree and at noon of the day she died sat up in her chair and directed how my lunch should be prepared

We had been having a number of days of bad rainy and cold weather—but Tuesday was bright and warm—but so many called that she could not go out riding  On Wednesday, the day being clear she thought if I could take her out that she might feel better, as the Dr. had told her when out in the air he thought perhaps the slight increased out-side pressure of air from what it would be in a room might decrease the swelling of her side. As I said I was home at lunch and she was up and dressed—I then went to my office to attend to some business and then took my horse and buggy arriving at the house abt 3ck—I found Mattie dressed—furs &c on—sitting awaiting me—I took her in my arms and carried her out to the buggy as I sat her in—she said "wait now 'till I fix my dress"—these were the last words she spok—She then fell over on her side I immediately took her back to the room and sat her in the chair—she knew me yet—but could not speak—a short time after Hattie came from school  Mattie knew her too—then Jessie came—she took their hands and mine and laid them with her own and so held them until she became unconscious—she died at 8ock in the evening—but the Dr—who came and sat an hour or so with us thought that she had no pain after about 5ock.

Quite a number of ladies came in—it seemed quite singular that they should happen to come at that time  Mrs Flad,2 Mrs Knipper3 and Mrs Darcy4 all happen to come to see her without notice within 5 or 6 moments after she was taken—I sent for Mr & Mrs Bulkley5  the[y] came over immediately and remained till Thursday night and have come and attended to every thing for me—Mrs Bulkley took the children down town and had black made for them and Bulkley himself attended to all the funeral arrangements—The funeral was Saturday at 10 ½ ock. I should have mentioned in the first dispatch at what time the funeral would have been but I feared if I asked George to come on he might do so at a risk to his business—yet wished to make it so that he could come if he could without too much trouble. Not hearing from you and feeling something had to be decided I then sent the second dispatch and made it I thought so that George could get here. However it was just the same. I know and feel that George and his wife too sympathize with me deeply and I also know dear Mother that you do. Mattie spoke about you in the morning for a long time and asked with her whole heart that she might yet live to see you—she loved you very dearly and had she been with you—or had we all been together no doubt she would have been happier in her life—yet she seemed quite happy and I feel that we did all we could—though I sometimes think perhaps I was not as good to her as she deserved—that I was too jolly—you might say—when I knew from the bottom of my heart that she suffered so much—dear dear child—how brave she was—how true she was—how good she was.

The funeral was large, very large.6 two clergymen came. they each gave an address and spoke most feelingly about her—the children behaved like angels, almost, and tried to cheer me by promises and protests that they would be good and that dear Mamma was free from suffering—and that it was for the best. To-day, Monday, Jessie has commenced her school again, and Hattie is at home attending to the house—our girls remain at present and I think they will, though they say that they cannot do so without I get some one as they express it to be the "head of the house" and I am now trying to make some arrangements for a "housekeeper" though I shall not decide of course until I can find out and ascertain something [about] the person I propose to get

2ock P.M. 24th—

We have just received your letter and also the one from Aunt Loo to the children—I have just come from home—Hattie had written a long letter to Uncle Walt and I shall mail it with this—I am extremely sorry to hear that Walt is worse. I do hope he will not have a set back of any length of time

You must write to us dear Mother as often as you can and [tell] dear brother George and dear sister Loo that they must write also when they can—

The children are behaving bravely—indeed more so than I had an idea they could—they are very very good—Tell Eddy that we often speak of him and we all believe that he feels bad enough about his Sister Mats death

All send best love

Affectionately Jeff


  • 1. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 15 December 1863. [back]
  • 2. The wife of Henry Flad, an important civil engineer and public figure with whom Jeff frequently worked (see Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 14 July 1888 and the introduction to the print edition). The Flads and Jefferson Whitmans also visited socially (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], pp. 49 and 61). [back]
  • 3. The wife of Adolph Knipper, a superintendent at the waterworks. [back]
  • 4. Either Mary Darcy, a widow, or the wife of Henry J. D'Arcy, an attorney. The latter was temporarily a partner of one O'Reilly, perhaps Henry B. or Michael B. O'Reilly. [back]
  • 5. Mary Moody and Philemon C. Bulkley were former residents of New York City who had moved to St. Louis in 1867. Mr. Bulkley held an interest in an iron foundry and may have provided material for the waterworks. [back]
  • 6. Funeral services were held in the family dwelling at 934 Hickory Street. According to Hattie, Jeff's "office was closed so that all the commissioners came" (letter to Walt Whitman, February 24, 1873 [Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress]). [back]
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