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Mary A. Jordan to Walt Whitman, 8 March 1891

 loc.02368.001.jpg Dear Mr. Whitman:—

Do you remember when you lived near the corner of 12th and M streets in Washington D.C., some little children who lived on the other corner? Probably you do not, nor that you used to be very good to  loc.02368.002.jpg them, playing "tag" and marbles with them—now and then letting them drink out of your brown water jug with Rebecca at the well1 on it—a great honor. It happens that I was one of these children—my Father was Solicitor of the Treasury, Edward Jordan.2 Now I am teaching English Rhetoric in this College for girls and even more indebted to you for pleasure and  loc.02368.003.jpg help than I used to be in the old days. May not Miss Peck,3 a fellow teacher of mine, and great admirer of yours, and I come to see you some day between April 1. and April 12.? My vacation, between these dates will be spent in Elizabeth New Jersey, so that we can come down to Camden without difficulty.

Very truly yours Mary A. Jordan To Walter Whitman.  loc.02368.004.jpg

Mary Augusta Jordan (1855–1941) was an American educator and librarian. Jordan served as librarian at Vassar College for roughly three years after completing her undergraduate work in 1876, and was an undergraduate tutor at Vassar until relocating to Smith College in 1884. She remained in the English Department until 1921, the same year she received her Ph.D. in Pedagogy from Syracuse University. During her time at Smith, Jordan edited the works of Milton, Emerson, and Burke, and wrote Correct Writing and Speaking (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1904). For more information, see Jane Donawerth, Rhetorical Theory by Women Before 1900 (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), 299–316, which includes a brief biography and excerpts from Jordan's Correct Writing and Speaking.


  • 1. Rebecca was the wife of Issac, the Hebrew patriarch, and mother of the twins Esau and Jacob. The scene of her at the well in Nahor, where she was chosen by Abraham's servant as Isaac's future wife, was a common motif in the nineteenth century. See Genesis 24:1–67. [back]
  • 2. Edward Jordan (1820–1899) was a lawyer and friend of Abraham Lincoln, serving in the Lincoln and Johnson administrations as Solicitor of the Treasury under Secretary Solomon P. Chase. In 1888, Jordan publicly withdrew from the Republican Party, stating, "The Republicans now are not in sympathy with the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln's time," criticizing the failure of Reconstruction and the Party's support of "class or sectional ideas." For more information, see "False to its Faith," The Wilmington Messenger (September 28, 1888), 1. [back]
  • 3. Ludella L. Peck (1855–1913) was the head of the Department of Elocution and Dramatic Art at Smith College for over thirty years. Beginning about 1891, Peck maintained a lengthy correspondence with Whitman's friend, the naturalist John Burroughs, who expressed his joy that she was reading Whitman: " few women can master this poet and get at the real power and inspiration there is in him. So few men either, for that matter" (see The Life and Letters of John Burroughs, ed. Clara Barrus [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925], 1:315). At her funeral in 1913, Mary Jordan described Peck as "a woman who believed in high aspiration and personal relationship in her work; she was a woman of infinite patience and sympathy." For more information, see "With the Smith Girls: Service Held in Memory of Ludella L. Peck," The New York Times (April 20, 1913), 61. [back]
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