Letters from my Grandmother

My grandmother, Nina Hortense Clinton, Xmas Day, 1939

Recently I came across a notebook of letters written by my maternal grandmother, Nina Hortense Clinton of Zanesville, Ohio. This was my first encounter with a notebook of lined, onionskin paper followed by a blank, thicker page, so that the writer could put a piece of carbon paper between the pages and thus keep a record of correspondence. Of course, most of the onionskin pages had been torn out. And there were the two little pieces of carbon paper in the back of the book.

My grandmother's notebook

The first letter is dated 1902, when my grandmother was 21 years old. She had traveled to Europe as part of a group of Jubilee Singers directed by Frederick Loudin. My grandmother wrote this first letter to her niece while all of London was filled with excitement over the up-coming coronation of King Edward VII.

                                                                                                                      “London E.C.¹
                                                                            March 27, 1902
Dear Blanche, 
     Your most interesting letter was received March 7. I certainly did enjoy reading it as letters are quite a luxury to me now, it is so seldom that I receive one. But I suppose it is my own fault. It seems that the circular letter is hard to keep track of. I hope however that you have seen it by this time. 
      I am so glad to hear of your continued success. It must be rather dull though at times, especially if there are not many young people with whom to associate. But I am sure Mr. G writes often enough to keep you in good spirits. I see from the tone of your letter that the little fire which was kindled soon after you went to Wilberforce2 is still burning and with a brighter glow. I suppose the time is not far distant when I shall have a new nephew. No, Blanche, he did not send me a photo, but I should like so much to have one. 
      How nice it would be for you to visit at least Baltimore and Cape May before your return home. Blanche, are you and Ida not friendly now? You spoke of having written to the other girls but not to her. 
      Ina certainly writes interesting letters. The last one that I received from her was so long and newsy. It made me think of our class prophecy which said that she would be the Editor of a paper did it not? I remember that I was to travel and sing and that you were to marry the President of a school. How singularly true these prophecies are coming! 
      You must be very much in error, dear, if you think 'Willie' and I are in love. In fact we came near falling out entirely because I was so slow about answering his letters. Ha Ha. In the last letter which I received from him he spoke very highly of a young lady whom he had 'taken home from church' a few times but he did not mention her name. Has Mary Justice been visiting in Columbus? If so it must have been she. He must talk to everyone about me. 'Princes Dukes and Lords' are very plentiful over here it is true, but with all that I have not been able to 'capture' one. In fact I feel myself highly honored to have seen one or two. Shaking hands or conversing with them is quite out of the question as I have not felt disposed to mingle much with that class. Ha Ha. 
      We have not been very busy giving concerts during the last months. Our work in the Temperance Crusade3 has come to an end and at this time of year it is rather difficult to make engagements for concerts. The class of people who attend concerts such as ours do not care for them when the weather begins to be fine. It seems rather singular, too, as the concert season for the swells4, that is the opera theaters, etc. are having their busiest time. 
     Old London is wide awake now. Great preparations are being made for the Coronation in June. I shall be very sorry if I cannot be here at that time. Even if I am here I shall not expect to see much besides the enormous crowds of people which will I am sure be a sight never to be forgotten. Many of those who are able to see the procession comfortably will pay twenty-five or fifty dollars for a seat. The robes to be worn by members of the royal family must be most elaborate. Descriptions of some of them have been given in the daily papers. There is great agitation now over the war5. It has been hoped that it would come to a close before the coronation but I fear that it will not though things are beginning to look a little more favorable. The English people were certainly sore over the capture of Methuen6. To make it even more disgraceful the Irish members and pro Boers7 in the House of Commons rejoiced when this capture was made known. The pro Boers certainly have hard times. Nothing seems to annoy the true Englishman so much as disloyalty to King and country. The pro-Boers, though not necessarily disloyal are generally considered so. It is thought that the discouragement which they have given the Boers has had a tendency to prolong the war. I hope that peace will soon be made.”

I will end the portion of this letter here. (Yes, this is still just one letter. There are 14 pages in all.) Stay tuned for part 2 of this letter from my grandmother while she was in London.

My grandmother's immaculate handwriting

For Part 2, click here.


1The EC (Eastern Central) postcode area, also known as the London EC postal area, is a group of postcode districts in central London, England.

2Wilberforce University is a private, coed, liberal arts historically black university (HBCU) located in Wilberforce, Ohio. Affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, it was the first college to be owned and operated by African Americans.

3The Temperance movement is a social movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Temperance movements typically criticize alcohol intoxication, promote complete abstinence (teetotalism), or use its political influence to press the government to enact alcohol laws to regulate the availability of alcohol or even its complete prohibition.

4“Swells”: One who is fashionably dressed or socially prominent: society swells.

5The Anglo Boer War was fought by Britain and her Empire against the Boers.  The Boers were comprised of the combined forces of the South African Republic and the Republic of the Orange Free State.  The Boer Republics declared war on 11th October 1899 and the conflict ended on 31st May 1902, a duration of 2 years and 8 months.

6In the Battle of Tweebosch or De Klipdrift on 7 March 1902, a Boer commando led by Koos de la Rey defeated a British column under the command of Lieutenant General Lord Methuen during the final months of the Second Boer War.

7Boers: Members of the Dutch and Huguenot population that settled in southern Africa in the late 17th century.


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