An autograph book is not technically a letter, but it can be the next best thing with pages of notes and jokes from the owner’s friends. My great grandmother Alice’s book from the late 19th century is a treasure trove of exquisite penmanship, humor and sentiment.
I never met her, and my mother remembered her only as a tired old woman. She was at least 40 in the earliest photo I can find, corseted and unsmiling in black bombazine. And frankly that’s what most of our ancestors seem, men and women who passed directly from a line of type stating birth to stern, unapproachable adulthood.
However, my favorite entry is from Hannah B, who penned a warning on June 23, 1881 against men with “suspect” facial hair. Reading that, I can imagine passing notes to Alice in homeroom and giggling together on the walk home from school.