New Rochelle and New York: 1918. Collection of 44 handwritten letters by "Sallie" Sarah Frances Lotta to her boyfriend, later fiance and then husband, "Jim" James S. Crossland. All in transmittal envelopes, and accompanied by a letter of congratulations on their marriage from his brother. More than a simple narrative of courtship, Sallie's letters reveal how an increasingly modern world has opened up new options for women in their careers and their relationships. Sallie's intimate conversations with Jim show how the rising generation is more transparent with their significant others, the extent to which they are more sexually liberated than their parents, and the fact that women were becoming more independent and therefore more assertive about their concerns or needs.
From the opening letter, the complexity of Sallie's feelings are clear. She works in the city at the Banker's Trust Company and maintains an active social life in her free time; and there is concern about how a long-distance relationship with Philadelphia-based Jim will affect that. In February, after all, she admits that "I had made up my mind never to marry." When she misses being accompanied by him to a party on January 16, she feels a wave of loneliness but writes "trying to fight against it all I can, if we work hard the time will come when we won't have to be so far apart." For both of them, the separation is a struggle. Learning each other's minds is difficult, she admits, " since it is hard to express one's feelings on paper," and later that month she urges him to visit her if he is at ill ease. "Don't think for one minute that I don't trust you because I do with my whole heart," she tells him. Engaged by the end of the month, she acknowledges a shift, wherein she wants to go out with the girls from work to dance or visit musical clubs, but doesn't know if she needs to ask permission now. And while in February Sallie apologizes for the intensity of their physical contact, she acknowledges it's a struggle for them both: "I know I shouldn't love you the way I do, it isn't fair to get you so excited but I just can't let go. I know if you were here all the time I would have to marry you secretly." After much discussion and resistance, they give in to their desires, becoming more intimate. Married through their private consummation, she begins calling him her husband and herself his wife, declaring "I'm beginning to get naughty with my expressions but we understand each other now dear & we are married now just between ourselves with nobody else in on this...I need you dear very much and long to see you so & feel your body so close to mine."
For all this, the world's instability and shifts leave Sallie with some concerns. A bomb scare in her building in January, instigated by "a German employee of this bank discharged right before Christmas" brings the tensions of the war directly into view. Sallie expresses concern that it adds pressure to the couple to make commitments before they should. She wonders if they "should have waited until we knew each other better" and whether she'll disappoint him (April); and at the same time that she worries about Jim being called away to war, she also worries about her sister's unplanned pregnancy, and whether a similar thing could happen to them. "I'm not doing anything with my eyes closed...let me tell you there is no safe way of controlling what God has planned...Helen told me what she and Carl do and even then there is a chance for slips because this present time was a slip even though they wanted it they hadn't planned for anything of the kind" (February).
What stands out above all is that Sallie and Jim, unlike the more constrained generations before them, are open and discuss everything. From their own physical ailments, their families' nosiness and unwanted opinions, to their self-doubts, their desires, their income inequalities the couple lay a frank foundation for their marriage. Sallie is a modern woman, aware of her independence; and she makes it clear that loving and being with Jim is as much as a choice for her as it is for him. An opportunity for wide-ranging research including women's employment, changing practices of courtship, sexuality, contraception, disease and its spread, female communities, fashion, genealogy and much else. (Item #4064)