1861: Mary E. King to Mary Denham

How Mary might have looked

This letter was penned in 1861 by a woman who signed her name, M. E. I. K.” and we quickly learn from the content of the letter that she was a teacher at the Baltimore Female College, the first institution of higher learning for women in Maryland, which operated out of a building on the lower part of St. Paul Street (No. 53) in Baltimore. The principal of the school was Nathan Covington Brooks (1809-1898).

I can’t be certain but I believe this letter may have been written by 18 year-old Mary E. King, a native Baltimorean who graduated from the college in 1859 and was probably hired on as a part-time instructor afterward.

What is significant about this letter is perhaps less who authored it as the evidence it offers of the excitement and division caused by the Baltimore citizens’ attack of the 6th Massachusetts Regiment as they attempted to pass through the city on 19 April 1861. Pummeled with bricks and clubs by pro-southern rowdies, the regiment had no alternative than to fire into the mob. The event apparently compelled many Northerners living in the city—especially women—to feel unsafe and they fled to their Northern homes. In this letter, the author tries to convince her friend in Philadelphia that the majority of Baltimoreans are Unionists despite their strong ties to the South.

Rowdy Baltimoreans attack the 6th Massachusetts Troops as they attempt to pass through the city on 19 April 1861


Addressed to Miss Mary Denham, Philadelphia, Penna.

Baltimore [Maryland]
May 14, 1861

My Dear Miss Denham,

Long and anxiously I awaited the coming of your letter thinking sometimes that you had determined to strike all southern names from your list of friends. I presume I was rather impatient. but I very much desired to know of your whereabouts. You do not tell me how long you are to tarry in the Quaker City or how I shall address you; however, I suppose if the envelope has merely the word “Denham,” it will be sure to find an owner in yourself.

Nearly all the girls left the same week of your departure, most of them receiving the intelligence in the morning & departing in the afternoon. The Berry’s left on Monday of this week, leaving Miss Phillips solitary & alone. She will remain until the close of the session. On the morning of your departure, after the opening of the school, Mr. [Nathan Covington] Brooks divided the remaining scholars into three classes, taking the Seniors & Juniors himself, giving Miss Owens the classes from Sophomore, B. Downs and myself the Sophister & Sophomore A. There were no regular lessons during the remainder of the week as the scholars were too much excited to study & on Friday Mr. Brooks told me that he should not be able to pay me any more salary but offered me the hospitalities of his house as long as I chose to stay.

After balancing our account, it was evident that he owed me $64 but he kindly informed me it was impossible for him to pay me more than $5!!!!! Munificent. He gave me a due bill and an order on Mr. & Mrs. [M. A.] Hamilton [milliner] who, it appears to his account owes him $80. I immediately started out on a round of visits to my friends intending to recommend Mrs. Hamilton to them & hoping to get some money in that way but they had already made their purchases. I do not see that there is any possible means of getting money & I happen to need that more than bonnets & bon-bons which will not pay debts. If Mr. Brooks had given us the information sooner, you & Miss Lummis might have obtained your bonnets from Mrs. Hamilton & I might have had some money.

Miss Owens still continues to teach (the average attendance is about 20) & I visit a great deal, coming to the college about once a week. I had nearly forgotten to tell you that Emma Day took a bonnet from Mrs. Hamilton. Misses [Ellen C.] Gobright, Brookings, L. Lebore & Mr. [Jean] Schaeffer no longer visit us. All have departed but Miss Owens.

Mr. Brooks received a letter for you & I think two for Miss [Sarah E.] Lummis which I suppose he has forwarded as I heard him say he had a letter for Miss Lummis. I am sorry that Miss Lummis & you think that the rowdyism of the mob on that eventful Friday was an indication of he sentiment & manners of the Baltimoreans. You are aware that this city is famed for its rowdies & at times they delight in excitement of a disturbance, but do not take them as a sample of the citizens. Baltimore is decidedly for the Union. Almost everyone that I know is for the Union. I am for the Union and I know you are. Thus far we agree. If Union is impossible, I am for the South, and there, I suppose, we disagree. I do not think, however, that our politics will affect our friendship. I was very much surprised to receive a letter from Miss [Nancy Williams] Wright who, at the time of writing, was seated at her mother’s table in Gouverneur [New York]. She had gone home by the way of Hagerstown, taking a private conveyance to that place from Washington—a rather expensive journey. I envy you the sight of that whale very much as I have never seen one.

Mrs. Plowman, Miss Owen desires to be remembered to you both. I hope i shall hear from you very soon. Hoping you may have a pleasant visit, I remain your sincere friend, — M. E. I. K.

You remember I borrowed a stamp from you which I now repay.

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