Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Courtship Letters of a Southern Couple
Dearest Hugh: The Courtship Letters of Gabrielle Drake & Hugh McColl,
Edited by Suzanne Cameron Linder Hurley
Dearest Hugh offers a glimpse into what romance and marriage meant for a southern couple at the dawn of our modern age through a collection of some three hundred love letters exchanged between Gabrielle Drake and Hugh McColl from 1900 to 1901. Edited by Suzanne Cameron Linder Hurley, this correspondence illustrates the hopes and sacrifices of an upper-class couple forging a marriage in the small town of Bennettsville, South Carolina.
Hugh McColl was a cashier at the Bank of Marlboro, of which his father was president, when he began courting Gabrielle Drake, a schoolteacher and daughter of the clerk of court for Marlboro County. Most of their visits were chaperoned, but Hugh and Gabrielle could speak more freely in their correspondence and they exchanged notes--often two or three a day--detailing their private emotions, desires, and anxieties. The letters address equality within the relationship, Gabrielle's career, choosing and furnishing a home, and allocation of household chores. Hugh's letters are earnest, sincere, affectionate, and sometimes suggestive. His devotion to business and community is clear, as is his concern over being able to provide for a family. Gabrielle's writings are coquettish and playful, but she also anguishes over choosing between a career and a spouse. The attitudes expressed by both Hugh and Gabrielle also speak to the ambitious drive and community-minded dedication the McColls would later instill in their family, including grandson Hugh McColl, the former president and CEO of Bank of America.
Hurley's insightful introduction places the correspondence into the broader context of recent scholarship on courtship rituals and the changing educational and social status for women during this time in American life.