Letters to Clara Alricks, 1864
SOCIETY AND WAR IN CIVIL WAR ERA HARRISBURG: THE
LETTERS TO CLARA BULL ALRICKS, 3-JANUARY-1864 TO 30-MARCH-1864
Edited by Joyce White, 10/01/2000
Endnotes & Bibliography
The following collection of nine letters is taken from a set that together
form part of a larger manuscript group known as the McCormick Family
Papers housed by the Historical Society of Dauphin County, Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania. The letters span three months' time and were written to
Miss Clara Bull Alricks, a Harrisburg native who was attending the Troy
Female Seminary in Troy, New York. The two correspondents, Miss Rachel
Pollock, a close friend of Clara's and Herman Alricks, Clara's father,
offer through their letters two very different perspectives on upper
middle class life in nineteenth-century Harrisburg; one of a school
girl entering the world of parties, boys and good times and the other
of a father concerned with the well-being of his family.
The letters are arranged chronologically and follow a pattern whereby
endnotes contain explanatory information. When a person, place or event
is mentioned for the first time it is fully documented; subsequent references
are end noted with the directions to see a particular note for full
explanation. All addresses are in Harrisburg unless otherwise noted.
Original spelling and grammar have been unaltered. Commas and periods
were added to separate sentences and ease the flow of reading.
Ironically, the letters to Clara Alricks reveal little about her life.
Genealogical records indicate that she was born about 18481 and was
sixteen years old when she received the letters. She had nine brothers
and sisters, but only four were alive at the time the letters were written:
Mary Wilson, born 1834 and married in 1859 to James McCormick, Jr.;
Hamilton, born 1842; William Kerr, born 1846; and Martha Orth, born
1850.1 In 1857 Clara's mother, Mary Elder Kerr Alricks, daughter of
the Rev. William Kerr, died.3
Little else is known of Clara's family life in 1864. She attended the
Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York where she spent the entire academic
year with no vacations or holidays. Before attending the Tory Seminary,
Clara probably attended the Harrisburg Female Seminary.
Nineteenth-century female seminaries or academies reflected the belief
that education for women was crucial to the proper rearing of sons who
would be responsible for promoting and enhancing nascent American republicanism.4
The Troy Female Seminary was established in 1821 by Emma Willard, who
trained teachers to emphasize advanced mathematics, chronology and geography.
Dubbed the "Vassar College of New York,"5 the school became
very well-known, and attracted girls from all over the United States,
Canada and the West Indies.
Clara's life at the none-sectarian boarding school would have revolved
nonetheless around an overstated Protestant ethic. Additionally, Victorian
manners and appropriate forms of behavior for young upper middle class
ladies were taught. In accordance with the founder's wish to instill
a sense of self-reliance in her pupils, the girls were required to keep
their rooms clean with no help from maids. Methods of bread-making were
taught to prepare them for the domestic life they would naturally live
Post-graduate life did not lead Clara into the cult of domesticity,
however, as it did many of her contemporaries. Instead, she never married
and spent her life traveling. She visited Europe four times and lived
there for the duration of the first World War. Clara Alricks died a
spinster on October 2, 1933 in a Scranton Hospital while recovering
from a bad fall at Pocono Manor that left her with a fractured hip.7
Clara's close friend and correspondent, Rachel Pollock, also never married.
Rachel was born in 1846 and was the daughter of E.H.M. and Martha Hayes
Pollock. Rachel spent her adult life in Harrisburg and was an active
charter member of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church and the Bethany
Presbyterian Chapel on Cameron Street. Membership in the Pine Street
Missionary society involved her directly in the welfare of women prisoners.
Her community activities also included volunteer work as a board member
of the Florence Crittendon Home and as a vice president for the Harrisburg
Civic Club. Rachel died December 3, 1926.8
Clara's most prolific correspondent was undoubtedly her devoted father,
Herman Alricks. Herman was born in Juniata County, Pennsylvania in 1803
and was a descendent of Peter Alricks who came to America from Holland
in 1657. Herman studied law with the Hon. Thomas Elder and began practicing
in the Dauphin County courts. Eventually, he opened his own practice
which grew into a large business. In 1840, Herman moved his family into
a house on Second Street in Harrisburg, appropriating the front rooms
for his office.9 As late as 1860, the Harrisburg city directory lists
Herman as a resident of 21 South Second Street;10 at some point before
1863 he moved to Mrs. McClure's Boarding House at 60 Market Street,11
likely to down-size his home and to be closer to his brother, Hamilton
Alricks, who lived at 64 Market Street.12
In 1863 Herman Alricks took up arms for the protection of his family
and community. During the threat of invasion at Gettysburg, he joined
Captain Weidman Forster's militia and marched to the "ford crossing
the Susquehanna River where Steelton now stands and remained with the
company until they were discharged from service shortly after the battle
Less than ten months and forty miles separated Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
from the winter of 1864 and one of the bloodiest and best-remembered
battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg. Significantly, the
collection of letters written to Clara Bull Alricks does not deal directly
with the effect of the War Between the States on everyday life in Harrisburg.
Without ignoring the War totally, the letters meander around it, picturing
a largely comfortable society striving to live a normal, uninterrupted
Rachel's preparation entry into the nineteenth-century's Cult of True
Womanhood-where American republicanism and Victorian ideal of virtue
and morality produced a woman who was "judged by her husband, her
neighbors and society" according to the attributes of piety, purity,
submissiveness and domesticity14-is revealed in her letters to Clara.
Rachel participated in an apprentice-like system15 whereby an daughter
followed her mother into the world of domestic "bliss." In
1864, at eighteen years of age, Rachel was ready to focus on two goals:
"mastering new domestic skills and participating in the visiting
and social activities necessary to finding a husband."16
Therefore, Rachel Pollock's letters to Clara reveal that she and her
circle of friends led a relatively carefree and typically teenage lifestyle.
Full-dress parties, card parties, informal dancing parties and skating
parties filled the days and nights of Harrisburg's 1864 upper middle
class teens. The girls in Rachel's clique, Jennie Boas, Sid Berghaus,
Mary Kerr, and Alice Frazer, to name a few, were escorted to these events
by a set of boys. Some of the boys mentioned, such as Sam Matlack, Alek
Thompson and Russell King, were unidentifiable; therefore, it is possible
that they attended boarding school at Harrisburg Academy.
The skating parties were particularly important to Rachel and her friends
as she indicated in a letter to Clara dated January 3: "Week before
Christmas, we had skating every day." Clara's sister, Mary McCormick,
also mentions skating in a letter written to Clara on November 27, 1863
(from a different set of letters in the McCormick Family Papers). Mary
wrote that a skating club was being formed following the collection
of money to enclose a pond, erect a house "for the accommodation
of the skater," to build a dam, and to hire a man. Herman also
mentions that the Christmas holidays brought "near 1000" skaters
to the pond. Evidently, skating was a new and exciting sport for the
Rachel's carefree days in Harrisburg were tempered by the realities
of fatal illnesses and the war. In a poignant letter to Clara dated
January 27, she describes the death of one of their mutual friends,
Bessie Bird, and attributes it to an ab-cess" around the heart.
Additionally, Rachel's letter of March 21 contains her only reference
to the horrors of war; in it Rachel confides that her father told her
"perfectly dreadful things that they [undecipherable, but presumably
a relative and his regiment] had to bear."
Herman's letters to his dear Callie, however, indicate that he wanted
neither to frighten his daughter with news of the war nor keep her ignorant
of its effects. He described soldiers in Harrisburg, the hopeful avoidance
of a draft in Pennsylvania, and Hamilton's activities in Tennessee,
informing her of the ways life had been disrupted by the war. Most of
his letters, however, describe the activities of Clara's siblings: Mary
and her children; Hampy (Hamilton), who was enlisted in the Union Army
as a surveyor of railroads in Memphis, Tennessee; William Kerr, a budding
businessman; and Martie (Martha), a schoolgirl. In addition, Herman
deliberates over Clara's school expenses at Troy, constantly questioning
her purchases and "extras" at school, but always acquiescing
and sending her money.
Consequently, the following series of letters reveal a northern community
where the Civil War disrupted but did not seriously alter the course
of life for most of its citizens. The battle at Gettysburg must have
alarmed Harrisburg residents; however, the threat it posed passed, and
life on Harrisburg's homefront returned to a normal pace where teenagers
occupied themselves with finding a spouse and parents prided themselves
on the accomplishments and health of their children.
Pollock to Clara, 3-January-1864 ("Alek. and Ed got
a carriage and took us there. Was not that kind? One or two of the other
boys took their girls in carriages too. We had a glorious time")
Alricks to Clara, 5-January-1864 ("Martie wrote you
a letter on last Wednesday, but she overeat herself at a couple of parties
& was sick one night trying to throw up...She was well enough on
Sunday to go to Church.")
Rachel Pollock to Clara,
27-January-1864 ("The last words Bessie said were to
the little servant: she said, Mary, go nearer to the light, you can
Herman Alricks to
Clara, 28-January-1864 ("This town is full of drunken
Herman Alricks to
Clara, 15-February-1864 ("I thought I would send you
a draft now for $180.32. This will pay off the old bill, and pay $100.
on the new. You may ask Mr. Willard if that will do until April, &
if not, I will send you another draft, but I have no more cash at present")
Herman Alricks to
Clara, 16-March-1864 ("She has not much prudence and
I think will give her parents trouble. I saw 3 boys last night.")
Rachel Pollock to
Clara, 21-March-1864 ("I have a great deal to tell you
that would take so much time and paper to write, somethings that you
will be very much surprised and sorry to hear. ")
Herman Alricks to
Clara, 21-March 1864 ("Three regiments of soldiers went
off yesterday. They went to Annapolis to embark for some secret expedition.")
Herman Alricks to
Clara, 30-March-1864 ("We have had-Hamilton, soldier
John, staying with us for 2 days. He went off again this afternoon to
Lewistown to recruit.")
1. William H. Alrich, Uncle Levi and the Alrich (Alricks) Family Geneology,
(Harrisburg, PA: Historical Society of Dauphin County, April, 1985.
(Hereafter cited as Levi Geneology).
2. Ibid. The information has been culled from references Herman made
to these four siblings.
3. James T. Edwards, ed., The History of Dauphin County, Vol. 3., (Massachusetts:
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Pres, 1907), 672. (Hereafter
cited as History of Dauphin County).
4. Mary Beth Norton and others, A People and a Nation: A History of
the United States, Vol. 1, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986),
158. (Hereafter cited as Norton).
5. Thomas Woody, A History of Women's Education in the United States,
Vol. 1, (New York: Octagon Books, 1974), 344-347. (Hereafter cited as
6. Edward T. James, ed. Notable American Women, 1607-1950 (Massachusetts:
The Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1971), s.v. "Willard,
Emma Hart," by Frederick Rudolph, 612.
7. Obituary, Scrapbook Collection of Newspaper Clippings, Historical
Society of Dauphin County, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, scrapbook #3, page
104 and scrapbook #4, page 22.
8. Obituary, Scrapbook Collection of Newspaper Clippings, Historical
Society of Dauphin County, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
9. History of Dauphin County, 661, 671.
10. Boyd's Harrisburg Directory, 1860.
11. Letter to Clara from Herman, 9-December-1863, McCormick Family
Papers, Historical Society of Dauphin County, Harrisburg, PA.
12. Boyd's Harrisburg Directory, 1860.
13. History of Dauphin County, 671-72.
14. Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820-1860,"
in Major Problems in Women's History, ed. Mary Beth Norton (Massachusetts:
D. C. Heath and Company, 1989), 122.
15. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, "The Female World of Love and Ritual,"
in Major Problems in American Women's History, ed. Mary Beth Norton
(Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and Company, 1989), 133.
16. Ibid., 133.
This online project is a joint venture between
Penn State University and The Historical
Society of Dauphin County, where the McCormick Family Papers are
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