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Mary Leslie Newton's Letters

Mary Leslie Newton, born in 1874 and raised in Xenia, Ohio, was a prolific writer throughout her life. This exhibit focuses on one particular genre and period: letters written during her teenage years. 

As Jane Greer observes in Girls and Literacy in America, scholars in rhetoric and writing have developed "a pantheon of powerful female readers and writers" through archival recovery work—"but little attention has been paid to the girls these women once were" (xxiv). This exhibit pays attention to the voice of a particular girl writing in a particular context and, in these preserved letters, to a singular audience: her father, who was living in Ooltewah, Tennessee. 

Reading the letters Mary Leslie Newton wrote during her teenage years creates the possiblity for multiple types of insight into the literacy practices of a white, middle-class Ohio girl. Her struggles to master the typewriter become visible both through errors on the page as well as her own, often humorous, commentary on the new technology. Her social interactions are often described in great detail—the shock her sister expressed at witnessing Mary Leslie smile at a boy in class, her many games of croquet, time spent in religious and social organizations—and each of them show how Mary Leslie was communicating about those incidents to her father. Readers and researchers can also glean information about Xenia itself from the letters: a well-informed teenager, Mary Leslie often commented on local illnesses and newsworthy events. 

The 104 letters in this exhibit cover the years 1890 to 1893, and reflect the entirety of the preserved materials from that period. During this time, Mary Leslie was finishing high school and looking for a teaching job; her letters from 1892 reflect her anxiety over her prospects and her joy upon securing a position. Although not representative of the entirety of her teenage years, the collected materials here demonstrate the changes in literacy practices, writing style, and personal priorities that Mary Leslie Newton experienced during this time. 

The Writing Miss Newton exhibit provides additional insight into Mary Leslie Newton's adult life and literacy practices. 

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