Skip to main content

My Own Dear Father

Mary Leslie Newton Word Cloud

A word cloud using language drawn from Mary Leslie Newton's letters to her father. 

During the early 1890s, Mary Leslie Newton was a teenager living with her aunt, brother, and sister in Xenia, Ohio. Her father was living in Ooltewah, Tennessee, and requested that each of his children write to him on at least a weekly basis. Many of Mary Leslie Newton's letters were preserved in the family's archive, and are included here, along with brief captions denoting the major points of discussion within the letters.  

Mary Leslie Newton's letters cover the period from 1890 to 1893, by which point she had secured a teaching position and was living in Tennessee herself. The bulk of her letters are from 1891 and 1892 while she was in Xenia and finishing high school. 

The word cloud that accompanies this exhibit demonstrates some of the major subjects in Mary Leslie Newton's letters to her father, and provides an interesting high-level glimpse of the concerns of one teenage letter-writer. Mary Leslie Newton frequently discussed church, the weather, the family's social activities, issues with the family typewriter, and teaching — including her role as a music teacher, a tutor, and her desire to be hired on as a schoolteacher.

Looking further into the word cloud can reveal smaller but persistent issues Mary Leslie Newton discussed with her father, which included her own health issues (largely related to her teeth and her feet), her sister Halley's problems with vision, and local illnesses. Additionally, literacy was a common topic of discussion in Mary Leslie Newton's letters; she often mentioned reading or sending her father copies of Harper's, and described to him the creation of a family publication called The Round Table. 

Humor was also an important element of Mary Leslie Newton's writing style. She frequently poked fun at herself for clumsiness, described the pranks she and her siblings played on one another, or assumed a self-conscious attitude towards writing, in which she would use the longest words she could think of to pad out the letter's content. 

A significant element of Mary Leslie Newton's communicative practices is not included in the word cloud but remains worthy of mention. In over 70 of the letters from this period, Mary Leslie Newton engaged in meta-commentary, writing about the practice of letter-writing itself. Often, this took the form of excusing her lateness in writing, mentioning the quality of her handwriting or the behavior of the typewriter, describing the setting within which she was attempting to write, or otherwise remarking on the act of composing a letter.