Woman to Woman
The role of letter-writing in the lives of women throughout the centuries is celebrated in a new exhibit opening on Friday, April 19, at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
“Woman to Woman” includes nearly 200 original letters, each of them written by a woman to a woman. Some of the correspondents are famous: Gertrude Stein, Georgia O’Keeffe, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Virginia Woolf and George Eliot, for instance. Others, like Dorothy Peterson, are less well-known but worthy of attention: Ms. Peterson was an African-American teacher and arts patron who was acquainted with almost all of the figures from the Harlem Renaissance.
The letters themselves, all drawn from the Beinecke’s collections, range from ancient papyrus fragments to 20th-century correspondence.
The letters displayed in “Woman to Woman” encompass a broad range of topics. “They’re about all the kinds of things that people write letters about – family, love, health,” explains Christa Sammons, curator at the Beinecke and organizer of the show. “There are lots of letters about letter writing. Others talk about money, literary agents, men, travel.” Some of the letter-writers describe important historical events; others detail ordinary domestic crises.
One of the oldest letters in the exhibit, a papyrus manuscript from the fourth century, echoes a sentiment familiar to letter-writers throughout the ages. The pieced-together fragments say: “Sorry I haven’t written, but I’ve been too busy.”
A number of woman-to-woman love letters are on view, including correspondence between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas that has never before been on display because Toklas gave the papers to Yale, “with the stipulation that no one see them during her lifetime,” explains Ms. Sammons. Other romantic letters connect historical novelist Bryher and her lifelong companion, poet H.D.; writers Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis; and the so-called “Ladies of Llangollen,” two 18th-century Irish women who eloped to Wales, where they lived in contented retirement for decades.
In addition to the letters themselves, “Woman to Woman” includes photographs and personal effects from some of the correspondents – including a brooch owned by George Eliot and a pressed flower from the Gertrude Stein archive.
“Woman to Woman” will be on view through the end of June at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, located at 121 Wall St. The library is open for exhibition viewing 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday- Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday closed May 27. Admission is free. For further information, call 203 432-2977.