Document 4: Second 1842 Letter

Author: Irene Ball Allan

Recipient: Lucinda Ball

Date: 15 May 1842

Source: Archibald McCullum Ball & Sarah A. Curtis Papers, Record Group 30/006, Oberlin College Archive

Document Type: Typed Letter

This transcription is slightly abridged from the text as it appears in the collection. Irene likely wrote it over a period of two or more days, since the letter was only signed once and the last section indicates the passage of time since she began writing.

Irene’s writing confirms that living as the wife of an abolitionist was just as stressful and dangerous as she imagined. Perhaps, given the the times, she could not have managed to earn a living teaching on her own and had to sacrifice peace of mind for material security. By the time of writing this letter, Irene was teaching at a charity school, a commonly acceptable way in which women could become involved in the public sphere. The second half of the letter again reveals the dangers of promoting abolition in a resistant community. At the beginning, she refers to a series of illness-related attacks, which could have either been chronic illness or miscarriages. Since she came from a large family, Irene might have been expected to bear many children. The “prolapsed uteri” referenced in Letter Two, along with the unnamed problems, could have escalated her day-to-day stresses and contributed to her early death.

Irene Ball Letter May 1842 p. 1
First page

Dear Mother

       I do not feel very well this evening – have not for several days – I told husband before he went to meeting that I wanted to go home to Mother’s & rest for a week or two – My health has been remarkably good this Spring considering what occurred last fall – I do not think my system was as much injured by that as the last one before that — I spent several days in Galesburg week before last & since that [sic] have not been in my usual health – owing as I suppose to too much exercise while I was there —- I do not recollect whether I mentioned to you in my last letter that I was teaching a little charity school – I commenced in March, have about 18 or 20 scholars for three hours every forenoon – I find myself becoming more & more interested every week in the school – feel that it is a privilege to be thus engaged.


Our field of labor is a very difficult one here – hard –   It is a river town – much intercourse with St. Louis1 & other places by steam boats — There is much open rebellion against God here – & many backsliders – & worse than all the leading influences in the church is most of it bad – We

Second page
Second page

do not think that we shall stay longer than until we go to Oberlin — The people many of them hate Mr. Allan & some are determined that he shall not stay – What will be the final result is unknown to us of course – I feel somewhat apprehensive sometimes that life itself may have to be sacrificed in the contest here between truth & error – a contest which is becoming more stern every day —

Mr. A. preaches in the morning & at night – in the afternoon we have Sabbath School at ½ past one — of upwards of 80 scholars & at 3 o.clock [sic] a bible class – our prayer meetings are on Wed/ & Fid. [sic] evenings — The one on Frid Eve [sic] is for those who wish to come & pray for sanctification although many come who I presume do not believe in the attainability of it — We have two converts also one for the world & one for the Slave

Irene’s younger, better-documented brother, Archibald “Mack.”
Irene’s younger, better-documented brother, Archibald “Mack.”

Wed. aff.2 – Dear Mother & Brother — I have a little time to write before I go out this aff – We have been this forenoon to attend the funeral of one of thr [sic] citizens who died with the consumption. The grave yard is a mile & half from town on the prarie [sic] – The prarie looks beautifully now, covered with green velvet apparently — Our town is beautifully situated —— McCullum I hope you wont [sic] think when I address my letters to mother that I do not include you. I do not feel as much like writing to either of you as I should if I did not expect to see you so soon. I’ve dreamed twice of going to O. once we just got within sight of Mother’s house & I waked up & once we went to the public house & staid over Sabbath & mother never come [sic] near us – on Monday morn we were to leave but I told husband that I would not go back to Illinois without calling at mother’s – so we went to where they told us she lived & went in to the house – but she scarcely spoke to us – did not even ask us to take off our things! Well, said I, must see Mack I know he’ll be glad to see me – No they said he was busy down to one of the hall’s [sic] & could not spend time — So we started back but I waked up about that time – & I really felt for a minute when I waked as though I did not desire to go to O. but I finally concluded that I should probably meet with a

Third page
Third page

better reception than I dreamed of — I hope when you answer this you will tell us when the commencement will be, & where Caroline lives – we will take Duane with us if he desires to go — & write to her that we will be there the first part of August if we go at all—- There will not be time for you to answer this & then for me to write to her – So I think you had better do it.

In haste your aff [sic] Irene Ball

Transcribed by Athena Pult

1 St. Louis, Missouri, which is far to the south of Peoria County.

2 Wednesday afternoon.