Document 7:

Author: Mary Fletcher Kellogg

Recipient: James H. Fairchild

Date: May 1838

Location: Oberlin College Archives, James H. Fairchild Papers. Series III Courtship Correspondence,

1771-1926, RG 2/003.

Document Type: Transcript (1939) Autograph Letter, Signed by Author.


This letter forms Mary’s reply to James’ profession of love, and her tone could not be more different. Where James was nervous and emotional, Mary is caring, but calm and rational. She reassures him that she is neither toying with him nor misreading his intentions. However, though she says she has more than “merely esteem” for him and continues to welcome this correspondence, she never says that she returns his love. It could be that she did not actually love him back yet, but Mary also might not have had the ability or authority to write her explicit feelings. She writes that she does not want to “excite compassion” within him, a virtuous and restrained act very reflective of the common belief that it was the woman’s responsibility to restrain the passion of the man

Whatever Mary’s own feelings towards James were, her reply displays the importance she placed on receiving a courtship letter. No sooner did James write her than she was already thinking about whether or not she could maintain a position as his wife and follow him in his career path. For her, this relationship was not simply about whether or not the two of them loved each other, but whether she could be the spouse he would need in his future career. Her ability to fill the role of a Pastor’s wife appears to be her first concern, rather than the feelings between her and James.   


Tuesday evening<.>  [May 1838]

Dear James<,>

I thank you for expressing yourself in your last with so much freedom and I in return will be as ingenuous[sic] as you have been…….. [sic]

You have before now learned the foolish simplicity of my heart and I trust will know how to pardon too strong or unguarded expressions which I may make.

With regard to the light in which I have viewed this correspondence<,> <h>ad I supposed it to have been requested by you on terms of merely common friendship, with no definite object, I surely should never have consented to it. The principle never to engage in a correspondence with any gentleman, upon ordinary subjects, was settled in my early childhood. Moreover, I placed too much confidence in your judgement to believe you would make this request<,> particularly when situated as we are here.

Several other circumstances, besides the expression of feeling in your first letter, evinced that you had a different object than before mentioned.

With this understanding I ventured to write<,> [sic] yet soon afterward felt that I had but very poorly discharged my duty with regard to this subject. For some time I had felt that there was but little probability that I should ever be a Christian<,>1[sic] <c>onsequently never be prepared to occupy any responsible station, and knowing your design to be a missionary, I felt desirous that you should be made acquainted with all these circumstances, that your feelings might become no more interested in myself, if indeed they had previously been.

At this time I did not explain my reasons for giving an account of my feelings. Most surely it was not because I delighted to dwell upon them, or loved to state them; it was not to excite your compassion; it was not to obtain assistance from you. I well knew “None but Jesus could do helpless sinners good.”2 I felt that I could not frankly state my object after what you had written. I should be taking for granted that which you had never designed. If there had been no other object for stating this reason, it would at least have saved me the appearance of inconsistency and perhaps egotism.

But I will endeavor to forget the follies and failures of the past or at least not to be discomposed by them and seek to do better in the future. I trust you will forget them too.

You have frequently expressed concern lest doubt and anxiety resulting in the greater obscurity of my mind should be a necessary consequence of this correspondence. But spare yourself, dear James, this anxious thought. It has indeed caused me but little anxiety, and need not have caused the least. I have felt a confidence to commit this to a wise over rulling Providence, incredible as it may seem that I should commit some things and retain others. I felt, when I received your first communication, that it was from the hand of God. But whether it was designed to humble me by exciting and withering[sic] expectations, or be the means of bringing me to feel my responsibilities and my utter helplessness and need of a Savior through your influence<,> I could not decide. The future was entirely shut to my view.

You desired to know if my regard for yourself has been, and is still now, merely esteem. I could not nor would I say it is only that. I have ever<,> even in Prof. M’s3 algebra class<,> felt rather more regard [added in margin: for you] [sic] than for others although I have never considered myself a victim of the passion so frequently described by novelists and poets. Until you wrote to me I have never cherished any expectation or thought that there would ever exist anything serious between us. Since this correspondence my affection for you has increased. It has increased in proportion to my acquaintance with you. I have been glad that we were seated at the same table in the dining hall4 where we have enjoyed the privilege of cultivating so intimate an acquaintance…….. [sic]

Forgive this poor scrawl. It is very late and myself quite fati<g>ued so that I hardly know what I have written.

Yours aff.<,>


Transcribed by Eve Kummer-Landau.

1Here, Mary was referring to her fear that she would not experience “conversion” as defined by evangelical practice. As she went on to state in this letter, she feared that her lack of Christian belief would make her an unsuitable wife for someone who planned to become a minister, and she wanted to make sure James was well aware of her spiritual concerns so that he did not unknowingly end up with a wife who could not act as a minister’s wife should.

2This is from a hymn written by J. Hart in 1759 (“Come, Ye Sinners,”, web address, accessed 6 April 2015).

3Professor John Morgan. James mentioned this algebra class in his first letter to Mary, and it seems to be where the two of them became acquainted.

4This is in the Ladies’ Hall; though Mary for a period studied at Oberlin’s satellite campus in Sheffield, it is clear she was back in Oberlin proper at the time of this letter.