When People Wrote Letters: A Family Chronicle is a tale told through wonderfully witty and moving letters, photographs, clippings and pamphlets, excerpts from an unpublished autobiography and from a family history narrative, along with other saved objects. The main characters are Betty and Edith Stedman, the author's mother and great-aunt, two eloquent and adventurous women whose relationship serves as the book's central narrative. Their travels, and the travels of other family members, take the reader from nineteenth and early twentieth century New England, to Key West in the 1830s, to the Minnesota Territories in the 1860s, to France during World War I, to small towns in Texas and to China in the 1920s, and to Spain in the early 1930s, and across America during World War II.
When People Wrote Letters is also an account of Edith Stedman's extraordinary career during the early years of medical social work, and a love story in which the religious and cultural differences between New England Episcopalians and New York Jews threaten to disrupt a romance in the 1940s. And finally, it is about how family chronicles emerge in piecemeal fashion from the objects and documents people save and pass on.
Martha Tuck Rozett lives in Albany, N.Y., and teaches at the University at Albany, SUNY. She has written books about Shakespeare and his contemporaries, about how Shakespeare's works have been appropriated and rewritten, and about the way historical fiction reimagines the past.