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Have you ever had a pen pal? Many of us were encouraged to write to children of our own age in other countries during primary school. Sometimes these relationships blossomed; other times they just fizzled.
I recently dug into a collection that contains letters from a French schoolgirl (Mary Dubuy, later Mary Paroissin) to her pen pal in America (Jeanne Brill, later Jeanne Monefeldt). The information we have on this collection is limited- it came to us from Edward Monefeldt (Jeanne’s husband) who donated the letters after his wife passed away in 1985. The letters are in French & we have only begun to translate them, but regardless of whether we can read the language, the letters tell a story. Two young girls strike up a friendship that carried on through marriage, the birth of children, war, and old age. Photos attached to the letters chronicle Mary’s aging & certain events of her life. The letters begin in 1924 and end with a final letter from Mary to Edward in 1986 expressing her sorrow at Jeanne’s death.
This collection, although perhaps seemingly unimportant to many, exemplifies the importance of recorded bits of history and why we keep them: they represent threads of the social fabric of human interaction. As the practice of letter-writing gives way to the more ephemeral email, such exchanges in which important details of one’s life are discussed may be lost. Many people who have old family letters in their possession may even fail to realize their importance and the need for them to be saved and preserved, especially in an environment where others can use and learn from them.
The images above are in chronological order & show Mary, or Mary with her family from 1924 to 1975. The last photo is of Mary, her husband Lou, and Jeanne’s daughter Karen. The final image is of a portion of the first letter sent to Jeanne by Mary in 1924.
If you have ever had a pen pal we would love to hear about your experience through a comment to this post.