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Kansas Memory Blog

Feb 14, 2024 by Megan Rohleder

By: Cordell Moats, Digital Archivist

Today we can communicate instantaneously with others all around the world, but in the 1880s communication relied heavily on letters such as the ones contained in the John Bruere and Lydia Miller Letters Collection. This collection centers around the long-distance courtship of John Bruere and Lydia Miller.

John Bruere and Lydia Miller began exchanging letters before they ever met each other in person. For at least John and Lydia, the concept of a long-distance courtship with a stranger was not a common practice. John stated in his first letter that this was the first time he had wrote to someone in this way. [5] Upon receiving his first letter, Lydia Miller replied that “It was quite a surprise to me, as we are entire strangers, yet some of our warmest friends have also been strangers to us.” [6] It was their mutual acquaintance, Tom McCoy, that encouraged both to begin this line of communication. 

As a bachelor living in Sherman County, Kansas in 1887, John found that finding companionship was a difficult task; as he explains, “it is a vary dreary life to live a bachelor’s life + alone at that.” [3] The beginning of these letters focused on learning more about each other. Lydia asked a lot of questions in her first letter, and John spent most of his reply answering her queries. Lydia discussed how important her church was to her, and while John was not a member of a particular church, he believed “…most any denomination is good if we live up to them.” [12] Eventually they began to discuss other topics, including John’s travels and where he had begun homesteading. While working on the railroad John reflected “This is not near as nice a country as it is down in Kansas... where I live the soil is very good for all kinds of grain we have no stones I haven’t found a stone on my place and there is not a ditch every body that comes there says it is the pretest country they ever saw.” [18]

In later letters John and Lydia discussed more personal beliefs. In one letter Lydia stated that “Our happiness in this world does not depend upon how much we possess but upon what kind of lives we live.” [43] John considered Lydia’s thoughts and responded “I think happiness is worth far more then riches for any one with a true heart a good character is far better than those without… I always desired to live a happy and contented life, I have lived that so far, or lived that way as near as I could, although I have had a great many trials… I think we should make one another’s burdens as light as possible but the main thing is love.” [40] They also discussed Lydia’s passion for religion, and John reassured her that he felt “a Christian will love and help make a happier life than one who is not as a general rule I would not think of depriving you of your Christian life whatever.” [40]

Reading these courtship letters gives us an interesting insight into the role of love and companionship in this early period of Kansas history. The collection serves as one example to help answer questions about what individuals valued and prioritized when seeking companionship in this period of the late nineteenth century. These letters are only part of John and Lydia’s story, and they leave readers and researchers wanting to know the rest. Luckily, we received a postscript prepared by one of their descendants, a granddaughter named Verda. Here we learn that John and Lydia got married shortly after finally meeting in person. They moved to John’s Kansas Homestead near Goodland where they had four children. In 1894 they moved back to Lydia’s family home in Iowa, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Verda stated that Lydia was a sweet and loving little grandmother, and that John was an easy-going and kindly grandpa. [70]

 

To view the John Bruere and Lydia Miller Letters collections visit https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/44685, and https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/449709

 

Aug 23, 2023 by Megan Rohleder

By: Lauren Gray, Head of Reference

Upon entering our Research Room at the State Archives, one of the first things you’ll see is row upon row of gray metal cabinets. Inside each of these cabinets are thousands of reels of microfilm, micro reproductions of documents on a cellulose acetate base, which resembles old VCR film. These reels contain a variety of documents and records, the most numerous of which are reproductions of newspapers.

Newspapers are the ‘bread and butter’ of the Kansas Historical Society’s collections, but they also have a larger legacy. The historical society was founded in 1875 by a group of Kansas newspaper publishers and editors who recognized the need to preserve the history of the state. Newspapers were one of the earliest items collected by the Historical Society and continue to be a vitally important part of the State Archives’ collections. The first newspaper was printed in Kansas Territory in 1854, and it can still be viewed in the State Archives’ Research Room or online. By 1916, KHS could boast of having one of the largest collections of newspapers in the world. Today, it is impossible to quantify how many individual newspaper issues we hold, but close to one million would not be an unreasonable number. We are an ally of the printed news.

Why, one might ask, do we make such an effort to collect and preserve newspapers? While they are an important research tool, they are also a complex cultural resource and symbol. At first glance, newspapers may seem passé, a relic of history. With the advent of social media and non-traditional online resources, the printed word, or even a digital news site, can seem slow or out-of-touch with our increasingly voracious need for immediate information. But newspapers should not be supplanted by the digital age. Newspapers are vital to a healthy and functioning democracy.

Newspapers were one of the earliest publications in colonial America, far surpassing books and other print media in popularity. They became an integral component of social and political protest to British taxation in the 18th century. Print resources kept disparate and physically separated colonists informed. Newspapers strengthened the growing American resistance movement, which ultimately resulted in the American Revolution and the creation of the United States. Recognizing the importance of newspapers during the revolution, the First Amendment was established to protect the right of free press and free speech. The First Amendment was intended to defend the press as a part of the democratic process.

Newspapers have long been a means of communication. Before train lines and telegraph wires interconnected the continent, newspapers kept the young country informed. As tensions rose over slavery in the decades before the Civil War, newspapers fueled the debate over the expansion of slavery into the territories. Newspapers were the battleground for the war of words, and Kansas was at the foreground of that fight. With stirring mastheads like “The Herald of Freedom” and the “Squatters Sovereign,” newspapers captured and enflamed the galvanizing language of the day:

 

“The people of the free States, and all opposed to slavery, claim, as their birth-right, all the benefits accruing from the act of 1820, and for them tamely to surrender this right, must be but the discover that they had necks fitted to some vile purpose. They, however, can assert and vindicate their rights without any just cause of offence, and without treading upon any of the rights of slaveholders; and whatever is their right and privilege to do, it is their duty not to leave undone.”

 

                                                -Kansas Herald of Freedom, 1854 

Newspapers have supported and enabled the discourse on politics and policy since our country's founding. They represent our national conscience. We are who we are as Americans because of the power of newspapers. The printed word educates and informs, and we become better citizens through our engagement with that discourse. Newspapers mobilize the public to action as trusted sources of news. Newspapers continue to be a means by which communities discuss and debate ideas and events. While the face of newspapers has changed, with many becoming digital to stay relevant and to cut publishing costs, our need for them has not. Newspapers are an essential component for our cultural, social, and political development, and are a resource worth protecting.

You can access the State Archives’ collection of newspapers online through our website or in our Research Room:

https://www.kshs.org/p/kansas-digital-newspaper-program/16126 


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