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[Detail] The David Hilton family near Weissert, Nebraska. 1887.

Courtship and Male-Female Relationships

The Oblinger letters from the period before Uriah and Mattie married are especially interesting for the information they contain about male-female relationships, courtship, and family dynamics. For example, a letter from Mattie to Uriah, dated August 13, 1868, addressed their coming marriage. It also suggested the control her father exerted over her and the lack of fond feelings Mattie had for her father.

Onward Inda
Thursday eve, August 13th

My Dear Uriah This pleasant evening I take my pencil in a hasty maner to answer your long looked for letter which I received this evening How my heart leaped for Joy the moment I saw my name on the envelope Uriah I would know your writing if I would see it any place…

I do wish we were together this evening so we could have some sweet enjoyment Dear Uriah as the time draws near for you to return the more I want to see you It does appear to me I can hardly wait until you come Oh if I could have one sweet kiss Nothing would give me more pleasure than a sweet kiss from your own sweet lips to night and just let me take one peep in to your bright blue eyes what pleasure would it give me Oh what is the use of me talking this way for I know it is impossible at present to enjoy any of those sweet enjoyments…

Uriah I wish Father would give his consent [for Uriah and Mattie's marriage] as Mother has He has not give me one cent or bought me one cents worth this summer

Dear Uriah I think it is a little too bad for I have worked all summer like a slave There I knew I would cry for when I think how I have to work and then get nothing it appears to me like my heart will burst and think how often he has misstreated us I thank God we have had suficient strength to endure it all…May Gods richest blessings fall on you is the prayer of your loving


Letter from Mattie V. Thomas to Uriah W. Oblinger, August 13, 1868

Some time after Mattie's death, Uriah began courting Laura Bacon, and a number of letters from their courtship also exist. While the letters reveal Uriah's sense of humor (he repeatedly made puns on Laura's name), they are also poignant in revealing the importance of finding a wife to help him reunite his family:

You may think me a trifle crazy when I tell you that each visit leaves a deeper seated love and admiration for you, but its true. It seems almost to good to be true that the prospect is so fair that you will soon be all mine.

You are a dear brave woman to be willing to take charge of my little family so that I can have my little "kits" together again, and it shall ever be my highest ambition to make you happy, for in doing so I add to my own happiness.

Letter from Uriah W. Oblinger to Laura Iona Bacon, September 25, 1881

Laura's letters were less overtly emotional than Mattie's, but they, too, are revealing. In this excerpt, she talked about being perceived as "fast" for answering a letter too quickly and reflected on a friend's unhappy marriage:

You may think me a very fast girl to answer your letter so soon after it was recieved, but I thought it best so you could depend on where I would be next sunday I will say right here I will be at home…

O! how I should feel if I thought I had to follow the footsteps of my dear friend Sarah. I would rather die. but I cannot think you such a person as her husband for I know better. she is certainly leading the most miserable of lives with a jealous hearted husband. it makes my heart ache to the very core to see her so foully used, for to me she is as dear as an own sister.

Letter from Laura Iona Bacon to Uriah W. Oblinger, September 27, 1881

Browsing the subject index for love letters will identify numerous letters between Mattie and Uriah and Laura and Uriah. After you have read several letters, answer the following questions:

  • Which writer was most direct in expressing affection for the person to whom the letters were written?
  • The courtship between Mattie and Uriah was lengthy, while his courtship with Laura was much shorter. What information from the letters helps you account for the difference?
  • What evidence do the letters provide about family problems in the 19th century?
  • Based on the letters, write a paragraph comparing courtship in the 19th century with courtship today.