January 9, 1883 & February 15, 1883
Sylvia Bliss lived in the Calais, Vermont area until her family moved to Des Moines, Iowa shortly before these letters were written in 1883, when Sylvia was fifteen. The letters were written in the depths of an Iowa winter to her grandparents back in Vermont.
The Sylvia Bliss letters reflect a side of the Gilded Age that is outside the realm of the industrialism and social turmoil of the era. They provide a window into daily life and family relations in 19th century America. Although the letters were written while the Bliss family lived in the growing city of Des Moines, Iowa the cultural orientation of Sylvia and her family was that of rural Vermont. The letters reveal that outside of the rapid social and cultural changes taking place during the Gilded Age family life in rural areas remained stable and traditional, grounded in the demands of day to day chores, concerns and activities.
January 9th letter:
- What does Sylvia do with her time?
- Who do you think Clifford and Gracie are? What evidence is there to support your answer?
- What did Aunt Becky offer Sylvia’s mother?
- What disease is Sylvia recovering from?
- Is Sylvia attending school at the time she wrote this letter? What evidence do you have to support your answer?
- What does Aunt Becky’s offer say about family relations during the Gilded Age?
- Sylvia tells her grandparents: “Mama did not have time to write all she wanted to.” Why do you think her mother did not have time to write a longer letter?
February 15th letter:
- Why do you think Sylvia wants to return to Vermont?
- Do you think Sylvia made the trip to Vermont with Mr. And Mrs. Morris?
- What do you think the “Vermont Banquet” was?
Compare and Contrast
How is your life different from that of Sylvia’s? What aspects of your life are similar?
- What was the role of letter writing in family relations during the Gilded Age?
- Based on the letters, what level of education do you think Sylvia received in Vermont?
- How do you think Sylvia’s education differs from that of a modern Vermonter?
Lesson plan and commentary by:
U-32 High School
East Montpelier, VT