January 9, 1883 & February 15, 1883

Artifact description

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.

Narrative Observation

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.

bliss-letter-1a bliss-letter-1b

alternate version

January 9th letter:

Factual questions:

Inferences/educated guesses:

bliss-letter-2a bliss-letter-2b

alternate version

February 15th letter:

Inferences/Educated Guesses:

March 25th letter


Compare and Contrast

How is your life different from that of Sylvia’s? What aspects of your life are similar?

Critical Thinking:
Lesson plan and commentary by:

Glenn Houston
U-32 High School
East Montpelier, VT