Archive of Judge Richard Hartshorne and his wife, Ellen Fritz (nee Sahlin) Hartshorne.
The importance of having an extensive circle of family and friends to draw upon during difficult times
These letters —well over five-hundred in all— document the courtship and early marriage of Ellen Fritz Sahlin (1893?–after 1987) and Richard Hartshorne (1888–1975) during trying times. This couple’s courtship, marriage and parenthood coincided with the U.S. entry into World War I and the financial disaster of 1929.
Strong–willed, educated, career–oriented individuals, Sahlin and Hartshorne formed a power couple. A graduate of Wellesley College, Sahlin worked as an interior designer for a firm in New York City. Hartshorne, a Princeton and Columbia School of Law graduate, enlisted in the Navy and was stationed on the Eastern seaboard during the war. After his tour of service, he advanced professionally in various legal firms.
Both came from renowned families, heirs to accomplished individuals. The Hartshorne line went back to colonial times, numbering among the earliest settlers in New Jersey. Known for their probity, many Hartshones had been elevated to provincial and state judicial and legislative posts. Ellen’s uncle, John Fritz, had been the chief engineer at Bethlehem Iron Corporation and instrumental in transforming that firm into American corporate giant, Bethlehem Steel. Her father, Axel Sahlin, had been an engineer for the Tata Steel Mill in Sachkii, India. Her brother “Bob”, Robert Chandler Sahlin (1889–1968), also worked for the now well known Indian steel and auto manufacturer.
Despite pedigrees, the life traced in the correspondence was precarious, filled with risks to be avoided. Early in their courtship, Sahlin warns Hartshorne, a naval ensign, about the danger of falling out of favor with the military hierarchy by disrespecting a senior officer. “You must not call your superior an ‘old codger.’” That old codger was in the position of blocking his future career.
In her letters to Hartshorne, Sahlin reflected on civilian life, drawing wartime parallels. Writing to Hartshorne on August 9, 1917, Sahlin commented on the potentially devastating minefields she faced at work:
This afternoon…I was nearly annihilated by a client .... She made me feel responsible for all the negligence and errors committed by the office in the last two or three years. Just as she got through a heavy mirror fell off the wall and crashed through a lamp and three antique Italian vases.
Whimsy is introduced by drawings they each add to their letters, including incongruous depictions of a solitary rower in a flimsy scull overpowered by a freighter and a sailboat; or a sketch of an ill–fitting navy cap.
If there is a life lesson to be mined in these archives, it is related to the importance of having an extensive circle of family and friends to draw upon during difficult times. The letters make reference to numerous relatives, friends, and professional colleagues. As the family expands while the household fractures to accommodate Hartshone’s work obligations, the couple receive vital information and advice from others, especially from Ellen’s “devoted brother, Bob.” They in turn “offered our services and tried to encourage [a friend]... I told her to call if she could & if she needed anything.” The support came in handy at various times when Sahlin was hospitalized for the birth of her children and when Hartshorne fell into depression in 1927.
A series of letters from well–wishers received upon their engagement provides an example of the manner in which the couple managed their social networks. The engagement announcement had been well orchestrated; notification was sent to circles of intimates and acquaintances in ever–widening waves of correspondence and public notices. For months following, responses arrived from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as from Belgium, France and Sweden. Besides the congratulatory remarks, there were many promises of future visits, affirmation for their choice of partner, and the renewal of friendship at the beginning of a new phase of life.
Researchers interested in social rituals and letter-writing customs of America in the early 20th century will find this series of letters engrossing.
Description: Archive of Judge Richard Hartshorne and his wife, Ellen Fritz (nee Sahlin) Hartshorne.
[America. Early 20th century.] Approx. 550 letters, 1,150 manuscript pages ink, 200 pages pencil; most in original envelopes. Condition, overall, very good.