Series 2. Correspondence, 1832-2012

MS 605

3 boxes (1.5 linear feet)

View all digital

Series Overview

This series contains letters written to and from the Burgett-Irey family. Approximately 250 of these letters were written between 1832-1936. Many of the letters concern health and death, depicting the effects of prominent illnesses of the times like small pox, consumption, typhoid fever and whooping cough. The comings and goings of various family members are chronicled as well as accounts of visitors, weather, and day to day life in the late 19th century to early 20th century. The more notable individuals highlighted in this series are James Holmes, George Stevenson, Louisa Gass Kessel, Samp King, Kenneth Irey, Katherine Burgett Irey, and June Irey Guild. Included are many letters to and from Louisa (Lou) Gass Kessel, Katherine's grandmother, between 1863-1904. Her experiences teaching in Illinois are a frequent topic as are her travels and friends.

Letters Katherine Burgett Irey wrote to her family in Illinois after marrying Kenneth in 1929 make up another segment of the collection. The letters document her life as a new wife and mother from 1929 to 1933, highlighting the day to day responsibilities of a married, middle class woman during the early 1930s. Of particular interest are three letters from March 1933 in which Katherine writes about the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Great Depression bank crises.

The letter written by James Holmes to his Mother, Rebecca Weakly Holmes Boden, is particularly interesting because it documents James's duties as a missionary to the Chickasaw Indians. Another letter written by James Holmes dated 1834 vividly details his grief over his mother's death and his religious beliefs.

George Stevenson's fiery letter to his friend Samuel Gass in 1834 on the topic of Temperance is also notable. It is obvious that the two men wrote back and forth on the subject and the debate intensified. Stevenson rebukes the ideology of Temperance and the actions of its supporters, pointing out the hypocrisy of some of the leaders of the movement and the poor decisions of their followers.

Letters from Samp King to Louisa Gass Kessel in 1871 delve into topics such as bigotry in the church, Temperance, health, quality of schools, business, anti-war Democrat "Copperheads" and elections. In one letter he recounts the story of a controversial trial of a boy accused of arson and killing his family.

The effects of the Civil War are noted in multiple letters. Cousin Bobby writes to Lousia Gass Kessel urging her to send him listings of men killed from his regiment. He writes of the enormous number of soldiers killed and quesses that he has seen an average of 13 soldiers die in the hospital every day. In a letter written by an unknown author, the effects of the war on daily life are noted from the suspension of mail delivery to rebel forces occupying and plundering homes.

Other letters in the series include mention of Abraham Lincoln's death in 1865, preserving food and growing flowers. The remainder of the correspondence is comprised of Christmas and birthday cards June Irey Guild received from friends and family, more contemporary family letters and emails.

Collection Details




Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Katherine and Kenneth Irey
Katherine and Kenneth Irey