Negotiating Boundaries of Southern Womanhood: Dealing with the Powers That Be

By Janet L. Coryell; Thomas H. Appleton Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

Indispensable Spinsters

Maiden Aunts in the Elite Families of
Savannah and Charleston

CHRISTINE JACOBSON CARTER

In August 1843, Harriett Campbell, an aging Savannah spinster, received the distressing news that her older sister Lillie had died in the North. She promptly wrote her nephew to convey her grief and share with him her dilemma. Everyone in the family needed her, and she could hardly decide who to attend to first. First, Lillie's children wanted her to come to them: “I have received several letters from New Port, and my dear [nephew] George and his Sisters appear to wish for me very much ... [George] said, `if you can come on my Dear Aunt let me beg you to do so.' ” Harriett felt compelled to go to them, but other family members also needed her. “I am quite divided in feelings, knowing how much they wish for me, at the same time, my dear Brother says I am such a comfort to him, and in the delicate state of [his wife's] health, I think it best for me to remain entirely in her chamber, ” she explained to her correspondent. Meanwhile, a niece who lived nearby was also ill, so Harriett predicted, “I shall be obliged to take the entire charge of the house.” Fortunately, she wrote, soon “Fenwick [an unmarried niece] will be here, when I shall feel they will be able to spare me better, for they all daily remark, `we know not what we should do without you.' ” Caught between beckoning relatives, Harriett found herself both burdened with a sense of responsibility and impressed with a sense of her own importance. 1.

Like many other unmarried women, especially those from elite, antebellum, urban families, Harriett, in her role as the maiden sister and aunt,

____________________
1.
Harriett T. Campbell to George Jones Kollock, August 24, 1843, Edith Duncan Johnson, ed., “The Kollock Letters, 1799—1850, ” Georgia Historical Quarterly 31 (December 1947): 318—19.

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