1895: Your Devoted Sister

Jamie Henderson, writer

Sept. 10, 1895

Dear Lottie,

Oh my dear, sweet Lottie, how I miss you! I have not yet been gone a week, and already I ache for one of your warm, buttery scones and kind words.

I’m so lonely here . . . the city is an ocean, I am a seashell — Father is the hurricane that carried me here to work in uncle Herman’s hotel. Do not misunderstand me, Little Sister, I’m happy to help the family. I understand Mississippi is not the jewel of the South it once was; I know that hand to mouth is no way to live, but I wish Father had not sent me so far from you.

Uncle has put me to work cleaning rooms while the guests are out, and cooped up in the lobby when they are in. I sleep in a coat closet, big enough for my cot and travel bag. My only solaces here are my letters and the hope that one day Father might let me come home — or perhaps send you here with me.

I am certain New York would be wonderful, if only I had you, my Lottie. The skies, bluer; the air, sweeter; my heart, happier.


Your devoted sister,

Clara Mae Morris






Sept. 17, 1895

Dear Lottie,

Your last letter has filled me with sadness. Do not cry for me!

New York is lonely, but it is not all bad. Uncle has a young Negro bell boy named Ernest Eugene Harvey who entertains me when no one is about. He stands at attention inside the door, ready to open it for ladies in velvet puffed sleeves and gentlemen in tightly pressed trousers, and occasionally his voice echoes across to where I sit.

“Claramae!” He says — he always puts my two names together into one; I cannot decide if I like it. “Did I ever tell you about when I told my ma I found two holes in my trousers?”

“No, Sir!” I reply, thinking of the time Mother scolded us for tearing our stockings to bits trying to climb a tree.

“Yes’m!” He counters. “Then I told her that’s where I put my feet through!”

He laughs himself silly! He reminds me of you in a way — other than the fact that he is older than your fourteen years — and although he makes me miss home a little less, he makes me miss you a little more.


Your devoted sister,

Clara Mae Morris




Oct. 15, 1895

Dear Lottie,

I know it has been a long while since I have written; something remarkable has happened!

My dear Sister, a famous singer named Yvette Guilbert has come all the way from France to stay in Uncle’s hotel while she is touring America! Oscar Hammerstein is in the midst of constructing a new theatre called the Olympia; Miss Guilbert is set to perform the first show there in December.

I hear you wondering how I know this, and I will tell you — Miss Guilbert has asked me to shadow her while she is in the city!

I do not know what she will have me do; maybe shine her shoes or carry her shopping bags. I am happy to help.

Send me your prayers! I have the feeling I am getting into something far beyond any control.


Your devoted sister,

Clara Mae Morris






Oct. 20, 1895

Dear Lottie,

I wish you could spend a day with Miss Guilbert as I have! You will not believe this, but she does not have me shine her shoes or carry her shopping or even walk a few paces behind her as to not be seen. Miss Guilbert — who insisted that I call her Yvette — lets me walk right by her side as we both discover the city in its entirety.

Once, as she caught me admiring a pair of silk chartreuse gloves, she turned to me with a mischievous glint in her eye and whispered that she had an even finer pair. She said she got them on holiday in Austria from a boutique that uses the finest cut crystals from K.S. & Co, a new company in Wattens, Tyrol. I hope that she will let me see them.

The theatre is coming along nicely, and should be done by the end of November. It is going to be magnificent! “Two theatres, a concert hall, a roof garden . . .” It sounds nothing like the theatres back home (Harris).

Speaking of home, I must ask that you not tell Father about Ernest Eugene. You know how he feels about . . . those people, and I would not want him sending me farther if he discovered I enjoyed the company of a Negro.

I urge you to do whatever Father asks of you. I know it is not ideal, but it is not our place . . . a woman’s place to question him. Not only is he a man; he is the head of our household. However awful he may be, he is still our father. Chin up — tomorrow is another day that my absence from you makes my heart grow fonder.


Your devoted sister,

Clara Mae Morris



Nov. 12, 1895

Dear Lottie,

I know you have yet to receive my last letter, but I simply could not wait to give you a full account of today’s events, especially the news Yvette informed me of this afternoon.

“Clara,” she said as we exited the hotel. “Have you heard about a man named Du Bois?”

I replied that I had not.

“Oh, Clara!” she said, sounding scandalized. “They must not speak of anything of importance down in Mississippi!”

She then proceeded to tell me of a man from Massachusetts, W.E.B Du Bois, who just became the first Negro to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University this past May (“W.E.B. Du Bois”). Father would simply keel over and die if he knew.

I mentioned this to Ernest Eugene this evening, and even he did not believe me at first! I had to swear on my grave that it was true, and now he has his head in the clouds dreaming of being a big city Doctor someday. I think his dreams are too big for his belt, but Yvette might disagree.

Yvette says the world is not the same in New York as it is in other places, and that certain rules do not apply to those who refuse to acknowledge them. I do not really understand what she means, but I suppose anything she says sounds lovely — even if the meaning behind it is lost.

Yvette insisted on buying me a paper from the New York Morning Journal which was just founded by William Randolph Hearst (Powell).

“Any woman worth her own while must be well-versed in current events, darling,” she said without batting an eyelash. “Give this a read tonight and tell me what you have learned when we meet tomorrow.”

I quite like reading the paper, and you would as well. The news is a wonderful business — so many new things in one place! Why has Father not let us have this?


Your devoted sister,

Clara Mae Morris



Nov. 27, 1895

Dear Lottie,

I have excellent news; I have decided to restrain myself and save it for the end. First, I must tell you what Yvette said today.

We were taking a rest on a bench outside of a hat shop when a woman rode by on a bicycle. I nearly gasped when I saw her, but Yvette just laughed at my shocked expression.

“It seems a little foolish to ride around in those skirts, do you not agree?” I could not even reply I was so shaken. “I heard that by the end of the century “all women . . . will bestride the wheel,” and there has been much talk of dress reform lately” (Zheutlin).

“What sort of dress reform?”

She looked at me with mirth glowing in her dark golden eyes, “Bloomers!” She cried, almost causing me to fall of the bench in surprise. Yvette said that, by the end of the century, all women will be wearing men’s bloomers! In public! Can you even imagine?

Alright, I have denied myself long enough and I cannot bear it — the theatre  is finished! Yvette and I visited it as soon as Hammerstein said it was complete on the twenty-fifth. It is a work of art. The walls are hung with ornate reds and golds, and the main stage is made out of glossy chestnut boards. I cannot wait to see what Yvette will do with it!


Your devoted sister,

Clara Mae Morris



Dec. 10, 1895

Dear Lottie,

I am furious! I cannot think or even speak I am so incredibly angry. I cannot believe I am only just now hearing of this; it has been going on since September!

Apparently Booker T. Washington has drawn up this document called the Atlanta Compromise, which states that Blacks in the South will conform to White rule — and W.E.B. Du Bois agrees with it! I have not lived in the city terribly long, but I swear these streets have changed something inside of me. This is not right! It is simply unfair that intelligent young men like Ernest Eugene should have to bow down to selfish men like our father!

Oh . . . I am so ashamed. I did not mean to say such a thing. I do not mean to make you think poorly of him, Lottie Pearl. Please forgive me . . . I am not sure what to believe anymore.


Your conflicted sister,

Clara Mae Morris


Dec. 17, 1895

Dearest Lottie,

Imagine the cool darkness of a new theatre, the smell of paint lingering in the air. Yvette reserved a seat for me in the balcony, where she says the sound carries the best. She even let me wear her chartreuse gloves!

In her signature yellow dress and long black gloves, she stood before a captivated audience. Yvette surveyed us with an ethereal grace surrounding her; I could feel her eyes meet mine and I knew that something was different.

Her song reached and pulled at something buried deep inside of me; I could not tell what it was, but it brought tears to my eyes. She owned the stage, the city, the world — I realized what she had been trying to tell me ever since she took me under her wing.

I have been afraid of other’s expectations. I lived under Father’s rule and did everything he asked. I did whatever uncle Herman wanted at the hotel; I followed Yvette all around New York because it is what she wanted. I am grateful for the time she has given me these past few months, because now I finally understand . . .

I am my own woman. The world around us is changing as we know it, and I am a part of that change. I no longer have to do or be what anyone else wants me to be and . . . I am so free.

I am going back to Uncle’s tonight, packing my things, and breaking out of this cage I have locked myself in these past seventeen years. I do not know where I will go; the world is full of big, bright, beautiful things . . . and I have not seen anything.

I enjoy writing to you . . . perhaps I will see if Hearst is hiring writers for his newspaper. I could work for Mr. Hammerstein, or maybe run off and marry Ernest Eugene! There is no telling where the wind may take me next; I only know I want you by my side. Live the life Father has tried to stop us from living for so long.

What will women become in the twentieth century? I could not begin to imagine if you asked me. I know that progress is slow, but it is still progress. I know that I want to be a part of it.


Your liberated sister,

Clara Mae Morris



Works Cited

Harris, Warren G. “Loew’s New York Theatre And Roof In New York, NY – Cinema Treasures”.

Cinematreasures.org. Web. 7 Apr. 2017.

Powell, John. Great Events From History. 1st ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2007. Print.

“W.E.B. Du Bois”. Biography. n.p., 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.

Zheutlin, Peter. “Bicycle And The Women’s Suffragette Movement Of The 1890S.”

annielondonerry.com. n.p., 2006. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.



“American Women In The 1890S | Synonym”. Classroom.synonym.com. n.p., 2017. Web. 28

Mar. 2017.

“Yvette Guilbert Facts, Information, Pictures | Encyclopedia.Com Articles About Yvette

Guilbert”. Encyclopedia.com. n.p., 2017. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.