Note: This section contains detailed background information about the letters, where they were discovered, and their authors, Fred and Evelyn Alight. For a shorter overview of the letters, please see the Introduction.
Where The Letters Were Found
The Archives and Research Collections Centre at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada is home to a unique archival collection of books, newspapers and ephemera, as well as many documents and records of a public or personal nature. Often items are donated to the University when their owners believe they may be of interest to researchers. Such was the case with an exceptional collection of letters that I have had the good fortune to be able to examine. They have lain virtually unread for almost eighty years. The collection has the added advantage of being a two-way dialogue between a well-educated, articulate couple at a time of immense change.
The correspondence is between Frederick Stanley Albright and Elnora Evelyn (Kelly) Albright, and it spans the time of their early courtship, engagement and marriage and their separation in 1917 when Fred went overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War 1. Evidently they had known each other for some time before beginning to correspond.
About Fred Albright
Fred Albright, the son of Josiah D. and Sarah Elizabeth (Moyer) Albright, was born in South Cayuga, Ontario on March 23, 1883. The family moved to a fruit farm in Beamsville, Lincoln County, Ontario in 1895 where he received his early schooling. He attended Victoria College, University of Toronto (1904-1908) and received a B.A. in political science. After leaving university Fred moved to Calgary, Alberta where he completed a law degree, and was awarded the Thompson Prize in his final year. He practised as a barrister and solicitor with the law firm of Clarke, McCarthy, Carson and MacLeod and lectured in law at the University of Alberta.
About Evelyn Kelly
Evelyn Kelly, the daughter of the Rev. Samuel Judson Kelly and Elizabeth Jane (Jennie) Kelly, was born on November 14, 1890 in Cayuga, Haldimand County, Ontario. Her father was a Methodist minister and, as was the practice then, was moved to a different living every few years. Evelyn attended Victoria College from 1908 to 1912, graduating with a B.A. in English and History. After her graduation she returned to live with her parents who had settled in Thorold, Ontario. She helped with the running of the household, taught at local elementary schools and involved herself in various church activities. After her engagement in August 1913 much of her free time was taken up with preparing her trousseau.
About The Letters
The correspondence between Fred and Evelyn (who was still at Victoria College and living in the women's residence at Annesley Hall) began in 1910, with only a few letters each year. They wrote perhaps only once or twice a month between 1910 and the summer of 1913. At this early stage Fred seemed the more persistent as he exhorted Evelyn to write. Most of the letters were written from September 1913, after the couple had become engaged during Fred's visit to Ontario that summer, and June 1914 when Fred returned east to be married. During that time they wrote daily, sometimes twice a day.
After their marriage in June 1914 and honeymoon abroad, Fred and Evelyn set up home in Calgary. The pair was in London at the beginning of August in 1914 when war was declared and, like many others, made plans to return to Canada as soon as they could.
Fred felt compelled to write about events as they unfolded over that fateful weekend. (His account is placed after the letters.) The peaceful time which he and Evelyn enjoyed in Oxford a week before was now overshadowed by their present fears and uncertainties. He echoed the mood of the Empire when he wrote "The course of Right will triumph. Vicissitudes may come and defeats may be ours, but in the end we shall win because our cause is right."
There are frequent letters from September to December 1915 when Evelyn came east to visit her family. As there are no letters for 1916 it can be assumed that Fred and Evelyn had been reunited after this trip and were living in Calgary. On their second wedding anniversary, June 12, 1916, Fred wrote a short account of the changes that the last two years had brought to their lives. (This is placed after the letters.) In 1917, the letters were often written over several days and were filled with news of wartime events.
Contents of the Letters
Between them Fred and Evelyn wrote over 550 letters. They exchanged gossip about family and friends and told of their activities, no matter how trivial, with humour and insight. They discussed their daily and social lives, religious beliefs, health concerns, relationships between men and women and their feelings about each other. Opinions were freely voiced on Feminism, women's suffrage and they were ardent supporters of the Temperance Movement. They expressed their views on such varied topics as popular entertainers, racial concerns, prostitution, food (their reference to dinner is the mid-day meal) the science of eugenics, and the political events and personalities of the times. When oil was discovered in huge quantities near Calgary in mid-October 1913 the population rushed to exploit the situation. Fred gave Evelyn a spirited account of how he and his friends attempted to stake their claim on an Indian reserve.
Evelyn was knowledgeable about plants and was fond of gardening. Both loved the outdoors and appreciated the changes of season and their letters present pleasing descriptions of the countryside at different times of the year. They shared a love of music and literature and quoted lines from their favourite poems. Occasionally they enclosed newspaper clippings of pieces they believed the other would appreciate. Fred loved the cultural and outdoor life of the west and hoped that Evelyn would feel at home there too. He considered Calgary fortunate to play host to world class musical and theatrical performers and to have its own symphony orchestra. He attended concerts and plays whenever he could. Although touring artists visited Toronto Evelyn had little opportunity to hear them, except on the Victrola. She played an active role in the church choir and was eager to pursue voice lessons. Both were interested in photography and occasionally exchanged snapshots. The correspondence displays the couple's patriotism to Great Britain and their distrust towards the United States and those who were not of Anglo-Saxon origin.
Relationship and Marriage
As the couple became less formal with each other Fred revealed his longtime love and admiration for Evelyn but hesitated to declare it, preferring to wait until his feelings were returned. Although Evelyn had several other suitors she did not take their advances seriously. Nor did she initially give Fred much encouragement as she was content to correspond with him without committing herself. She believed that she should use her college education and not rush into marriage. She confided her ambitions and frustrations to Fred, knowing that despite her education, as a woman she could not enter a 'man's world.' As a minister's daughter she was even more confined. Yet she had firm convictions, especially on women's issues, and was not afraid to speak her mind.
At times the long distance relationship started to show signs of strain as misunderstandings and annoyances arose. They struggled in their own way to seek compromise and resolution. They were candid with each other in all things and did not shy away from speaking the truth as it appeared to them. However, they took pains not to upset each other with their forthright views.
The couple wrote of their expectations for marriage and of the roles each would play. They both wanted children but, like many women of the time, Evelyn felt apprehensive about childbirth and was aware of its risks. Evelyn gives the impression of a woman ahead of her time. At first she seemed reluctant to want to embrace domesticity wholeheartedly. Fred understood her misgivings and reassured her. There was no hint of the war to come as the couple expressed their thoughts on what they believed would be a promising future.
On June 21, 1916 Fred signed his attestation papers and enlisted as a private. Although Evelyn was deeply distressed when Fred enlisted she would never have persuaded him otherwise. He was promoted in October 1916 and spent some time as a recruiting serjeant in Alberta. In late March 1917 Fred was sent for training to England with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force and to France in September 1917. As a lawyer Fred seemed ill-equipped to deal with the harshness of military life, especially as he had reverted to private from the rank of serjeant. (This was a required preliminary before non commissioned officers were sent to France.) However, he bore all physical hardships without complaint, even managing to find humour in grim situations.
Fred vividly portrayed his love for England in letters written when he was stationed there during the spring and summer of 1917. Whether exploring stately homes, cycling in the country through villages and market towns, or enjoying the freshness and beauty of his surroundings, his observations were perceptive and colourful. He gave eyewitness accounts of the damage caused by German air raids near his camp and in London. Fred was outspoken in his criticism of the military and expressed his disillusionment but knew that he could not say too much as letters might be censored. Evelyn voiced her own disenchantment with attitudes that friends and colleagues held about the war. Fred's letters from France graphically portrayed the daily life of soldiers and civilians in a country in the midst of war and he compared his impressions of the French countryside with those of England.
After only three years of marriage Evelyn found herself alone, with unfamiliar responsibilities and the constant worry of Fred's safety. With Fred overseas she studied law and was articled in his office. Evelyn's later letters suggest her growing maturity and her ability to tackle problems as they arose. No matter how discouraging the war reports, the couple remained optimistic about the outcome.
Some letters referred to in the correspondence are missing; either destroyed or lost through moving or on mail boats sunk during the war. Fred returned Evelyn's letters to her for safe keeping when he was overseas. Given the circumstances, it is remarkable that so many have survived.
Arrangment of Letters
Mention should be made of how such a vast quantity of material has been arranged. Those parts of letters which did not appear to add to the development of the narrative or are repetitive have been deleted, this being shown by ellipsis points. The letters have been assembled in chronological order by month, with each month for the most part forming a chapter. Although this has resulted in the uneven size of some chapters it was felt that this scheme would provide clarity. Where letters are undated they have been placed where they most likely might have appeared. As Fred Albright initiated the correspondence, where the dates of his and Evelyn's letters are the same, those of Fred have been placed first.
Spelling and punctuation in the correspondence have been retained to reproduce the original material as accurately as possible. Punctuation has been modified for purposes of clarification. Underlining in the letters has been kept. Fred and Evelyn often invented words but their meaning is usually clear from the context. They had various names for each other. Fred sometimes called Evelyn "Kiddie," or by her first name "Elnora," shortened to "Nora." Evelyn called Fred "Rusty," "Torchy" or "Ferd." Evelyn's family called her "Nona" or "Non," a name which Fred did not often use. Wherever possible the full names of people have been provided.
Comments relating to friends and fellow students in the notes at the end of each chapter are taken from: "It's Late and All the Girls Have Gone: An Annesley Diary 1907-1910" by Kathleen Cowen. Editors Aida Farras and David Knight. Toronto: Childe Thursday, 1984.
Since these letters were published, two diaries were discovered among the papers of Frances Gage. Ms Gage has kindly donated the diaries so that they may be added to the Website.
The first diary begins on November 14th, 1903 and ends on July 25 1908, a time in which Evelyn and her friends were preparing for College. The second diary was kept by Evelyn from October 18, 1908, when she was a student at Victoria College, Toronto and living at Annesley Hall, the women's residence. The diary ends on February 12, 1912.
Both diaries reveal a good deal about the development of Evelyn's character during mid-adolescence and young womanhood.
Also included are three Letters of Recommendation, regarding Evelyn, written by Faculty Members at Victoria College in the summer of 1913 as well as a personal letter to Evelyn from Miss Margaret Addison, (Dean of Annesley Hall) which was enclosed with her Letter of Recommendation.