In our world of electronic and digital communications, one wonders what evidence of our day-to-day lives will exist for our descendants in the next century. Modern technology has given us the ability to be in almost constant touch with one another. But, will our emails and texts still exist a hundred years from now? For decades, letter writing was often an everyday occurrence for most people. Keeping in touch meant sitting down with pen and paper. Receiving a letter was often an exciting event, especially from someone miles away. And, for many, including Alexander Graham Bell and his family, these letters were something to be kept, not simply discarded once read. The Bells were profuse writers and as a result, their story can be told today through thousands of letters.
Born in Scotland in 1847, Alexander Graham Bell lived a unique life. Influenced by his father, Melville, a professor of elocution, and his deaf mother, Eliza; the loss of his brothers, Melville and Edward, to Consumption; and marriage to his deaf pupil, Mabel Hubbard, Bell left a legacy to the world that few could imagine living without. How this came to pass is best revealed through the letters between these individuals. Here, we present those letters to you.
With Mabel on her return trip home, Alec sent this letter to Chicago, filling her in on recent telephone events. He also notes the return “visit” of an unwelcome condition, which, unfortunately, would plague him for the rest of his life.
No. 18 Beacon Street,
Boston, Dec. 1st, 1876
My darling little girl
How long the time seems between this and the eighth – but I know that every day brings us nearer together and I shall try to be patient.
I wonder whether this will reach you in Chicago – and I wonder whether I shall have good news to transmit tomorrow.
Mr. Watson left this morning (Saturday) for the White Mountains on a special pass given him by the President of the Eastern Railroad – and we are to attempt to communicate by word of mouth through a wire 143 miles long.
Our experiment last Sunday was of course only conclusive so far as Salem was concerned. Although there is so little doubt in my mind that we had the circuit to North Conway that I have invited the Superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Co. – & the Superintendents of the Atlantic and Pacific – and District Telegraph Companies to witness the experiment.
Should we fail to establish communication. it will be a most ignominious downfall for me. Although, of course, I am very cautious in my way of expressing myself – speaking inconfidently of the success.
The Japanese have become interested in Visible Speech and I have now a student studying the system with the object of introducing it into Japan as a means of expressing the Japanese language phonetically.
I am now preparing to make a great effort to introduce the Physiological alphabet into Primary Schools. If this is successful my Normal School will be a success – If not – well! I shall try something else.
I have received a note from Dr. Collins Warren asking me to explain my system of Telephony before the Thursday Evening Club next Thursday. The Club is to meet at the house of Mr. Mason corner of Walnut & Beacon St., – and I am trying to make arrangements with the District telegraph Company to allow me the use of a wire for the occasion. I want to connect Mr. Mason’s house with my rooms in Exeter Place so as to make the experiment more striking.
Your mother forwarded a telegram to me yesterday announcing your departure from San Francisco. I am sorry she speaks so despairingly of Mrs. McCurdy’s condition.
Mr. Eustace Hubbard is quite unwell with a bilious attack.
Mr. James Hubbard writes me that there is an article in “Figaro” for November 6th descriptive of a “Telegraphe qui parle” – probably mine.
I haven’t an atom more news to tell you excepting that a troublesome visitor who has quartered himself upon me for the last three days is just preparing to take his leave – and right glad I am to get rid of him!
He occasionally pays me visits – but they are fortunately not of long duration.
Tonight he has been interfering with my letter – so please excuse it. Bad headaches are always unwelcome visitors and I hope to get rid of mine before tomorrow evening.
With ever so much love
Miss Mabel Hubbard.
The Bell Letters are annotated by Brian Wood, curator, Bell Homestead National Historic Site.