Baltimore's Desires: Mapping Intimacy Through Letters From Slavery To Civil Rights

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English and Languages


Doctor of Philosophy

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"Baltimore's Desires: Mapping Intimacy through Letters from Slavery to Civil Rights" provides a new lens of Baltimore through the examination of preserved and unpreserved intimate letters which passed through Baltimore by prominent residential and visiting figures from the 1850's to the 1950's. Viewing intimacy through five different desires, this dissertation creates a map of Baltimore which transcends race, class, physical and mental health, sexual identity, gender, and temporal frameworks. Communicating due to a desire for freedom, Frederick Douglass, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Harriet Tubman highlight the lack of preserved and intimate letters by Baltimore's early African American community. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Lidian Jackson Emerson's intimate letters, as well as those written by Mark Twain and Olivia Langdon Clemens, explore correspondence written by prominent men for the sake of communication and companionship while traveling through Baltimore. The desire for mental and physical health and wholeness drives the intimate letters of renown Baltimore couples H. L. Mencken and Sara Haardt, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who were physically separated due to Haardt's and Zelda Fitzgerald's health disabilities. Emily Dickinson's letters to her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Gilbert (Dickinson) (written while Huntington taught at a girls' school in Baltimore); Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok's correspondence (written while Hickok was based in Baltimore, reporting for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration); and Dr. Esther Richard's (psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital) letters to Dr. Abby Howe Turner (professor at Mount Holyoke) expose the desire to write intimate letters to gain female intimacy. W. E. B. Du Bois and Nina Gomer Du Bois's letters sent to and from "Du Bois Cottage" on Montebello Terrace; Thurgood Marshall's missing personal correspondence with his first wife, Vivian Burey Marshall; and Clarence Mitchell, Jr.'s privately housed/unprocessed love letters to his wife, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, showcase the challenges of locating and examining private letters by public civil rights figures. By viewing and discussing a range of desires, prominent figures, and geographies within Baltimore's history, the intimate letter's vital role as a socio-political catalyst and underlying force of the human condition is undeniable, universal, and more relevant to Baltimore's current generation of residents and visitors.