Call me Katie
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we are delighted to have former VHS employee Margaret Kidd recount one of her favorite love stories from our manuscripts collection. While at the VHS, Margaret processed the Rosier family papers as part of her work with the Archives department.
What do you call your significant other? Maybe you call them “sweetie” or “baby” and think nothing of the casualness of the gesture. Courtship used to be much more formal. The simple change in the opening salutation or closing of a letter could speak volumes. Even more telling is when a letter has pieces cut out of it to obscure romantic sentiments. You can see both of these in the Rosier family papers at the Virginia Historical Society. Contained within that collection is the story of a friendship that blossomed into love.
Fitz William Rosier was born in England in 1808 and had a life there that read like a novel. He fell in love with a young woman, Ann Dunn, who played the organ at the local church. His father disapproved and sent him away to France, hoping that the budding romance would fizzle because of the separation. It did not. Rosier came home and married Ann in 1832. All was well for several years, but then tragedy struck. Ann and their two children died in 1839. In 1840, the recently widowed Fitz William immigrated to the United States and made his way to Richmond, Virginia. There he worked as a music instructor as well as a translator of German, French, and Italian music.
It was in Richmond where the relationship between Fitz William Rosier and Sarah Catherine “Kate” Walthall began. He was her music teacher, but there was nothing tawdry about their relationship. They were friends, nothing more. Their correspondence began in 1866 and continued when Kate moved to Roanoke to work at the Hollins Institute (now Hollins University) and Fitz William moved to New York. The letters carried such salutations as “Dear Mr. Rosier” and “Dear Miss Kate.” The content was typical of friendly letters. It concerned health matters, music, work, and money. The frequency of Fitz William’s letters, however, indicates that this was more than a mere friendship. In his letters, he worried when he didn’t hear from her and wrote several letters for each one she sent. He sometimes worried that he’d offended her in some way. His closings on those occasions changed from “yours ever” to “sincerely.”
Another indication appears in the letter Fitz William sent in August of 1874. Affixed to the top was a wedding announcement of a “C. L. Walthall.” He explained that another former student sent this to him because she felt that he’d “like to hear something of one in whom you were always so deeply interested.” He went on to explain that he knew it wasn’t Kate because she was “christened altogether in a different manner.” He also commented that he would be very happy when Kate decided to get married and that he would wish her well.
Kate, for her part, didn’t ever intend to marry. In fact she wrote to Fitz William in May 1869 stating, “I do not think Providence designed me for marriage.” It also turns out that during one long period when Kate didn’t write very often it was because she was experiencing significant financial issues and didn’t wish to burden Fitz William with her problems. In 1876, she did, however, ask him to find out if there was any value in some Confederate money she had. Of course he reported that there wasn’t. By that time it was apparent that Fitz William had developed feelings for her. On New Year’s Day in 1875 he began writing his life story for Kate, which went on for more than thirty pages. In 1876 he wrote more directly how he felt. In reference to her last letter, he wrote:
“I carry it in an inside pocket of my vest on the left side and don’t feel too flattered when I say my old silly heart beats against it ‘nineteen to the dozen’ whenever I think of you, which is just about all the time. And don’t be angry either that I should tell you of it. Is it my faulty that I continue and shall ever continue to look upon you as the best, kindest and dearest friend I ever had? And is there any thing wrong, if I tell you how much I love you when, as you know, it can only be as ‘the moth adores the star?’” (August 29, 1876)
Kate wrote in January 1877 to let him know that she’d moved and was now teaching music. Her new address was very near Mrs. Pellet’s “where I first saw you.” She continued in a teasing manner and said she’d been thinking of him, but refused to write because he’d not yet wished her a Happy New Year. Kate went on to discuss her work and how much easier her life might have been had she married when she was younger. However, she wished for the “delightful intercourse of congenial minds . . . the happy, trustful companionship . . . things which the unmarried dream of as belonging to wedded lives, and perhaps which the married never realize.” She quickly added that he shouldn’t interpret this as her wanting marriage. She continued to admonish Rosier for how he addressed her and made the following suggestion:
“It strikes me that your letters have a stiff affected look beginning with ‘Dear Miss Kate’ so for the New Year, I want you to strike a pencil line thorough the Miss. If anybody should ask to see the letter I can rub the pencil mark out. Mrs. Pellet calls me “Sarah” why shouldn’t you call me ‘Katie.’”
She closes with “Yours, Katie.”
After such professions, it should come as no surprise that by 1877 a curious thing began to occur. Kate started cutting out the salutations and closings of many of their letters. Sometimes entire sections are removed.
It’s obvious that their correspondence had turned romantic and that she altered them to keep their words to herself. The correspondence continued until the two wed on June 20, 1880. At the time of their marriage, Kate was forty-two and Fitz William seventy-two. Their happiness together, however, was short lived. Two years later Fitz William Rosier died. Kate’s family asked her to move from New York back to Virginia, which she did. She lived with her sister, Mary Jane Armistead, and her family. After Mary Jane’s death in 1883, Kate remained, and as “Aunt Kate,” she devoted herself to the care of her nieces and nephews.
It may be that she didn’t cut up these letters until later. There are annotations on some of them, which suggest that Kate often read them and that she may not have wanted others to see the loving sentiments that were meant only for her eyes.
To find out more about Fitz William and Kate check out the Rosier family papers (Mss1 R7305 a) at the Virginia Historical Society.
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