Images of a Western Daughter An Analysis of the letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk 1867-1892
Elizabeth Chester Fisk of Vernon, Connecticut arrived in Helena as a new bride in 1867. Seeking to describe her new life to her mother, Elizabeth began a 26-year correspondence with her mother that lasted until the time of her mother’s death in 1893. In these letters to her mother Elizabeth expresses her opinions, values and beliefs and creates an image for her mother of her life on the frontier. Through the communication research method of content analysis, five themes emerged from the letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk: (a) Portraying a Fashionable Woman, (b) Presenting an Educated, Religious, and Morally Superior Woman, (c) Managing the Family Home Well, (d) Trying to be a Good Mother and (e) Becoming Politically Astute and Involved in Social Causes. Four of these themes reflect the nineteenth century’s traditional definition of the “cult of true womanhood” which defined woman as pure, pious, submissive and domestic. This definition designated women as proper or civilized and placed them in the role of civilizers. Elizabeth’s letters illustrate the tension and challenges in meeting this definition. The fifth theme shows Elizabeth falling outside the definition of a “true woman” through her political activism. Through the letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk, an image of a woman emerges who both attempts to meet the nineteenth century definition of a proper woman and also rebels against it.