Saturday, July 3, 2021

Sepia Saturday: Letters from Peggy

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt features a group standing on the steps of Oxford. Immediately the grand steps of Wilson Hall at Madison College (now James Madison University GO DUKES!) came to mind. For years Wilson Hall was the main administrative building and the centerpiece of all ceremonies, most notably graduation.

Moi graduating June 1973
Madison College

In June 1973, I walked up those steps, crossed the portico to receive my diploma and shake President Ron Carrier’s hand, and then descended the steps to return to my seat.

Twenty-three years before then, my mother walked those same steps to receive her diploma. Getting there was not that easy though.

I am still reading through letters found after 70 years in my grandparents’ attic. My mother and her college roommates kept in touch during summer breaks. Momma started out at Shenandoah College which at that time was located in Dayton, Virginia. Shenandoah was a junior college then, so many of her friends returned home after graduation. However, Momma and her best pal Peggy Compher from Arlington, Virginia, planned to become teachers, so they set their sights on Madison College.

Peggy Compher

In the summer of 1948, Peggy wrote often about her struggle to find a job. One of her letters was typed, probably to demonstrate her poor typing skills which were to blame for failure to land a secretarial position. Peggy’s typos and attempts at correction were amusing ornaments to the reports of beer parties, sunburn, and brief reunions with friends. As she said, none of her summer activities were as fun as the times at Shenandoah:

7 Jun 1948

This is not Peggy with Momma (on the left)
but there's the fire escape ~

Every letter from Peggy included a reminder to Momma to “Hurry up and write to Madison!” Why was Momma dragging her feet? Why did she need reminding? Peggy was so confident that she requested “Mary Eleanor Davis” as a roommate. Still, every letter included that desperate reminder to find $10 for that application and furthermore to request Peggy as her roommate.

With school starting in September, Peggy was getting antsy:

2 Aug 1948 

Good God, gal, you’ve gotta get in at Madison! I don’t want to room with some ole snob – ‘twould be no fun at all if I didn’t have you for ma roommate – can’t your aunt pull a few strings? [she was referring to my grandaunt Violetta Davis Ryan, a member of the faculty] Or is that impossible for anyone to do? You know what? I know you don’t – I received a little card from Madison, to order gymn suits. Now, isn’t that farty? I’ve already had 2 yrs of that course – or do they require 4 yrs? I can’t understand that catalog.


Peggy’s next letter revealed a clue to Momma’s hesitation about applying to Madison:

I am so thrilled about Madison, and I do hope you can go. I can understand about your being poor, cause building now is terrifically high. Hope your aunt stands by. I’m surely she will, your devoted aunt! Lucky you. We will really have a right rare ole time next year. I can’t wait for Sept 20. (That’s when we register)


So that must have been when Granddaddy was starting to build their house. Money must have been tight.


Peggy finally got good news and replied:

Oh happy day! So you’re going to Madison – and even have a room, goodly goodly. I certainly hope that we have a room together. Did you request me for your roommate, I do hope? After all, we must stick together. O.K? I’ll try to be extra good this year. You do want me for a roommate, don’t you?

 With registration less than a month away, the roomies started planning their move into Junior Hall:

My radio is also on the blink. Can you bring your light? How about rugs, curtains, bedspreads, dresser scarfs? Should we wait till we get there to figure that out. I have several dresser scarfs, what color? Any novelties? I don’t know exactly what to bring. Of course, I have my faithful alarm clock!

Hmm, there must be a good story for that alarm clock to merit an exclamation point.

I never met Peggy, but I think I would have liked her. Here are the cute things I love about her:

  • Her funny little use of “-ly” even though not grammatically correct – did you notice “goodly”? She typically signed her letters with “write soonly.”
  • The sprinkling of Spanish in her letters, for example “I miss you mucho”; the clothes she wanted to buy were “expensivo” ; she called Paul, her boyfriend, “Pablo.”

It would be muy bueno if you would step on over to Sepia Saturday soonly to read what others made of this week’s theme. Goodly! Goodly!


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. What fun letters! Too bad you don't have your mother's side of the correspondence. I like the use of -ly. I wonder if that can become a trend. I may use it myself.

  2. A delightful post! And isn't it neat to know your Mom was such a fun sport. I think she sort of had to be with a friend like Peggy. What a pair they must have been! :)

  3. This is a fun post and I agree with La Nightingale. I am jealous, though. I have always wanted a house with an attic. An attic with old things in it, Like letters. No attic. :(

  4. I echo Kathy - how I would love to have a long lived in family home with an attic to rummage through to discover memorabilia, such as a cache of letters. Good to have a happy post to read in these challenging times.

  5. Peggy was a goodly friend. She and Momma met up at the Shenandoah reunions. I think there are pictures of the two of them.

  6. As N'gail says, a delightful post! And I've learned a new decorating term – dresser scarfs!? Who knew? You've selected just the right material to let us meet Peggy as a real person and imagine your Mom's letters. My mom also treasured her college girlfriends and stayed in touch with them for 70 years.

  7. What a fun bunch of stories from those letters! I'd sure room with Peggy!
    Happy Independence Day

  8. What fantastic letters! Kudos to your mother for saving them. I love the one about dangling from the fire escape. So great your mom made it to Madison. My mom always remembered her college days at Potsdam in upstate New York -- where she met my dad and, like your mother, stayed in touch with college friends for the rest of her life.

  9. As you know, I have more letters than I could ever count. They sure give you a glimpse into every day life in whatever time period they're in.