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Hill Country Living

Messaging Hasn’t Changed, Just The Way We Do It

By Coulter Fussell

It’s Spring Fever in Wagner Land! One of the things that I have learned from years of reading these letters is that language and our way or corresponding really hasn’t changed much. You hear all the time how due to phones and social media no one can truly communicate anymore. But I see no astounding difference between now and 1887 other than our text now lights up.

I have hundreds of what I’ve come to call “town notes” in the Wagner Letters, which are hastily written one liners — they can be invites, bits of gossip, meeting times, quick acknowledgements or thank you’s, etc — that are scrawled on small pieces of paper and folded in half or put in a tiny envelope. They are sent by messenger (a human being, not the Facebook app) to the recipient, which is always someone somewhere in town. These notes are filled with abbreviations, slang, and shorthand. They require no stamp and went back and forth throughout town all day and night. What we call a text message. 

Another critique of modern communication is that people are removed from actual interaction and never meet face to face. Well, maybe so. But same problem in 1887, as well. Starting a blind correspondence with someone you didn’t know who was only suggested to you as a possible match by a mutual friend was not unusual. You’d tell about yourself, send a picture. Things could get steamy. Online dating, anyone?

Lastly, “flip” and “mash” (or what we now call “hot” and “crush”) are two of my favorite teenage slang words that repeat in these letters. 


Holly Springs
March 14th, 1887

Dear John, 

Your letter was received and was very glad to hear from you although I wish it was longer. I have been having such a good time here that I forgot everything. I saw Miss Willie and she sends love and so does Miss Pearl. I am nearly dead to see the boys, that is some of them. Mamma says you must certainly stop here on your way going home. There are 3 young ladies in Memphis here and all are flip. I have told every one you are Sargent Major and will soon be Cap’t. Miss Pearl blushed when I told her that you were mashed on her. When school turns out you come straight home and we will have a picnic. I stand in with the saloon keeper and it don’t cost me a cent to play billiards and pool. 

Well, John, I will stop now, write soon,
Your True Friend, J.M.S.

Newnan, Ga
March 14, 1887

Mr. Wagner, Please accept thanks for kindness in answering my note. I feel so grateful to “EE” for affording me so much pleasure by selecting you as my correspondent, or shall I thank you instead? Perhaps, I should describe myself first – I am neither a brunette or a blonde, but have dark hair and eyes. Will be 17 May 25th, am a student of “College Temple” and will graduate in June, next. My home is only a short distance from our college, so you see I am very fortunate as regards to boarding…

Are you fond of music? I am very fond of vocal. Papa has just bought me a new Upright Piano and it is always now my accustomed position. I mean seated at the piano. I had an old instrument but, in tone it tended to one of a “jews harp”, so ancient it was, being my mother’s long ago. Music and flowers are my favorites…

Can’t you come to Newnan sometime? Do try, for I think I shall like you. My “Ideal” of an intelligent young man has always been a cadet, though I know very little about them but I know this much, they certainly present a most charming appearance, robed in “stripes” and “brass buttons”. Can’t you send your photo — in uniform? Please! I shall send you mine just as soon as I can visit the “artist”.

Now as you were so good as to sign your real name, I shall sign mine, 

Your Unknown Friend,
Jannie Burpee

It is a very ugly name, it is not? — J. B.


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