Early American Portrait, Margaret Henderson and Letter-Book Archive
First Floor - Parlor and Keeping Room
Portrait: Pastel on paper; 18 ½” h. x 13 ¾” w. (sight size). Letter-book: Brown ink on wove paper, 6 ¼” x 8” sheets; 11 sheets, plus three
stamped, folded, and postmarked family letters, 3” x 5”.
In half pose profile, a young Margaret Henderson with upswept hair style, in a high-waisted blue gown with double white neck ruffle, against a grey ground.
Portrait is well executed and in very good condition. In period gilded molded frame, glazed. Circa 1825-1830.
Together with Margaret Henderson’s (b. 1805) Schoolgirl Letter-book, dating over a period
of three months in 1820 while she attended the Linden Hall School in Lititz, Pennsylvania.
[Founded in 1746, the Linden Hall School is the oldest day and boarding school for girls in
the United States.] Linden Hall School confirms from their archives that Margaret
Henderson was fifteen years old when she enrolled at the school in 1820. The letter-book, containing a series of weekly letters to Margaret’s parents, and three family letters to her over a three month period, October to December 1820, comprises an important
record of life for a teenage schoolgirl in rural Pennsylvania in the early nineteenth century.
Excerpts, for example, detail the difficulties of Margaret’s buggy transport traveling from
Shippensburg to Lititz, Pennsylvania, a journey of two days and about 80 miles. In another, she writes of her loneliness and longing to hear news from her family. Another letter describes the distressful news received by her friend at the school of the accidental death of a brother. In a letter from Margaret’s mother, she writes of Margaret’s sister giving birth alone with no one to assist other than “the girl” (presumably, a servant), and of the sister’s poor condition and potential impending death as a result of the childbirth. Documents such as these letters, along with a portrait of the writer serve as an important historical record, capturing details of daily life in early nineteenth century America—these are rare artifacts and survivors.