A glimpse into what romance and marriage meant for a Southern couple at the dawn of our modern age
Dearest Hugh offers a window into courtship during the early twentieth century through a collection of some three hundred love letters exchanged between Gabrielle Drake and Hugh McColl from 1900 to 1901. Edited by Suzanne Cameron Linder Hurley, this correspondence illustrates the hopes and sacrifices of an upper-class couple forging a marriage in a small southern town.
A resident of Bennettsville, South Carolina, Hugh McColl enjoyed the social status that came with being the son of the president of the Bank of Marlboro. Hugh was twenty-seven and worked as a bank cashier at the time he began courting Gabrielle Drake in 1900. She was the daughter of James A. Drake, the clerk of court for Marlboro County, and was also a new graduate of Converse College, teaching at Bennettsville Graded School. The couple became engaged in May of 1901 and wed that November.
Although most of their courting visits were chaperoned, Hugh and Gabrielle could speak more freely in their correspondence and exchanged notes—often two or three a day—detailing their private emotions, desires, and anxieties. The letters address equality within the relationship, Gabrielle's career, choosing and furnishing a home, and allocation of household chores. Hugh's letters are earnest, sincere, affectionate, and sometimes suggestive. His devotion to business and community is clear, as is his concern over being able to provide for a family. Gabrielle's writings are coquettish and playful, but she also anguishes over choosing between a career and a spouse. The attitudes expressed by both Hugh and Gabrielle also speak to the ambitious drive and community-minded dedication the McColls would later instill in their family, including grandson Hugh McColl, the former president and CEO of Bank of America.
Hurley's insightful introduction places the correspondence into the broader context of recent scholarship on courtship rituals and the changing educational and social status for women during this time in American life.
A Marlboro County native, Suzanne Cameron Linder Hurley is the author of seven previous books, including A River in Time and The Historical Atlas of the Rice Plantations of Georgetown County and the Santee River. She earned her Ph.D. in history from the University of South Carolina, where she has been a research fellow in the Institute for Southern Studies. Hurley lives in Davidson, North Carolina.
"Suzanne Hurley's skillfully edited collection offers revealing insights into courtship and marriage at the beginning of the twentieth century. These rich letters bring an earlier time and a delightful couple to life as they struggle to come to terms with marriage and gender expectations in a rapidly changing world. Hurley's engaging introduction places Drake and McColl in the context of their in the small-town middle-class Southern world. Dearest Hugh is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand marriage in an earlier age."—Melissa Walker, editor of Country Women Cope with Hard Times: A Collection of Oral Histories
"Through a collection of hundreds of love letters, Dearest Hugh provides an intimate glimpse into early-twentieth-century courtship practices as experienced by members of the prominent McColl and Drake families of Bennettsville, South Carolina, while also offering a wealth of genealogical and historical insights into the couple's hometown and its surroundings. With her vast knowledge of Marlboro County, Suzanne Hurley gives readers a variety of local historical facts and connects this fascinating couple's courtship to prevailing customs of their time. From banks and buggies to families and farms, Dearest Hugh paints an informative, enlightening, and entertaining portrait of life and love in small-town South Carolina during the dawn of the twentieth century. This is a welcome addition to literature on our local history."—William Light Kinney, Jr., editor and publisher, Marlboro Herald-Advocate, Bennettsville, South Carolina