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Kansas Memory Blog

Romance in the 1880s

Posted by Megan Rohleder on Feb 14, 2024

By: Cordell Moats, Digital Archivist

Today we can communicate instantaneously with others all around the world, but in the 1880s communication relied heavily on letters such as the ones contained in the John Bruere and Lydia Miller Letters Collection. This collection centers around the long-distance courtship of John Bruere and Lydia Miller.

John Bruere and Lydia Miller began exchanging letters before they ever met each other in person. For at least John and Lydia, the concept of a long-distance courtship with a stranger was not a common practice. John stated in his first letter that this was the first time he had wrote to someone in this way. [5] Upon receiving his first letter, Lydia Miller replied that “It was quite a surprise to me, as we are entire strangers, yet some of our warmest friends have also been strangers to us.” [6] It was their mutual acquaintance, Tom McCoy, that encouraged both to begin this line of communication. 

As a bachelor living in Sherman County, Kansas in 1887, John found that finding companionship was a difficult task; as he explains, “it is a vary dreary life to live a bachelor’s life + alone at that.” [3] The beginning of these letters focused on learning more about each other. Lydia asked a lot of questions in her first letter, and John spent most of his reply answering her queries. Lydia discussed how important her church was to her, and while John was not a member of a particular church, he believed “…most any denomination is good if we live up to them.” [12] Eventually they began to discuss other topics, including John’s travels and where he had begun homesteading. While working on the railroad John reflected “This is not near as nice a country as it is down in Kansas... where I live the soil is very good for all kinds of grain we have no stones I haven’t found a stone on my place and there is not a ditch every body that comes there says it is the pretest country they ever saw.” [18]

In later letters John and Lydia discussed more personal beliefs. In one letter Lydia stated that “Our happiness in this world does not depend upon how much we possess but upon what kind of lives we live.” [43] John considered Lydia’s thoughts and responded “I think happiness is worth far more then riches for any one with a true heart a good character is far better than those without… I always desired to live a happy and contented life, I have lived that so far, or lived that way as near as I could, although I have had a great many trials… I think we should make one another’s burdens as light as possible but the main thing is love.” [40] They also discussed Lydia’s passion for religion, and John reassured her that he felt “a Christian will love and help make a happier life than one who is not as a general rule I would not think of depriving you of your Christian life whatever.” [40]

Reading these courtship letters gives us an interesting insight into the role of love and companionship in this early period of Kansas history. The collection serves as one example to help answer questions about what individuals valued and prioritized when seeking companionship in this period of the late nineteenth century. These letters are only part of John and Lydia’s story, and they leave readers and researchers wanting to know the rest. Luckily, we received a postscript prepared by one of their descendants, a granddaughter named Verda. Here we learn that John and Lydia got married shortly after finally meeting in person. They moved to John’s Kansas Homestead near Goodland where they had four children. In 1894 they moved back to Lydia’s family home in Iowa, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Verda stated that Lydia was a sweet and loving little grandmother, and that John was an easy-going and kindly grandpa. [70]


To view the John Bruere and Lydia Miller Letters collections visit https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/44685, and https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/449709


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