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Martha McCrorey Thorn Papers

One hundred five manuscripts, 1879-1895, of Martha McCrorey Thorn supplement the Library's lively 1887 diary of Thorn's student days at Columbia Female College and provide a fuller picture of this young woman who died at the untimely age of twenty-six. Martha was a native of Blackstock, near the Fairfield-Chester line. Her letters, which date from her school years through her career as a schoolteacher, reveal interesting and uncommon ambitions, including the study of medicine. She read her physician grandfather's medical books and considered applying to a women's medical college in New York. In 1895, she became dissatisfied with her teaching options, so she contacted the Chester County delegation and tried to get a clerk's job at the convention drafting South Carolina's new constitution.

Martha kept in touch with a large following of cousins, friends, and suitors; local family names like Banks, Doty, Thompson, Beaty, Rast, and Brice appeared among her correspondents. Fitzhugh Banks, a Presbyterian clergyman, wrote her constantly from Columbia Theological Seminary and later from his pastorates in Louisiana and Mississippi. On 25 October 1893 he described his visit to the Chicago World's Fair: "The Electricity Building was ablaze with lights of every shade of color. The fountains sent up illuminated columns of spray as varied in hue as the colors of the rainbow."

In 1891, Martha visited her sister near Texarkana, Tx., and described her sojourn in the "wild west." One epistle to M.W. Doty in Winnsboro, 28 July 1891, hinted that her Southern charm captivated even critics of the "lost cause"—"Miss Tyson returned yesterday, and Mr. Kane left on the same train for Hot Springs and a trip North to his relatives. He certainly expects to make `pop calls' as he said he would return in two weeks. He has been right friendly with me since our disagreeable little chat some time ago over the North and South. I think I wrote you about it....The noted infidel, J.D. Hall, died some days ago in Texarkana. He was originally from Edgefield, S.C. He has been living here for a number of years, and has made money on whole sale groceries."

Despite her circle of ardent admirers, Martha never married. Perhaps she had not abandoned her dreams of medical school. (The admissions officer had advised her to save up tuition beforehand, not to work her way through.) Or she may have thought along the same lines as the young woman acquaintance who wrote her in October 1895, "I have no thought of taking the fatal step soon. Life is too pleasant just as it is to tamper with it—let well enough alone. Somehow I've got it into my head that Amelia Rivers' definition of married life is a really true one—`champagne with the sparkle off.'"

While teaching school at Van Wyck, Martha suddenly fell victim to a bout of "hemorragic fever, or as it is sometimes called `yellow chills.'" She died on 20 November 1895. The last items in the collection are letters of condolence to her mother and sisters.

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