In October of 1909, at the age of sixty-five, Frances M. A. Roe’s Army letters from an Officer’s Wife is published by D. Appleton and Company. She prefaces the book with a short introduction-
“Perhaps it is not necessary to say that the events mentioned in the letters are not imaginary-perhaps the letters tell that! They are truthful accounts of experiences that came into my own life with the Army in the far West.”
Roe introduces her collection of letters dated from 1871 to 1888, as the factual account about her life on the Army posts situated in stateless territories and Native American tribal lands. The book’s preface informs us-
“All flowery descriptions have been omitted, as it seemed that a simple, concise narration…was in keeping with the life, and that which came into it.”
In contemplating Roe’s forthright statement, we know private letters often share musings and personal incidents about our lives, what we’re doing, and things of a personal nature not meant to be shared beyond the confines of family and friends. With that said, Roe is telling us her book is a hand selected compilation of letters that have been personally altered to present a stylized picture of herself while living on the Army posts. She has intentionally left out information that we are not privy too. However, what is most important is how she has selectively chosen to be remembered.
Oftentimes, women’s diaries and letters such as Roe’s book are usually categorized into the dusty bins of history. They are often reviewed by academic scholars as secondary sources yielding descriptions about army and calvary camps and forts living conditions. The women’s writings are usually referenced for their interesting historical domestic details provided by the wives and mothers of soldiers. They are often read for the rare glimpse into their lives and roles including Roe, who was an army officer’s wife.
Yet, unlike many of the published books and diaries, the primary thread interwoven throughout Roe’s letters is that of a self congratulatory and accomplished woman. Is it possible that Army Letters… should also be catalogued within a more contemporary classification? Particularly at a time when women were seeking social-change, independence and re-imagining new roles beyond the accepted norms of the 19th and 20th century. What I am saying is Frances Roe’s life in many ways, was that of an early feminist. She celebrates her athletic abilities and sportsmanship throughout her book, clearly featuring her courageousness and independence out West with the army. She writes about her many life accomplishments with fewer restraints unlike her contemporaries back East, and proclaims the life that many 19th and early 20th century suffragette women had not yet actualized.
To be continued:
“Destiny is not a matter of chance”