I’m trying to save a little so I’ll be able to get the steamer trunk and other things

To both parents from Bertha – February 19, 1913

[Note: Bertha is 23. She is now studying at the Art Students League of New York. She is preparing to visit her parents in the Philippines, where C.C. Ballou is stationed during the American occupation following the Philippine-American war.]

Dear Papa and Mamma,

Your letters arrived yesterday and I was very glad to get them. I have a few minutes tonight before dinner so I will write a few lines to go off _____ as there is a Philippine mail going there, I believe. The war scare seems to have relaxed a little today as Mexico has a new president but evidently it is not considered to be all over yet. Thank you for the check. Last month I was pretty extravagant, _____ a _____ box, some under ______ summer dress materials _____ at the midwinter sales – also took myself to $1.50 seat at the opera twice. I spent all my $65.00 but this month I’ve tried to be more economical and have saved – I will have saved a little over twenty dollars and of this month’s $65.00 altogether. I am about twenty-seven dollars ahead of what I will need for February in addition to the $65.00 you just sent for March. I’m trying to save a little so I’ll be able to get the steamer trunk and other things. I am also picking up along some of the other little things I am going to want to take over. As I said, I bought two light dresses at less than half price. Had to have a new traveling _____ as my old one was too disreputable to carry when visiting as I got one for _____ which I found at a sale which will last me through our Philippine tour.

Mrs. _____ was _____ for a moment this afternoon and I gave her your best regards and talked with her a little while. She asked me up to dinner for next Monday night. I am going. I am glad your furniture arrived in such good condition. _____ _____ least is satisfactory and the ______ sounded pretty good. I’m sorry Papa has to go out on _____ right away but hope they are well over with now.

The New York Times on 02/19/1913

I have been very glad to think of your so far away just lately for the papers have been so full of war scare that I would have been pretty uneasy if you had been near enough to be in any danger of going to Mexico. The 3rd Calvary was ready to _____ and the 3rd, 19th, and one other Infantry were under orders to leave at any moment, while a whole lot of Marines had already been ordered onboard a transport. It was too scary to be comfortable. I haven’t heard what _____ is doing in a long while.

Work is going a little better this week both the life class and in the portrait and I believe I have a fair start on a competition also. I wish the climate in the islands weren’t so hard to make myself work in but I believe I can work a bit anyway. I won’t be able to do anything that will show for much yet a while but I believe I can work at some of my own ideas and that will probably help me a great deal. I’m going to get me a little tiny “_____-_____” soon. One about as big as a Kodak that you can carry anywhere and make quick sketches with.

A friend of Mrs. Guthrie’s has been corresponding with me lately – trying to fix a date to call. She is living in Brooklyn so it is pretty hard for her to get here. I think it’s pretty nice of her to try. I am going down to call on Mrs. Farland just as soon as I get a minute free. Life seems awfully strenuous these days. We have had a little excitement lately and it may interest Papa to know that the thief they were hunting for – in the club –  last fall – has confessed – a kleptomaniac. I hate that sort of thing but there seem to be a certain number among us that are just irresponsible so it isn’t particularly disillusioning. It’s a satisfaction that while I knew the person she had never made any other appeal than one of pity and distaste.

I’m having a pretty good time. Am very well – weigh 118 pounds – have had no cold since Papa was here and am still very well satisfied with my roommates. Have not had the slightest unpleasantness since we’ve been together. I had a letter from Edna _____ _____ a few days ago. They are well enjoying their very mild winter in Maryland. Well, I must close now as I have very little time. I will mail this on the 20th and will try to get another off on the 24th.

Love to both.


February 19th, 1913

I believe I will make a portrait painter yet

To both parents from Bertha – March, 1913 (Approx.)

Dear Mamma and Papa,

I have a fate pursuing me into all sorts of queer experiences. Tonight I have been at the first reading of a play under the instruction of a professional actor and with three or four professionals in a cast of eight. I am a young man in a morality play to be given for the benefit of the club on April 17th and we expect to have a neat theater. I feel very odd indeed and hardly know how I will speak even my few lines but as the honor was thrust upon me, I will do my best and be thoughtful that the part is short. It is interesting to work with the others who are doing the big parts because they are real actresses though still studying. I am now practicing laughing. This is difficult to me inexperienced but Mr. Nath assures me it is perfectly simple.

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I spoke to Mr. Drummond this morning about summer school. He will probably teach at _____, about two hours from here, but is engaged in some big mural decorations and so busy he can’t be sure whether he has time and teach. There is always a summer school at Woodstock. I have about made up my mind that I might go to summer school for a month or two anyway to get a little start at landscape. I have seen some of the work of students after a summer course that was very good, students who had only studied last year at the League and then gone to summer school with a year less preparation than I have now so I believe there is a lot to be had from it. Also two months at this end of the year when I am right in the work is worth four at the beginning after a vacation. I believe it would be a great help to me in working alone on landscape as I will have to do a good deal, from lack of models, if I could have a little start to get me through the most discouraging part of learning to paint with an _______ palette.
As you have suggested my staying another year if I thought best, I take it almost for granted that you will not object to my putting in a little while longer right now and then coming to you a few months later at the most. I am going to plan to stay a month at summer school anyway and make my arrangements accordingly, since I can’t hear from you immediately. I will receive an answer to this probably about the end of May which if I am not here will be immediately forwarded by Miss Newman to _____ or Woodstock and if you don’t want me to stay, will still have time to catch the July transport if you think best. I wish when you write you would tell me exactly what you think and when you want me to come. I don’t like to be long way from you and in a way, I had to put off my departure even a month because I hate delays and like to do things when I have said I would and of course I want to go home but on the other hand as far as I can see, from my present artwork, it seems a very little matter to add two or three months at the outside to my years’ work and I can see how much of a start I might to get in that time.


I will inquire into the matter of expense but do not believe it will be more expensive than here through I will have some tuition to pay and of course they always stick artist _____ in the matter of board even in the Coventry. I supposed board will be six or seven dollars a week but hope to take Evelyn Hope as a romantic so it might be less. Traveling expenses to and from will be slight as Mr. Drummond makes the trip in twice a week during the spring and fall to give criticisms. It is evidently a very short distance.

Work is going about as usual. I had a pretty good portrait this week and had another D. It was also a fair likeness. Next week, I intend to have another D, if possible, and a better portrait. Drawing is so easy for me that I get likeness much more readily than most in the class even of the advanced students. It is a great satisfaction to me and I believe I will make a portrait painter yet. It is a think I can gain a great deal in by myself I believe, though of course it goes slowly. I am gradually growing used to working in paint and I think after a while I would learn to forget about the ways and means and then I would do better character work. Now I have adopted a plan which seems small in a way but is giving me confidence. I chose a position in the room that interested me with a given model and made a much better portrait than usual, managing to grasp the big features of shadow masses for the first time. The next week the model was posed in much the same place and the same general masses held good. I chose almost identically the same place and did very much better as I understood the lighting pretty well. This week I tried it again. Next week if possible, I will use the same position and then if I feel thoroughly able to cope with the situation there, I will move with a great deal more confidence to a new spot and go at the problem from a new point of view. In the meantime, I have gained a great deal more confidence so I believe my idea has been worthwhile. I expect a letter from you tomorrow so I will write more later.

Your letter was quite shorthand so there is not much to answer. I hope you got the letter you were expecting from me. My roommates say I don’t do anything else but write home but I realized that that was hardly exact. I went last night to hear Faust a second time. It was Saturday night and standing room is only a dollar. I thought Faust was worth a dollar so I went again. Favrar and Gilly sang. Favrar was not as good as Destin whom I heard before but her acting was better as she looks the part. I like Faust better than any other opera I have heard. It is perfectly wonderful. Now I must close as my hair is wet and drippy and this has to go in the morning.

Love from Bertha

P.S. I guess I only want to stay a month longer.

I think it was too but am obliged to confess that Mr. Drummond worked on it twice which made considerable difference

To both parents from Bertha – April 3, 1913

Dear Papa and Mamma,

This is the darkest, foggiest day I have ever seen in New York. I went up to the League this afternoon to see how the light was but couldn’t work as it was too dark to see in my corner. It didn’t matter much anyways because Mr. Drummond had approved my painting on Tuesday and there isn’t much more I can do to it. He says I’m improving as I could very well see myself in this week’s work. It was such a marked advance over my former work – and, I was told by various students, the best likeness in the class this week. I think it was too but am obliged to confess that Mr. Drummond worked on it twice which made considerable difference. He is certainly a wonderful teacher and very much interested in his pupils. The more I see and hear of the methods of the other teachers in the League, the more I am convinced that Mr. Drummond is the only one there who bases his teaching on the absolute sound principles and not mannerisms for a good foundation. I cannot imagine a better teacher and I would almost be willing to think after studying with Mr. Drummond a few years an artist need not go to any other but would have a good foundation upon which he could launch out for himself. I haven’t a good foundation because I am comparatively a mere beginner but I still believe that I can work by myself and that I am so much more capable of doing it myself and that I am so much more capable of doing it now than I was two years ago that there is simply no comparison. People say Mr. Drummond is insistent upon drawing and in a way he is but his one great demand is that things shall be done with appreciation for this beauty and he doesn’t care at all for the technique if it expresses the beauty fully. If it does, it must be right.

[Note: At around this time, America saw its first large exhibition of modern art in New York, where Bertha is studying. The show introduced Americans, who were accustomed to realistic art, to the experimental styles of the European avant garde, including Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism. Interestingly, Bertha never mentions abstract art in any of her letters. She likely wasn’t a fan.]

Modern Art Exhibition Poster (1913)

I took dinner with Mrs. May, Monday evening and afterwards went to hear “La Donne Curiose.” It was very pretty but I like it less than any opera and have heard because it was more a little society play with lovely scenery and music instead of being a really great emotional affair. It was worth hearing however and Ferrari and Scotti sang.

Just now, we are rejoicing for Evelyn Hope a little. It seems pretty certain her uncle Josephus will be Secretary of the Navy – and of course she is glad – especially as she will be able to visit them in Washington next winter and has never been there. [Note: Joseph Daniels would indeed appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to serve as Secretary of the Navy during World War I.] I think it’s pretty nice for her and she says her grandmother will be awfully pleased. Her grandmother was left a widow at twenty-eight – at the end of the Civil War, with three boys to educate and nothing on Earth to do it with and all her friends just as poor as she is so it’s no wonder if she is pleased to have her sons win distinction. Her other son, one other that is, is a judge and Evelyn Hope’s father is a pretty influential lawyer and a very bright man, so _____ Ulghman told me.

I noticed that a Manila mail reaches here Sunday morning – to my disgust. I won’t get it till Monday I take it for granted that I will get a letter from you.

Oh, I didn’t tell you that General Simpson has improved greatly. I was very glad to hear that.

Mr. Lee is now aide to the Chief of Staff so I suppose he “made hay” last summer when he was still with the Secretary of War’s party.

Did I tell you I tried to convert Mrs. Godsey to women’s suffrage? It was a total failure and I must say that I think I was at a disadvantage considering that the English ladies have been misbehaving very badly lately as I quite freely admit.

Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) poster from 1909.

Evelyn Hope has been making a good-looking silk dress lately. It makes me feel quite a dress-making _____ but as I don’t want to make anything by hand. I guess I will satisfy myself with trimming a hat shortly after Easter.

We are going to give a dinner for Miss Newman next week and form an Alumnal Association. Incidentally, we have got to make peace cards [Note: If someone is familiar with “peace cards”, please contact us] and pay out about a dollar and a half each which goes sorely against the grain. However, it might as well be now as later so I’ll have to make up my mind to it.

Well now I must write to Reba and attend to a few other things.

Love to all,