<br /> Lee Letter: wl212

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Sister Mary Baptista Linton
Recipient: Robert E. Lee

This is a copy of a letter, I addressed to a liberal friend of the South whom, I thought, was in Baltimore at the period of the late Balt. Fair – He proved to be in Russia, whither the original letter has followed him. I send it to you, that you may see how we feel for our people –

Dear Sir,

Full twenty minutes has the organ selected to be the interpreter to you of the present appeal, been seated in almost moody silence – wondering how a gentleman, an entire stranger to the Mount de Chantal Sisters will receive our overture, imploring kind Heaven to impart to her pen, such persuasive force as may elicit, not only a kind response, but also generous cooperation in what we all decree a scheme of high toned charity & heaven born benevolence.

Although, dear Sir, you may be ignorant of the very existence of our community, to us, you are by no means a Stranger – A thousand, ten thousand times, have we invoked God’s choicest blessings upon you, & all most dear to you, for your liberality to our beloved South when, midst the horrors of civil war, she struggled so gloriously – even unto death, for her peculiar birthright Independence, & now that her funeral knell has rung out its final peal, & her consecrated soil still reeks with the blood of her martyred sons there comes forth, from homes recently possessed of wealth & affluence & still the centre of all that is noblest & best in nature, – the wail of the widow & the orphan, telling of the loneliness, devastation, & poverty in which that cherished land is shrouded! Maryland, our noble sister state catching up the strain, has approached with characteristic generosity, to administer relief & solace to our bereaved sufferers. With unfeigned gratification have we heard of the late Baltimore Fair & have thanked God for it. But as deep as is the commiseration of your city for Southern grievances, & Southern sorrows, there is a little spot in the North West Virginia sheltering one loyal family that rivals your noble people in devotedness to the South – the home of our childhood – & land of our fathers! We allude to Mount de Chantal Academy, & its inmates. Would that our precincts & our means equalled our good will, & there exists not a child in the vast South that would not be welcomed in our midst, as a gratuitous pupil. We realize that our Academy is peculiarly adapted to the training of our Southern girls. Before the war, our patronage from that point was extensive. Years ago, a long experience had convinced us of the inexpediency of educating our daughters of the South in Northern cities – The habits of the two sections of country, differing as widely as the climates, it seemed to us, our peculiar vocation, to become the educators & mothers by adoption, of as many of our Southern girls, as should be confided to us. With this in view, our enterprising & gifted superiors spared neither pains, nor expense, to secure to our Academy, every educational advantage that the age and country could afford. A magnificent site was purchased near Wheeling – Commodious buildings erected, & every effort made, to render our Academy a desirable home for Southern pupils. Unfortunately, however, just as we are prepared to receive these dear children, – the great national convulsion takes place. – Southern fortunes are wrecked, & our former liberal patrons become almost paupers in our land. Were we an endorsed Institution, this would truly be the moment of our greatest glory – for wide & cheerily open doors to receive every child that might wish to come to us. So far from having and independence, we rely solely upon the income of our Academy for a support. Even so, we have stretched our charity to its utmost tension, & have now with us, as many gratuitous pupils, as justice to our creditors will permit, – some the daughters of former patrons – others, children of entire strangers & yet, with all our desire to benefit our suffering friends at the South, there is scarcely a week we do not hear of some high born family grappling with all the mortifications & penury of altered fortunes, and unable to educate their children, or applications come to us to receive these children at reduced prices. Thank God thus far, we have been enabled in about every instance to respond to the call of delicate charity, but our indebtedness to creditors, warns us that there must be a limit, not only to the number of gratuitous pupils, but also to deductions in favor of others. The thought of this almost breaks our hearts. We know of so many reduced families, whose birth, associations, & intellectual acquirements, entitled to the highest educational advantages for their offspring, but who from native delicacy would shrink from the acceptance of public alms. Now, dear Sir, cannot you read our thought, and come to our assistance, & enable us to realize our scheme of tender & delicate charity? From all we have heard of you, we know that Almighty God has not only blessed you with goods of this world, but has bestowed upon you a kind & generous heart – one easily roused to works of mercy, & surely the present is a glorious occasion in which to perform them. Our desire is to have it in our power to receive pupils at such reduced prices, as Southern parents may be able to pay, & still not do injustice to our creditors. Our charges merely suffice now, to meet the demands of justice, & our proposal to you is that, in the exercise of that liberality which seems your delight, you will aid the deficient means of Southern parents, by appropriating such a sum as you may think proper, to the cause we have so deeply at heart.

We shall be most happy to render you a statement of expenditures & at the same time, it will prove our delight, to make known to the recipients of your kindness to whose liberality they are indebted for the boon of timely education for their daughters. We are merely proposing to you, one form of delicate & generous aid to the noble mothers of the South; one which presents itself to us, as adapted to the high born & chivalrous. You may take a wider range in the exercise of your Charity, & prefer some other mode of assistance. In such case, we hope you will excuse the warmth with which we have presumed to advocate the cause of those that are dear to us, & whose misfortunes, we believe render equally dear to you.

Address your reply – Sisters of the Visitation – Mount de Chantal Academy Near Wheeling WVa

Hoping to hear from you, at your earliest convenience. And begging your acceptance of our expressions of cordial esteem, We have the honor to be Your unworthy servants & sincere friends in Christ

The Sisters of the Visitation – D.S.B.

Notes:

Robert E. Lee CollectionLeyburn Library, Washington and Lee University

Enclosed in Sister Mary Baptista Linton to Robert E. Lee, 10 July 1866.