Former AAS intern Melissa Lydston worked in our Manuscript Department, processing a collection of family papers. The Warfield Family resided in Providence, Rhode Island in the mid-nineteenth century. The patriarch of the family, Daniel Warfield, was a soap maker and dye maker. The collection proved to have more than just letters. Read below for her findings.
In the Warfield Family Papers, some of the most interesting letters contain more than just paper. The Warfields exchange locks of hair with one another, for both superstitious and medicinal reasons.
In one letter, a friend of the family, Olive, asks Mrs. Emma Warfield to see if she has any friends in the spirit world. Olive includes a lock of hair along with the request. Her request aligns with Mrs. Warfield’s husband, Daniel Warfield’s, interests. Daniel Warfield speaks about the “spiritual world” and seeks out spiritual meetings in Boston, as well as meetings in the Masonic Club and the Oddfellows. He even falls upon his spiritual habits when bad luck strikes. In one letter, Daniel writes to his wife from Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, saying that he may be discharged from his job. He asks his wife to contact the spirit world for him.
The hair is also used as a prescriptive measure. Two separate letters with two different locks of hair are addressed to Daniel Warfield in Providence, Rhode Island. One letter includes a lock of blonde hair; the other includes a lock of brown hair. One belongs to Uncle George who is feeling “badly” and sends the hair to Daniel in order to determine his illness. Emma writes the letter for George and promises he will pay one dollar for the prescription. In another letter, Emma sends her own hair to get a prescription for her stomach. She includes the lock in order for Daniel to “state whether it is caused by [her] hair or not.”
It seems that hair is a link to the spirit world for the Warfields, and perhaps worth far more than the words inside the accompanying letters.