Addie and Rebecca were pen pals during the mid-19th century. They were free black women who navigated the turbulent times during America’s Reconstruction Era.
Addie Brown, born in 1841, was orphaned early in life and as a result she joined the working class as a domestic servant. Five years older, Rebecca Primus was born in 1836 to a wealthy, educated black family in Hartford, CT. In 1854 at age 13, Addie met Rebecca when she came to board at the Primus’ home. The two girls became the best of friends, and thus, began their intense and passionate friendship that lasted from 1854 to 1868.
Rebecca became a teacher. Addie worked as a maid and seamstress. When their jobs put distance between them, and they could not visit each other, the two young women corresponded through letters. 150 letters survived from Brown to Primus. Rebecca’s responses are lost. But we do have Addie’s love letters to her friend. This very personal history chronicles the struggles, desires, and opinions of an independent young black woman longing to be with her lover. We may assume that the feeling was mutual as both women defied convention by remaining unmarried for 14 years.
When Rebecca moved to Maryland to open a school for freed black children, the passions cooled, but the friendship grew stronger. Addie struggled to remain single and financially independent, but eventually gave in and married a long time suitor in 1868. This broke the bond she had with Rebecca. Addie became a wife and a mother but died two years later. Rebecca married also. She lived until 1932. “The fact that she held onto Addie’s letters her entire life seems to imply that Rebecca cherished the love they shared all through the sixty-two years she lived without Addie.” Elizabeth Correia