On the Same Page: Shirley Letters

November-December 2017
book cover The Shirley Letters from the California Mines, 1851-1852
Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe, and Marlene Smith-Baranzini, editor

Our On the Same Page selection is presented in a special partnership with San Francisco Opera in honor of the opera’s world premiere performance this fall, Girls of the Golden West. This new opera by John Adams with a libretto by Peter Sellars is based on The Shirley Letters, a collection of 23 letters written by Clappe to her sister in Massachusetts detailing life in a Gold Rush-era mining camp in the mid-1800s.

The On the Same Page selection is based on the Heydey Publishing edition of The Shirley Letters, edited and introduced by Marlene Smith-Baranzini. The series of letters written by Clappe to her sister were first published under the pseudonym of “Dame Shirley” in Pioneer magazine. In these letters Clappe writes of life in San Francisco and the Feather River mining communities of Rich Bar and Indian Bar in 1851 and 1852. She focuses on the experiences of women and children, the perils of miners' work, crime and punishment, and relations with native Hispanic residents and Native Americans. Bret Harte is said to have based two of his stories on The Shirley Letters.

About the Author

Mrs. Clappe was educated in Amherst, Massachusetts and accompanied her physician-husband to California in 1849. After living in the mining camps where Dr. Clappe practiced medicine, they moved to San Francisco, where Mrs. Clappe taught in the public schools for 20+ years.

See the full The Shirley Letters Read-Alikes list

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