Written & Spoken Word

Wilma Dykeman's Letters from Northwestern


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TITLE: Wilma Dykeman's Letters from Northwestern - Introduction

AUTHOR: Wilma Dykeman

PERMISSION TO PUBLISH granted by her heirs.

In September of 1938 Wilma took the train to Chicago and on to Evanston to enter Northwestern University as a third-year undergraduate student in Northwestern's famed School of Speech. Wilma's widowed mother Bonnie Cole Dykeman accompanied her both for moral support and to satisfy herself that her only child would be safe near the big city. Due undoubtedly to the stress she must have felt, Bonnie suffered a near-fatal perforated ulcer during the trip. She spent weeks in a hospital. In early October, after she had recuperated sufficiently, Bonnie traveled by train to Carmel, New York, to stay with her step-daughter Helen Dykeman Gregory and Helen's husband Ed, a retired civil engineer.

The only place Wilma Dykeman had ever known up to then was the Beaverdam Valley just north of Asheville, North Carolina. She had been born there in 1920, had graduated in 1936 from Grace High School at the mouth of the valley, and had continued to live in her mother's house at the head of the valley while she attended the two-year Asheville-Biltmore College. With the money she saved on room and board, with the money she earned from working at Kress's in downtown Asheville, with a small scholarship from Northwestern, and with some funding from her half-brother Jerome Dykeman (an accountant with Standard Oil of Indiana), Wilma took on her new world with enthusiasm.

Always in the back of Wilma's mind, however, there remained a sensitivity to her mother's trials - not just the ulcer but, much more important, the sea change of losing her daughter to the outside world. Wilma determined to do what she could to ease the transition for Bonnie. From October of 1938 to her graduation in June of 1940, Wilma sent Bonnie a steady stream of letters written to share her thoughts and feelings as well as details of her campus life.

Friday afternoon

Dearest Mother,

I was so gald to get the telegram today, and saw that it was from Carmel which made me feel better, too. I do hope now that you will be good and not worry, and just enjoy yourself all that you can...

Now don't think for one minute that I'm homesick and crying and etc. I haven't cried at all since I left the train. I sniffed a little when I saw the train leave, but it's the positive truth that I've not cried or anything since. I know that you're being taken good care of now, and if you will only enjoy yourself, and not worry about filthy lucre everything will be hunky dorey. I feel that I'm going to learn a lot this year, and get a lot out of my shoolwork. I hope so anyway. And I do enjoy it here loads...

Give Sister and Ed my love, and tell them they've got my precious and to all of you be good to each other.

Loads and loads of Love,


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