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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Love Blossoms in ‘Dear Bob, Dear Betty’

Personal letters detail romance during the Great Depression

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In a 21st-century world dominated by high-tech convenience, a love letter today, if such a curiosity still exists, most likely would be delivered as a cursory Facebook message or soon-to-be deleted e-mail; however, in a time gone by, written communications offered an authentic glimpse into human relationships and were commonly preserved as treasured memories throughout one’s lifetime.

In Dear Bob, Dear Betty: Love and Marriage During the Great Depression, the love letters of Robert Llewellyn Wright and Betty Bryan Kehler chronicle an innocent and enchanting fidelity that blossomed during the Great Depression years of 1932-’33. Among the highlights of these missives are the similar hardships facing a young couple during the Depression of the early 1930s and our contemporary recession, as well as the fact that Wright, known as “Bob” in the letters, was the youngest son of Frank Lloyd Wright and grew up suffering through the public scandals that surrounded his father’s personal life.

The letters and their replies archive Bob and Betty’s maturing relationship and detail the couple’s endeavors as Betty searches for a career in a new city, they strive to maintain a long-distance relationship between Milwaukee and Chicago and they grind out plans for a wedding. The local landscape that serves as the letters’ background provides a sense of familiarity and insight into the aforementioned cities during the early half of the 20th century. This poignant view of the lives of two intelligent Midwesterners embracing life during an arduous time in our history is both a living relic from days of yore and an engaging peek into Milwaukee’s past as seen through the eyes of Betty and Bob.

The correspondences in Dear Bob, Dear Betty were collected by the couple’s daughter Elizabeth Catherine Wright, a scholar of French literature and professor emeritus, after she found the letters organized and carefully filed away in her mother’s house in 2003. In addition to many of the transcribed letters, the book also contains photographs, copies of original handwritten notes, and an enlightening forward and introduction that provide context for the romance described therein. This compilation and its ingenious creation will be shared by Elizabeth Catherine Wright at Milwaukee Public Library’s Centennial Hall on July 15 at 7 p.m., in an event sponsored by Boswell Book Co.