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Letters from Home

Julia Howell

Text of "Long after Stanford students leave the Quad, THEIR WORDS LIVE." Background is a picture of the Quad facing Memorial Church.

Julia Howell, '17

“Of course there are a lot of times when I wonder if it's all worth it, but deep down I decided that a while back & know it's still true. I think it's really something to have something to work and struggle for so much.” -Anonymous, ‘76

Any student feeling out of place on campus or overwhelmed by work can look to Letters Home for some assurance. Among other goals, Letters Home--a collection of hard-copy and electronic correspondence written home by Stanford students over the past 125 years-- seeks to unite students across generations through the stories they have shared in their letters, texts, and emails.

Alison Carpenter Davis ‘79 has gathered letters from the University Archives that date all the way back to 1891, as well as encouraged current students and alums to submit more correspondence, over the last two years.  Inspired by her own mother’s letters home, Davis hopes to create a cross-generational conversation about life at Stanford. There are some things that just don’t change that much throughout the years, and the struggle to succeed at Stanford is definitely one of them. The book is filled with hopes and fears, excitement and anxiety.

One student writes, “You can’t imagine how hard it is to tell your parents who are so proud of you and your former success that you’ve failed.” That looks like it could have been sent yesterday in a text, but was actually written home in a letter in 1976, only to be followed the next week by a letter thanking her parents for their support and understanding. Here are some other snippets.

"Dear Mother and Daddy, For once in my life, I am really petrified over a history class. Western Civ has proved rather hard for me...I am comforted by the thought, however, that I had this same trouble when I first went to high school, and I did all right there, so I guess I will here, too."  -1944 letter home from a Stanford freshman, who graduated four years later

“Well, probably, he doesn’t know what it’s like to be so tired.  You can’t think.  And I know very well that with a day to study & a week to sleep, I could get at least 2nd-highest in the class…” -Hope Snedden, Monday night c. 1918-1920

These students aren’t unique voices of struggle and resilience in Stanford’s history. Decades of students have written home about feeling out of place in or overwhelmed by their classes. And in reading their letters, you get a sense of belonging to this narrative. Letters Home is a way to showcase Stanford students’ voices, old and new.

Current students as well as alums are encouraged to submit letters, texts, and emails to the collection, or if there are privacy concerns, email Beyond stories of struggle and resilience, correspondence is encouraged about everything from how to do laundry to body paint at football games, so let your voice be heard in this unique collection of stories.

All of the above quotes are courtesy of the Stanford University Archives