Before I Start – a sample letter

Letter from Helena Schlichter to her mother, Louisa Ottens, from The Bible Institute of Los Angeles, September 1917. Just a sample of Helen’s detailed writing. She often mentions Billy Sunday during the Los Angles years. But – I’ll get to back story later.  

Just enjoy the letter, young Helen’s enthusiasm (she’s twenty-one in 1917 and newly-wed) and its historical context. This is, by far, one of her shortest letters. I will not be transcribing many – but will frequently offer up especially interesting or lyrical passages. 

This is one of the first letters. 

Dearest Mother,

Safe in Los Angeles at last. (You can pronounce that name almost any way you wish. Almost everybody pronounces it differently here. Yes, we are here – dead tired. Today, while a day of most wonderful mountains, was also the most tiresome. My patience was about gone. We ordered a good breakfast and lunch, but nothing seemed to taste good. The California Limited certainly has excellent dinning service. Talk about cantaloupes! Only fifteen cents a half, but they were worth it. Dee-licious! Ice cream – just one round ball – twenty five cents. Of course, when you are served on silver platters, with silver finger bowls, perfect snowball linen and napkins, you’ve got to pay for it.

We traveled through the desert since yesterday afternoon. The colorings were marvelous – the mountains exquisite in their innumerable hues. We climbed over some mountains today, all night – about four thousand feet high we were. The engine – a gigantic oil burner, had all it could do to pull us up. We couldn’t go straight up but in an s-shaped curve. It was a novel sensation to see the distant mountains decreasing as we ascended. As we neared Pasadena, we saw acres and acres of orange groves. A man on the train said orange growing is a rich man’s game. It was interesting to note that as we pulled into Pasadena, the first thing we saw was a Woolworth store – it looked very natural.

The train was on time to the minute as that at 2:40 this afternoon we were leaving the train. We soon had a taxi and were riding toward the B.I. of Los Angeles. Los Angeles business district is very clean. The buildings, most of them, are extravagant affairs. There is a department store which we passed tonight that is as handsome as Wanamaker’s from the outside, though not as big of course. This section of town seems to be all hotels and automobile showrooms. Speaking of automobiles – it seems like millions of them. The streets shine from their oil. L.A. streets are certainly clean.

Billy Sunday is here in full force but says he is meeting a new situation – different from his other towns. Christian Science is VERY popular here. We walked up to the Tabernacle after supper – about six blocks. It was crowded of course and looked just like our Philadelphia Tabernacle. We hope to hear Billy soon. There are quite a number of Philadelphians at the school.

Our trunk came this afternoon but not the suitcase. I suppose they got separated.

And now – about our rooms. There is a women’s building and a men’s building, you know. The married couples have their rooms in the men’s building – for the time being. In a few weeks, the married couples will be changed to the Radcliff – a very good Christian hotel, where they will each have a bedroom, bath and kitchenette! If we wanted to, we could cook our own meals or we could just cook breakfast and have the rest of the meals at the school.

The rooms alone cost $2.00 for each of us. The meals at the school, $3.50 for each of us. We haven’t decided what we’ll do. As I say, we shall stay in our present rooms until those apartments are vacated.

The rooms we have now are dreams – a bedroom and a bath. The walls are cream color, the woodwork, cherry. The bedroom rug is very much like the living room rug at home. The bedroom is very nearly as big as your sitting room. The furniture consists of a lovely dull finish brass bed, a mahogany bureau, a combination table and desk, a dandy leather seated rocker, and a chair. The bathroom is all white – white tub, wash stand, and toilet, with a white mirrored cabinet. The floor is tiled. There are two nickel towel racks with snowy towels and a bath rug.

The windows in both bedroom and bath are casement in style. At both windows are white scrim curtains. The bureau looks beautiful with my white set on the bureau scarf Florence Schlichter gave me. Here is a rough floor plan of our rooms. There are twilights from the center of the ceiling so you see we won’t strain our eyes.

We went to the prayer meeting of Dr. Torrey’s church which is the church connected with the school. It was a real live prayer meeting.

Alfred is admiring the bureau with its trimmings. He is like an enthusiastic boy – but he does take excellent care of me – in so many little ways.

Will you send my fountain pen out? It was on the chiffonier. Its box is in the second bureau drawer from the bottom. There, now, it’s twenty minutes of eleven so I’ll stop. I’ve told you all the details I can think of now. We kept very easy hours on the train – eight o’clock almost every night. Take good care of yourself and give my love to everybody. Alfred sends his love to you and I send heaps and heaps. Write as soon as you can.

Your own loving daughter,



4 thoughts on “Before I Start – a sample letter

    • Nancy –
      could you tell the last posting was a Memorial page? I’m not sure that’s clear. Maybe I kept it too “quiet.” My mother-in-law, Helena, passed away today. She is the daughter of the writer of the letters.(Actually – I think you commented before I added the last post!)

  1. Thank you for this wonderful blog which I just happened to find because I was looking for a Schlichter family member to write to.
    I have a very precious Chinese Bible my father in law gave me since we adopted a daughter from China.
    In the title page in very beautiful and neat writing is inscribed: W. Alfred Schlichter China Inland Mission Shanghai, China. I would very much like your family to have this precious keepsake of your great grandfather.
    Also I wish you would post more lovely letters from Helen. They are such jewels because your great grandparents as missionaries to China are heroes in the truest sense to me as a Christian believer. I am fascinated by their history and experiences. Please consider writing more.
    Thank you and God’s richest blessings to you and your family.

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