The Life and Letters of Annie Leake Tuttle – WHITELEY (CSS)

WHITELEY, Marilyn Fardig (ed). The Life and Letters of Annie Leake Tuttle. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1999. 147p. Resenha de: SENGER, Elizabeth. Canadian Social Studies, v.35, n.2, 2001.

Oral history is a very special genre of research and writing, and The Life and Letters of Annie Leake Tuttle is a wonderful example of a Canadian oral history rich in tradition and cultural images. Fardig Whiteley has collected and selectively edited the firsthand musings of a Nova Scotia woman of the late 19th century. Annie Leake Tuttle comes alive in these pages and we come to know her through her personal struggles. This work is additionally important because it focuses on women’s experiences. This segment of society has been sadly neglected in the traditional recording of history.

Fardig Whiteley has skillfully selected and edited a variety of pieces from the collection of writing left by this extraordinary, ordinary woman. The story of Annie Leake Tuttle is the story of countless women who lived, dreamed and died in Canada during the late nineteenth century. She was, by contemporary standards, an average, unexceptional woman who lived and sought meaning in her life in relatively unremarkable ways, yet her story is all the more powerful because of its conventionality.

Reading through these pages one can clearly identify with a woman who understood her own failings and sought to discover her strengths. She overcame a number of obstacles in pursuing her desire to teach and in her search for spiritual meaning. She never stopped learning about herself and the world in which she lived; in her life is a lesson for all people who believe they do unremarkable things. The fact that she left such a detailed account of her life and times is a major accomplishment in itself and a great legacy to those of us who come after her. Whether we be teachers, or not, women, or not, she has a powerful message to deliver to us all.

The book is relatively short and flows easily from Tuttle’s early musings to the last letters she wrote late in life. It offers an insightful and important glimpse into the life of ordinary people – she talks at length about friends and family and their adventures, as well as her own. Annie wrote these accounts in order to leave a record for her nieces and nephews. Her intimate, conversational, self effacing style comes across as sincere and informative. As I read through her letters and journal entries, I felt a very personal connection to this woman. This is a characteristic that is sadly lacking in many academic works of history and, because of this, The Life and Letters of Annie Leake Tuttle would be an excellent resource in any Canadian history classroom. It could be used as a required reading piece to help students at the high school or secondary level to understand the deeper, more personal aspects of historical study, especially oral histories.

This book is laid out as Annie intended. She identified chapters of her life, labeled them with intriguing titles, and noted the years covered by each chapter. The flow of the book is logical and easy to follow and Fardig Whiteley inserts commentary which serves to enhance and clarify the text. A map at the beginning of the book orients the reader to the area in Nova Scotia where most of the action took place. A number of family portraits and photographs which illustrate the countryside and the home in which Tuttle spent the last years of her life are also included. These pictures are thoughtfully selected and help the readers orient themselves in time, just as the map facilitates a geographical orientation. A small family tree and basic chronology of Annie Leake Tuttle’s life – again, meaningful personal touches which make Annie’s story more real – are included at the end of the book.

Finally, Fardig Whiteley includes a brief commentary on the primary sources used to compile the book and an extensive bibliography for those who wish to pursue the fascinating topic of oral histories in general, and Annie’s story in particular. This book is one of the Books in the Life Writing Series and the list of other available titles is thoughtfully included at the end. The Life and Letters of Annie Leake Tuttle would be a wonderful addition to any historian’s collection; it is a piece which brings ordinary history alive and helps us to make a personal connection to our past.

Elizabeth Senger – Henry Wise Wood High School, Calgary.

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