@ArchiveReynolda: Love in the Archives--Mr. & Mrs. Reynolds

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@ArchiveReynolda: Love in the Archives--Mr. & Mrs. Reynolds

By Bari Helms, Director of Archives | @ArchiveReynolda

“It was a day not wholly unlike today on the outside, but in our hearts all was bright, cheerful and happy and hopeful of the future,” is how Katharine Smith Reynolds later described the morning of her wedding, 27 February 1905. That day, in the parlor of her parent’s home in Mt. Airy, she married Richard Joshua Reynolds, a successful businessman thirty years her senior. At first glance, he might appear an odd choice for a 24-year old to make in selecting a husband. R.J. could easily have been a rich man looking for an attractive wife, Katharine wanting to marry money, security, and influence. But the reality of their relationship, which can be gleaned from the letters they left behind, tells a much more complex story based in good old-fashioned romance.

CREDIT: Letter, R.J. Reynolds to Katharine Smith, 1905. Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

On the eve of their wedding, R.J., in New York for business, sent a letter (above) to his soon-to-be wife excitedly accepting her initial date of 28 March as their wedding day. R.J. described the upcoming day as one that would give him “the greatest undescribable [sic] pleasure.” R.J. went against type and instead of the tough businessman was open and sweet in his missive to his future wife: “I feel that no one on earth that is blessed with a more noble earnest sincere lovely & sweeter or better wife that I will have in you. I love & respect you so much more than never did anyone else.”

CREDIT: Katharine holding Smith with Mary, Nancy, James Dunn Jr., RJ Reynolds, and Dick on the lawn of their home at 666 West Fifth Street, circa 1912. Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

For someone who had lived the life of the unencumbered bachelor, R.J .could have looked forward to his wedding day with a slight sense of trepidation. Instead, R.J. seemed to relish what the future as a family man would hold: “That I really feel that I never before knew what real true love was; & it must be gods [sic] blessing in having me to wait for you & receive more happiness than earlier marriage would have given me. My future life never before looked as bright & lovely to me as it now does.”

“...but not a day passes without increased love for my dearest of all,” so R.J. would finish off his letter. Would that sentiment hold true in the years to come? A letter from Katharine written on the day of their eighth anniversary in 1913 certainly seems to reflect a successful marriage: “Well, my sweetheart, eight years ago this morning we were starting out on life’s journey together...at that time I feared it was too good to last, but it seems now that eight years have proved its steadfastness.”

CREDIT: Letter, Katharine Smith Reynolds to RJ Reynolds, 27 February 1913. Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

Looking through the lens of our contemporary perspective, Katharine and R.J.’s marriage could look like one of convenience and improved circumstances, but Katharine’s own words bear out that their relationship was based on genuine affection. While regretting their separation on that particular anniversary, Katharine hoped that the future would be as happy as the past: “In these eight years, I believe, you, too, have been happier than you ever were before, and I trust I’ll be able to make you happier in the next eight than I have those just past.”

“With a heart overflowing with love,” as Katharine liked to sign her letters to R.J., enjoy this Valentine themed treat from the Archives.


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