Correspondence in the collection, usually addressed to Mrs. Frank M. Cook, deals for the most part with personal family matters; however, the correspondents touch on many historically interesting subjects. A letter (1852) discusses lucrative employment in the machinist's trade; and several letters elaborate on family illnesses, a popular theme throughout the papers. Letters describe the devastating effect of scarlet fever on a family (June 12, 1862), dysentery (1863), and the death by cancer of a friend.
Letters of the Civil War period describe the dire conditions in a military hospital in Hamilton, Virginia and the desire for the war's end (Aug. 1, 1863). Comments concern the attaining of an honorable peace, the weariness of war, and the booming speculation in hoop skirts in Tarboro (Aug. 21, 1867). Similarly, a letter (1864) touches on debt payment with Confederate notes and on the high prices of necessities in North Carolina. Postwar correspondence comments on Nags Head as a summer resort area (1868), the failure of a small business and resultant hard times (Oct. 6, 1869), the possibility of winning political office by "turning radical," and the stagnation of business in Oxford (Nov. 22, 1870).
Several letters illuminate social life of the 1880's. For example, letters (Mar. 5, 8, 1886) discuss wedding gifts received, weddings, entertainment, and gentlemen callers (Jan. 24, 1880). Others comment on oyster dinners in Norfolk and social calls that must be returned (1886). Later letters remark on the Grand Carnation Ball of the Elizabeth City Academy (Oct. 26,1887), and attempts to purchase a velocipede in downtown Norfolk (1886).
Correspondence from Emily and Camilla Cook, both of whom attended the Hagerstown Female Seminary in Hagerstown, Md., describe facets of women's education in private schools of the Victorian Era. Music and German courses, roommates, a Society, and hopes for good grades are treated by Emmie (Dec. 3, 1872). Clothes (commencement gowns and the cost of dressmaking), a supper and lecture, painting, and music are described in a letter of March 26,1886. Other letters pertain to gentlemen callers, (Nov. 20, 1867), incidental comments about Dr. C.L. Keedy, president of the Seminary (Oct. 26, 1887), and a fire in a dormitory (Feb. 7, 1886).
Religious matters constitute a popular theme throughout the correspondence. Significant letters relate descriptions of a revival meeting of a Norfolk church, as well as Dwight L. Moody's large camp meeting in Norfolk (Mar. 31, 1886). Another letter (May, 1886) comments on evangelistic meetings in Baltimore.
A letter of May 13, 1886 comments on the slowness of business as a result of labor strikes and expresses the opinion that the labor question has ruined the country.
An undated letter of the early nineteenth century notes that the ship
ZEPHYR may have been captured by a French privateer and subsequently retaken by the English.
Legal correspondence pertains to the estate of Thomas Murphy, of which Emily Cook held a share as an heir. The letters relate to the account balances, financial advice, and requests of Mrs. Cook for sums of money. Of significance are semi-annual statements of the estate balance (July, 1866-July, 1878).
Financial records consist of receipts for sundry items. A mail-order catalogue (July 5, 1883), with various articles marked for purchase is included.
Genealogical material in the collection concerns more family names than can be listed here. Of special interest are two volumes compiled by Elizabeth Gordon Griffin: the first, entitled "
Extracts from 'What I Know About My Family' by Elizabeth Gordon Griffin, 1961," contains information concerning the Cook, Mathews, and Murphy families; the second volume lists, alphabetically, members of the Cook and related families.
Of interest in the miscellaneous papers are the quarterly grade reports of Camilla Cook from the Hagerstown Female Seminary (Dec. 1,1885-June 6,1888). In addition, a programme of the Seminary's 1888 commencement ceremony exists. Other miscellaneous papers are a programme of the Grand Musical Soiree Supper of the Elizabeth City Academy (undated), newspaper clippings (undated) of the death and funeral of Robert E. Lee, a circular (undated) of the Union Christian Convention conducted by Dwight L. Moody, a sewing pattern (undated) for a child's ruff and a poem (undated) having a religious theme.