Impressions from a Lost World: The Discovery of Dinosaur Footprints

Orra White's Penmanship Notebook

zoomable artifact image here

Orra's notebook was called a "copybook" in the early 19th century. These were blank when new and were used for either practicing penmanship, as Orra seems to have done in the first few pages, or in a similar fashion to portfolios, they contained a student's best, most polished works. It was believed at the time that students learned best by rote—by memorization and repetition. 

Most likely, Orra first copied in pencil the works of the popular authors found in this copybook, and later transcribed the works again in ink here. Before the invention of the typewriter or computer, having legible handwriting was considered as important as knowing one's sums or being able to spell correctly. It was also an indication of refinement, particularly for women. In their correspondence, Edward Hitchcock and Benjamin Silliman several times allude to their own terrible writing and are thankful to have Orra's hand for labeling maps. 

In the first few pages, Orra wrote the alphabet using elaborate calligraphy and embellished some pages with scrolls and fanciful birds. Although so many of her works of art still exist, this penmanship book is a rare example of her writing.

Orra White Hitchcock
Courtesy of:
Edward and Orra White Hitchcock Papers, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library