Reading ER's handwriting

and the sources of inspiration for working with historical documents

March 13, 2018

The benefit of being part of a community of documentary editing projects is that you benefit from the combined expertise of all of your colleagues. You also gain from their creative thinking. Both were the case in the creation of the newest addition to our website. We’ve created a page showing examples of Eleanor Roosevelt’s handwriting, letter by letter. The majority of the work for this new page was done by two of our undergraduate students—Katelyn Belz and Julia Febos—who painstakingly combed through Eleanor Roosevelt’s handwritten letters and then created the images that combined the samples they found.

We have joked about doing something like this for years—usually in the form of an elementary-school style alphabet graphic to display at the top of the walls of our office. I have worked at the ERPP for over eleven years, and I still struggle with ER’s handwriting. Late in her life even her family complained that it was illegible.


Then I saw this:


Seeing the Jane Addams Papers Project’s display of Addams’s handwriting was an a-ha moment. This was a way to put together handwriting samples in a way that would help us with our transcriptions. Once we had the inspiration, the actual production took a matter of weeks. Undergraduate students Katelyn Belz and Julia Febos searched ER’s letters to find samples of every letter, even q, x, and z. Putting the result together to publish today, I was noticing things about ER’s handwriting I hadn’t before. Her capital Cs have a funny tail on them. 

images of the letter "C"

Her lowercase “a” sometimes looks like this:

 sample of ER's handwriting

and sometimes like this:

 sample of ER's handwriting


We decided to make the tool available here in hopes that others trying to read ER’s handwriting will find it useful.