Adjusting and fulfilling masculine roles: the epistolary persona in Dutch transatlantic letters

Babs Boter, Suzanne M. Sinke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


People involved in migration across borders in the past wrote letters. To write back to family and friends served to reaffirm relationships, but also to readjust those relationships. Mobile letter writers of the past nurtured an epistolary persona – sharing certain information that they expected would sustain or foster the relationship they sought, while withholding other information. Various social roles fell within this persona, in part depending on the recipients. This article explores how visions of gender shape the writing in two letter collections in Dutch from just after the turn of the twentieth century. One comes from a man who left his family to migrate to the United States and where only one (his) side of the story remains. A second collection of family letters illuminates a cross-Atlantic relationship from multiple perspectives. Both collections show how related individuals presented their roles to an epistolary audience and how they negotiated their relationships when it became impossible to fulfill what they and their families saw as appropriate behavior. Both illuminate visions of masculinity and how these tied to other familial roles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-349
Number of pages13
JournalThe History of the Family
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2016


  • correspondence
  • gender
  • Masculinity
  • Netherlands
  • United States


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