Washington State Magazine

Spring 2009

Spring 2009


In This Issue...


What Is Art For? :: Art, says independent scholar Ellen Dissanayake '57, is "making special." It is an act that gives us a sense of belonging and meaning. It is passed from mother to child. Its origins lie deep in our evolutionary past. It makes us human. by Tim Steury

The Love Letters :: In 1907, Othello had no high school, so Xerpha Mae McCulloch '30 traveled 50 miles to Ritzville to finish school. There she met, and fell in love with, Edward Gaines, a few years her senior. The recent gift to Washington State University of her steamer trunk reveals the life of a woman whose story is not only threaded through the University's, but also through the story of agriculture in Washington State. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Photos and letters from Xerpha's trunk }

You Must Remember This :: Having reached a certain age, our correspondent sets out to learn the latest from Washington State University researchers about memory. She learns that memory comes in different forms, that the human brain is made for problem-solving, and that the key to much of brain health is the "dendritic arbor." And then she sets out to create an action plan. by Cherie Winner

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEStory: Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe's work to help people with memory loss }


Privacy and the Words of the Dead :: Do we violate the privacy of the dead when we read what they wrote for themselves? Maybe it depends on our purposes. by Will Hamlin

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Annotated pages from early English editions of Montaigne's Essays. }




:: SPORTS: Coaching with heart

:: GREEN PAGES: Building green

:: A gift toward fuel research

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story: Yucatecan lentil soup recipe }


Cover photo: Bryan Hall clock tower reflected in the Abelson-Heald skybridge windows on the Pullman campus. By Zach Mazur.

Spring 2009
Web Exclusives

Gallery: Photos and letters from Xerpha's trunk

| © Washington State University

A gallery of selected images, items, and memorabilia from Xerpha Gaines' trunk.

Return to article: The Love Letters

From The Love Letters by Hannelore Sudermann:

...Summer 2008 the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Edward and Xerpha Gaines returned to eastern Washington. They talked and laughed, piecing together their own memories of Edward and Xerpha, and mentioning the bundle of letters that gave them the details of their grandparent’s romance.

At the end of the reunion, they delivered to Washington State University an astonishing gift–Xerpha’s steamer trunk which holds nearly a century of private papers detailing the life of a woman whose story is not only threaded through the University’s, but also through the story of agriculture in Washington State.

Worn and heavy, with a torn label bearing Xerpha’s name on the side, the trunk contains a variety of treasures: a prayer book, a tiny box full of beads, a wedding dress, an envelope of pictures of Xerpha as a girl, Edward Gaines’s correspondence as a scientist, and a water-stained box bearing the label “Old Hampshire Bond: The Stationery of a Gentleman.”

The stationery box invites more scrutiny: Inside is a stack of letters wrapped with a white silk ribbon, now yellowed and frayed. The first, dated May 29, 1910, is addressed to Miss Xerpha McCulloch, Othello, Wash. It starts with “Dear–Sister?–Xerpha?–Friend? Which shall it be?” Edward describes their parting at the Ritzville station as he watched Xerpha board the train for home. A few hours later, the letter notes, Edward got on another train bound for Spokane, as he made his way to Pullman where he was a student at Washington State College.
The content is hardly the hot words of young lovers, though. Throughout the dozens of letters covering two full years, they discuss teaching Sunday school, Edward’s agronomy studies, Xerpha’s work at the Othello post office, her mother’s health, and his visits home to his family’s farm.

Categories: WSU history, Campus life, Alumni | Tags: Xerpha Gaines, Botany